Skip to comments.How Bad Directions (And A Sandwich) Started World War I
Posted on 03/06/2014 3:10:44 PM PST by nickcarraway
World War I began 100 years ago this summer. It's a centennial that goes beyond mere remembrance; the consequences of that conflict are making headlines to this day.
To underline that, All Things Considered wanted to turn history on its head and ask historians and listeners alike: What if World War I had never happened? (Submit your answer in the form below.)
If that sounds like an unlikely exercise, compare it to an even more unlikely event the one that occurred on June 28, 1914, in the city of Sarajevo. It was the spark that ignited a global conflagration, a moment in history that was dramatic, tragic and in some ways almost comic.
Christopher Clark is a historian who's spent a lot of time reviewing the events of that day in Sarajevo and what led up to it. He's the author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War.
"It's one of those subjects that no matter how many times you go through it it never loses its magnetism," he says.
Clark tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel that despite warnings of a Serbian plot to kill the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the archduke and his wife went on a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. They had minimum security and their motorcade route through the city had been published.
Partway through the trip, one of the cars was bombed and several people were injured. The tour was supposed to take a new route (but no one told the Czech-speaking drivers, who carried on as before). Clark says the miscommunication took the royal couple right in front of Gavrilo Princip, one of the assassins who was stationed on the original path. Princip had just stepped out of a general store where he'd purchased a sandwich.
"Suddenly the car is in front of him [Princip] and to his astonishment, the car stops because someone in the car is telling the driver, 'You idiot, you're not supposed to go down this road. Stop the car and back up,'" Clark says. "And just as the car comes to a halt ... he took these two shots."
The rest, as they say, is history.
You can hear the entire interview with Clark here on Monday, March 10. In the meantime, we invite you to play along in a counterfactual history of World War I we will be exploring March 10-14 use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the last 100 years would be different if Ferdinand had lived in 1914.
NPR ASKS: What If World War I Had Never Happened?
All Things Considered wants you to help us imagine a counterfactual history of the last 100 years. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand propelled the world into a war that left millions dead, shattered empires and rearranged power throughout the world.
But what if the assassin in Sarajevo had missed? What if, like his small band of amateur co-conspirators, he didn't hit his target?
That's hardly unthinkable. Moments before the murder, Franz Ferdinand's car made a wrong turn. The vehicle was pushed backwards to turn around and came to a stop right in front of the gunman.
So, what if Franz Ferdinand had lived?
EXAMPLE: Without World War I, Russia remains prosperous and the Bolshevik Party's October Revolution fails. As a result, Vladimir Lenin moves to the United States where he becomes a professor of Russian history at Columbia University. Having maintained his left-wing connections, he comes in contact with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and helps write the pro-union musical, "Pins and Needles."
The rising German Empire and the Kaiser’s ambitions were on an inevitable collision course with the more established Powers.
Russia was developing very rapidly and closing the gap between itself and Germany. When Russia reached developed status, Germany would be surrounded by enemies fully capable of resisting her.
(He never realized his isolated position was largely his own doing. Bismarck generally remained on good terms with everybody but the French, keeping them the isolated nation.)
The Germans, probably accurately, thought they had reached their pinnacle of relative power and the correlation of forces would only move against them in future years.
IOW, it was now or never. Strike for world dominance or accept inevitable decline.
From this POV, FF’s getting bumped off was only the spark. If it hadn’t been him, something else would have sparked the war in the next year or so.
Hey, wait a minute...
Europe was a tinderbox full of explosives and gasoline. The war would have happened regardless. The Kaiser wanted an empire. The British wanted to stop him. But those were just two of the players. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was on the verge of revolution. Muslims were ready to revolt. The Turkish empire was tottering, killing more and more people to keep itself alive. If it hadnt been Ferdinand it would have been something else.
The Kaiser probably changed his mind, but his directions were not delivered and entreaties to him were kept from him by his aides who wanted war. Somebody once said that a fatal accident is almost never just one failure or incident. Its the end result of several failures or incidents.
Recall, that there had been numerous European wars recently past. Frenchmen are still dying to this day from shells fired during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. So, World War one is just a continuation of other events that started in 1810 or so. (Or, earlier, if you want to go back to the French revolution.)
No one thing could have stopped world war one. Probably no ten things or hundred changes to history could have prevented it. It might have taken longer, but it would still have happened.
World War II was like a continuation of World War I. The Cold War was about the terms of the end of World War II. It can be argued that the war that started in 1914 did not end until the last Soviet troops pulled out of Germany in 1994. All of this because of a sandwich.
“What if WWI had never happened? Why, Russian wouldn’t be Communist and neither would China,”
I have to disagree. Even America was turning communist. The intelligencia thought it a good idea. FDR was lauded by Hitler and Mussolini. The entire US University system was becoming communist. Most people thought that it would be easy to just give entitlements away. We got Social Security because FDR was trying to one-up a Louisiana politician who wanted to run against him on the plan of giving everybody a wage from the government. So, communism was going to happen. It didn’t have the same impact here as in Russia and Germany because everybody had guns.
Most of that was a carefully-phrased joke. I was trying to work in turbans being worn in Istanbul but it just wasn’t coming...
That damn Jerod and his 5 dollar foot longs.
Sorry. I did recognize some humor, but I took the first part as serious. I’ve read a lot on WW1 lately. (Don’t ask why. It started with Walter Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” and just out of control. I’m feeling the urge to build zeppelins now...)
It was all faked. The royal couple was hustled out of the area, put on a ship and spent the next six years on the French Riviera. They were located there by a Lithuanian waiter who was later credited with causing Latvia to bomb Pearl Harbor using German Stuka’s.
Although not entirely accurate, I like this take on the ham sandwich;
Adult language warning.
The plot that killed the Archduke was very widespread. There were 6 killers assigned, plus their supervisor. Each was supposed to make an independent attempt. It covered several eventualities. Before Princip got in his shot three others had had their opportunities but failed.
That Princip succeeded almost by accident is no accident, overall. The odds were against the Archduke.
Roll forward to January 2008 and Barack 0bama, a young high school teacher, is watching President Sara Palin being inaugurated as President.
How would no WWI make the U.S. election cycle a year earlier?
A place near me makes a 16" italian sausage and cappicola sub with peppers that might just be worth another world war.
I once saw a comic strip about a man who owned a time machine and realized he had a library book that was overdue. He thought he could avoid paying the fine by having his time machine take him back a few days in time so he could return the book before the due date.
However, on the machine’s control panel, he set the date and place of his destination wrong and wound up in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914—right at the spot where Archdduke Ferdinand confronted Gavrilo Princip. As he got out of the machine and tried to get his bearings, Princip fired his shot, but the bullet hit the book that the library patron was holding, and the Archduke drove away.
Dejected that his book was now ruined and that he would have to pay a replacement fee in addition to the fine, the man got back into his machine and headed back to the present. But when he got there, he found that by saving the Archduke’s life, he had changed the course of history and that Canada now ruled the world.
Let me guess, it was on a Kaiser Roll...
D’oh!! Time travel?
Or perhaps the driver taking the route that brings him right to the assassin, and stopping right in front of him, was no accident.
someone would have found a way to start a war somewhere.
I’d suggest nothing would have changed. Two British historians say that WWI was because the citizens of European monarchies were so disgusted by their rulers and their excesses they would have accepted any change but the monarchs would not go.
So the same forces that took over Russia were in play in the rest of Europe...
I agree. Geopolitics, the precarious balance of alliances, and other factors were pushing these countries towards war. If it hadn’t been Franz Ferninand, it would have been something else that set it off.
That would be so cool. I hear that zeppelins are a real gas.
You kinda wonder who those behind the scenes players were their back story, the various communications and intrigue going on, and their agendas. Being involved in politics myself, I've had small-scale game changers myself as a result of various manipulations, strategies and conversations with the right people at the right time, and know of bigger ones yet from just being in the room as well as stories from others more connected than I. Many times major changes can happen simply from applying the right pressure in the right place at the right time.
Considering how the Globalists were the ultimate winners of WWI by de facto or in reality wiping away all the old Euro monarchies in one shot (not to mention a great deal of erosion to the American Republic), it makes one think someone may have looked at the chessboard and seen the ultimate opportunity. It certainly cleared a path.
A deformed and withered left arm and a troubling childhood that left the Kaiser with serious mental health problems is more the reason for WW1 than the actions of Gavrilo Princip.
I love that alternate reality!
Paging Harry Turtledove!The master of alternate history.
That is very likely.
A lot of European tension was the result of German armament driving an arms race and a desperate hunt for allies.
And that, particularly the Naval part, was the Kaisers doing.
Like a crab deprived of one claw, the Kaiser saw his right arm grow tremendously strong & longer than it might have otherwise been. He easily brought down flying game by raising & firing his gun with one hand; he took sadistic delight in dealing bone crunching handshakes with his finger rings turned inward for greater painful effect.
And yet Queen Wilhelmina of Holland was such a close friend that the Kaiser spared the Netherlands from invasion in 1914-18; it was she who gave him a mansion in Doorn following his exile from Germany. Strange. Maybe royal blood runs thicker than water, certainly more so than that of the millions who perished in that horrible war.
There are some wonderful movies on youtube.com on the subject. On a quick look, I couldn’t find the one I thought did the most in-depth analysis. But here’s a starter kit.
If WW 1 had never happened, Adolph Hitler’s rise to power would never have happened. He used Germany’s defeat and the crushing war reparations from the Treaty of Versaille as a political battering ram in his mad rise to power.
Thanks, I will check it out.
If WWI has not happened, the old Ottoman Empire would have survived longer and all those post-WW1, oddly drawn Middle Eastern nations would not exist, and possibly Israel would not exist.
The Middle East would be a different place with a different collection of nations.
About Communism, people here didn’t take as much to it since the issue of making a living wasn’t as impossible as it was in Russia and China.
In China the upper classes were incompetent about driving out the Colonial powers that were exploiting China and in Russia serfdom was holding the Russians hostage and there was no way for workers to clean up their conditions or end up making a real living out of the pittance they were paid.
So really, what on earth was there for the people other than Communism?
In the US, making a living wasn’t impossible at the time and lots of people were living middle class lifestyles through having a solid trade and most people wanted independence, not interference from government.
I heartily suggest Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” for a good podcast of the history of the event.
Heck - I heartily suggest any podcast from Carlin.
If WW 1 had never happened, Adolph Hitlers rise to power would never have happened. He used Germanys defeat and the crushing war reparations from the Treaty of Versaille as a political battering ram in his mad rise to power.
This style of argument is called proximate causation. If you take one event and change it then all events stemming from it are altered in whatever way you choose to imagine. But both wars were due to conditions at the time.
Say a tornado destroys a town. Somebody with a time machine goes back in time and drops a bomb into the tornado to break it up. Does that save the town? Not necessarily. Tornados (like wars) are due to a massive, widespread difference in air pressure (or social/economic conditions.) A Mississippi-sized river of air is flowing along and the tornado is just a swirl effect inside that air. (Its the equalization actually happening.) Wars are the localized swirl effect caused by social and economic conditions.
The social and political forces of which World War one was a localized effect, were huge. Industrialization, bad working conditions, disease, old creaking social structures were all ripe for reforming (equalizing, if you will.) Had we somehow avoided a massive world war the old empires would have been ripped apart in equally widespread revolutions. The global powers would have intervened on different sides as they saw their interests being destroyed. So, they inevitably would have come into conflict. Just different from what it was. Recall also, that a big driver of the war was the interlocking treaties. Those alone would have eventually brought on a wider war in the no World-war-one scenario.
As for Hitler, if not him, then it would have been someone else. As for the treaty of Versailles, if not that, then something else. Would it all have been different? Yes. Less destructive? Maybe, maybe not. But the communism resulted from the liberals of the day naively trying to create utopia, as they are still trying today. (Utopia has no conflict, hence their desire to eliminate humans through birth control, abortion, global warming taxes and development restrictions.)
Long ago I had heard Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" regarding the route changes but didn't know about the sandwich.
I recommend reading "The Guns of August" for insight into how World War 1 started.
National Proletarian Radio and All Things Distorted ?
Absolutely. Germany had no logical need for colonies or for a Navy capable of threatening UK.
But Kaiser Bill wanted them, apparently for prestige and/or self esteem reasons, so Germany made an enemy of the British Empire and spent ungodly sums to acquire colonies it could not defend and a Fleet that was good, but not good enough to win.
Serfdom in Russia was abolished in 1861, several years before we ended slavery in USA.
True, but the mentality hadn’t changed.
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