Sunday, January 12, 2014

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I by Richard Ned Lebow

I'm usually very wary of counterfactuals. Often they're done by amateurs with little understanding of how variables can and cannot be altered. But if an academic can change a few minor events and keep in mind the actions of all participants, while simultaneously offering alternatives, at the very least a new, richer context can be created for understanding why what did happen was allowed to occur. In this case, Richard Ned Lebow's second chapter, 'Preventing World War I', is full of interesting ideas on why, contrary to many historians and specialists, without the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, war might in fact have been avoided rather than begun over any number of other incidents that were sure to push the heads of empires into doing something irreversible and calamitous.

One of Lebow's cornerstone arguments is that 1914 was a year where an event like the assassination of the Archduke could and did begin a conflagration of events that led all he powers to eventually enter a World War. There were events leading up to 1914 that also brought either two or more of Europe's great powers into conflict, but they were continually resolved. Yet 1914 proved an important year because German generals were wary of Russian rearmament and railway construction, which meant that any advance into France would mean a quicker Russian response and perhaps the loss of Prussia. Thus 1914 was argued as Germany's best and, at the time, only real opportunity to make good on her threats/promises rather than back-down, as Russia had to do a few years previously with a Balkan Crisis.

After the first few chapters the author goes on a series of predictions about a future world that are really little more than fantasies made up of whimsical day dreams and nightmares. The amount of variables that one would need to keep in mind and control to move even a few years past 1914, keeping in mind that WWI has not broken out, is simply impossible. The only other real utility that I can see within the pages of this text, aside from the above mentioned ideas on the beginning and eve of WWI, are how much WWI and WWII influenced society and how radically different society was and could have been if not for these gigantic conflagrations.

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