Proponents of the “Butterfly Effect Theory” maintain that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America could cascade a series of events leading to typhoons in South Asia. In a similar vein, World War I erupted because chauffer Leopold Loyka went down the wrong road. This is what Hashem ordained.
A FOOLISH THING IN THE BALKANS
About twenty years before World War I, Otto Bismarck, forger of modern unified Germany, was concerned that Europe’s tenuous balance of power had turned it into a powder keg. “One day,” he warned, “the great European War will come out of some — foolish thing in the Balkans.” On June 18, 5674/1914 his premonition came true with a pistol shot heard around the world.
World War I began on a beautiful sunny morning in Sarajevo, the capital of Serbia, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were visiting. Angry at Austria’s interference in Serbia’s dream of uniting with Bosnia and expanding west to the Adriatic Sea, six members of Serbia’s fanatical Black Hand terror organization were determined that he never leave the place alive.
As the Duke’s retinue drove from the Sarajevo station to the city hall, the cars were speeding too fast for the first two assassins to throw their bombs. Further on, a bomb thrown by a third assassin bounced against the duke’s car and exploded against the next car, wounding two of the duke’s officers. After attending a reception, the duke was warned to leave Sarajevo by the shortest route; instead, he requested to be taken to the hospital to visit his two wounded officers. During this detour, his chauffer, Leopold Loyka, took a wrong turn down a narrow road. This is what Hashem ordained. Gavrilo Princip, one of the six assassins, “happened” to have gone to nearby Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen to buy a sandwich, and coming out he saw the Archduke’s car only ten yards away.
The chauffer realized his mistake and slowed down. Striding forward, Princip fired two shots.
Emperor Franz Josef of Austria was not too sad to hear of the passing of his nephew who had the audacity to marry a commoner. His first comment was, “A higher power has re-established the order which I, alas, could not preserve.” Nonetheless, a wave of hatred for Serbia swept over Austria and some of its top brass thought it an opportune moment to cut Serbia down to size. After all, would anyone be concerned at a small squabble with a minor country? Austria’s closest ally, Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany also “did not believe that there was any prospect of great warlike developments. The Czar would not side with the Archduke’s murderers, and Russia and France were not ready for war.”
To provoke Serbia into war, Austria presented it with ten demands, which it was certain Serbia would reject. Surprisingly, Serbia accepted all the demands except the most drastic of them: that Austria should participate in the judicial process against the assassins. This, Serbia asked, should be submitted to the International Tribunal at the Hague. Austria was not satisfied.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
Many people including Emperor Franz Josef thought Austria was playing with fire since the peace of Europe was preserved by a tangle of international alliances. Russia was bound by treaty to Serbia, France was bound to Russia, and Germany was bound to Austria. The only thing that kept nations from leaping at each others’ throats was the knowledge that each nation was linked by treaty to others bound to defend it in time of war. Attacking any one of them could bring down the whole of Europe like a house of cards. All this provided the potential for a local squabble between Austria and Serbia spiraling into a conflict amongst Europe’s four mightiest powers.
Besides these mutual obligations, France was rankled over its defeat by Germany in 5631/1871, Germany was itching to neutralize France’s power and grab more overseas colonies, Russia
considered itself the protector of Slavic countries like Serbia, and England, lord of the seas, was nervous at Germany’s buildup of a rival navy.
As a US emissary wrote to President Wilson that year, “The situation is extraordinary. It is militarism run stark mad. Unless someone acting for you can bring about a different understanding there is some day to be an awful cataclysm… There is too much hatred, too many jealousies. Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria. If Germany insists upon an ever-increasing navy, the English will have no choice.”
Also, Kaiser Wilhelm I had been saber rattling for decades, and there was also a strong feeling in Germany that war was the epitome of human endeavor. Crown Prince Wilhelm expressed this Edomite idea eloquently in his book Germany in Arms printed in 5673/1913.
“Today, indeed, we live in a time which points with special satisfaction to the proud height of its culture, which is only too willing to boast of its international cosmopolitanism, and flatters itself with visionary dreams of the possibility of an everlasting peace throughout the world,” he wrote. “This view of life is un-German and does not suit us. The German who loves his people, who believes in the greatness and the future of our homeland, and who is unwilling to see its position diminished, dare not close his eyes in the indulgence of dreams such as these, he dare not allow himself to be lulled into indolent sleep by the lullabies of peace sung by the Utopians.
“But the study of history teaches us that all those States which in the decisive hour have been guided by purely commercial considerations have miserably come to grief. The sympathies of civilized nations are today, as in the battles of antiquity, still with the sturdy and the bold fighting armies; they are with the brave combatants who. are soldiers for their country, and fight out of the love which they bear to the cause. the sword will always be and remain until the end of the world the decisive factor. Each of us must keep himself fit for arms and also prepared in his mind for the great solemn hour when the Emperor calls us to the standard.”
Although World War I is considered to have started on Tisha B ’Av, it had a number of birthdates. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28th, the 4th of Tammuz. Austria declared war on Serbia three-and-a-half weeks later on July 28th, the fifth of Av. Russia then announced mobilization of its huge army in defense of Serbia, and Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st, four days later, which fell on Tisha B’Av. Afterwards, France began its war against Germany on August 3rd, Britain declared war against Germany at midnight, August 4th.
Germany was confident that it could win the war thanks to its Schlieffen Plan, which had been developed over the past few decades. The key of this plan was to use most of Germany’s resources to attack France through neutral Belgium, crush France in five
weeks, and then move the troops east to attack Russia, which would need six weeks to mobilize its army due to its primitive railway system. As Kaiser Wilhelm reportedly said, “Paris for lunch, dinner in St. Petersburg.”
For almost a month, German troops marched and fought through France to achieve their goal.
“The number of those who dropped out decreased from day to day,” Captain Henry Huebner of the German army wrote in his memoirs. “The feet got hardened, but our bodies, it is true, got thinner. It is noteworthy that on these tremendous marches one suffered comparatively little from hunger. A swede or turnip from the next field, some chocolate, a cigarette, or a cigar, was often sufficient for a whole day. Further, the exultation of having defeated the enemy helped us to endure anything… The strain and exertion which we endured on September 3rd were almost beyond human capacity. From 6 a.m. till 10 p.m. we tramped along the dusty roads under a hot September sun, with only a couple of hours’ rest at noon, till we reached the neighborhood of the Marne.”
Huebner and his men were racing to take part in the First Battle of the Marne, also known as the “Miracle of the Marne,” since this is where the German advance was halted, leading to four years of static trench warfare. The Schlieffen plan had failed for a number of reasons including the fact that the Russians attacked faster than expected so that the Germans had to send more troops east than initially planned; a further complication was England’s entry into the conflict to honor a treaty with Belgium made 75 years earlier in the Treaty of London of 5599/1839. The Germans had never dreamt that “The Britons would go to war for a mere scrap of paper.” Failure of a swift German victory led to four years of attrition that ended indecisively enough for Hitler to claim Germany never lost in the field and was stabbed in the back by Jewish traitors.
“Everything went black before my eyes,” he wrote of Germany’s surrender. “I tottered and groped my way back to the dormitory, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. The more I tried to achieve clarity on the monstrous event in this hour, the more the shame of indignation and disgrace burned my brow. What was all the pain in my eyes compared to this misery? There followed terrible days and even worse nights – I knew that all was lost. Only fools, liars, and criminals could hope in the mercy of the enemy. In these nights hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. There is no making pacts with Jews; there can only be the hard either-or. I, for my part, decided to go into politics” (abridged).
The destruction of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Second Reich had opened the door to Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust.
(Sources: 1. Horne, Charles F. (Ed.). Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, National Alumni. 1923. 2. Gilbert, Martin. First World War. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. Many thanks to Yated reader Stanley Hartstein who contributed key ideas towards this article.)