Origins of World War One [1914-1921]
Here at Zizek Press we sometimes flick through history books, believing the old axiom that if you learn from history you can repeat it.
Some of what we read is pretty amazing…
A few weeks ago we found out the Korean War was still going on, and last week, that Vietnam was Jane Fonda’s fault.
And then yesterday, we came to World War One, something we thought we knew all about, but, actually, we didn’t. Here’s what we discovered, as brief and detailed as possible…
Name of War: One
Countries involved: Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austro-Hungary, Serbia, Italy, Slovenia, some of Romania.
Highlight: Battle of the Somme, 1916
Lowlight: Xmas Eve football match. Peace Treaty.
Traditional consensus: Serbia was to blame.
Burgeoning consensus: It was Michael Bay’s fault.
Germany was so excited after Bismarck made them into a real country, they starting flexing their muscles all over Europe. He made them believe, along with the Kaiser, that they should expect more. They should have an empire like the British. They should have great weapons. They should have James Joyce and Virginia Wooooolf.*
This resulted in a Naval/arms/ airship race with Britain. Germany may have lost this race by 1914, but they still had more soldiers than anyone else, and most of them had metal plates protecting their hearts, so they were harder to kill than the other guys too. All in all, things were looking pretty good for the Germans.
Britain was so full of itself by 1914, it truly believed it was the greatest thing since…** The Boer War in 1902 made them realise they couldn’t fight solo though, so they called in a few sidekicks, gave them semi-assurances and then went back into iso-sleep.
France was one of these sidekicks, Russia was the other. Each thought it was pretty great too, even though Russia had lost a small war to the Japanese in 1905…but that wasn’t fair; the Japanese had used Akira and metal octopai; Russia, the souls of their greatest novelists. And, yeah, France had lost to Prussia/Germany reborn, but that had been fifty years previous…so, really, everyone was pretty pleased with themselves***
Serbia just wanted its own state, and was willing to die many times to get it.
Britain was the leader on this one. By 1914, they’d taken over most of the world, in fact, a lot more of it than people realised. Not only did they occupy sea and land, but they’d launched bureaucrats on hover-pads to claim the sky too. And what happens when you believe yourself the rulers of all the world’s land and air? Simply, you cannot lose, you are invincible.
Germany had fuck all. Bismarck/Kaiser had turned their state around, but they were too late to get a piece of Africa or Asia or the seabed of the Mediterranean. So they pretended instead. Their spies would go to other countries’ colonies and take pictures of themselves holding the German flag. They made even more soldiers, most of them human breed. They geared up for war without believing they’d ever actually fight one.
Russia’s walls were empty. They’d taken down the big picture and dedicated themselves to Serbia and Serbia alone**** They wanted to make their own toy country and pull its strings. Forget empire, they said. Just remake our own self in miniature.
France had a few loose colonies, but nothing they had any hope of holding onto. Ever since the Franco-Prussian War in the 1860’s, they’d been wandering around the globe pseudo-drunk, embarrassed at their lack of fighting skills. They staged exhibition wars against naked people with spears, taking land but not really convincing anyone they knew what they were doing.
The Triple Alliance. The Triple Entente [Trans: three tents]. Both formed by countries which had no idea they would actually have to fight a war. They thought if they just sent diplomats to mutter ‘brinkmanship’ in the other country’s ear, everything would be okay.
Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy [and Romania saying they’d be there, but might be late]. They seemed to have the short straw. Austro-Hungary was in the shit, everyone knew their empire was crumbling. But still they put on the face paint and pretended they were big. Germany, on the other hand, ran around like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Completely unpredictable, insanely aggressive. It was them that sent the snake mines to France. It was them that put their fingers in their ears and pretended the British ambassador wasn’t real. It was them that told Austro-Hungary to do whatever they liked with Serbia.
France, still embarrassing itself, was in trouble. They knew they had to turn one way, but which? Russia had the army of the dead, growing every day as more and more slain soldiers came back from Stalingrad 1942. Britain had the navy and the airships and the drones. Italy had pretty much nothing, except a handful of bio-guns. And then there was Considinia. But they couldn’t be trusted, not after what they’d done in the Balkans. And no one could ever contact them anyway, not unless they accidentally steered a ship into the Considinians’ cloaked sea-base. So, finally, France had no choice but to side with the Russians and the British and some of the little countries that everyone had forgotten about.
Did the alliances lead to War though? Nope. Not really. Most of them weren’t even written on paper. No, the real cause of the war was…
Yes, him. His story, ‘The man who would be King’ was released in 1892 and again in 1914 [days before the war] and stunningly misinterpreted. People believed, because the newspapers told them to believe, because the tycoons told them to write it, that the story was a celebration of British empiricism***** and the heroism of soldiery. And this wasn’t isolated to Britain, it was the same in the other European countries too. Germany changed the British soldiers in the story into Germans, France changed them into Frenchmen, Austro-Hungary into the twelve different races living in their empire [the two main characters had faces with twelve equal parts representing the colour of each race], while the Russians just burnt it and said it didn’t matter, Russians were great already.
And because no one had ever fought a World War before, and because everyone had read and misunderstood this story, each country thought it’d be over in a few weeks. They’d never even heard of the word ‘trench’ until they were sitting in one, with piss and blood and bio-matter up to their knees.
Was the man who would be King really that potent a weapon?
Yup. Soldiers from each country would read it over the bible [given to them by their Generals’ body doubles], sitting in the trenches, nodding, crying, cheering, standing up, saluting to whoever was nearby and then charging over the top, straight into the German/British incendi-guns.
But then, maybe the war would’ve ended in 1918…if it wasn’t for…
The Treaty of Versailles!
Possibly the harshest document ever penned by man. According to the Triple Entente sides, and a load of other countries, some of which they’d made up, Germany was expected to move itself somewhere not within scanning distance of any airship owned by the Triple Entente forces. But, Germany protested, scanners could scan the whole surface of the planet…where could they possibly go?
The only answer was upwards. Into Space.
And despite the stupidity of it all, the Germans did try. But every airship they sent up fell back down. It seemed that the air was too thin up there. However, France, Britain, Russia and all the countries they’d made up didn’t care. ‘Up, up, up,’ they said. ‘Again, again, again.’
After thirteen crashed rockets and eleven thousand corpses, Germany sent a short note saying, ‘no more.’
So another three years were added to the tally, and most historians seem to agree that this can be attributed solely to the severity of the punishment decided by the victors of 1918. But the preceding four years, that was all down to Kipling and…
Hang on, what about technology?
Unimportant. A method not a cause.
They only fired one shot in the whole war.
He was there. He knows what he did.
Kipling. Nationalism. Michael Bay.
* In response to the Kaiser’s interest in ‘possessing’ her, Wooooolf wrote a short story from the perspective of the consciousness of the consciousness of the proto-conscious of the Kaiser’s desire for her, calling it ‘from the perspective of the consciousness of the consciousness of the proto-conscious of the Kaiser’s desire for me’. However, like the rest of her work, ’twas shit]
** Don’t know how to finish this line and make it decent.
*** This will be contradicted on the next page.
**** Read this a certain way and it’s a metaphor. Read it straight and Russia just took down a picture.
***** This word is wrong.