CNN is broadcasting the 589th documentary of the 1960’s and they are calling it “The Sixties”. It is a mult-episode documentary with all the significant events because the decade was so important. The reason why it was important is because the people who were teenagers or somewhat older at the time can’t see history passed this decade nor their own self-importance and so we have to look yet again at another “sixties” documentary.
It’s the “decade that changed the world” which is a laugh but it happens to be the programs mantra. The 1940’s wasn’t all that important because the sixties generation were just babies or haven’t been born yet and so the 40’s is too much like yesterday. Besides, no one decided to let their hair grow, not shave or bathe in the 40’s unless they were what was rightfully called bums. In the 60’s that kind of thing became “cool” along with a lot of other bad habits that have become virtues.
But it’s 2014. Why is that important? Because it is the 100th year mark of the Great War. Why is that important? Well, if any decade “changed the world” 1914 alone has them all beat. There would be no Iraq if not for 1914, nor would there have been the Bolshevik revolution in Russia; in fact there would have been no Treaty of Versailles which led to the events of Nazism and the Second World War. There also would be no Israel. The United States is now a superpower and British Empire is no more. All a direct result of 1914.
There is scarcely any conflict in the world now that is not an unresolved offshoot of the events of 1914 yet there are few significant commemorations of that year much less public discussion. It could be (not that it is) that few know what to make of the First World War. For one thing it shouldn’t have happened. No one wanted it at the time. Germany didn’t want it, Britain, Russia, The Turks. France. Not only did they not want the war but all were well aware of the carnage such a war would wrought if it ever were to happen.
Germany emerged as the eventual bad guy however they would not have been the first to declare war on Belgium if not for the Russians moving their military resources to their western border. The reason Russia did so is because if a war were to break out they would be caught off guard considering the vast geographical terrain separating their major cities with that of Germany and Austria. It was defensive measure.
But by doing so Germany interpreted the move as a threat and they were in a worse geographical position than Russia. Russia was aligned with France who was aligned with England. If Russia decided to invade Germany, Germany could then be faced with fighting a war on their western border with France, and in the east with Russian. The rational response for Germany, in that case, would be to vanquish France first and then concentrate on the Russians later but to do that they would have to go through Belgium, hence the declaration. No one wanted war, but by its very preparation, all defensive, war ensured.
The events that led to Russian military maneuvers should not have led to war either. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian separatist had nothing to do with the Serbian government. On top of this the Austrian monarchy considered the assassination a political plus. Serbia wasn’t happy with being under the control of the Austrian empire and the Archduke kind of saw their point of view contrary to Austrian leaders, this was the impetus of his visit to Serbia. His demise put all that to bed. But Austrian pride was at stake and Germany, which considered Austria a nuisance, had to stand with Austria because that’s what allies do. England subsequently devised a resolution which made Serbia culpable of the assassination. England did so to avoid war, and Serbia reluctantly acquiesced for the same reason. Austria was happy, Germany was relieved and so was Russia who just so happened to be aligned with Serbia and like Germany felt duty bound to stand with their Slavic cousins.
The problem with the First World War is that it was 20 years in the making. Alliances between empires and adversaries made it possible to envision what a European wide war would look like. There were no easy advantages and for defensive measures, plans had to be drawn just in case war broke out. It’s as though the First World War was on their calender schedule and everyone had to show up whether they wanted to or not.
The Great War was the first of its kind. Countries had gotten good at making weapons thanks to the industrial revolution. No more horseback and muskets, there was now trains and cannons and eventually planes and tanks. This made casualties reach in the millions. If we consider that the first war was the cause of the second (I do) then 1914 can be seen as the start of the single greatest catastrophe in human history, and we still aren’t done with it.
So let’s celebrate the sixties with all the protests and horrible music. It changed the world. Please.