29. June 2014 · Comments Off on A Summer Day in Bosnia-Herzegovina 100 Years Ago · Categories: European Disunion, History, War · Tags: , , , ,

This weekend marks the hundredth anniversary of the incident which was the spark that set off the cataclysm of the First World War. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first world-wide war; it could be argued that the Napoleonic Wars were, and the interminable European war between France and England which spilled over into those colonies in the North American continent could also be considered a world war.
The spark was seemingly a simple thing – almost a non-story as it appeared in the English and American newspapers; the assassination of an Austrian noble and his wife by a barely competent yet very lucky Serbian amateur terrorist. This was an appalling tragedy for the family of the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his beloved spouse, Sophie, the Countess Hohenberg, who left three living children to be raised by the Archduke’s best friend. The assassination was perhaps an inconvenience more than a tragedy to the the court and administration of Franz-Ferdinand’s uncle, the Emperor Franz Joseph. The Archduke, who but for the accident of birth would have been a rather quiet and dutiful nonentity, devoted to gardening, architecture and the hunt – was not a particularly popular man at the time of his death, either with his uncle, his fellow aristocrats or the Viennese public. He replaced the popular but suicidal Crown Prince Rudolph as heir, and had insisted on marrying for love, instead of merely making Sophie his mistress. They were eventually permitted to marry with the assurance that Sophie and her children would not have the standing or rights of succession. Sophie – lovely and well-tempered, conventionally pious, and well-educated – was usually treated pretty shabbily by Viennese society and by the imperial establishment on those official occasions at which the Archduke was expected to be present. Franz Ferdinand did play his part dutifully in official ceremonies and events, without any particular appearance of enjoyment. What started as a personal tragedy, and a national crisis for Austria-Hungary was merely the first fall in a train of dominoes.

The war which raged between 1914 and 1918 unleashed a whole cornucopia of horrors, being that they were waged between powers that had been fully or almost fully industrialized. It came after a hundred years of relative peace, prosperity and progress in the Western world. With the exception of the Franco-Prussian War, and the American Civil War, such wars as there had been were colonial wars, fought by small professional Western armies against relatively primitive foes. Many, especially in the educated classes in the late 19th century firmly believed that total, all-out, balls-to-the-wall war was something that the advanced nations of the West had moved away from, that the economic consequences would be so dire that the powers-that-be just wouldn’t allow it to happen. Meanwhile, European military planners moved briskly ahead, paying little attention to the main lesson to have been drawn from the American Civil War – that technology had moved far ahead of established tactics. The pump had also been primed by a series of little-recollected international crises at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th, which flamed up regularly in a sort of international patch of eczema, usually involving France, or Germany, England, Russia or Austria-Hungary or any combination. The crisis would be soothed by the hastily-applied salve of diplomacy … until the next time.

The one thing in common was that the great powers were jockeying for position, sometimes straight out, and sometimes through proxies. The author of the War That Ended Peace outlined how England and Germany came to stand against each other, having been allies more often than not in their previous history. Great Britain, a navy/sea power if there ever was one, gradually began a policy of more engagement in Europe among the great powers. Germany, a quintessential army/land power (and only unified into a single nation within living memory) developed the intention of having a serious deep-water navy.

And so they drifted into enmity. Once that first domino toppled, then all the rest came as a matter of course over the next four blood-soaked years. Treaty obligations and mobilization of the reserves imposed an iron rule. When the dominoes finished falling in 1918, three noble ruling houses had been cast down and a whole generation of of German, French, British and Russian men were gutted. The unwieldy empire to which the archduke had been heir-presumptive broke into its’ constituent parts, and all the bright promise of the modern world as seen by Europeans at the turn of the century before the last was reduced to a nightmare … and left us with wreckage that we are still sorting out, even after a hundred years. The past isn’t dead. It’s not even over.

Such has been the sad state of our very own dear media creatures in these United States lately that I have begun again to read the English newspapers, or their on-line iteration – mostly the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and mostly because the worthy reporters for those establishments don’t seem to give a damn or not if they are ever invited to interview members of the Obama administration or not and thus have no inclination to soft-ball their coverage of American political matters as regards the present occupant of the White House and his administrative flunkies. Frankly, this is rather refreshing, although the Daily Mail site seems to be regularly curated by people who can’t spell, are innocently unscathed by knowledge of the customary rules of grammar and have a penchant for semi-weekly stories about well-trodden aspects of WWII posted as if they were the latest word, evah!

Anyway, one of the regular tropes on the Daily Mail are stories about neighbors from hell; sometimes about spectacular neighborhood feuds between people whom you thought might have known better (some of whom seem at best to be deranged), but most reliably about another kind of neighbor; the ‘council house and violent’ kind having it out with their hapless neighbors. I presume, from the context of the Mail, and from various other sources (movies and popular genre novels like this one, and this one) that ‘council house’ equates to the American version of public housing, or more especially ‘Section 8’ houses … and the presence of certain clients of social services in public or Section 8 are not particularly welcome among their neighbors. Not that I wish to be particularly snotty about this; but any fool can tell you that in a working-class neighborhood of house-proud home owners, the sudden presence of a family moving in with their rent paid by public funds is not often a very often a good or a welcome thing, with or without any racial element attached. Especially if the new neighbors are inconsiderate, destructive and hostile (or oughtright criminal) – and if it turns out that nothing much can be done to dislodge them, as seems to often be the case in once-great Britain. (Unlike the landlord in this story – who has a fine appreciation for a responsible kind of tenant-mix in his properties.)

One of the most recent of these stories – and one of the most depressing is this one; of a career welfare recipient with pink-dyed hair who has never, ever held a paying job or apparently a legal marriage, but who has still managed to birth and raise at government expense, no less than eleven offspring. One of her current neighbors had the most viciously accurate comment; describing her uterus as a clown-car. At any rate, this woman seems to have gotten the local council to place her and her spawn at some considerable expense in a custom-renovated house. Why Ms Heather Frost is to be deserving of this is a question unanswered or perhaps better yet, unasked by the council housing authorities, although I’ll bet a lot of her prospective neighbors are demanding to know. She doesn’t seem to have any particular qualities which would justify this tender consideration, other than being warm, breathing, indiscriminant with her favors and embarrassingly fertile. And it also appears that she and her offspring made life such a hell for one of their unlucky neighbors – an elderly widow – that the poor woman couldn’t even turn up the sound on her television without inviting regular, sustained abuse and vandalism. This wasn’t the only account of this kind of situation, oh, no – a couple of months ago, another such neighbor, this time a well-educated and relatively young university lecturer was driven to commit suicide by a similarly feral lot of neighbors. (Can’t find the link – but remember reading it.)

What a hell the local housing authorities create for working-class good neighbors, I must say; it’s almost as if they revel in assigning the hellish, destructive and improvident to live among them – as if cutting loose people like Ms Frost and her brood are a punishment for responsible homeowners who don’t have the wherewithal to respond by moving away, or hiring effective legal help. It’s purely a pity that hellish council house tenants and Section 8 recipients with form can’t all be sent to live in a neighborhood all together, where all they can do is make each other miserable, instead of blameless and quiet-loving working-class homeowners. Or better yet – right next door to those housing authorities

04. June 2012 · Comments Off on This and That – Jubilee Edition · Categories: European Disunion, Fun and Games, History · Tags: , ,

We were distracted Sunday morning by the Jubilee procession of the boats on the Thames, as covered by BBC America. Blondie noticed that none of her various friends in Britain were on-line Sunday morning; presumably they were all off at various street parties, celebrating Her Majesty’s sixtieth year on the throne. She turned on the television and we were glued to it for an hour and a half: yep, the Brits really do know how to pull off a spectacle, although the dogs were increasingly distraught because it was time for walkies, dammit, and we never watch TV during the day, so there was their tiny domestic universe being rocked. The various long shots did look like Canaletto’s views of the Thames; the parties, the people, the banners, the displays along the riverbank buildings … and above all, the boats. What a feat of organization that must have been – to get them there at the start, to keep them together for the convoy up the river … and then, of course, to disperse them all afterwards.

I looked it up – the last Jubilee was Queen Victoria’s, in 1897. There probably isn’t anyone alive now who remembers that one, unless they were a drooling infant at the time and have lived to be over 110 years old. You have to go back to Louis the XIV and the 17th century to find a monarch who lasted longer. There won’t be another Jubilee for a British monarch in our lifetime, so you really can’t blame them for going all hands on deck for the Jubilee. It looks as if it is all a fantastic celebration … and I hope, more than anything that it gives ordinary Brits a kind of sense of self, and of national pride again. They were a great nation, with a glorious past, who did fantastic things all during the 19th century … and I hope against hope that something – anything can arrest the horrible downward slide, which everyone who visits Britain or lives there has noted. My grandparents and great-aunt all recollected Britain fondly; it was once a rather pleasant, industrious, sober and polite place, full of small pleasures and quiet beauties; eccentric perhaps, and definitely class-ridden, and certainly not devoid of snobbery and injustice, but still… All of Britain’s nicer qualities are now comprehensively wrecked, seemingly – unless you are very, very rich.

I can’t help seeing that when one of the British papers that we read online; whenever they run a photo-feature of times of yore – there was one just this week, of pictures taken of British life the year when Elizabeth came to the throne – the comment sections fill up with nostalgic memories from readers; It wasn’t all that bad, back then, and there is this pervasive feeling that the best of Britain’s gifts and capabilities have been shamefully squandered, and the working and middle classes beaten constantly over the head about all those things they should be ashamed of by the intellectual class. The past is not just a foreign place, but a better one and a more honest one, even with the defects noted. I wonder if this doesn’t account for the popularity of all those TV series and movies set in the 19th and early 20th century. Even with economic disparities, painfully ugly industrialization and poisonously suffocating snobbery – that past was a confident, optimistic place, a successful and a safer place for individuals, with wider horizons than are presently available.

Anyway – Long may Elizabeth II reign; so do we all wish, especially when considering Prince Charles. Oddly enough, in pictures of the Thames flotilla, he looks every bit as old as his father.