There is absolutely no need going about praising people for restoration when they are the perpetrators of the deterioration at hand in the first place. So admittedly, World War I isn’t necessarily a good place to start from when discussing the instances that nations have proven themselves the phoenix—the skilled sailor in the storm, rising out of excruciating circumstances not only as survivors, but winners.
But our hands are tied on this one—we would have to start from the so-called Great War, particularly, 28th June, 1914, when a certain Gavrilo Princip got lucky and had his game delivered right before the barrel of his gun, and went on to spawn a human self-inflicted massacre on such massive proportions.
Europe, at this time in history, was divided into two powerful rival camps—there were the ‘Triple Entente’ (also known during the war as the Allies) comprising Britain, Russia, and France. And then on the other end, there was the ‘Triple Alliance’ (styled the Central Powers during the war), consisting of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire. Certainly, it wasn’t mutual love that bonded these two camps, rather, the alignment of purposes—no matter how briefly, trivial, or unsavoury. It was the era when superpowers like those nations contained in the subcontinent of Europe asserted their nationhood and dominance through the infiltration and disruption of the peace and statehood of other territories. It was an era in European history where the streak of instability characteristic of developing nations was at its heights. Conquests, brutalities, and imperialism were the game, and these empires were on the constant prowl—be it in neighbouring European nations, in Africa, Asia, etc.
Serbia, for one, had grown tired. Being engrossed as they were in the Balkan imperialistic quagmire, where they were the conquered not the conquistador, this Slavic nation had indeed grown tired of being dealt a bad hand. For centuries, the Turkish empire of Ottoman had had their turn with them. Late 19th century however, the Turks were out; Serbia had broken free. It was now an independent nation. But that did not stop neighbouring Austria-Hungary from sniffing around.
The dwindling multinational empire of Austria-Hungary was desperate for restoration. It was an empire, facing its own problems of instability. Having piled up within it, multinational, multi-ethnic states, ranging from, not only the Austrians and Hungarians, but also the Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Serbians, Croats, Poles, Romanians, Italians, Bosnians, etc., this empire was on a constant attack—from within. Needless to say, its attempts at conquering Serbia was a distracted one. Serbia took note of this distraction in Austria-Hungary and had plans of its own brewing. Arguably, not only plans of resistance, but of imperialism too. This was the plan: if Austria-Hungary began to crumble like their past imperial overlord (the Ottoman Empire), the people of Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia—fellow Slavs, then in the grips of Austria-Hungary’s imperialistic rule, would be free to join Serbia to form a formidable south Slavic superstate—Yugoslavia, with they, Serbia, as overlord. A cause, then, as radical like this could use a clandestine society to see to its success—so the Black Hand was formed by the Serbs. A revolution was at hand.
So then, what business did Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, the man destined to take after the old and ailing king, Emperor Franz Joseph I, have, visiting Bosnia on this fateful day of 28th June, 1914? Sniffing around neighbouring Serbia, erh? He had come to scout the area, to lay out his plans for Serbia’s conquest, erh? The Bosnian Serbs, particularly, the radical Black Hand, had every reason to be suspicious—looking at Austria-Hungary’s track record of taking that which wasn’t theirs, and Ferdinand’s own particular plan of political reform—a reform which did not favour the Serbian plan of irredentism. Granted, the Serbs themselves technically honed a desire to take from others that which did not arguably belong to them. (After all isn’t one person’s irredentism, arguably another’s imperialism?).
But what is it that they say? Game recognises game. Imperialism was the game of the time, and Serbia and the Serbs of Bosnia would sooner find themselves as perpetrators than game—victims. If Austria-Hungary became successful at conquering Serbia, or if the planned political reforms of the to-be Emperor was to sail through, all hopes of Bosnian, Slovene, and Croatian liberation and the consequent formation of Yugoslavia would be lost. So, Gavrilo Princip, member of the notorious Black Hand, scrambling for solutions to this potential trouble, took his shot at Austria-Hungary’s next emperor, Archduke Ferdinand… and missed.
Ferdinand, travelling with his wife in a carriage in the city of Sarajevo, came out unscathed. Perhaps Gavrilo Princip was heading back home to curse his unlucky stars, having missed his first shot. But unlike Dede Ayew on the fateful day of 2nd December, 2022, fate had for Princip, on this fateful day of 28th June, 1914, a second chance. So, what does he see approaching him later that same day? The same carriage, containing the Archduke and his darling wife. They had taken a wrong turn and had fallen right into his lap—right before the barrel of his gun. Shots were fired, the Archduke and his wife were down. History alleges that they were rushed to the hospital, husband clinging on to wife, begging her to stay alive. These romantic people will kill us…
This is a story of how the death of just one man resulted in the deaths of over 8,500,000 soldiers, wounded over 21 million, and caused the deaths of about 13 million innocent civilians—women, children, outright babies, and men. Bizarre, isn’t it? That nations comprising human beings, human beings blessed with the power of reasoning, are able to descend so steeply into savagery, to the extent that the death of one man ends up spawning such a wide devastating effect on the entire world.
The Turn of An Imperialistic Century
We know where this is going…
Exactly one month after the assassination of its to-be emperor, on 28th July, 1914, Austria-Hungary declares war on the Serbs—right there in the nation of Serbia, even though it knew, going into it, that Serbia would receive backing from its ally, Russia. Austria-Hungary knew very well too that with Russia in the mix, its ally France would most definitely join in against them. And if France and Russia were in on the war, Britain was sure to throw itself in, in assistance of its allies. But the Austria-Hungary empire, it knew it had Germany.
And that is exactly how it went. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and threw its first series of bombs on the capital of Belgrade on the 28th and 29th of July, 1914, Russia mobilised its forces. When word of this mobilisation reached Germany, this nation was quicker to mobilise and went straight to declare war against… France. That was a smart move on Germany’s part. It thought it could catch the French nation off-guard, get a quick win and then head east to Russia, the large empire which would use a little more time in its mobilisation.
But to get to France, Germany had to pass through Belgium. And that was where Britain’s problem with Germany began. Initially, Britain, allied with Russia and France, had planned to stay out of this whole affair. But Belgium was a neutral territory—and this neutrality, Britain was bent on safeguarding. This was a neutrality crucial for the prevention of German conquest of France, for such a conquest would pretty much leave Germany in charge of Western Europe. So here comes Britain, roped into the raging conflict. It declares war on Germany on the 4th of August, 1914.
Germany was an interesting one. There it was, a relatively new wealthy nation, having come into being in 1871. By 1914, it was a rich and powerful nation—but it wanted more. It wanted this same imperialism—it wanted conquests; it yearned for territories. It didn’t help matters that the nation was ruled by an impetuous man-child, Kaiser Wilhelm II, a man bent on rubbing shoulders with the superpowers of the world by… well, challenging their powers—a move he believed would position his nation as the world’s ultimate superpower. If you want to be the best, you’ve gotta fight the best, no?
So, this war fought between two nations, having covert/overt imperialistic objects—Austria-Hungary and Serbia—was joined by yet another nation having a covert/overt imperialistic aim, Germany; and then another, Russia; then yet another, Britain. In fact, at the end of the day, when this war is dissected, all we find ourselves left with, are nations, all having imperialistic plans—one way or the other.
It was a war of big guns, outrageous egos, an ‘I’ll see your penis, and raise you my penis’ kind of war. These attempts at showcasing penises, was to, we repeat, result in the deaths and maiming of millions and millions of lives worldwide.
A Crash course
By the 4th of August, Germany was in Belgium, committing atrocities on the Belgians with hopes of getting into France. The Belgians put up a resistance they hadn’t expected. Meanwhile, France launches an attack on approaching Germany at the Battle of the Frontiers. There are enormous casualties on both sides. Germany grabs a shaky victory. France retreats. By August 1914, British Expeditionary Force had landed in Belgium. They proceed to strike an attack on the Germans in the Battle of Mons on the 23rd of August. They are outnumbered by the Germans. They join allied France in retreating. The two retreat to France’s River Marne. Germany meets them there. On the 6th through to the 12th of September, the First Battle of the Marne was fought. This time around, retreating was Germany’s to do. There are huge casualties on both sides.
On one hand, Germany had to enter French territory. On the other hand, it would serve the Allies’ (France, Britain, and Belgium’s) defensive and offensive purposes if they could stop this infiltration, and rather, breakthrough to German territories instead. So, for infiltration’s sake, the two opposing forces rush to and clash at the First Battle of Ypres in October through to November, 1914—in the Belgian city of Ypres. Victory was the Allies’ (i.e., Britain and France)
A month prior, on the 28th of August, the first naval battle of the war, the Battle of Heligoland Bight, had been fought between Germany and Britain. Britain, having then, the world’s most powerful navy, imposed a blockade on Germany, stopping imports of food, goods, ammunitions etc. into the country, with hopes of economically starving out the nation and bringing them to surrender. Victory was Britain’s in this battle.
But on the eastern front, Germany was having better luck against Russia. The enormous empire of Russia quite surprisingly fared badly at the hands of the comparatively young global power, Germany, in the Battle of Tannenberg, fought during the 26th to 30th of August, 1914. The great empire was to suffer yet another defeat at the hands of the Germans in the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes fought in September. Over 320,000 Russian lives were lost in such a short space of time. The vast empire of Russia wasn’t precisely performing amazingly in this war. This drew the attention of its old foe, the Ottoman Empire. Late November that same year, the Turkish empire joined the war against Russia (and the rest of the Allies).
Austria-Hungary, the instigator of the war, itself, suffered a devastating defeat in the hands of the Serbians in the Battle of Cer fought on the 15th through to the 24th of August, 1914. Its attack on Russia in August to September in the Battle of Galicia (also known as Battle of Lemberg), was to also end in disaster. Austria-Hungary was losing face; Russia was gaining face.
The Case of the Elephants and the Ants
So far, we have nations who have gone into this mess of a war on their own accord. Same, however, cannot be said of their respective colonies spread worldwide. No sooner had the war begun than colonies such as those in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australasia and Pacific Islands, the Atlantic Islands, and Indian Ocean Islands, etc. begrudgingly found themselves offshoots of the war. For instance, on the 15th of August, 1914, Germany was in the British colony of Kenya. In a place called Taita-Taveta in this East African nation, the British and Germans fought one of their deadliest battles of the war. Forgotten innocent Kenyan lives were the ultimate casualties of this clash.
On the 26th of August, 1914, the Allied forces (Britain and France) were in the German colony of Togoland. There too, regrettably, innocent African lives were lost. The Allied Forces’ infiltration of West Africa continued as they moved into Cameroun (then Kamerun). There, they were to suffer defeats in the hands of the Germans in the Battles of Garua and Nsanakong on the 29th August and 6th September respectively. Yet, innocent Cameroonian lives were not spared. The proxy clash between Britain and German in the Battle of Sandfontein on the 26th of September saw the loss of South African and Namibian lives. On the 4th of November, the people of the East African country of Tanzania found themselves in a brutal tangle between the British and Germans in the Battle of Tanga in November. The former suffer yet another defeat in the hands of the latter. Here too, African lives were inescapable casualties.
British colonies of New Zealand launch attacks on the German colonies of Samoa and New Guinea… Basically, everywhere colonies of the respective warring nations were spread, the war was extended to—from Europe to Africa, the Middle East to the Pacific Islands, from the Indian Ocean to the North and South Atlantic Ocean, then China.
So far, we have covered only a smidgen of the series of events that took place in 1914—just one year out of the four bad years of warring.
Indeed, for four bad years this war drove on, extending in territories—owing to imperialistic stretch, and participants—owing to alliances. Not only did it result—and I mention this for the umpteenth time—in the loss of the lives of millions and millions of people worldwide, but it also culminated in the crumbling of economies—regrettably, even those who were nothing but offshoots and at-times bystanders. It sent nations years back—on economic progresses made. Deaths are not the only thing endemic of chaos. In the heat of chaos there are oftentimes thefts too. Because for African colonies for instance, not only did the war result in the loss of lives (human resources), but also in the sweeping out of natural resources too. In many, many ways, the continent of Africa funded the war.
What is interesting, however, in all this gruesome quagmire of war, is the progression that certain nations have managed to squeeze out of this whole morbid affair. I still stand by the fact that there really is probably a better way of starting this whole discussion regarding those instances where nations have proven themselves the phoenix—the skilled sailor in the storm, rising out of excruciating circumstances not only as survivors, but as winners. So indeed, an event so unnecessarily self-inflicted as WWI was, isn’t precisely the best place to find such lessons of restoration and resilience. But we cannot ignore the fact that even in such savagery, certain nations—being the orchestrators of this savagery—were able to squeeze lemonade out of these events, and find themselves strategically placed to still orchestrate the course of the world. Many of them, finding themselves losing their imperialistic claims, have still managed to, due to their economic advantage, to this very day, arguably continue their reigns as imperial rulers—covertly/overtly.
In industry, in manufacturing, in technological advancements, these nations found with the war, ironically, their individual paces at advancements fuelled. The fervour with which military technologies were invented became, years after the war, the same fervour with which non-military technologies needed for socio-economic advancements were churned out.
This whole thing is completely unfair, is it not?
None of God’s Business
I mean you would think that these superpowers, driven by sheer greed and so drunk with power that they cause upon the world such devastations, would, for karma sake perhaps, end up, dragged to the bottom of the global food chain or more aptly, the global ‘development chain’, leaving room for the underdogs of the world, such as those found right here in Africa, to have their turn at the glory that is advancement and power.
Unfortunately, it is not karma—whoever he or she is—that has been tasked with the burden of determining the course of events of the world. The destinies of nations tend to lie in their own individual hands. Successes or failures are ours to orchestrate. Unfortunately, God has not tasked Herself with the burden of giving nations—underdogs, to boot—turns at the seats of influence. The destinies of nations really tend to lie in their own individual hands.
While some nations, being offshoots and sometimes outright bystanders to certain global events—events such as wars—end up clinging to fatalism, and attributing all their subsequent failures to these events, other nations, being the principal and immediate perpetrator and casualties of these events, quickly regroup, re-strategise, and come out of these events stronger than before.
I mean, take the USA for example…
Upon second thought, let’s continue this discussion next time—starting right at this point where the United States of America entered the war in April 1917.