World War One: on the peculiar geopolitics of passionate, armed teenagers




“He fits pretty well as a standard terrorist, as an evil zealot who destroyed a wonderful empire of tolerance and benevolence”

Is that how the Austrian-Hungarian Empire is beginning to be seen today? At least from 19th century Hungarian literature (e.g. The Heartless Man’s Sons) it was depicted as a rather intolerant empire where non-German-speaking Hungarians and Slavs were second-class citizens in their own countries.


Saying Gavrilo Princip was a terrorist is like calling George Washington a terrorist. But I guess it’s all about point of view these days.


thanks for world war one.
the world would not be the f’d up place it is today without it.


In my neighborhood, in San Salvario in Torino, Princip might be a
tattooed anarchist who ends up in prison because he threw stones on a
cop, while protesting against the imaginary European high speed train
between Turin and Lyon, the TAV. What passions this obscure train
provokes, a white-elephant pro-EU project will never be realized anyway,
because nobody really wants the train on either side of the French
Italian border, and worse yet, nobody can afford it.

Keynesianism says that big expenditures are needed to jump start economies after they stall due to recessions & depressions. I think Keynes himself proposed the government bury something of great value in an abandoned mine, fill in the mine & then allow private industry to dig up the treasure in order to kick start the economy. Paul Krugman also facetiously put forward a fake alien invasion as a way to pump up war industry & create jobs. A white elephant Super Train project may be what Europe needs instead of austerity.

History is not written by the victors but by the historical visionaries, and it's not about truth -- it's about paradigms. It's an art to argue, a performance to convince, and the victory condition of history itself is to create a story that seem plausible, and also applicable to different times, in the future, in the past.

I really agree with this here… We’ve moved into an era of historical writing where history is contextual and not always authoritative, where history is written from a particular perspective and is aimed at shoring up particular political claims of real or imagined oppressed groups. It carries a political edge and is not subject to the certainty of modernism, but to the sometimes empowering, sometimes destabilizing, sometimes dangerous undercurrents of postmodernity - how it’s used depends on the writers intent. Where you stand informs how you think about the world. It’s all Rashomon and no central, third person, authority. Is that good or bad? I’m not sure. Again, even that depends on where you stand.

One of Gavrilo's armed comrades in the conspiracy was a Muslim, and just as ready to kill the Archduke as Gavrilo was.

I think this indicates the Yugoslav sense of indentity, not necessarily the Serb nationalist one? I think that Andrew Wachtel deals nicely with the uncertainty and debates in the Yugoslav movement. Though aren’t there some that think the organization he was involved in was secretly being backed by the Black Hand (unbeknownst to footsoldiers like Princip), which was clearly a Serb nationalist organization, which was looking to destabilize the Austro-Hungarian Empire to free their fellow Serbs like they (imagined) had done with the Ottomans?

How many young men today are dying in irregular street wars, in paramilitary ambushes, raids and revenge attacks, in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Xinjiang, the Caucasus and now even Ukraine.

And that is one of the real tragedies of nationalist modernity… what’s the line from that Tom Waits song about the Israel-Palestine conflict… “fill their children full of hate/to fight an old mans war/and die along the road to peace…” I think it goes.

The paradox of Balkan history is that killers become rulers, warriors become peacemakers, sisters become enemies then sisters again on new terms, and law exists mostly as a hoax to make this vicious circle seem like local politics as usual.

Yep. Not much commentary can make that any clearer I think.

As always, a very thoughtful commentary on the political nature of history in the Balkans! I’ve always thought that if you can understand the history of the Balkans in modern times, you are well on your way to understanding the modern world in general.


You have no faith in humanity, do you? We didn’t necessarily need WW1 to fuck things up. we would have done that regardless! Have faith in our collective ability to screw up the world, will you? :slight_smile:


I think that’s her point?


How could it be different?

I guess people could lie more about it.


I don’t remember George Washington shooting King George’s wife in the stomach.


History? Because we’ve changed how we write history. It’s not just about looking at the state and the sources it generates to understand how things happened, and even celebrating that as necessary progress, no matter the cost. Now it’s about putting that in tension with other kinds of archives - generated by corporations, by individuals, by different non-state groups, etc, and trying to understand how they are just as much historical actors as the state or those who are seen as wielding great power.

For years now, since the 60s and 70s, we’ve been focusing on “history from below” and things like “micro-history”, which focus on something small and direct - the history of a small town over a decade, the history of a singular event, the history of a battle. this was because the stories of too many people were being left out and it was distorting our understanding how history. One example is US slavery. For years, the only way it was understood by historians was from the perspective of the slave masters and the US government–it was the history of white, powerful men (written by white, elite men), in other words. But starting in the 50s, with Eugene Genovese’s Roll Jordan, Roll, we began to look at slavery from the perspective of the enslaved. That changed how we thought about slavery. I’d say that was a more than valuable shift in perspective. There was actually a time in the writing of history, where we literally did not care about the people who were most effected by the US slave trade. Now we do.

But to be fair lately, there has been more of a focus on going back to big history, but re-writing it from the perspective of a different set of actors - the history of the music industry and copyright law from the perspective of piracy, or the history of the 60s and vietnam war from the perspective of rock music fans in San Francisco and Saigon. There is an attempt to retain big history, big sweeps of time, and big stories, but through the lens of a greater number of people. The truth is that since the sources are written by people, with a particular perspective, the story is by necessity complex and at times contradictory. I’d argue that more accurately depicts how we live our lives, but YMMV, I guess.

Again, you don’t have to agree or disagree with what I"m saying and you’re welcome to think we can dig out some sort of objective truth–lots of people think that (I think that could be a noble goal, but am not sure it’s attainable)… I’m talking about how historians write history.


aaand note how badly an article on how to get a clear vision of history suffers when it pulls out the repeatedly-discredited “Oswald shot Kennedy” theory…


Ah, sorry. I misunderstood you and on rereading I am not even sure why. I thought you were bemoaning a current lack of an objective standard, something that I would consider fundamentally impossible anyway.


I thought YOU were bemoaning a lack of objective standards! Looks like we generally agree that such things aren’t possible! Yay!


I don’t remember George Washington shooting King George’s wife in the stomach.

Well, if King George’s wife had been driving down Boston streets, she would have probably been shot in the stomach, if not worse.


Probably. But not by George Washington.

I find the comparison inapt because Washington has a moral authority that Princip lacks.


To be fair, it would have been an unruly mob, not George Washington himself. The “founding fathers” were hardly radicals. To be sure, there were radicals. All during this time, the British officials in charge were subject to all sorts of violence. But the elites were at times pretty horrified by the unrest, even if they agreed with the aim. Princip is less Washington, and more… I don’t know who? Crispus Attucks maybe?


Are all acts of violence equally amoral? Is there a time when violence is justified? does it take a level of inequality and oppression such as was the case with say the Warsaw ghetto uprising? If Princip and his compatriots felt seriously oppressed as members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (something I’m not arguing for or against, BTW - just where do you draw the line), at what point does their oppression justify violence?

In other words, who do you think is a terrorist and who do you think is a freedom fighter. Because I’m pretty sure that the British government did not think of Washington and his compatriots as “freedom fighters” by any stretch of the imagination.


I simply don’t think there’s an argument to make that shooting the man’s wife was justified.


I would agree with you here. Unfortunately, not everyone would.