History repeating?

| March 4, 2022

1914 Map of Alliances

As the war in Ukraine continues now past the week long point, I thought it might be interesting to look at the timeline for the Great War. The above map shows the extent of the Allies, neutral countries, and the Central Powers. Today’s Ukraine conflict map looks very similar, with the “red” part moved a few hundred miles east. On the one side now you have NATO and on the other the Russian led Commonwealth of Independent States. In between those two you have a handful of former Soviet states, all of which have been steadily moving to the west over the last three decades, weakening Russia’s influence in the region. Chief among these (and the largest) former Soviet territory is Ukraine, but Georgia and Moldova face similar threats.

Most here are intimately familiar with how World War II started. Hitler rose to power on a nationalist agenda, expanding the armed forces, and focused German anger at the World War I-ending Treaty of Versailles and the Allies who had pressed it. After losing the Cold War, much of it’s European territory, and virtually all of their Eastern and Central European satellite states, there are parallels in Putin’s rise to power with Hitler’s. There’s also obvious similarity in Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, Austria, and Poland and Putin’s current actions. Both men used the ethnicity of the regions’ population as a pretext to “liberate” the people by conducting a military invasion into neighboring sovereign countries. Both men also used a staggered approach. They didn’t do it all at once. They spaced their “minor incursions” out a bit, which allowed their enemies to rationalize why appeasement just might work this time.

With all those similarities, there is a big similarity to how World War I started as well, one that’s largely forgotten in America. Here in the US, the First World War was joined late. It is depicted almost entirely in pop culture as an Allied versus German war, which is probably in large part influenced by the Second World War. The war was actually started by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. If you ask anyone in the US what started the war they will probably say (correctly, if simplistically) that it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but who was he and why was his assassination the trigger for a global conflict that claimed millions of lives?

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the son and heir presumptive of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a federation of states that covered much of Central and Southern Europe. The two largest states within the empire were Austria and Hungary, but the empire also included modern day Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and parts of Romania, Serbia, Poland, and Ukraine.

Within this confederation of states there was significant cultural friction. The empire had three official languages and more than a dozen more commonly spoken. One of the largest thorns in the side of the Austro-Hungarians were the Serbs. There was a major Serbian independence movement that felt that the Archduke was a threat to the movement, so they assassinated him on 28 June 1914.

This led to a complicated series of diplomatic triggers, which invoked treaty obligations to join each other in war. At the turn of the 20th Century, Europe was still ruled almost entirely by monarchies. For centuries these monarchies had feuded, warred, and inter-married. The bloodlines of the European royalty were so complicated that the rulers of England, Germany, and Russia were all cousins and bore such striking physical similarities that they looked like brothers.

As they played their game of thrones, the murder of the Archduke was the pretext needed to put an end to the burgeoning Yugoslavia independence movement within Austria-Hungary. What happened next could be reoccurring in real time right now, with NATO, EU, and

Austria-Hungary demanded assurances for German treaty obligations should they declare war on Serbia on 5 July, a week after the assassination. In the next few weeks, all major powers in Europe attempted to maneuver diplomatically. Either to ensure their allies would line up behind them or to try and prevent war. Meanwhile, they also mobilized their military forces. This became known as the July Crisis.

We’re now, in 2022, in the middle of our own July Crisis. While Russia has already mobilized their forces, the allied powers of NATO are mobilizing theirs. Thousands of troops are being sent from the US to reinforce positions in Europe. European powers are also mobilizing their military forces. This is all being done in front of the backdrop of diplomatic measures. If history repeats itself here, those will fail as each country’s army amass and watch each other from across their national borders.

When diplomacy failed, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July. Germany and Russia engage in a tense standoff, the current crisis only providing an outlet for a decades-long rivalry between the burgeoning powers. Russia mobilized for war on 31 July, which set the whole house of cards toppling down.

The Russian mobilization spooked the Germans, who declared war on Russia on 1 August. Within a week, Germany had invaded Luxembourg and Belgium. In the next several days Britain declared war on Germany, Germany on France, Austria-Hungary on Russia, Serbia on Germany, Montenegro on Germany, France and the United Kingdom on Austria-Hungary, Japan on Germany and later Austria-Hungary, and several others. The whole of Europe is at war, and they dragged Africa and Asia into the conflict by the beginning of September.

Should we see a diplomatic failure of our current 2022 July Crisis, an attack against any NATO country will trigger an immediate requirement for mutual defense. Only ever activated once in the history of the organization (after 9/11), it would see all 30 members of NATO immediately embroiled in the war.

This is why you’re seeing such a steadfast resolve from the West to not create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. If any NATO members set up a no-fly zone, such as was done over Iraq post-Gulf War there is the near certainty that the airspace would be breached by Russian and/or Belorussian aircraft. Enforcing the no-fly zone would see one side or the other shoot, an act of war. A single missile exchange between Russia and any NATO country will almost certainly spiral the currently regional conflict in Ukraine into a full scale European (if not world) war. It’s also why you’re seeing tacit if not overt encouragement for NATO members’ citizens to travel to Ukraine to enlist in the battle, much the same as the Lafayette Escadrille and many other units during the World Wars. It’s a way for a country to say they’re neutral, but still participate.

Would all NATO members honor their treaty obligations? That’s one of the biggest questions on Putin’s mind right now. Should any NATO countries move in to defend Ukraine, would Putin risk a much larger (possibly nuclear) war? What NATO countries are willing to defend Ukraine and risk a major war? Ukraine might be getting sacrificed on the altar of “peace” with Russia. For how long would be the logical next question.

As a historian, one might predict that the Russian mobilization (and our counter-mobilization) would be the rattle of the saber. Diplomatic means will be ineffective. This will lead someone to turn this into a shooting war between NATO and the CIS. At that point, does the war widen to include Asia? With China’s growing ambitions, it would be a perfect time for them to strike Taiwan. We’ve taken the two-front war fighting capability we had in the Cold War out of our military.

I hope I’m wrong. I really want to see Ukraine throw the boot heel of Russia off their throats here. As soon as Russia is pushed out of Ukraine, NATO can welcome Ukraine in.

Category: Historical

21 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous

Russia’s gonna Russia…

Martinjmpr

I hope I’m wrong. I really want to see Ukraine throw the boot heel of Russia off their throats here. As soon as Russia is pushed out of Ukraine, NATO can welcome Ukraine in.

Not sure that will happen. I could see a face-saving gesture by Putin being that he pledges to withdraw his forces from Ukraine on the condition that they not join NATO, ever.

Would Ukraine (and more importantly, NATO) be willing to die on that hill? I doubt it.

Hate_me

Sun Tzu spoke of leaving your enemies a “golden bridge,” an attractive avenue of extraction.

Whether it’s to lead tactical forces into a subsequent ambush or to allow a political rival a means to abandon some course of action without losing face, there’s a great deal of value in this idea.

Look at Ukraine from a Russian viewpoint: With natural obstacles such as the Altai Mountains and the Arctic Ocean, the political terrain offers is a national, siege-level threat; Pacific ports are some 7,000 miles from the capital, China, even were it closer to Moscow, is its own quagmire of fuck-no. Turkey (and, by extension, NATO) controls the outlets from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and all those awesome warm-water sea-lanes…

Ukraine, and her part of that passable Eastern European plain stretching north from the Carpathians, is one of very few easy inlets/outlets – militarily and economically.

Right now, we aren’t giving him any reason to stop.

Hate_me

I realize many here would prefer to give him a golden shower. Fair enough.

Hate_me

Caveat: Sun Tzu didn’t use the phrase “golden bridge,” it’s the term that’s come to represent the concept of keeping your enemy off of “dying ground” – in which he has no options beyond win or die.

Anonymous

Leave yer enemy an escape route or they’ll fight to the death, or so.

Hate_me

Exactly. Apologies for my verbosity.

Putin’s options, right now given the Western narrative being pushed in the media and in Congress (I cannot be the only one who gets suspicious when they all say the same thing), is either change the existing world order or be tried by it at The Hague.

Looks like dying ground, to me. I’d be willing to nuke over that (never vote for me).

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Don’t remember if it was Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or someone else, but there’s an expression about “history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes”.
That is definitely what we’re seeing here.
That, and “may you be cursed to live in interesting times” comes to mind.

Mr. Twain.

ninja

Mason: Thank You for another great article.

You are so correct that History does indeed repeat itself…and sadly, we never seem to learn from history.

Is World and US History even taught in schools today? That is, in Elementary, Junior High/Middle School and High School?

KoB

We all saw this coming. Europeans been fighting one another for centuries. They are almost as bad as some of the Muslims. History is replete with examples. Many of the Europeans that were immigrating here brought that mindset with them and started fighting with the Native Tribes right quickly. Other examples speak of them fleeing Europe to avoid conscription in the endless wars during the early 1860s and being immediately sent to Grant’s Army as cannon fodder. Karl Marx had a big hand in all of that. Y’all do know that Uncle Karl and Old Abe were pen pals, right?

Keep this sh*t up and the world will be destroyed by fire. Seems like an ol’ boy named John wrote about that happening.

Make peace, you fools.

ninja

KoB…You wrote “Seems like an ol’ boy named John wrote about that happening.”

Yep. We know exactly who you are talking about…😉😎

gabn/hbtd/rtr

Roh-Dog

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hucTDV1Fvo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHq0rKYKcn0
?

edit: Just heard that RF shutdown social medias… I’m sure this is gonna go well /huuuuddddgggge s.

Get right y’all.

Last edited 3 months ago by Roh-Dog
Anonymous

F*ck Putin!

Last edited 3 months ago by Anonymous
Anonymous

1945 until sh*t broke out in Yugolavia is the longest the Europeans have gone without a war there.

Steeleyi

It’s repeating, but it’s reversed… the German plan in WWI (the Schlieffen Plan) called for the Germans to take France out of the war and turn to face the Russians before they could mobilize.

Didn’t work out that way.

Poetrooper

Glad you changed the “i” to lower case. Eliminates any question as to whether it’s supposed to be a capital “I” or a lower case “L”.  🤔 

Skivvy Stacker

Go home, Russia; you’re drunk.

Poetrooper

But by all means feel free to drive yourself… 😜 

Civilian She

Thank you for this Mason. Ignorance is bliss, until it’s not, and history repeats itself. I should not have slept in high school history…