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The Lost History Of 1914: Russia & The Need For Peace

(One of a series of posts about Jack Beatty’s book, The Lost History Of 1914.)

LostHistory1914What’s most stunning about Russia’s decisions that led it into World War I is that the lessons of its 1905 war with Japan were less than a decade old.

“The war with Japan originated in a mercenary lunge of Russian imperialism initiated by Nicholas’ court favorites.  To secure a timber concession in Korea, they employed  a private army of Chinese bandits to extend Russia’s reach down the peninsula—this in defiance of a prior Russian agreement with Japan to respect its sphere of influence there.  —[snip]—

Again and again in 1905, the war flowed into the revolution catalyzed that January by Bloody Sunday—the massacre, in the shadow of the Winter Palace, of striking St. Petersburg workers petitioning the tsar for ‘justice and protection’ against their employers’ abuses and his bureaucrats’ indifference.  The mobilization of reservists called up to the fill the gaps in the ranks set off riots that fueled the revolution.  The war drained the treasury of funds to cope with the revolution and deprived the government, which had dispatched Russia’s one-million-man army to Manchuria, of the bayonets to end the storm of violence and criminality it unleashed.  In September, desperate for those bayonets to picket this throne, Nicholas reached a peace settlement with Japan The war had fed the revolution, and the revolution devoured the war.”  (pp. 47-49)

In the wake of the disastrous (for Russia) Russo-Japanese War, Russian statesmen like prime minister (2006-11) Pyotr Stolypin, foreign minister Alexander Izvolski, interior minister Pyotr Durnovo* and Stolypin’s successor, Vladimir Kokovstov, adopted—and urged upon Tsar Nicholas II—a foreign policy of cautious realism to allow for a period of peaceful economic growth so as to avert domestic revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy. Read more…

Morning Song – Happy Together

If you Blues Brothers fans out there ever wondered what a 21st century Chicago-based blues/rhythm and blues/soul revue would look and sound like, check out this clip of Sonia Dada performing “Happy Together” (no, not the one by The Turtles) at The Vic in their hometown.

It’s a tangy, steaming gumbo of jazz, soul, funk and rock guaranteed to fill you up.

Holes in the logic, don’t hold ’em to light;

Love’s turning tables, turning, turning, turning day for night….

We’re so happy together, happy together.


Beauty All Around Me: Violet In Concrete


China Trade

ChinaTradeChina Trade (published 1994) is the first in what is now a long, successful and thoroughly entertaining series of novels and short stories Bronx-born S. J. Rozan has written featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, an unlikely pair of New York-based private investigators.

Lydia is me as I was when I was her age. She’s optimistic and full of energy. She believes that the world can be saved…Bill, on the other hand, is me as I am now—on a bad day. He’s been through enough bad stuff in his life that he knows what can’t be done.

Lydia is ABC (American-born Chinese), in her late 20s as China Trade opens, still living with her widowed mother.  Bill is 40, originally from the South, and more established in their chosen profession.  Each has their own business but they regularly call each other for help on cases.

Rozan’s books are full of wit, energy, family and sexual tensions, and intricate, clever plots.  Chin and Smith aren’t exactly romantically involved with each other…but they’re not exactly not romantically involved either.

Rozan also has a great sense of place.  New York City, particularly the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, is practically its own character in China Trade, with Chinatown—the small urban village where Chin has lived her entire life and where her mother knows who Lydia met for coffee before Lydia gets home—taking a lead role.  It’s the kind of first book a mystery series fan rejoices in for the implied promise that these characters are good enough that you’ll want to keep reading more books about them to find out what happens as they grow and mature.

Morning Song – Girl Crush

Not only is there controversy over Little Big Town’s new single, “Girl Crush”, there’s controversy over whether there’s any controversy at all.

I just like the way it confirms that every generation has room for a beautiful, slow song built on simple arpeggios (You know, like Chicago’s “Color My World” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”).



Beauty All Around Me: Reflected Sunset


The Lost History Of 1914: Germany’s Missed Opportunity For Civilian Control…Or Civil War

(One of a series of posts about The Lost History Of 1914.)

LostHistory1914Jack Beatty looks back on World War I with the cold, hard fury of the son of a veteran of that bloody and senseless war, and with an insatiable intellect that brings together a generation’s worth of revisionist history to argue the “Great War” was not inevitable.  Indeed, he argues, had the domestic affairs of any of several of its major combatants tipped in a different direction in the months leading up to August 1914, war would likely have been averted, or at least, minimized.

That is the thesis of The Lost History Of 1914: Reconsidering The Year The Great War Began.  “Most books about 1914 map the path leading to war.  This one maps five paths that led away from it.”  The first path Beatty examines is Germany’s.

Bismarck’s Germany was forged by its army and was democratic only in the loosest sense of the word.  Here’s one small example:  in the 1912 elections, “…in Prussia, a three-class property-weighted franchise converted 418,000 Conservative votes into 214 seats, and 600,000 Socialist votes into an outrageous 7.  This kept the Junkers on top in Prussia, while in Germany as a whole, rural-skewed gerrymandering saw ‘150 Reichstag representatives of the right…able to outvote those on the left whose electors almost twice as many.’

In the Zabern Affair of late 1913, leftist and center-left parties in the Reichstag united to censure in the Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, for “failing to check militarism in Zabern“.  However, days later, the politicians backed down in the face of united opposition from the Kaiser and the Army.  A military tribunal then overturned Lt. Forstner’s conviction in early 1914 and the Reichstag yielded.  “The deputies acted under the spell of the Staatsstreich—the coup—that had hung over the Reichstag, a democratic beachhead in an authoritarian state, since Bismarck’s time.

Beatty argues that had the left forced a confrontation with the right over the constitutional prerogatives of the Reichstag in particular and the nation’s civilian leadership in general, it “would have plunged Germany into civil war“.  That in turn would have changed Germany’s actions in the summer of 1914:

Franz Ferdinand would still have been assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.  The Austrians would still have asked Germany to support their war on Serbia.  Pleading that he ‘couldn’t send a single man out of the country without running the gravest risk,’* the kaiser could have refused without fear of jeopardizing Germany’s alliance with Austria-Hungary, a brittle confection of peoples whose leaders would be the first to understand his dilemma.  Unable to fight Serbia’s ally Russia alone, chances are Vienna would have backed down.”

That is Beatty’s first alternate history in which World War I is averted—a German civil war.  Next time, a look at Russia.

*words Kaiser Wilhelm had used to reject a 1905 proposal for war against Russia because of the likely domestic opposition of Social Democrats.


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