A few years back, I saw a recording of Michael Neiberg’s presentation on this book at the National World War One Museum. I picked up a copy and read it a few months ago as research for my post on Robert W. Chambers’ The Dark Star.
Review: Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War 1, Michael S. Neiberg, 2011.
When Gavrilo Princip stepped up to the car of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 and fired his Browning pistol twice, one bullet for the Archduke and one for his wife, he gave Europeans what they had long wanted: a war to settle old grudges and to further the interests of their countries. The war had long been predicted, desired, and was greeted with enthusiasm. They all wanted it.
Or so one of the myths of World War One would have it.
Neiberg’s compelling and highly readable history is a convincing refutation of that idea. By looking at the journals, articles, letters, and diaries of Europeans – including some who found themselves in countries their home nations were at war with – and diplomats and journalists from neutral nations, he details how Europeans went from barely noticing any “crisis” in June 1914 to reluctant but resolute supporters of the war by December 1914.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire wasn’t that upset about the assassination. There was no cessation of regular activities to mourn the Archduke. French, Italian, and Russians newspapers barely noted the story. The British papers were sympathetic to the Archduke since he and his wife had visited England the year before. But, really, what could you expect from Serb “anarchists”?
It was a beautiful summer, and Europe was at peace. Bestselling books had argued for years that a European war was unthinkable because of international trade and the sheer volume of material that would be consumed in a modern war. And there had been war scares before back in 1905 and 1911. The diplomats had always worked things out. It may take months, and there would be ups and downs. Maybe the Austro-Hungarian Empire would take its gripes against Serbia to a third-party arbitrator. It’s not like it was going to punish a whole country because of a small group of terrorists.
Europeans were not internationalists. They had loyalties to nations and empires, but it was not an aggressive nationalism that yearned for war. Kaiser Wilhelm, astoundingly, was regarded in the Europe of 1914 as a major force for peace. Czar Nicholas had a similar reputation. The British Royal Navy visited the German High Fleet in Kiel that July, and politicians took vacations and went to the spa.Continue reading