by Rod D. Martin
June 28, 2014
One hundred years ago today, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian imperial throne was assassinated with his bride in an open car in Sarajevo. And the world began to burn.
World War I (then called “The Great War”) killed 16 million men and women, but it represented the death of the old world. That order, born in the ashes of the Napoleonic Wars, had been one largely characterized by peace, ever increasing prosperity, and a relentless march toward liberty across the occident. Serfdom and slavery ended, mostly without bloodshed, while the common man was enfranchised even in places like the German Empire, a constitutional monarchy not much less free than 1914’s Britain despite Allied propaganda to the contrary. On a technological basis, the world of 1914 would have been more unrecognizable to someone from 1814 than our world to someone living a century ago. And the West saw its blessings as requiring a corresponding duty to educate, elevate and improve the lot of all the peoples of the world.
A generation of Europe’s youth was lost. The greatest powers on Earth were bankrupted, in fact or as nearly so as made no difference. And that was the beginning of the troubles, because so high a price in blood and treasure brought with it the demons in our natures.
The Versailles Treaty was the most obvious example of this, an act of vengeance so humiliating and, perhaps more importantly, so unenforceable, that it guaranteed the next war. Worse still, Lenin’s return in a sealed train to Russia set up the (cold) war after that, and the near annihilation of liberty from the Earth; even without that, Lenin and his heirs, from Stalin to Mao to Che and Pol Pot, proceeded to kill nearly 100 million of their own people, the greatest mass murders in all of human history.
It was those same Communists who frightened Japan into its militarism and expansionism in China. It was Germany’s former colonial possessions in the Pacific that Douglas MacArthur had to painstakingly capture from 1942-44. It was the resolution of the “Eastern Question” that turned the Ottoman Empire into the seething mass which is today’s Middle East. It was Britain’s nearly-immediate inability to ride that tiger which turned the Arabs and Jews from allies to enemies. It was Britain’s need to suspend the gold standard during the war and its inept return thereto which destabilized the world’s monetary system, helped bring on the Depression, and eventually made inevitable the dissolution of the Empire. It was premature independence in much of what is now the “Third World” that brought about dictatorship, slaughter, the destruction of education, health care and basic infrastructure, and needless untold suffering for hundreds of millions.
It is easy to say that the events set in motion by the War led, however slowly, towards the end of racism. And yet that could not be further from the truth. The War unleashed potent racial nationalisms such as the world had never seen, egged on most prominently by the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who fifty years after the Civil War introduced segregation into federal hiring for the first time, and encouraged the legal barring of blacks from the Democratic primary. The foolish hate of racism would indeed subside over the next 100 years, but if anything found new heights in the conflagration of that day.
It is easy not to understand a world consumed — physical, social, economic, human — from the safety of American shores. But even here, the mood changed dramatically. People ceased believing in the Christian Hope — this was the time, and indeed the first time in all the history of Christendom, of the rise to majority status of Premillennialism. Many others ceased faith completely and for the same reason: the world appeared to have no future, its imminent demise seemed manifest. Christian culture in America turned inward, Christianity in Europe began to cease. What replaced it in much of Europe was an aphotic, Nietzschean nightmare, followed by a long existential struggle against that Orwellian darkness which nearly engulfed mankind. And those parts not overcome during that conflict largely followed down Hayek’s road to serfdom.
None of this scratches the surface of all that was lost.
But after darkness there is dawn. Even in (West) Germany, after 12 years of barbarism there came another day. And largely because of God’s blessings on the United States of America — and His blessing of the whole world through it — the world is better, freer, kinder and more peaceful than at any point in the last century, or in some respects ever before.
Even so. How much more so, how much freer, richer, better would we be had we not first burned our world down? For all the Einsteins and Fords and Salks who lived, how many were lost, with all they might have dreamed and done? How do you count what never was?
No one expected Sarajevo. No one anticipated its aftermath, or even the possibility of such, in whole or in part. And perhaps it is this more than anything which we must remember this day.