In the period preceding the World War I how many Europeans suspected that their lives would soon be forever changed – and, for millions of them, ended? Who in the years, say, 1910 to 1913, could have imagined that the decades of peace, progress, and civilization in which they had grown up, and which seemingly would continue indefinitely, instead would soon descend into a horror of industrial-scale slaughter, revolution, and brutal ideologies?
The answer is, probably very few, just as few people today care much about the details of international and security affairs. Normal folk have better things to do with their lives.
To be sure, in that bygone era of smug jingosim, there was always the entertainment aspect that “our” side had forced “theirs” to back down in some exotic locale, as in the Fashoda incident (1898) or the Moroccan crises (1906, 1911). Even the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 seemed less a harbinger of the cataclysm to come than local dustups on the edge of the continent where the general peace had not been disturbed even by the much more disruptive Crimean or Franco-Prussian wars.
Besides, no doubt level-headed statesmen were in charge in the various capitals, ensuring that things wouldn’t get out of hand.
Until they did.
A notable exception to the prevailing mood of business-as-usual, nothing-to-see-here-folks was Pyotr Durnovo, whose remarkable February 1914 memorandum to Tsar Nicholas II laid out not only what the great powers would do in the approaching general war but the behavior of the minor countries as well. Moreover, he anticipated that in the event of defeat, Russia, destabilized by unchecked socialist “agitation” amid wartime hardships, would “be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.” Germany, likewise, was “destined to suffer, in case of defeat, no lesser social upheavals” and “take a purely revolutionary path” of a nationalist hue.
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