History. Learn it.

February 12, 2009 at 11:51 pm (Julia) (, , , , )

Last week (and most of you have heard me complain about this), somebody was WRONG on the internet.

I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

Essentially, there was a comments thread for the status update for one of my friends on facebook, which was about timetravel. Pretty rad, right? However, people who clearly didn’t know shit about history, because they suggested that my friend use her time machine to firstly stop the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, which would, according to them, stop WWI. Then another person suggested that shortly after this, they go and help Tom Cruise kill Hitler by moving a briefcase (or go even earlier, and assassinate Hitler in 1939, thereby stopping WWII).


This thread demonstrated to me that bitches don’t know shit about historical causality, also that the only people who should be allowed to timetravel should be history graduates. For real. This shit is the historical equivilent of saying that pi is basically 3, so using 3 instead of pi will be fine, right?

So, today, I’ve decided to explain, a bit, how those two wars came about, because otherwise my stories about how wrong these ladies were doesn’t make sense at all.

1. World War I.

Check it out, I’ve made a picture of Europe in 1914. Now, I know everyone talks about Italy being part of the Triple Alliance, but basically they declare war on some places right at the beginning, go AFK and then teamswitch in 1916. Poor form, Italy. Poor form. Now, in 1914, France, England and Russia have each other’s backs (they call their superspecial club the Triple Entente), and Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey are hanging out (They’re the Central Powers, because the triple alliance is so fucking crap due to Italy being a pussy bitch). Bulgaria’s in pink because it’s totally gay for the Central Powers, and a bunch of colours are light blue because they’re the weak friends of the Triple Entente. Like Serbia, check it out. In 1914, Serbia is mates with Russia. This is very important.

The other thing that is very important is that during the last few decades of the 19th Century, the great European powers avoid going to war together because they all have the same grandma (Queen Victoria), who essentially glares at them like this whenever they even THINK about making war:

Anyway, Granny Victoria pops her clogs in 1901, and all her naughty grandchildren start a-scheming. It’s important to note that they’re all totally empire-blocking each other at the moment, grabbing the last uncolonised bits of the world like it’s going out of style (which it actually sort of was). There’s a lot of tension going on. Germany’s recently unified and wants to be a Big Boy like all the other empires, and is still pissed off over losing the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France in 1871. Austria-Hungary is totally out of date, and is losing control of a bunch of teensy countries to its immediate south-east. Also, most importantly, none of the big powers is keen on ANY of the others becoming too powerful. Balance! Or something. So there are all these complicated systems of alliances and treaties, most of which can be explained by the colours on the map above. Also, all these countries are building enormous militaries and making plans to invade each other. Now, in the Balkans, all these wee countries want independance from their huge fake daddy empire (A-H). There’s heaps of tension here, and it becomes known as the Balkan Powder Keg. Essentially, all of Europe has smoked meth and gone to the Big Day Out, wearing their nation’s flag and asking other countries if they’re looking at them.

Now. Archduke Franz Ferdinand (named after that band that sound just like Modest Mouse), the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, gets JFKed in Sarajevo, by a group of hardcore Serbian nationalists call The Black Hand. Austria-Hungary blames the Serbian government for this, and decides to declare war on them (this is secretly because they want Serbia all for themselves). Russia has a treaty with Serbia, and mobilises for war. France is all “Sup, my Russian brothers. I’m down with you.” and declares support for Russia (and Serbia). Now, Germany, who is allied with Austria-Hungary, declares war on Russia. Once more, this is only marginally because of their actual treaties, and mostly because all these huge countries are spoiling for a fight. France is all “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” and mobilises their army.

This is where things get interesting. Germany has this plan, right, which calls for them to defeat France first and THEN attack Russia, so they’re not fighting a war on two fronts, because that would be crap, right? So they go, “Sup, Belgium, going through you sure would be the most efficient way for us to nab Paris, according to this plan, so hows about you let us put our army right in your lowlands, eh?” But Belgium, who is mates with France and England, is all “No way, dude, last time you said you’d call me and you never did and I found out later that you told all your friends I was a whore and my friends reckon you’re bad for me” or words to that effect. Germany invades Belgium (because it’s on meth), because the only real military threat in the region in Great Britain, and honestly no one thinks GB’s going to go to war, because it’s been doing this whole isolationist thing, and also because King George of GB is first cousins with Kaiser Wilhelm, and everyone thinks that due to them being super BFFcousins and out of love for Granny Vic, Britain will stay neutral. However, because it’s  in Great Britain’s best interest for Germany to NOT become the European superpower, they totally go to war. Anyway, the German military plans certainly didn’t include Britain’s well-trained army coming and slowing them down in Belgium, or the rest of their army going to France to help out, and basically Germany ends up fighting a war on two fronts.

Anyway, my point is, Ferdinand’s death is the tipping point, but Europe would’ve ended up at war anyway. It’s pretty fucking naive to think that one incident caused all of WWI, given that the foreign policies of a bunch of the major powers involved going to war to get land back for themselves. All those countries could’ve easily ignored Serbia’s call for help, except it went against their plans of nation-building. No one really needed to stick by their treaties (Italy is proof of this).

So, that’s why WWI would not have been averted by stopping the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Now! Onto my second point.

2. World War II

So, assassinating Hilter stops WWII and the persecution of the Jews.

Firstly, if we’re talking about the von Stauffenburg conspiracy to kill Hitler and enact Operation Valkyrie, then no, that happened in 1944. War had already been going for some time. Also, while the other Nazis weren’t down with Hitler’s war-schemes, they hearted his Jew-killing pretty goddamn hard, and would’ve totally kept going. Even if you assassinate Hitler in 1939, all that stops is WWII, but honestly at that point, chances are Germany would’ve done it anyway. They certainly would’ve persecuted the Jews, and since the rest of the world didn’t really care about that, they would’ve been able to do it for a lot longer. Lame!

Secondly, this plan to assassinate Hitler, by these people on this thread, was supposed to happen AFTER one had saved Ferdy and averted WWI.


WWII does not happen without WWI. Apart from the fact that if WWI didn’t happen then WWII would have to be called WWI, making it harder for historians and timetravellers, this shows a RIDICULOUS lack of understanding of how WWII happened.

So, back in WWI, Germany gets its arse handed to it by the combination of the US and Sir John Monash joining the Allied server in 1917, with their 1337 skillz and strategic thinking. At the Treaty of Versailles, the other countries basically make Germany their bitch, and completely cripple its industrial, military and economic possibilities for the next decade. By the mid-1920s, Germany is in total financial collapse – currency inflates to similar levels to what we’re seeing in Zimbabwe right now. They’ve also got a highly flawed constitution for their new democracy which stops them doing anything ever.By the late 1920s, Germany is poor, looking for strong leadership, and deeply, deeply angry at the rest of Europe for essentially pantsing them and posting photos of it to 4chan. Germany decides that Hitler is a pretty cool guy, eh strengthens Germany and doesn’t afraid of anything. Hell, during the 1930s, when the rest of the world is in depression, Germany’s got mad economic growth. But Hitler’s popularity mostly comes from his hard-right nationalist stance, because that’s pretty comforting to a country who have been spanked by the rest of Europe. Spanked right into famine! But this would never have happened if WWI hadn’t happened. Hell, they wouldn’t have even had the shitty Weimar republic with its flawed constitution, because the people wouldn’t have been so jack of Kaiser Wilhelm getting them into a dumb war that the monarchy would’ve still existed.

Or the communists would’ve taken over, whatevs.

My point is, I guess, that when looking at history it’s pretty dumb to assume that one event, or one guy, is the total and complete turning point. If the WTC attacks hadn’t occured, the world might be a very different place. But the reasons that led to the WTC attacks would still be there – the US would’ve massively pissed off a bunch of fundamentalist muslim countries. So very probably, there would’ve been an equally devastating attack by a similar group at some point. It tends to be the longterm actions of a person, or nation, that affect history. If US foreign policy hadn’t been so fucked, the Arab world wouldn’t have hated them so much. The events in history weren’t always inevitable, but saying stuff like “if this person had/hadn’t died then everything would be completely different forever” shows a fairly epic misunderstanding of history, especially in the modern era. Pretty much once people learn to read and are able to print up pamphlets with their ideas, history just sort of happens. When it’s one guy leading an army who have to do what he says, yes, killing that guy could change things. But when whole nations of people have ideas, and hatred, and dreams, then things are going to happen. Not necessarily in the same way, but there will be events. Shit yes, communication. Shit yes, ideas. Shit yes, the printing press and then the internet.

My other point is that it really hurts my brain when people who know shit about history talk about it on the internet.



  1. misterfinn said,

    Man, on top of all that other stuff with WW1, even with the assasination it still very nearly didn’t happen.

    Once it becomes clear that the Hungarian parliament is down with the idea and Austria has made sure Germany’s got it’s back, they send the Serbs the July Ultimatum, a bunch of points that, if agreed to, would prevent war between the two states. Serbia was willing to concede to everything because they thought the Russians weren’t going to honour their alliance (Russia was kind of unstable at that point and had shown prievious inability to step up in similar situations in the past decade or so).

    However, this all occured just after the Russo-French summit, in which the two powers discussed what should happen in regards to the demands. Russia tells Serbia they’re ready to throw down and Serbia rejects the demands. Mobilisation ensues.

    So really, events like this are far more complex than one guy getting a cap in their ass.

  2. juliadactyl said,

    Yes! The assassination is really just a thing that allows other events to occur, but once it had happened, it was by no means certain that everyone WOULD go to war. Of course, they all desperately wanted to, so it happened, but if the major powers had been actively trying to avoid war, it wouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t so much a case of being trapped by their treaties as it was being able to use those treaties as a legitimate excuse to go to war.

  3. naboolio said,

    You sound reply to their comments with this Julia:

  4. juliadactyl said,

    That is EXACTLY how I felt about it.

  5. percy said,

    I love this post, Julia. You bring back fond memories of the essays I used to write back in year 12 about this kind of thing!

    “What caused the Second World War” was an essay I got in my exam. I sure did pump in everything from the First war to Versailles to Communism to Nationalism to Germany to Hitler and back through Isolationism and the League of Nations.

    It amazed me how my classmates saw what Hitler did as something like this:

    Hitler: Hai Germany, want to take over the world?
    Germany: Never thought about that! Sure would!
    H: How about we conquer everybody and kill all the Jews?
    G: Oh yeah, that sounds great (evil grin because all Germans were evil back then)

    … and so if only Hitler had been accepted into that art college, then the war wouldn’t have happened!

    Not only is this story not consistent (wait I thought the Germans were evil etc.), but it shows no appreciation for the massive events that led up to the massive event.

    Basically, I think most people like things to be simple. Hitler=evil, people who liked Hitler=evil, and so forth. It makes them feel secure and superior at the same time, and people love that shit. It is, however, really irresponsible and is part of the reason wars happen in the first place.

    I’m glad you’ll be teaching History, Julia. Your ability to deal with complexity, and communicate it succinctly, is quite impressive. I hope your students learn many things from you 😀

  6. juliadactyl said,

    The dehumanising of Nazis is one of the most damaging narratives in history, right now, because it makes people feel like they, and their society, would never be capable of such horrors.

    Which is bullshit, obviously.

    I’m glad you appreciate my succinctness. I feel like the complexity is necessary, both for understanding things and for appreciating them. The alliance system wasn’t properly explained to me when I did the HSC, and I had to work it out for myself, and in year 10 I had no idea why during WWI Australia was fighting Turkey in Gallipoli. This map helps (it’s one I used in a lesson at Epping). But yeah, I feel like high school students DO need to understand the details, but I’ve had to find ways to communicating these so that it can be taught relatively quickly.

  7. chromefist said,

    Nazis are like aliens or zombies – it’s OK to kill them in video games. The case for killing them is so obvious that it never needs to be stated. Which is kinda disturbing, considering they were all live humans at one point.

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