Archive for the ‘World War I’ Category

The End Room

July 12, 2017

For 600 years, a royal dynasty named Hapsburg ruled the vast European domains called Austria-Hungary.

In 1848, an emperor died; and so an emperor’s son replaced him.  From 1848 onward, Emperor Franz Josef ruled the empire for almost 68 years, until his death in 1916.

Franz Josef had a nephew named Ferdinand, whose place in the extended family would later qualify him as the heir to the throne at the occasion of Franz Josef’s death.

HapsLine

But Ferdinand never ascended to that throne,  because he was assassinated in 1914. This assassination happened in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. It is considered by most historians to be the fatal event that sparked the powder-keg of militarized Europe and ignited World War I.

But before all that, when Emperor Franz Josef was still ruling over the quasi-peaceful Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Hapsburgs were still lolling along as royalties habitually did, the royal family spent their summers at their summer palace near Vienna.

It is a place called Schonbrunn.

Schonb

We visited the palace at Schonbrunn as tourists. As I was walking through the “royal apartments,” the audio-guide mentioned that Franz Josef was a real go-getter when it came to performing his roles as Emperor. I got the impression that he was a workaholic monarch who spent his entire day, every day, dealing with matters of state. It makes sense if you think about it, because. . .

Ruling over an empire is no easy task. But in fact, it ultimately proved to be an impossible task. After his nephew Ferdinand, the heir, was assassinated, things really got out of hand for Franz Josef and the Hapsburg monarchy.

The whole royal arrangement really started to unwind when he demanded restitution from them upstart Serbs down there in Sarajevo who had shot his nephew.

But a Serbian concession was not going to happen. The Serbs did not like being subjects to Austrian control; they wanted to have their own country. Franz Josef’s ultimatum soon became a declaration of war.  Next thing anybody knows, there’s a whole damn alliance-mongering world war exploding all over the place, because one very important man was shot to death.

Cutting toward the chase here, I must say that about half-way through that war, the old Emperor Franz Josef died, in 1916. So the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in need of a new Emperor.

But nephew Ferdinand, the would-have-been heir, could not ascend to the throne at that time, because he had been assassinated.

Therefore, the scepter of royal authority of the house of Hapsburg passed to another nephew, Karl. Karl was the nephew of the nephew and therefore the next in line to be Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

But this would be no easy task for young Karl. The prospect of assuming that royal authority must have been, in the wrath of an escalating world war,  akin to accepting the gift of a hornet’s nest. Most all the European potentates and their armies were mad as hell at the German Kaiser Wilhelm and his Austrian co-potentate, the erstwhile Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The wrath of Republican Europe was fast mounting fiercely to dismantle their Entente Axis of presumptuous military power.

But at a terrible cost: millions of lives perished in World War I.

Emperor Franz Josef’s death in 1916, only half-way through the hostilities, was for Karl, more an overwhelming burden than some whoopdeedoo ascension to kingly privilege. His uncle’s prickly challenge to the Serbs had rendered Europe into a grand bloody mess.

So in the year  1918, a scant two years after his accession to the throne, Karl was in no position to wheel and deal on behalf of Austria, or Hungary, or his supposed royal realms, or any other entity except, perhaps, for his immediate family. He was between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the Allies who were hell-bent on demanding reparation from Germany and Austria.)

This was no easy position for a young monarch to be in.

As we traipsed through the royal apartments of Schonbrunn last Monday, the audio-guide informed me that I had just entered a certain room where, in 1918, a gang of both friends and foes of the Emperor had presented to young Karl his choices pertaining to the Empire.

Karl’s choices were not pretty. The military leaders, diplomats, politicians in that room told him that they were taking the whole damn empire away from him and his family. He was in no position to argue with them, so that was where it all ended for the Hapsburgs. Therefore he had no choice but to concede to their demands.

So Karl and the Hapsburgs lost it all, right here in this room.

Except one thing. Karl refused to abdicate. He managed to slink away still having his title.

Whatever that means, I thought, while standing there with all my fellow-tourists in the room where a 600-year empire had ended. Karl would still be Emperor, but emperor of what? His own kingdom exiled him.

At that moment, I accidentally snapped a contraband photo:

EndRoom

This is where it all ended for the legendary Hapsburgs. As cousin George said later, all things must pass.

Smoke

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

The American Deal

July 13, 2016

Way back in time, hundred year ago, we was movin’ out across the broad prairie of mid-America, slappin’ them horse teams so’ they would pull them wagon out across the grasslands and the badlands, and then blastin’ our way ‘cross the Rockies and Sierras all the way to Pacific and the promised land of California.

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And it was a helluva time gettin’ through all that but we managed to do it, with more than a few tragedies and atrocities along the way, but what can you say, history is full of ’em: travesties.

Troubles, wherever men go– travesties, trials and tribulations. That’s just the way it is in this world. If there’s a way around it, we haven’t found it yet.

  But there has been progress too, if you wanna call it that. Mankind on the upswing, everybody get’n more of whatever there is to get in this life, collectin’ more stuff, more goods, services, and sure ’nuff more money.

Movin’ along toward the greatest flea market in history, is kinda what we were doing.

Taming the land, transforming the planet into our own usages, improving, or so we thought, on God’s original versions.

After that great westward expansion transference/transgression, had been goin’ on for a good while, and a bad while now that you mention it, we Americans found ourselves high up on a bluff overlooking history itself. At Just about that time, them Europeans had a heap of trouble that they’d been brewin’ over there and they dragged us into it on account of we had become by that time quite vigorous, grasping the reins of manifest destiny and ridin’ along, as so it seemed, on the cusp of history, seein’ as how we had been raised up on our daddy’s Britannic colonizing, mercantiling knee.

Then long about 1914, them Europeans dragged us into their big fatally entreched mess over there and we went and fought the first Big War, fought them high and mighty Germans that first time and when we got done with it and got back over here the world was a different place.

I mean the world was a different place, no doubt about it.

For one thing, everybody in the civilized world was so glad to have a little peace in 1920, we just went hog wild.

Everybody got out there a-workin’, roarin’ ’20s zeitgeist, scrapin’ crops out o’ the ground, building great machines, skyscrapers. Edison had electrified us; Bell had sounded the bells of modern communication; Ford had tinkered us into a vast new world of mass production with a horseless carriage in every garage and a chicken in every pot and and we were skippin’ right along like a cricket in the embers.

NewkDev

‘Til ’29, when the big crash came along.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39RKRelTMWk

Some folks said that Mr. Hoover, great man that he was, was nevertheless clueless, and so the nation turned to Mr. Roosevelt for new answers. FDR, young cousin of Teddy Roosevelt who had been the father, so to speak, of American progressivism– cousin Franklin D., Governor of New York, took the bull by the horns and somehow managed to breed it into a donkey.

So from Teddy’s bullmoose progressivism there arose, through 1930’s-style unemployed populist cluelessness, Americanized Democratic Socialism;  with a little help from FDR’s genteel patriarchal largesse, the New Deal saved Capitalism, or so it is said among the theoreticians and the ivory tower legions who followed, and are still following, in Roosevelt’s wake.

Well, by ‘n by, between Lyndon Johnson’s grand Texas-size vision for a Great Society, Clinton’s good-ole-boy nod to residual crony capitalism, and then the 21st-century-metamorphosing, rose-colored proletarian worldview as seen through Obama’s rainbow glasses, and now the upswell of Bernie’s refurbished wealth redistribution wizardry– we’ve turned this corner into a rising tide of  flat-out Democratic Socialism.

It will be, quite likely, soon inundating the tidal basin inside the beltway as in 2017 we slog  into the mucky backwaters of full-blown Americanized Socialism, dammed up on the other side of the slough by that other guy whose oversimplified version of the nation and the world seems to want to land us in a brave new world of American National Socialism.

And who knows which way this thing will go; only time and the slowly softening sedentary, dependent American electorate can tell.

Looking back on it all, today, my 65th birthday, having lived through Nov22’63, April4’68, 9/11, yesterday’s disruptions wherever they may be, and everything in between, I find myself identifying with all the old folks whose weary outmoded facial expressions bespoke disdain,  while I traipsed errantly along life’s way. Here’s to all them ole folks who I thought were a little out of it, one brick shy of a load, peculiar, decrepit and clueless. Now, I can relate.

How I wish America could be back at real work again, like we were back in the day.

We’ve pushed through vastly extracted frontiers that yielded to massive infrastructure networks punctuated with skyscraping towers of steel and concrete. Now we’re lapsing into solid-state, navel-gazing nano-fantasies, living vicariously through celebrities in our pharma cubicles.

Maybe there’s a new frontier in there somewhere but I’m having a hard time seeing it.

But hey! let me conclude this rant with a hat-tip to the man–he happens to be a Canadian–who best eulogized the essence of that once-and-future great North American work zeitgeist, which seems to be disappearing into the dustbowl of history, because it looks like  there’s nowhere left to go.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjoU1Qkeizs

Well, maybe there is somewhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38bHXC8drHc

Glass half-Full

In Memoriam

May 29, 2016

GettysbAddrs

I have written a story in which, in the year 1937, a young man and an old man travel from Paris to a World War I battlefield cemetery in Belgium. In the scene, Philip poses this question to Mel:

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

       The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

       Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, they stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

       At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity . . .

The excerpt above is taken from chapter 27 of Smoke, the novel I published last year. I highlight the above passage as a memorial to the brave men and women who have died in wars while defending our United States of America and assuring the causes of human freedom throughout this tragic, precious world.

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