Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

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

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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.

VietMem3

Aftermath of a Musical Dream

October 18, 2015

While catching up on some tasks around the homeplace yesterday, a mid-afternoon weariness came upon me, and so I decided to take a little siesta.

Having finished the outdoor chores, I was inside the house. WDAV was tuned in on the radio. My favorite deejay, Mike McKay, was introducing the station’s 3 pm airing of a performance by the Charlotte Symphony.

I lost track of what Mike was saying as I stretched me weary ole bones upon the floor to partake of a wee bit of personalized yoga recovery, otherwise known as dozing off while stretching.

The next thing I know, my mind was stirred in wakefulness that attended a hearing of some incredibly beautiful music.

The experience was ethereal, as if I were dreaming, and yet there I was, my conscious attention approaching some orchestral destination that was being played out in my mind, or in the airwaves, or in the room, or somewhere I’ve never been.

I listened.

A little while later, I checked the WDAV website to find out what that music was that had stirred my awareness up from a necessary mid-afternoon slumber.

http://www.wdav.org/1_33_38.cfm

Now, the next day, a little Google search brings me to some comprehension about the source of yesterday’s dreamy revery: Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by theme by Thomas Tallis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasia_on_a_Theme_by_Thomas_Tallis

This symphonic piece was composed in 1910, and later revised in 1913 and 1919.

When I read the Wikipedia info about the dates of  this music’s conception and revision, I immediately thought of the First Big War, which had happened from 1914-1918. That war has been a subject of my research for the last few years, as its aftermath pertains to the novel, Smoke, that I published last year.

The composer, a Brit, Ralfph (pronounced Rafe) Von Williams wrote the music in 1910, four years before the cataclysmic conflagration of early 20th-century European history, World War I. He later revised that music in 1913, just before the war started, and then again after the war had ended.

And I am wondering, this bright autumn Sunday afternoon, if that traumatic experience of world war might have had some effect on Mr. Williams that compelled him to revise his 9-year old masterpiece.

I think that First Big War did had an impact on this incredibly voluptuous statement of orchestral pathos, or tragedy, or whatever it is this haunting Phrygian melody imposes on my soul.

The music is similar to, and a compositional precedent to, a famous piece written two decades later by Samuel Barber,  Adagio for Strings (1936).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adagio_for_Strings

That’s another great, prescient pre-war piece of musical angst created four years before a Big War (the Second one).

Perhaps there is some composer out there today writing such a piece, but entirely new and expressive of whatever the hell is going on in our world today.

I wanted to provide a link so you can hear the piece of music that has inspired all this. So I went back to the WDAV website, which represents a great media source for classical music enrichment and enjoyment. It was there I had learned the name of the music.

I treasure WDAV and support their work with an annual contribution. However, for purposes of this online presentation I . . . long story short, stumbled upon this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihx5LCF1yJY

from BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is captured for YouTube in a performance at a cathedral in England. If you watch the performance, you may agree that both the music and the setting represent the union of two elements of our profoundly great Western cultural heritage: music and church.

After composing, Vaughn Williams noted an association between this Fantasia and the message of Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar

and the peoples devising a vain thing?

The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers take counsel together

against the Lord and against his Anointed?

 

Smoke

I didn’t go to Vietnam, but . . .

May 25, 2015

I was a kid of the ’60s which means now I’m in my own sixties.

While there was a lot going on back in the day, with all the world descending into war and chaos and so forth and so one, nevertheless there was a lot of good happening too.

Always has been, always will be, a lot of good and a lot of bad going on in the world at the same time,  and here we are trying to sort our way through it.

Makes me think of Take Your Place on the Great Mandela, a song sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-tBLqIz6wA

Now you remember, since I mention the ’60s, there was a war going on back then.

As there is a war going on today, somewhere. Most likely we are involved in it, directly or indirectly, we being the big kid on the block, policeman of the world, inheritor of the post WorldWarII reconstruction and defender of the free world.

I mean that: Defender of free world. It’s a job to be taken seriously.

Back in the day, when the war was in Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and God only knows who else, along with thousands of American boys, were trying to make southeast Asia safe for democracy, I reached draft age at the same time that the US gov implemented a lottery for selecting draftees.

My draft # was 349. Literally the luck of the draw. So I never went to ‘Nam, never served in the military.

Now we don’t have a draft any more. Our soldiers are all professionals. And that, in my opinion, is the main difference between American strength then and America now. And please forgive me when I say, that’s the way it should be. It seems to me that that whole damn business of the anti-war movement during our Vietnam striving was an outcome of the draft. It was the draft, and my generation’s refusal to accept it, that doomed our effort, from the start, to successfully prosecute that unpopular war.

And for what its worth, Vietnam hasn’t turned out so bad. My daughter traveled there several years ago and gave a very favorable report of the place, including their fondness for Americans in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

But looking back on it, ff we had had no draft, everything we did in Vietnam might have turned out differently. We might have won.

But then we’ll never know, will we?, about such vain speculations as the one I have just made.

Nevertheless, that’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it. I’m an American, with a Constitutionally-protected right to express it, thanks to those whose valiant service has assured our freedoms.

And I believe that if another war comes along that truly requires a draft, such as World War II, then our Congress will affirm the need, and men and women will rise to the challenge.

Thanks to those who have fought to defend to our liberty. Thanks to their families, whose survival is saddened by the loss of their brave sons, daughters, relatives and friends who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, who deposited into the blood-drenched soils of Vietnam, Korea, Okinawa, France, Belgium, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, and many other places including our very own USA where President Lincoln commemorated their sacrifice at Gettysburg. . .the dear cost of freedom paid by those who contributed their “last full measure of devotion.”

Now you may be thinking that’s easy for me to say, as one who never served.

And you’re right. It is easy for me to say, or to write, but that’s just the way it is.

In a free country, citizens are free to serve in the armed forces, or not serve. For those who do accept military duty, whether for a season or for a career, we ought to provide a good living, and extraordinary opportunities for them to prosper, to live long and well, in our free nation after they have completed military service.

I mean it when I say: we owe a great debt to our men and women who defend the United States of America and our Allies by serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

Because of my feelings about all this, I wrote a novel to express the way I see our war-torn world. It is the story of a young man who did not do military service, but who is, in the story, traveling through Britain and France during the year 1937. And he, Philip, has a destination, which is a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field, where his father is buried.

His father had died in 1918 defending Belgium, France, and the free world.

My novel story is fictional, but it depicts some tragic truth about what goes on in this perilous world, a world that is often at war with itself. But it’s a world that occasionally catches some respite in between wars, as I did, and also as my character Philip did in the novel,

Smoke.

in the event of a World War. . .

January 10, 2015

First, the bad news:

World War I was the excruciating death-seizure of 19th-century imperialism.

World War II was an agonizing replay of WWI, with 20th-century ideologies replacing old-world imperialist dynasties.

World War III will be a torturous replay of the medieval Crusades, with 20th-century ideologies reverting to ancient religious hegemonies.

World War I was fought in trenched battlefields, mostly in Europe, by soldiers disciplined in classic military tactics.

World War II was fought in Europe, north Africa, and the Asian rim of the Pacific, which qualified the conflagration as an actual “World” war, in the global expanse of land,  sea, and air. Combatants were highly-trained  soldiers, organized in in mega-armies.

World War III will be incinerated by terrorists, against constitutional law ‘n order governments.  The Worldwide death-struggle will pit electronically-networked ad hoc jihadists against hyper-securitized anti-terrorist specialized military teams. The battlefields of World War III will be the cities of this world.

World War I was fought with rifles, artillery, primitive tanks and primitive airplanes.

World War II was fought with rifles, artillery, advanced airplanes, destroyer ships, intelligence, aircraft carriers and two H-bombs.

World War III will be fought with fatwas, improvised explosive devices, shocking media executions, surgical air-campaigns, automatic weapons, drones, weaponized missiles, suicide bombs, media-hyped propaganda misinformation, frenzied media-wars in which news companies are scooping each other for shock’n’awe digital imagery, cartoons, hyped-up hate speech, hacking, digital hijacking, video-games converted to actual weaponry, torture, manipulated scarcities, manipulated bounties, false intelligence, chemical weapons, dirty bombs, tactical nuclear weapons (or the threat of them) and the god of forces masquerading as religion (on both “sides”).

World War I pitted European Central Powers against Entente Allies.

World War II pitted Nazi/Fascist Axis against Capitalist/Communist Allies.

World War III pits IslamoFascists against Everybody else in the World.

World War I was, until it ended.

World War II was, until it ended.

World War III is already here, and now.

World War I produced a lot of collateral damage.

World War II produced more collateral damage.

World War III will be all about collateral damage.

And we will all die in it, or in some time thereafter.

That’s the bad news. The good news is:

there is life after death. Here’s the big picture:

 “The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, ‘Please read this,’ he will say, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’

Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Please read this.’ And he will say, ‘I cannot read.’ “

The best strategy for dealing with World War III is: learn to “read”, and act accordingly. That way, you won’t have to depend on cartoons for your intelligence.

Until next time. . .

Smoke

To Leon

July 28, 2013

Oh dear Leon, you,

tu, who sought a delicate balance

between anarchy and military phalanx,

between democracy and egalité,

among the bolshevoi and the fraternite,

during that treacherous time between the

two War blights,

between interwar contentions of

Social lefts and Fascia rights.

Hey Leon, man of belles lettres,

don’t make it bad; just

‘take a sad

song, and make it better,’

we would have said,

before republican liberté got shot dead.

Your fined-tuned idea of Man’s

path to Justice was so,

oh so, exquisitely

constructed,

until the fierce winds of prewar gahenna

somewhere between Paris and Vienna

overpowered your pure, postwar intentions,

decimated your Front Populaire coalitions,

obliterated, with wehrmacht destruct,

your Social political construct,

when the ancient god of Forces

dispatched his dread iron horses,

to explode your good intentions

and implode your fragile humanité

conventions.

Oh Leon, merci for your short-lived

Premier swan chanson.

Quel est ce bruit lointain 

nous entendons? 

Oh Leon dear,

what is that distant noise we hear?

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress