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20150306 Sleepwalkers



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The main ideaof this book is that WWI was long in coming and that this conflict was based on dynamic change formed over some 30 years of previous diplomatic maneuvering. Individuals who were making decisions on all sides just followed usual patterns of behavior that was created during prewar years and even if many were able to see the giant catastrophe they were getting themselves into, were not able to change patterns of behavior and decision making leading to it.


Part One: Roads to Sarajevo

  1. Serbian Ghosts: Murder in Belgrade; ‘Irresponsible Elements’; Mental Maps; Separation; Escalation; Three Turkish Wars; The Conspiracy; Nikola Parle Reacts

The first chapter is about Serbian history and culture formed in long struggle with Ottoman Empire. It starts with story of coup against Serbian king and establishment of new dynasty under control of militant Serbian nationalists. Probably the most important part of it is discussion about culturally dominant view among population of Great Serbia that would include many lands only tangibly related to Serbs. The point here is that Serbian nationalists saw possibility of development only as consequence of great European war in which bordering with Serbia and much more powerful Austro-Hungary and Ottomans would be defeated, opening way for the new country under Serbian control – Yugoslavia. Interestingly enough that was actually what happened as consequence of WWI.

2.The Empire without Qualities: Conflict and Equilibrium; The Chess Players; Lies and Forgeries; Deceptive Calm; Hawks and Doves;

The second chapter looks at another part of equation: Austro-Hungarian Empire. The main point here is that contrary to usual interpretation heavily influenced by knowledge of what happened after WWI, this country was not a sick pitiful entity on the brink of collapse. It was rather healthy and economically prosperous society that was capable more or less successfully keep in check centrifugal forces created by multi-national nature of population. While politically this semi-democratic state was often in paralysis, it boded very well for economic prosperity and well being of population. Maybe this example of political importance intertwined with economic vitality provided fodder for ideas that eventually led to creation of Austrian school of economics.

Part Two: One Continent Divided

  1. The Polarization of Europe 1887-1907: Dangerous Liaison: the Franco-Russian Alliance; The Judgment of Paris; The End of British Neutrality; Belated Empire: Germany; The Great Turning Point? Painting the Devil on the Wall;

This is review of dynamical changes in alliances going on in Europe for 20 years at the end of XIX century. Mainly it was a drift through various combinations to France – Russian alliance to contain Germany in the centre of Europe and prevent its expansion outside. The important role was plaid by French – Germany competition in Morocco that pushed France to look for allies. It found such initially in Russia that needed French financing to recover after loss in war with Japan, and then in British who were concerned by Germany naval buildup.

  1. The Many Voices of European Foreign Policy: Sovereign Decision-makers; Who Governed in St Petersburg? Who Governed in Paris? Who Governed in Berlin? The Troubled Supremacy of Sir Edward Grey The Agadir Crisis of 1911; Soldiers and Civilians; The Press and Public Opinion; The Fluidity of Power;

This chapter is an interesting review of internal powers and decision-making processes in all main countries. It shows real weakness of all monarchs who rarely if ever were able to make their decisions stick. It also demonstrates that majority of European monarchies including even Russia were semi-democratic entities in which relatively free press and public opinion played a significant role.

  1. Balkan Entanglements: Air Strikes on Libya; Balkan Helter-skelter; The Wobbler; The Balkan Winter Crisis of 1012-13; Bulgaria or Serbia? Austria’s Troubles; The Balkanization of the Franco-Russian Alliance; Paris Forces the Pace: Poincare under Pressure;

This chapter is about history of Balkan conflict that at the beginning was conflict of several Christian Balkan countries against Ottomans with Bulgaria playing main role and then between these countries with Serbia leading piling up of everybody else on Bulgaria. All this was going on with heavy interference from Russia, France, and Austro-Hungary.

  1. Last Chances: Detente and Danger 1012-1014: The Limits of Detente; ’Now or Never’; Germans on the Bosphorus; The Balkan lnception Scenario; A Crisis of Masculinity? How Open Was the Future?

This chapter is about attempt of détente between Russia and Germany that failed mainly because both sides could not risk their existing alliances. This failure created strong feelings in Germany that time is not on their side because Russia was quickly rearming its military using French money, while Austro-Hungary was very low on military expenses and Ottomans were growing comparatively weaker. When Germans increased their influence with Ottomans to the point of taking over military command, Russians become convinced that it was aimed to close the critical trade rout for their grain via Bosporus. In turn Russians did everything possible to increase their influence on Balkans trying to assure that this rout remains open.

Part Three: Crisis

  1. Murder in Sarajevo: The Assassination; Flashbulb Moments; The Investigation Begins; Serbian Responses; What is to be Done?

This chapter is detailed review of actual assassination in Sarajevo and its fallout. Especially interesting is Serbian initial reaction, which was not to conduct serious investigation and not suppress nationalists’ celebrations, consequently humiliating and provoking Austrians.

  1. The Widening Cycle: Reactions Abroad; Count Hoyos Goes to Berlin; The Road to the Austrian Ultimatum; The Strange Death of Nikolai Hartwig;

This is review of public reactions to events and maneuverings between Germany and Austro-Hungary with Germany pushing for quick and decisive action. It seems to be possible that this was based on believe that conflict is eventually inevitable, while its delay would be detrimental to Germany chances.

  1. The French in St Petersburg: Count de Robien Chanees Trains; M. Poincare Sails to Russia; The Poker Game;

This is about overall French-Russian relationships and specifically detailed description of Poincare visit to Russia during the crisis where both sides agreed to take side of Serbia even if it would cause military conflict.

  1. Ultimatum: Austria Demands; Serbia Responds; A ‘Local war’ begins;

This is brief, but detailed account of Austrian ultimatum and Serbian response. An interesting thing about it is that initially even before it was formally delivered Serbian leaders were scared enough to consider its acceptance. However with Russian and French assurances that they would not be left alone, they moved to reject Austrian demands initiating local war that quickly started to escalate.

  1. Warning Shots: Firmness Prevails; ‘It’s War This Time’; Russian Reasons;

The initial steps to war at this point become practically inevitable because, at least partially due to prevailing military doctrine that stated that mobilization and positioning of troops is critical for achieving success. This chapter reviews Russian thinking and acting in view of this doctrine.

  1. Last Days: A Strange Light Falls upon the Map of Europe; Poincare Returns to Paris; Russia Mobilizes; The Leap into the Dark; ‘There Must Be Some Misunderstanding’; The Tribulations of Paul Cambon; Britain Intervenes; Belgium; Boots

This chapter recounts the last days of piece when mobilizations and counter mobilizations went full speed underway. Interestingly enough in addition to Austrian ultimatum to Serbia there was another ultimatum by Germany to Belgium demanding to open passage for German troops. The Belgium’s rejection and the following German aggression brought into hostilities Britain. British previously stated that German passage would not cause military response if it were limited geographically: remaining south of Sambre -Meuse line. Germans just ignored this opportunity and went full speed ahead with invasion. The final small note is description of people in remote areas of Russia learning about war. They did not even know who is war against and often come up with completely incorrect guesses.


This is a very interesting prehistory of WWI with all its political and diplomatic maneuvering and intrigues. It all looks like a complicated game that rulers and their bureaucracies played jockeying to get better positions relative to one another to be eventually converted into more territories and people under their control at the time when they were not really able to control effectively people and territories they already had. It is also amazing to me how far away from everyday real lives of normal people all this occurred and how little regular people feel need to watch this and try to be involved. As result the masses paid huge price for letting their elites to play. Happens every time.

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