The Shot Heard ‘Round the Bedroom

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For history buffs, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” refers to one of two significant dates.

For American History buffs and American English majors, the distinction refers to a phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn.” When Emerson was writing the Concord Hymn in 1837, he lived in an old family house thirty yards away from North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, where American patriots are reputed to have first fired their rifles at British soldiers in organized resistance on April 19, 1775.

 

The Battle of Lexington, 1775 Emmet Collection of Manuscripts Public domain, wikimedia commons

The Battle of Lexington, 1775
Emmet Collection of Manuscripts
Public domain, wikimedia commons

 

On the other hand, those in Lexington, Massachusetts will point out that before the American Minutemen defeated that British force at Concord, shots had already been fired at Lexington. Concord proponents claim that the Lexington skirmish was not an organized battle conducted by militia, but rather an impromptu act of resistance that led to the slaughter of the Americans. Emerson might not have been thorough enough in his research for the tastes of the folks in Lexington but his point was valid. It’s fair to say that all the shots fired in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 were indeed noticed around the world.

For most Europeans, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” refers to the June 28, 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

That assassination is generally accepted as the spark that ignited the hellish tragedy known as “The First World War.” If that particular Archduke had never been born, the war would have occurred any way. The Austro-Hungarian establishment was hungry for an excuse to embark on what they were certain was to be a quick and easy land grab from Serbia. It generally takes at least a few chapters to summarize the causes of that war, but quotes of sixty thousand or more words are never popular, so Europeans prefer to remember the assassination of an otherwise unloved Duke as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

For fans of the New York Giants baseball team, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” refers to a Home Run hit by New York Giants third baseman/outfielder Bobby Thomson on October 3, 1951.

In early August of that year, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a commanding 13 ½ game lead over the Giants, and the pennant race appeared to be no race at all. Then the Giants surged, and the Dodgers faltered. They ended the season tied for the National League Pennant.

 

New York Giants Bobby Thomson Image by Bowman Gum, 1948

New York Giants Bobby Thomson
Image by Bowman Gum, 1948

 

The Dodgers and the Giants then played a three game series to decide break the tie. They each won one of the first two games. In the bottom of the ninth inning of the third game, the Dodgers held a 4-1 lead. The Giants scored a run, and Thomson came to bat with two men on base. He hit a line drive home run into the left field seats. Overjoyed Giants fans christened Thomson’s home run “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Which of the three aforementioned events deserves to be remembered as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” is a matter of personal perspective. Perhaps it’s fair to say that two shots were heard ‘round the world, and one was heard ‘round the baseball world.

On February 28, 1844 another important shot was fired. While it was not “Heard ‘Round the World,” it was heard by several hundred notable American politicians and dignitaries, and it led to a marriage bed.

The USS Princeton had been launched on September 5, 1843. Like every expensive Naval vessel both then and now, it was presented as a “state-of-the-art” warship. The USS Princeton created quite a stir in the USA because it was the first ship to use a screw propeller propulsion system, and it was considered to be the best-armed ship in the US Navy. Along with a variety of smaller guns, the Princeton carried two long-barreled cannons named the “Oregon” and the “Peacemaker.” The Peacemaker’s twelve-inch bore made it the largest naval gun yet created.

The USS Princeton sailed to Alexandria, Virginia in 1844 for a publicity visit. Its visit was the social event of the year for politicians and the American social set.

On February 28, US President John Tyler was the guest of honor at a party onboard, along with US Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer and US Secretary of State Abel Upshur. One of President Tyler’s guests was his close friend David Gardiner and Gardiner’s two daughters. The fifty-four year old President was a widower and had set his eye on twenty-four year old daughter Julia. Julia had thus far declined President Tyler’s advances. Based on Tyler’s portraits, even on his best days, he was as ugly as a mud fence. Against that, he had power, wealth, and prestige going for him. Julia Gardiner remained unimpressed.

In the excitement of the moment, US Navy Secretary Thomas asked the Princeton’s Captain Robert Stockton to fire salutes from the massive Peacemaker.

Stockton agreed and had two shots fired. The roar of the Peacemaker appropriately awed the crowd, and most of them returned below decks for more free food and booze.

As the toasts continued below, Navy Secretary Gilmer grew prouder and more emotional about the marvelous Princeton and her massive Peacemaker gun. Gilmer asked Captain Stockton to please fire another salute. Captain Stockton thought that it was unwise to risk more shots with a crowd of civilians on board since the Peacemaker had not yet undergone proper testing. Why Stockton was reluctant to fire a third shot is a bit of a mystery.

However, with President Tyler’s coaxing and Secretary Gilmer’s insistence Captain Stockton finally ordered that another salute should be fired.

 

Explosion aboard US Steam Frigate Princeton Image by N. Currier, public domain

Explosion aboard US Steam Frigate Princeton
Image by N. Currier, public domain

 

Toasting guests delayed President Tyler below decks. When he began climbing the ladder* to the main deck, the Peacemaker fired a third time. The cannon exploded.

Six people on the main deck, including the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of State, and the President’s friend David Gardiner, were killed. When Julia arrived on the main deck with the President’s entourage, she saw her dead father and fainted. President Tyler whisked her away in his carriage. The incident apparently affected Julia to such a degree that she then saw President Tyler in a new light. She agreed to marry him. Hence, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the Bedroom.” Fortunately for all concerned, any details about their honeymoon remain mercifully mysterious.

Tyler lived happily with Julia until his death, eighteen years later. Julia survived him and died in 1889 at the age of 69. They remain forever together at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

*Your house has “stairs;” our ships have “ladders.”

With or Without the Archduke

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Conventional history widely attributes the cause of WWI to be the assassination of Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian Gavrilo Princip. While the Archduke’s murder was the excuse for WWI, it was not the reason. Whether or not the Archduke had been targeted, the relevant parts of history would still read the same.

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo
public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

 

At the time of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary were poised, waiting for the right moment to strike.

They had already calculated that they could invade, capture, and annex Serbia before its ally, Russia, could mobilize a response. They assumed that, when presented with a fait accompli, Western Europe would protest loudly, but not mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary. They only needed an excuse. That excuse came in the form of Gavrilo Princip, a member of the anti-Austria-Hungary Serbian group Black Hand.

Princip has often been described as an anarchist. However, he was part of a popular movement that sought the formation of a new nation-state that would arise from the joining of Serbia, Herzegovina, and Bosnia. The nine-member conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke appears to have been arranged by the head of Serbian Army Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitijevik, without the knowledge or approval of the Serbian government.

Princip fired on the Archduke at close range, striking him in the neck and hitting the Archduke’s wife in the abdomen. Princip then turned his pistol on himself, but police and spectators took him under control before he could fire. According to Serbian law, he could not be sentenced to death because he had not quite reached his 20th birthday. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence. Princip died in prison of tuberculosis four years later.

 

Gavrilo Princip public domain, wikimedia commons

Gavrilo Princip
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

One of the terrible ironies of WWI is that the Austria-Hungarian royal family and its government might have eventually assassinated Archduke Ferdinand themselves.

He had become a source of consternation to his Hapsburg family by insisting on marrying Sophie Chotek. Chotek was a member of a royal family, but not a direct descendant of a European ruler, and, therefore, was not eligible to marry Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. His royal relations and the leaders in Vienna were not pleased.

After the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary made one of the worst diplomatic moves in the history of mankind.

On July 23, 1914, Austrian diplomat Baron Giesl von Gieslingen delivered an ultimatum to the government of Serbia – a demand that it outlaw anti-Austria-Hungary statements and activity and arrest of groups that Austria-Hungary believed to be involved in the assassination, including the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary also demanded control of the Serbian investigation, and a reply within 48 hours. The Austrians and their German allies had carefully crafted this ultimatum to ensure a negative response.

 

Library at Louvain public domain, wikimedia commons

Library at Louvain
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The next day, in response to Serbian pleas for help, Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its large, but poorly-equipped army. On July 25, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic ordered the Serbian Army to mobilize, and he personally delivered Serbia’s response to the Austria-Hungarian embassy. Serbia agreed to all terms but one – while it would allow international observers to participate in the investigation of the Archduke’s assassination, it would not violate its constitution by allowing Austria-Hungary to take full control of the investigation.

On the flimsy excuse that Serbia would not turn over the investigation, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations and, on July 28, initiated WWI by declaring war on Serbia. With visions of what it thought would be a cheap victory that would expand the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Austria-Hungary launched what it was sure would be a fast and successful military campaign.

The leaders of Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity that did not exist, and they outsmarted themselves, bringing a hitherto unimaginable tragedy to Europe. Four years and 16,500,000 dead people later, the Austria-Hungarian empire had vanished. Most of Europe was left in ruin, and the conditions for World War Two were in place.

 

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat'l Cemetery Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery
Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

 

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “Unknown Soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I – the Great War. Thereafter, November 11 became known internationally as Armistice Day.

America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America, and in 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Our profound gratitude to all veterans, past, present, and future, on this Veterans Day.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

Cowardly French? Not at the Battle of Verdun!

By Jay Holmes

France has the reputation for being highly uncooperative in the Western community, which has led to the American and European habit of describing the French as being cowardly—a “nation of whores and waiters.” Every nation has whores. Fortunately, every nation also has waiters. And every nation has its cowards, but history indicates that in spite of France’s popular reputation, France’s military has been no less courageous than that of any other nation.

One event in particular that stands out as an example of French courage and as a defining force in the French political psyche is the Battle of Verdun. Like Guadalcanal, Gettysburg, Austerlitz, and Stalingrad, few people outside of Verdun’s immediate neighbors knew about the town or cared about it until a major battle was fought there. In 1916, the word “Verdun” took on a new meaning in France and to the Allied Powers and the Central Powers.

On Ne Passe Pas! "They shall not pass!" Poster by Maurice Neumont, public domain

On Ne Passe Pas!
“They shall not pass!”
Poster by Maurice Neumont, public domain

By early 1916, Europe and the European colonies had been involved with a particularly bloody war for nearly two years. France, Germany, and their allies had suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties on the “Western Front.” Given the largely effective naval blockade of the Central Powers, the German war economy was beginning to suffer, and German leaders knew that the long-range prospect of a German victory was dwindling. Without a rapid victory, the effective balance of forces on the Western Front would shift against Germany.

In an effort to secure that victory, German General Erich von Falkenhayn employed a method that Alexander the Great used frequently with great success in the fourth century B.C. Alexander had learned that enemies often least expect an attack at the strongest point of their fortifications, and that if he quickly concentrated his forces at that point, then he could destroy the center of his enemy’s defensive position and the bulk of its forces while it attempted to maneuver into a counterattack or regain defensive positions.

This method works as long as the attacking army has well trained, disciplined forces that can concentrate their firepower, and its leaders at all levels understand the tactics and are prepared to execute follow-up movement after obtaining the breach in the enemy line. General von Falkenhayn’s situation at the Battle at Verdun met those requirements.

In military terms, the area around Verdun constituted the last high ground between the attacking German army and the city of Paris. Von Falkenhayn counted on the French being unable to reinforce against the German advance. He planned that his army would capture the heights around Verdun and march through the grape fields of Champagne to trample Paris along with the grapes. My assumption is that von Falkenhayn and the German government thought that at some point prior to the German army arriving in Paris, France and the UK would agree to peace terms that were favorable to Germany. Germany could then concentrate its efforts in the east against the faltering Russian army and effect a sizeable real estate acquisition in Eastern Europe. While the long-range hopes of the German leadership concerning the attack on Verdun cannot be determined with certainty, it is safe to say they viewed the Battle of Verdun as vital to German victory.

In the winter of 1916, Verdun’s defensive works were depleted. Most of the mobile artillery that was crucial to its defense had been moved to more active sectors of the front, and the French forces in garrison in the area were too few to deal with a major assault. To the Germans, it seemed that von Falkenhayn’s application of Alexander’s favorite tactic would once more prove effective.

Fortunately for the French, their intelligence services succeeded in detecting the German buildup and discovered that the Germans intended to launch a major assault against Verdun. Due to bad weather and good French intelligence analysis, the French were able to move two additional full divisions to Verdun prior to the assault, but the Germans still enjoyed a two-to-one advantage in forces.

Map public domain, wikimedia commons

Map public domain, wikimedia commons

As a rule of thumb, military planners consider a three-to-one ratio to be optimal for a force attacking prepared defenses. While the Germans realized that they now lacked that preferred ratio, they remained confident because they had a five-to-one advantage in artillery. If we also examine the throw weight/hour and the ranges of the artillery pieces on both sides, it looks more like a twenty-to-one advantage for the Germans.

The Germans were also confident because they already held the land on three sides of the Verdun area. They assumed, quite reasonably, that since they had a major high capacity rail line running to within 20 km of the battle front, and the French had only one narrow road and a low capacity narrow gauge rail line supplying Verdun, that the French would not be able to move ammunition and food to Verdun fast enough to support a battle there. On the map table of the German headquarters, it all looked perfect. From the French side, it had to look like an impending disaster.

At 0715 hours on February 21, 1916, the well-planned German attack started with the world’s first “shock and awe” display. On a scale never seen before, the Germans conducted a massive artillery bombardment against the French defenders. It was heard up to a hundred miles away.

Most of the French soldiers in their defensive trenches were wiped out, and telegraph lines were cut. The massive artillery bombardment was followed up with attacks by specially trained German shock troops equipped with hand grenades and, for the first time, flamethrowers for clearing any enclosed French positions. The Germans quickly gained ground. For the most part, no Frenchmen were alive to defend the ground that the Germans were capturing. The situation was close to desperate for the French.

French reserves crossing a river on the way to Verdun image public domain, wikimedia commons

French reserves crossing a river on the way to Verdun
image public domain, wikimedia commons

Then something interesting happened. Rather than run out of supplies and fall back in retreat as the Germans expected, the French pulled off a near logistical miracle. In spite of the dire conditions and the frequent storms of German artillery shells, they kept supplies and men moving forward. That small, solitary French road leading up to Verdun was filled with supplies and soldiers pushing forward against the flow of wounded Frenchmen being moved to hospitals.

If we try to understand the mindset of the French soldiers that were first sent to reinforce Verdun, it’s difficult to justify thinking of them as cowardly. They had a long walk toward the roaring artillery bombardment of the town on a narrow road jammed with wounded soldiers returning from hell on earth. That previously insignificant road would become known as La Voie Sacrée, the Sacred Path. If those first French troops at Verdun cannot be called cowards, what would we call the men in the last troop of reinforcements? They started up that road knowing that their chances of escaping death or serious injury were less than forty percent. Yet with that knowledge, they marched up that road to face the Germans.

The battle raged until December 16, 1916, and 362,000 French soldiers as well as 332,000 German soldiers died. Depending on how we evaluate injuries, each side also suffered around an additional 100,000 to 200,000 badly wounded soldiers. There were isolated incidents of French and German soldiers refusing to execute suicidal frontal attacks against each other’s positions during the battle, but these were exhausted, malnourished, sleepless men who had suffered long artillery bombardments day after day for weeks on end.

Verdun 1916 French 87th Regiment Cote 304 image public domain, wikimedia commons

Verdun 1916
French 87th Regiment Cote 304
image public domain, wikimedia commons

After December of 1916, both sides waged successive attacks and counter attacks until the end of the Great War. That War was indeed “great” in scale, but it was horrific in nature, and the French held their own. Even those few that suffered mental collapse cannot fairly be called cowards.

Given the independent character of Westerners, the French and their fellow Westerners will likely continue hurling insults back and forth. It’s something of an amusement to all who participate. We can keep telling those jokes about the lack of French military courage, but if any of us is ever tempted to believe those jokes, we should remember one simple word that more than any other word disproves the theory of French cowardice.

Verdun.

Mémorial de la Voie Sacrée, Maison Brûlé image by Gérald Garitan, wikimedia commons

Mémorial de la Voie Sacrée, Maison Brûlé
image by Gérald Garitan, wikimedia commons

To join in comments, come to

Bayard & Holmes

Cowardly French? Not at the Battle of Verdun!

Turkey — America’s Special Frenemy

By Jay Holmes

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Turkey has momentarily brought US-Turkish relations to the forefront of US foreign affairs news. Days before Kerry’s visit, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned up the tension in US-Turkish relations by announcing that Zionism is a “crime against humanity.”

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, image in public domain

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, image in public domain

Many folks in the West had to wonder precisely how much of a “friend” US President Obama’s “special friend” Erdogan is and precisely who Erdogan’s friends might be. I didn’t include Israel in the list of those who wondered about Erdogan. Most Israelis long ago gave up wondering and decided they could always count on Erdogan to play that easy Anti-Israel card whenever it suited him. He has never disappointed them on that score.

The day before Kerry’s arrival, the Turkish government arrested yet another eleven journalists for daring to question the Erdogan regime. As near as I can tell, Turkey now has more journalists in prison than Communist China does. Of course, that’s a tricky comparison because China enjoys an advantage in dealing with journalist prison populations. China executes them. To their credit, the Turks generally avoid executing imprisoned journalists so they’re bound to accumulate a higher total of jailed journalists as long as they continue to suppress free speech.

Kerry issued a carefully muted disapproval of Erdogan’s words. I can’t fault Kerry for not speaking out more directly because he was in the middle of a diplomatic mission to Turkey—a NATO ally—and he was carrying a sizeable agenda of urgent issues. Beyond that, it’s not Kerry’s job to act on his own opinions. It’s his job to execute whatever foreign policy the US president dictates. Given that Obama has spent the last four years cultivating a “special close friendship” with Erdogan, and given the number of urgent issues shared by the US and Turkey, Obama is not likely to cut his losses with Erdogan too quickly.

In spite of the professional opinions of State Department employees and the US Ambassador to Turkey, President Obama was certain that, with a little influence from the US and the West, he could count on Erdogan to act as a moderate Islamic Democratic leader. The President has consistently held up Turkey as a leader of reform in the Middle East.

Given the turmoil in the Middle East, our addiction to petroleum, and the previous half a century of fairly good relations with Turkey, it’s understandable that the Obama crew might engage in a bit of wild optimism in dealing with Turkey. The White House publicly defined Turkey as a natural economic, ideological, and political gateway between the West and the Middle East. A country that’s supposed to be like leaving East L.A. via Disneyland and finding yourself on a quiet beach in Malibu without any drive-by shootings along the way.

That history of cooperation between the US and Turkey has to be placed in the context of the Cold War. Although Turkey tried to establish a close working relationship with the USSR after World War One, it quickly realized that it was on Stalin’s lunch menu and started looking to the West for friends. By the end of World War Two, the US and Turkey were working overtime to build a strong friendship based on Turkish geography and US cash.

The history of US-Turkish relations since World War Two is a complex one, filled with constant friction and held together by the overriding concern about Soviet aggression. That glue of Soviet aggression is no longer present, and like a passionate young couple, common ground and mutual understanding must be defined for the US and Turkey for the relationship to attain any lasting mutual benefit. The Obama administration sees common ground, but does Turkey see the same thing?

Both the US and Turkey openly agree that Turkey can be that peaceful gateway between the West and the Middle East. Turkey maintains diplomatic and economic ties to Iran and has consistently, and apparently faithfully, done a good job of acting as a diplomatic conduit for Iran and the US. Given that Turkey and its growing economy purchase oil from Iran, it’s no small matter for them to take on that role as a diplomatic third between Iran and the US. Erdogan sees himself as a top tier world leader, and his diplomatic position between Iran and the US gives him credibility both in the Mid-east and the West.

Many analysts point to the current civil war in Syria as a turning point in US-Turkish relations. It’s certainly an important event. In fact, if you live next door to Syria, as the Turks do, and artillery rounds and rockets are finding their way to your side of the border, which they are, then it’s critically important and urgently requires a solution.

More realistically, the strain in US-Turkish relations is at least in part caused by long standing issues. The first sticking point revolves around the fact that about one and a half million Armenians live in the US, and they remember the genocide carried out against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire after World War One. Please don’t hate Armenians just because of those silly Kardashian people. Most Americans of Armenian descent are lovely folks. They and the other millions of Armenian diaspora around the world want Turkey to admit that the genocide occurred. It’s quite clear to everyone except successive Turkish governments that it did occur. That has caused friction between the US and Turkish governments.

Another long-standing conflict between Turkey and the US has been Israel. While Turkey has not generally counted itself among the “death to the Jews” Middle Eastern crowd, it has been sympathetic toward Palestinians and cozy with Hamas. At the same time, the US categorizes Hamas as a terrorist group. Given that Hamas has spent most of its cash and effort over time on terrorist activities, the US is not likely to change its stance.

Then, there are those other, not so well-treated folks who call themselves Kurds. I happen to like the Kurdish people but in international terms, I’m in a minority. Some adventurous Americans, as well as a few nosey Brits, had very cordial dealings with the Kurds back when a nasty old creep by the name of Saddam Hussein was running Iraq.

Parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran were the Kurdish homeland for a period. The Kurds want those parts back. Turkey, Iran, and Syria have no intention of giving that land back any more than the US, Canada, or any other New World nation intends to return this half of the globe to the Native Americans. Note to Argentine President Kirchner: If the Brits gift you the Falklands, you’ll have to find some Native Americans to give it to.

During the Iraq War and the early stages of the subsequent “rebuilding” of Iraq, the vast differences in the US and Turkish view of the Kurds appeared to be a long term problem in US-Turkish relations. Most observers assumed that the PKK attacks on Turkish soil, which the PKK considers to be their rightful home, would remain the defining issue for Turkey in its policies toward Iraq. Problems are not always what they seem to be on the surface. As it turned out, there was a deeper underlying issue that would eventually shape a new Turkish outlook on Iraq. In our next article, we will examine that issue and the other emerging issues that have intervened in the simple view of US-Turkish relations that the present and recent US administrations have tried to implement.

Special Edition Iran – Timeline Part V

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV.)

Today, we look at the ascension of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the fellow most Westerners alive today know as “The Shah of Iran.”

The early 1900s represents one of the most critical, most frequently twisted, and most frequently misunderstood or ignored periods in the formation of modern Iran.

First Iranian Majlis, 1906, image from iranian.com

1911 A.D.

The elected Iranian Parliament, the Majlis, appointed a brilliant American lawyer and financier, William Morgan Shuster, to the post of Treasurer General of Iran. The Majlis trusted him because he helped them for several years with his expertise, political connections, and the financial support from his personal wealth as they attempted to form a constitution for Iran. Shuster operated on the belief that a stable Nationalist “pro-Iranian” government in Iran would be better for Iran and for any potential trade partners, including the USA.

Shuster imported a team of American banking experts and white collar crime specialists and began implementing reforms to reduce corruption and build a treasury for Iran. Shuster’s efforts boded well for the future of a constitutional and democratic society in Iran. Naturally, he was unpopular with British oil developers, Russian Czarists, and their Iranian lackeys who grew wealthy from the foreign intervention.

Great Britain used skilled diplomatic pressure on Iran to attempt to oust Shuster. Russia used standard Russian style diplomacy and dispatched an army of 12,000 well-equipped soldiers to invade Iran. The Russians provided muscle for the installation of an obese twelve-year-old named Sultan Ahmed Shah. Russian artillery shelled the Majlis and destroyed it. Democratic Nationalism died an agonizing death across Iran.

In later decades, Iran’s politically ambitious religious fanatics would rail against the filthy Western devils for the invasion, but at the time, many of these fanatics cooperated with the British and the Russians in hopes of destroying democracy in Iran.

Shuster and his Americans departed Iran with their lives intact, due to British maneuvering. Neither the UK nor Russia wanted to drag the US government with its idealistic views into Iran so killing Shuster and his team would have been a political disaster for the UK. The British Foreign Office, with the skilled help of MI-6 and the Royal Navy, and without public disclosures to the voters in the UK, managed to shape the resultant fallout to their advantage, and they gained control of southern Iran and its oil fields.

William Morgan Shuster, image from wikipedia.org

A great opportunity for freedom and democracy in Iran was lost. Shuster later published a book, “The Strangling of Persia.” The book was highly critical of the UK and Russia.

1913 A.D.

Thanks in large part to the UK’s strong grip on Iranian oil reserves, the already pre-eminent Royal Navy was able to take an important technological leap in naval warfare and convert its navy from coal to oil. The advantages were tremendous. They were able to drive still more heavily armored ships at higher speeds, thanks to the efficiency of oil fired boilers vs. coal fired boilers.

The Royal Navy gained more mobility because they required less frequent refueling. For comparison, the US Navy was able to begin the conversion to oil in 1908 with tests on land-based boilers and machinery mock ups. The US committed to the conversion based purely on science rather than economics because she had a reliable domestic supply of oil.

July 28, 1914

Austria made one of the most asinine political decisions in human history. Backed by assurances from the ever confident Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Austria invaded Serbia. It seemed like a great decision to the apparently intellectually challenged Austrian royalty and their poorly trained military leaders. It required little capital investment (the first week), and victory should have been quick and profitable. The “easy one month victory” turned in to the great human tragedy known as World War One.

Iran had no idea which way to turn. It made no turns and declared neutrality. It seemed like a great idea and required no capital investment. The neutrality worked about as well as any neutral declaration does when not backed up by military capacity. The Ottomans wanted the oil. The British intended to keep it, and the “neutral” Iran became one more bloody battlefield in the madness of World War One. The Iranian economy was disrupted, agriculture suffered, and children went hungry.

1919 A.D.

Having successfully defended their hold on Afghanistan through World War One, the British government asked itself why it is in Afghanistan. The answer was two fold. One reason was that the British presence in Afghanistan was a response to raids into British controlled India by highly mobile, fast moving Afghan mounted warriors. The second and more critical reason was to simply keep the Russians out.

It occurred to the British Foreign Office that the cruelest thing they could do to the annoyingly communist Soviet Union was to leave them to tangle with Afghanistan. The British withdrew their troops from the profitless Afghan territory and reinforce their border between Afghanistan and India. (If you glance at a map, remember that what is now Pakistan was then part of India.)

Iranian Prime Minister Vosooghoddoleh secretly granted Great Britain direct authority over transportation, financial, and military institutions. Great Britain had stopped paying oil royalties because Iran failed to protect British assets from attack by anti-British gangs and the occasional Soviet agent. The Iranian government was almost completely without authority across Iran.

1920 A.D.

When word of the secret agreement with the British leaked out, rioting erupted in many areas, and anti-government forces started to organize. The incompetent and unpronounceable Prime Minister Vosooghoddoleh was forced to resign and was replaced by an equally powerless but somewhat more pronounceable Prime Minster named Moshiroddoleh.

The government of Iran was weak and disorganized. A fast-riding, fierce tribe from the north (the Soviet communists) invaded northern Iran. They shelled Anzali in northern Iran for three days and then captured the city and set up a camp for the organization of a massive communist revolution in Iran.

The Islamic Iranians were none too impressed with the offers to join an atheist revolution in exchange for free vodka, and the massive revolution failed to materialize. The Iranian government was up to its neck in poverty and internal strife and agreed to surrender its territory north of the Aras river to the USSR. That area is modern day Turkmenistan.

1921 A.D.

An Iranian military leader who distinguished himself in World War One, Reza Khan, seized power with the help of the British. He was able to lead the Iranian Cossack Brigade in suppressing the many local uprisings across Iran.

Reza Khan, image from iranian.com

1922 A.D.

Shia Islamic leader Sheik Abdolkarim Haeri Yadi founded a school for training Shia clerics in Qom. The hitherto insignificant Qom grew into the Iranian center for religion and political discontent.

1923 A.D.

Reza Khan became the Prime Minister of Iran by unanimous election. There were two votes, his and Great Britain’s. If he lacked legitimacy in democratic terms, he was at least intelligent and able to begin to rebuild and modernize Iran.

1925 A.D.

The majority of religious leaders across Iran quietly formed an agreement to support Reza Khan because they strongly opposed democracy. In exchange, Reza Khan agreed to leave religious leaders in charge of many local civil matters. To the Islamic religious leaders, it seemed like a good idea and required no capital investment on their part.

1926 A.D.

Reza Khan ascended the Golden Peacock throne of Persia and was crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi. His eldest son, Muhammad Reza, was declared the crown prince. The shah intensified “Westernization” efforts. The religious leaders started to resent him, but they lacked the power to overthrow him. The Shah ordered the building of Iran’s first cross-country railroad system, new schools, and industrial projects.

1935 A.D.

The Shah now felt strong enough to declare an official name change for the country from Persia to Iran. He began to resist British influence. He outlawed the use of the veil for women, and as his government became more effective, he regained control of local civil matters.

When there was an uprising instigated by angry Shia Islamic leaders at the sacred Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, Iran, the Shah ordered his military to crush the rebellion. Several hundred protestors were killed.

1941 A.D.

The Shah started to get too cozy with Hitler and Mussolini. The British and Russians moved in and saw that he was deposed. The crown prince, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, was placed on the Peacock Throne.

Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, image from wikipedia.org

In our next article, we will look at Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi’s struggle to remain in power, his relationship with Western powers, and the eventual collapse of the throne of Iran.

Flimsy Excuse for WWI

By Jay Holmes

An intelligence agency ignored its own government and ordered an assassination.

No, not in Pakistan….

Yesterday marked the 97th anniversary of one of the worst diplomatic moves in the history of mankind. On July 23, 1914, Austrian diplomat Baron Giesl von Gieslingen delivered an ultimatum to the government of Serbia. In response to the killing of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia the previous month, the Austria-Hungarians demanded control of the Serbian investigation. They also demanded the outlawing of anti-Austria-Hungary statements or activity, and the arrest of groups that Austria felt had a hand in the assassination, such as the Serbian  “Black Hand.”

A young killer named Gavrilo Princip succeeded in murdering the Archduke on June 28, 1914, shortly after a failed attempt by one of his nine co-conspirators. The conspiracy seems to have been arranged by the head of Serbian Army Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitijevik, without the knowledge or approval of his government.  Princip has often been described as an “anarchist,” but he was apparently part of a popular movement that sought the formation of a new nation-state that would come about by the joining of Serbia with Herzegovina and Bosnia.

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie

Princip fired on the Archduke at close range, striking the Archduke in the neck and hitting the Archduke’s wife in the abdomen. Princip turned his pistol on himself, but police and spectators took him under control before he could fire. According to Serbian law, Princip could not be sentenced to death because he had not quite reached his 20th birthday. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence, but died in prison of tuberculosis four years later.

The ultimatum that Gieslingen had delivered had been carefully crafted by the Austrians and their German allies to ensure a negative response from Serbia. The letter demanded a response within 48 hours.

Germany and Austria-Hungary had calculated that Serbia would reject the ultimatum, and that they would then invade, capture, and annex Serbia before its ally, Russia, could mobilize a response. They assumed that, when presented with a fait accompli, Western Europe would loudly protest, but not mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

On July 24, 1914, in response to Serbian pleas for help, Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its large, but poorly equipped army. On July 25, the Prime Minister of Serbia, Nicola Pasic, ordered the Serbian army to mobilize, and he personally delivered a response to the Austria-Hungarian embassy. He agreed to all terms but one. Serbia would not violate its constitution by allowing Austria-Hungary to take full control of the investigation of the assassination; however, it would allow international observers to participate.

On the flimsy excuse that Serbia would not turn over the investigation, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations with Serbia. On July 28, Austria-Hungary initiated World War One by declaring war on Serbia, and it launched what it was sure would be a fast and successful military campaign.

The leaders in Vienna envisioned a cheap victory that would result in a vast expansion of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Four years and 16,500,000 dead people later, the Austria-Hungarian empire had vanished. Most of Europe was left in ruin, and the conditions for World War Two were in place.

Serbia’s conciliatory response had no chance of stopping the war. Had Serbia agreed to every last condition, new demands would have been made. The flimsy excuse for the war was even flimsier than it might seem. One of the terrible ironies of the crisis is that the Austria-Hungarian royal family and its government were not enamored of Archduke Ferdinand and might have eventually assassinated him themselves had Princip and his co-conspirators not accommodated them.

Archduke Ferdinand had become a source of consternation to his Hapsburg family by declining to agree to any marriages that his father wished to arrange, and by insisting on marrying Sophie Chotek. Chotek was a member of a royal family, but not a direct descendant of a European ruler, and, therefore, was not eligible to marry Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

When WWI was explained to me in my fifth grade history class, I felt that the class must have been too short, because clearly some critical detail had been excluded. I was certain that the killing of an Archduke from central Europe could not lead to such a horrendous war. It didn’t. It was the excuse for the war but not the reason.

The War was caused by competition between imperial empires. The Austria-Hungarian leaders saw an opportunity that didn’t exist.  If the Archduke had never been killed, it would not have changed anything. Germany and Austria-Hungary were waiting for the moment to strike. If need be, they would have created another excuse for the war. They outsmarted themselves, and in the bargain brought a hitherto unimaginable tragedy to Europe, leaving it vulnerable to another war.

That next European war would be triggered by an even flimsier contrived excuse presented by an even less likeable Austrian, but that’s a story for another day.

Any questions over Austria-Hungary or its flimsy excuse that started WWI?