One thing about me — a detail which makes me substantially less useful as a person from whom you can borrow a book — is that, like many geeky boys, I enjoy my military history books. My tastes in this genre tend strongly to more-technical works which completely describe the challenges individuals and states face and then give a complete history of how that challenge was surmounted (or not). Right now I’m reading a particularly interesting (to me), if perhaps somewhat detailed and dry, book, “The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War”:http://amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691015953/ref=nosim/wadearmstrong-20. I’ve recently come to a chapter that describes the oft-forgotten Bosnian crisis of 1908, a historical event that, at the time, appeared to be a complete victory for Germany and Austria-Hungary but which turned out to be, unexpectedly, a complete disaster for those two Powers.
The story behind the Bosnian crisis was this: at the time, Bosnia was a Turkish posession, administered by Austria-Hungary, on the border of Austria-Hungary and Serbia. Serbia saw itself as the natural leader of all of the south Slavs and dreamed of adding Bosnia, Montenegro, and other neighboring areas to its kingdom; Austria had long been the dominant power in the Balkans and wanted to preserve its dominance in the area by adding Bosnia to its territory. At the time, Europe was in the midst of a technological revolution in its armies — they were adopting things like machineguns, magazine-loaded rifles (rather than single-shot rifles that needed to be reloaded after every shot), radio, telephones, and modern, faster-firing, more-accurate artillery. Germany and Austria-Hungary led most of Europe in equipping their armies with this technology, and, particularly, with modern artillery; Serbia was broke and had not modernized its army, its sponsor Russia had been crushed two years earlier in the Russo-Japanese war and had not yet recovered, and neighboring Italy had a small, under-equipped army. The Austrians really wanted the Bosnian prize and, with German support, threatened to fight Italy, Serbia, and Russia all at once to get it, banking on their military superiority to intimidate their opponents into acceding to the Austrian annexation of Bosnia. Outclassed, everyone backed down, and the Austrians got Bosnia. Germany and Austria conclusively proved that they were the strongest military powers in Europe — so strong that their opponents gave up without even fighting.
But the result was disaster for Germany and Austria. Just seven years later all of Europe would be sucked into the idiotic slaughter of the First World War, and Russia, Serbia, and Italy would all be prepared to fight in it. Humiliated, the Russian Duma voted massive new credits to rebuild their army and put a new, reformist general in charge who reorganized the whole organization. The Serbs bought modern weapons and quadrupled the size of their armed forces. The Italians strengthened their army and procured the most advanced field artillery that any combatant would use in World War I. Germany and Austria won a short-term victory but, in doing so, taught potential adversaries what they’d have to do to fight back successfully. Yes, the Serbs, Italians, and Russians were all decisively defeated by Austro-German armies in World War I, but they all stuck around long enough to prevent the Germans from dedicating enough armies to the fight against the British and French to win the war. Even worse, the German and Austro-Hungarian bellicosity in this crisis convinced other European Powers that, next time, there needed to be no backing down — these enemies needed to be fought to the death.
Now comes news that “the Iraq war has given Islamic extremists the chance to both learn what tactics work against the West and the chance to build pro-extremist sentiment worldwide.”:http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-intel24sep24,0,2161892.story?coll=la-home-headlines Neither Iraq nor Bosnia could ever have been a plum valuable enough to risk the future of the US or Austria-Hungary on, yet that’s exactly what we and they did — a potentially enduring advantage was thrown away for a temporary, small victory.
Three years ago, we were told that Iraq needed to be invaded to prevent the spread (and use) of weapons of mass destruction. When none were found, we were told that at least we were confronting Islamic radicalism in Iraq and not in the US. Well, Austria-Hungary confronted Russo-Serbian pan-Slavism (that is, these two Slavic powers wanted to create a strong south Slavic state to stand against Austria-Hungary in the Balkans) and Italian irredentism (much of what is now the northernmost parts of Italy was then part of Austria-Hungary) and defeated these two movements decisively in 1908. Unfortunatley for the Austro-Hungarians, this temporary victory sowed the roots of a defeat seven years later that was so great that the ancient empire was completely ripped apart into seperate states, one of which was Yugoslavia, the powerful, unified state of the South Slavs. This leaves one to question: do we have a plan that’s good enough to make sure that we aren’t providing our enemies with the training ground to develop tactics that can defeat us, and the allies worldwide to fuel a war using these tactics? Do we have a plan to rebuild our international reputation and prevent other nations from believing we need to be fought to the last man?
Oh right, we don’t have any plans at all. Duh.