Tuesday, June 28, 2022

'As Blatant As a Propagandist Poster'

Thomas Carlyle was convinced “Great Men” were the drivers of history, “the leaders of men,” as he put it, “these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain.” Hardly  flattering to those of us who retain some faith in mere democracy. Carlyle never addresses an alternative understanding, one we might call the Small Man Theory of History, in which nonentities precipitate disproportionately large events.

Recall the bomb-maker Alexander Ulyanov, Lenin’s older brother and a member of the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) party, who in 1887 plotted to murder Czar Alexander III and was hanged for his trouble. Closer to home, think of John Wilkes Booth, Charles J. Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz and Lee Harvey Oswald – punks, losers, otherwise insignificant mediocrities. And then, on an even a grander miniscule scale, we have Gavrilo Princip. Let’s turn over the narration to Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941):


“Then on June the twenty-eighth, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Government allowed Franz Ferdinand to go to Bosnia in his capacity of Inspector-General of the Army to conduct manoeuvres on the Serbian frontier. . . . A Bosnian Serb named Princip, who deeply resented Austro-Hungarian misrule, was able without any difficulty to shoot him as he drove along the street, and accidentally killed his wife as well.”  


Later in the book, West describes her visit to Sarajevo, site of the assassination:


“’Look,’ I said, ‘the river at Sarajevo runs red. That I think a bit too much. The pathetic fallacy really ought not to play with such painful matters.’ ‘Yes, it is as blatant as a propagandist poster,’ said my husband. We were standing on the bridge over which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife would have driven on the morning of June the twenty-eighth, 1914, if they had not been shot by a Bosnian named Gavrilo Princip, just as their car was turning off the embankment.”


A nineteen-year-old unemployed consumptive fires his pistol twice, kills the heir to the Habsburg Empire and his wife, and effectively starts a war that results in more than 20 million deaths. Two empires, the Austrian and Turkish, would fall. The Bolsheviks would take over Russia and begin their enslavement and slaughter, and the Turks would attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Great War soldiers would carry Spanish flu around the globe, killing at least 50 million, and a second world war would claim another 50 million or more lives.


Princip would die in prison in 1918, before the end of World War I. The prison was located north of Prague in Terezín, a town in the Czech Republic better known by its German name, Theresienstadt.


Richard Zuelch said...

The Communist Oswald was such a loser that even the Soviets turned down the offer of his services. So, he went back to Texas. . .

Hai Di Nguyen said...

Haha I'd like to think you must have read my blog post about War and Peace epilogue.

Faze said...

Charles Guiteau shot maybe the best, most capable and most intelligent man ever to serve as president of the United States, James A. Garfield.
Although this was a tragedy for the nation, it was something else for me, since my great grandfather was brought to America from Germany to carve the stonework on Garfield's memorial. If Garfield had never been shot, I never would have been born.