All of the Balkans, legendary German Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor) Otto von Bismarck famously said, were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. And Bismarck, a Prussian landowner or junker had nothing but amused contempt for Pomeranian grenadiers who were regarded as a standing joke in the German Army.
In 1890, brash, young new German Emperor Wilhelm II fired Bismarck after 28 years as minister-president of Prussia and then first Imperial Chancellor of Germany. He abandoned the priority policy of maintaining warm ties and close communications with Russia that Bismarck had always followed and scrapped the Dreikaiserbund, the League of Three Emperors that Bismarck had created with the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Over the next 20 years, an increasingly isolated Germany became more and more committed to its one remaining ally – weak, unstable and inept Austria-Hungary ruled by the Habsburg Emperor Franz-Josef, after his death long revered but in reality a dim dolt.
In 1914, Wilhelm II performed his most fatal idiocy: He gave the rulers of Austria-Hungary a blank check to send an ultimatum to Serbia over its suspected involvement in the assassination of the Habsburg Archduke Franz-Ferdinand in Sarajevo that was bound to lead to war.
Afterwards, belatedly realizing what he had done, Wilhelm panicked and tried to pull back from the catastrophe to which he had doomed his country and all of Europe. But it was too late. More than two million young German soldiers died for nothing in that war over the next four years. A needless war fought over allegations of complicity in an assassination cost the bones of a lot more than one, solitary Pomeranian grenadier.
The causes of World War I were compulsorily taught to millions of schoolchildren when I was growing up in Ireland and Britain. Today I doubt one American in half a million could explain them. Yet Congress in Washington and the US media are madly urging on the US government to replicate the catastrophe in what could trigger a global thermonuclear holocaust.
Assassination! Instead of the suspected involvement of the tiny Serbian government which was indeed deeply involved in the plot (but for which no proof at the time was in fact uncovered) we see the US government following the lead of the UK government in blaming Russia without any evidence whatsoever in the alleged assassination of Sergei Skripal.
A reckless stupid commitment! Instead of Wilhelm II giving a “blank check” to the Austro-Hungarian government to start a war with Serbia, provoking reaction by Russia, we see the US Congress pressuring President Donald Trump into imposing ferocious sanctions on Russia. Those sanctions are clearly intended to wreck Russia’s 19 years of recovery, prosperity and growth under President Vladimir Putin.
A superpower allowing a weak, unstable and irresponsible minor ally to pull it into a destructive war!
Wilhelm, the emperor of bluster in the end let himself be led as tamely as an obedient poodle by the reckless adventurers and gamblers in Vienna. Today, Trump is allowing US policy be deformed and national survival threatened by his loyalty to a leader he despises, Prime Minister Theresa May of the disintegrating United Kingdom.
Most of all Bismarck knew that tiny squabbling countries in the Balkans were not worth the life of a single comic soldier.
Bismarck would not have cared a fig for the internal politics of Macedonia, Montenegro or Georgia. He would have laughed at the idea that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania could or should determine the future of global superpowers and world-spanning alliances.
Instead, Bismarck sought to quarantine off peripheral regions that historically generated violence, ethnic conflict and assassination away from the major powers.
The Iron Chancellor’s policies maintained global peace for two generations. Abandoning them brought on the conflagration of 1914 that destroyed European civilization.
Today, the United States and its allies need to remember and relearn the wisdom of Bismarck and abandon the fatally infantile enthusiasms of Wilhelm II.
The survival of humanity depends upon it.
Originally published on 2018-09-05
About the author: During his 24 years as a senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and United Press International, Martin Sieff reported from more than 70 nations and covered 12 wars. He has specialized in US and global economic issues.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation
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