Count Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf (1852-1925), Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army at the outbreak of the First World War. Seen here with his Chief of Staff, General Muller. Date: circa 1914
In time when (on the occasion of the 100th anniversary since WWI ended) we face almost daily attempts to reinterpret and revision the role of Serbia in the outbreak of the Great War, all in order to push aside well established facts of who and what for the war started, it is Her majesty history that reminds us of Chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army, who was obsessed with the idea that the Austro-Hungarian empire can be preserved only if it attacks and conquers Serbia .
Relations between Serbia and Austro-Hungary were tense from the moment when the Congress of Berlin granted the black – Yellow empire the right to perform the occupation of Serbian land of Bosnia and Herzegovina ( 1878). , but only since the beginning of the 20th century we can speak of very bad relations between the two countries, which were on the brink of war, and often ‘spiced up’ with threats and war mobilizations.
The situation rapidly deteriorated after the Monarchy annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina ( 1908-1909 ), but also after the unhidden attitude, the Monarchy had: when it comes to Balkans and Serbs it won’t finish with Bosnia. The first military recruitment for war on Serbia Austria-Hungary performed in spring 1909, and another one in winter 1912, April 1913. and again in the fall.
Credits for this demonstration of force go to Chief of Staff of Austro-Hungarian army Conrad von Hetzendorf (General Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf ( 1852-1925). Since January 1913 until June 1914 (ie before the Sarajevo assassination ) he formally demanded 25 times permission to attack Serbia and thus confirm the monarchy as a superpower, in order to prevent the disintegration of Monarchy.Fon Hetzendorf was a favourite officer of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; he personally promoted him to Chief of staff. Conrad regularly proposed so-called ‘ preventative ‘ or surprise wars directed against the supposed enemies of the Austro – Hungarian monarchy, rarely Italy and permanently Serbia. To get the idea of what kind of man the Chief of Staff General Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf was, let’s take a look where it’s been evidenced and described – Rebecca West and her book ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’.
”Conrad was a man without reason and grace, who saw himself as a great soldier and statesman, so he considered he’s capable of making plans for the country’s foreign policy. Konrad was obsessed with the idea that it must preserve Austria-Hungary by taking offensive action against Serbia“, Rebecca West writes.
Some other history books suggest that Chief of Staff of the Austrian army Conrad von Hötzendorf had a strange emotional relationship he was hoping to get regularized by returning to Austria as a war hero. But the new book “Sleepwalkers,” by Christopher Clark, a very elaborated account of prewar history, tells the whole story:
“It started with a dinner party in 1907. Conrad was seated next to someone’s wife. He was at that time about 55 years old. His wife had died in 1905, resulting in severe depression. Apparently, he enjoyed the conversation, because a week later he presented himself at the lady ’s home and announced that he intended to marry her. She replied that she had seven commitments — e.g., a husband and six children. He said if she didn’t give him hope, if she refused him utterly, he would resign his job and retire from public life and never be seen again.
They compromised. She would continue as she was but consider a change if things changed in the future. In fact, they did start an affair sometime later. He wanted her to divorce, however and thought that returning as a war hero might regularize this situation, in some way, so a divorce would be socially acceptable. “
But there’s more about it – the 3000 letters he wrote to the woman! After his death in 1915 at age 73, and completely unbeknown to his lover, some 3000 letters addressed to her were found in his apartment. Some were 60 pages long; sometimes he wrote several times a day. The author of “Sleepwalkers” says they were ”repetitive, obsessive claims of adoration forever, over and over, with emphasis on his depression and despair and dependency on her for any relief from all this.” Repetitive and obsessive also were Conrad’s continual calls for war against Serbia. Conrad called for preventive war against Serbia 25 times in 1913 alone. Emperor Josef fired him for this strange obsession during 1911, because he constantly badgered the foreign minister Aehrenthal about making war on Serbia. He was very proud of never deviating and always started his letters with the claim that he never changed his mind — Austria should make war on Serbia!
Amazingly, the Emperor rehired him after 18 months!! Austria must have had a severe shortage of trained people: the foreign minister Count Berchtold served only reluctantly.
In the first memorandum addressed to the Emperor Franz Jozef in 1907. (seven years before the WW I) Fon Hetzendorf wrote, that
“We have to take advantage of the first opportunity to attack before this most vulnerable opponent (Serbia) get enough arms which could result in the disintegration of the Monarchy.”
Only this sentence is sufficient counter-argument to those willing to (ab)use the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in order to distort history. Because he called for the destruction of Serbia, rising Slavic state, almost a full decade before the Sarajevo assassination. He was obsessed with Serbia.
After the first memorandum ( 1907). within the next seven years, Austro-Hungarian Chief of General Staff ’s obsession with Serbia has grown into a mania. He wrote again and again and urged the emperor to attack Serbia. In the Memorandum dated 28. October in 1912. Fon Hetzendorf proposes that Serbia
“must lose its independence and has to be forced to hand over her fate to the Habsburgs. That’s the core of the Austrian solution for the Balkans.”
According to Fon Hetzendorf, Serbia should have been fragmented into Raška area (or Sandžak as Ottomans called it) and western Serbia that should belong to Austria; Nis and Pirot area to Bulgaria; and eastern parts of Serbia – between the Morava and Timok rivers – to Romania.
What’s amazing is the number of documents Fon Hetzendorf sent to the King, crown prince and the Austro-Hungarian government, which – without exception – were calling for an attack and destruction of Serbia.
Such behaviour of the first man in the Austro-Hungarian Army was in line with a long-standing policy of the Austrian Military party, informal and interest-based society which consisted of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff of the Army, the Christian Social Party, the radical wing of the Roman Catholic Church and the clique around Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
All this indicates that Fon Hetzendorf was much more of the Chief of Staff: he was a warmonger and one of the most responsible people for Europe and the world sliding into the Great War.
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