Friday, November 4, 2016

1914 & 2016: Does History Repeat Itself?

This week Chicago Cubs' fans learned that history can indeed repeat itself with the Cubbies taking the pennant after a 108 year drought.  Congratulations to the 2016 Cubs and their long-suffering fans!

Ty Cobb
In An Adventure in 1914 I noted that, "In 1914, Ty Cobb led the American League with a .368 batting average, and the Boston Braves won the World Series in four games. On October 9, 1915, Woodrow Wilson became the first sitting president to attend a World Series and throw out the first pitch, when the newly christened Boston Red Sox defeated the Phillies at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia by a score of two to one. The Red Sox would go on to win the pennant that year, taking it in four games to one."  (

While Americans were playing baseball in the summer of 1914 Europeans were going to war.

Gavril Princip
The Black Hand was the ISIS of 1914
In 1914 the world stumbled into war.  World War I was, in a sense, history's greatest traffic accident.  Over seventeen million were killed in the war that launched Communism and Fascism and set the stage for World War II.  Four Empires were broken up as a result of the war.  The breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the Treaty of Versailles created the nations of Syria and Iraq.  World War I was the original sin of the 20th Century.

Does 2016 resemble 1914 in ways that could be profoundly disturbing?

Assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914
1) TERRORISM.  In 1914 terrorism was a major problem.  The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie took place on June 28, 1914 (  This act of terrorism triggered an Austrian demand for justice and was the catalyst for the march to war.  The Black Hand conspirators of 1914 were the rough equivalent of ISIS today.
In 1914 liberal France was allied with Czarist Russia
2) INTERLOCKING ALLIANCES.  Europe was divided into two armed camps in 1914.  The Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary confronted the Triple Alliance of France, Britain and Czarist Russia.  The Austrian invasion of Serbia triggered Russian mobilization and war.  In 2016 the NATO Alliance is founded on Article Five which insists that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.  Thus an attack by Russia to recover the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has the potential to trigger immediate American involvement and a World War.  (See...
Thomas Tileston Wells
Author of An Adventure in 1914
Stranded in Venice
3) FINANCIAL CRISIS.  The start of World War I, horrible in itself, also triggered an immediate financial crisis.  Interest rates soared and liquidity dried up.  Thomas Wells, my own great grandfather, was stranded in Venice and could not pay his hotel bill.  Fear of bank failure was widespread.  The 21st century has, of course, had our own experience of financial crisis.

The German Kaiser, King George V and Nicholas II were cousins
4) NON-IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICT.  World War I was a non-ideological war.  France was in 1914 the most liberal nation in Europe.  Yet France had aligned herself with Czarist Russia which was the most autocratic nation in Europe.  World War I was about power politics not ideology --many of the crowned heads were related to each other.  Putin's Russia has differences with the West and is hardly democratic but these differences are not primarily ideological.
Trapped in a web of sex and surveillance
Mata Hari & Huma Abedin...?

5) SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY.  Today in the age of Wiki-leaks we live in a Surveillance Society.  This really had its origins in World War I.  With the dawn of Marconi and radio traffic governments began listening in on everyone's mail.  In An Adventure in 1914 I wrote, "Room 40 also decrypted messages that identified Mata Hari, a Dutch courtesan and exotic dancer in Paris who was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in 1876, as H-21, a German spy. The information was passed to French intelligence, and the femme fatale was arrested, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1917." (  Today Huma Abedin seems to be trapped in somewhat similar web of sex and surveillance.

6) THREAT OF WAR.  Today the threat of war looms in Syria, in Iraq, on the Korean Peninsula, in the Ukraine, in the Baltic Republics and even in the Pacific Ocean.  Even after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand few expected the outbreak of a devastating World War.  But it happened nonetheless.

History does not, thank goodness, always repeat itself but it often rhymes.

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