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Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.
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55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.
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It is an unusual twist of fortune that two men from the same Bohemian dynasty and sharing a common name and title were pivotal to two wars that ripped the heart from Europe – (Arch-)Duke (Franz) Ferdinand. Almost 400 years separated the two.
Both men’s effects were widely felt in tinderbox political situations. In both cases the torch was lit and the flames spread quickly. The imperial ambitions of the sides involved in both wars were the fuel that would cause these incendiary situations to really explode.
Thirty Years War and The Denfenestrations of Prague
Just take a moment before we deal with this for a moment of levity before dealing with deaths and misery. Defenestration – to throw through a window. Isn’t that just a brilliant word? It’s of Latinate origin – derived from the words for ‘from’ and ‘window’. If you learn nothing else today that’s fine, but just imagine threatening someone “don’t make me defenestrate the living fuck outta you!”
To over-simplify an extremely convoluted and ever-changing situation, the Thirty Years War was essentially fought between between Catholics and Protestants in a Mittel-Europe still reeling from the Reformation. Germanic and slavic Europe was a chequerboard of tiny kingdoms, lordships and baronies and along with the rest of Europe was torn asunder in this war. Estimates of deaths are as high as one third of Europe’s population having perished in the campaign.
The first domino fell when the Hapsburg Catholic Duke Ferdinand of Styria was elected King of Bohemia. He and his minions began to run the rule of law over the protestants with whom they had been co-existing up to this point. Strictly speaking however, this was the misrule of law in that it overruled the decrees of religious freedom and tolerance. Either way it annoyed the protestants no end.
So they did what any righteous upstanding moralists would do in such a situation; they went to find the King’s representatives in Prague and flung them out of a window (it would seem that defenestration has a long and storied tradition in Prague). These men survived the fall, which was variously interpreted as a sign from God that catholicism was the righteous path, or that they were saved by falling in horses’ shit.
As an interesting aside, one of these men, the “flingees” as it were, was later ennobled by the Holy roman Emperor who gave him the title Von Hohenfall, or, Lord Highfall. The moment must have been spectacular, just imagine what went through his head; “is this guy taking the piss? Sure, he has made me lord of frankly-who-cares-burg, but does he absolutely HAVE to call me that?”
Anyway, who would have thought that addressing your grievances in a manner as delicate as a defenestration would incur a degree of indignant wrath? Well it did, and all Europe was eventually dragged in, in some manner.
The Thirty Years War – a Synopsis
Continuing the Inquisition’s cavalier approach to intricate historical narratives; the Thirty Years War in thirty seconds-
From the initial display of Czech diplomacy the war involved the two warring factions of the Evangelical League (of Protestant Princes) versus The Catholic League. Both sides used mercenary forces which ran rampant across Europe. Catholic France, interestingly, backed the Protestants, along with Holland, against the Hapsburg dynasty, which had huge influence through nearly every European court. England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Savoy and Venice were all dragged into the war and the theatres of battle moved from Germany to Denmark, then Sweden to finally come to a close in France. The events through this chronicle are so labyrinthine that the book (imaginatively entitled) The Thirty Years War, by C.V.Wedgewood is the best first port of call.
A recently posited alternative theory suggests the Thirty Years War was attributable to climate disruption. According to this view the stage was set before the incident that sparked it all off. In harsh climates the control of resources is crucial, as deprivation can be fatal. This theory suggests that a clash was inevitable.
World War 1 – Gavrilo Princip Unleashes Hell
World War 1 sounds like it was a great laugh. Total casualty estimates from the hostilities fall somewhere between 9 and 16.5 million. Military losses are currently totalled around 8.6 million so it is probable that the full figure including civilians is in the upper end of the estimated range. Although the ratio of dead to living populations would have been closer to parity in the Thirty Years War, this later toll is infinitely higher.
These figures are further complicated by the struggle to define exactly what amounts to a war-related death. For example, the best estimate at the moment is that 1918’s Spanish Flu killed one third of the earth’s population (circa 500 million), but the post-war conditions exacerbated the problem and, indeed, probablty caused it. These deaths are not generally counted in the war totals.
In equal measure to the Thirty Year’s War one must over-simplify the inception of the First World War to arrive at the convenient causality – that it began because Arch-duke Franz Ferdinand was shot.
Franz Ferdinand’s death was at odds with his political views. Here was a relatively progressive aristocrat whose death would cause so many dominos to fall globally. This set the scene for millions of further deaths, the beginning of the end of the great empires and would leave a fertile political environment in for another world war in its wake. The clear fact of the matter, however, is that there is no concensus here. Historians would never say Franz Ferdinand’s death caused these – there is no direct causality. It was merely one of the many preconditions for the war that would follow. These conditions are too complex for the scope of this frivolous article, so if you need more see the bibliography below.
It is easy to forget that amongst all this power-brokering and imperial tectonics are the very human suffering and deaths of a man and his wife.
Just before the Arch-duke’s assassination in Sarajevo, he had intercepted a hand grenade that was thrown at himself and his wife in their 1911 Graf & Stift Bois de Boulogne touring car. Deflected by the soon-to-be-deceased it exploded behind them as they drove on. Ferdinand addressed the crowd, “So you welcome your guests with bombs?” Injured bystanders were taken to a local hospital where the royal couple visited them.
Having gotten lost during their return from the hospital, they were met, by chance, by Gavrilo Princip who fired upon the hapless couple opportunistically, hitting the arch-duke’s wife in the abdomen, and Ferdinand himself in the jugular. She slumped forward onto his lap as he asked her, with his breath becoming a rattle, not to die for the sake of their children.
The (so called) Great War
This personal tragedy is the perfect metaphor for what was to follow. Once again Europe ripped itself apart in new forms of entrenched warfare, greater artillery, chemical warfare, airborne warfare and many other new forms which would become so prevalent in the century that followed. As with the Thirty Years War much of the fighting centred around what is now Germany, but also spread south, even as far as the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire was dragged into the fray.
It is impossible to clearly define areas affected as these were imperial times. Although the action may have been relatively localised troops were shipped in from global origins and the war at sea spread far and wide.
You want Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor’s full title? Well, you asked for it…
Ferdinand II, by the grace of God elected Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King in Germany, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Rama, Serbia, Galicia, Lodomeria, Cumania, Bulgaria, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Luxemburg, of the Higher and Lower Silesia, of Wurtemberg and Teck, Prince of Swabia, Count of Habsburg, Tyrol, Kyburg and Goritia, Marquess of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgovia, the Higher and Lower Lusace, Lord of the Marquisate of Slavonia, of Port Naon and Salines, etc. etc.
Rickard, J. (17 November 2000), Thirty Years War (1618-48)
Toby McLeod’s site on the Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years’ War By Geoffrey Parker, Simon Adams, Routledge, 1977
A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid McCulloch, Allen Lane, 2009
Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal – The Spanish FLu
Wikipedia – Holy Roman Emperor Ferdiand II
Wikipedia – Thirty Years War
Wikipedia – Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Wikipedia – World War 1 Causes
Wikipedia – The 2nd Defenestration of Prague
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 at
It is archived in Environment, History and tagged archduke, ferdinand, great war, History, military history, thirty years war, war, world war 1.