18 September 2007

The Great War

Here's one way to look at it. The war we know in retrospect as World War I, the one that was known in its day simply as The Great War, broke out as a culmination of competing imperial powers and their long struggle to carve out zones of control and influence through the continent of Africa.

In 1904, for example, France reached agreement with both Spain and Great Britain that they wouldn't challenge French dominion in Morocco.

Kaiser Wilhelm had been kept in the dark about these negotiations and when the agreement was announced, he was ticked off. The countries/imperial seats to his west were, it seemed, uniting to freeze him out of northern Africa. The Kaiser then announced support for Moroccan independence. Things spiralled almost -- but not quite -- out of hand in the following months. In December 1905, Germany mobilized its army reserves. In January 1906, France moved troops to the border.

Why didn't a general European War break out over that crisis? In part, I suspect, because the Germans simply weren't ready yet. Part of that unreadiness was the public-relations job, the psychological mobilization of a population. The German population wasn't sufficiently whipped up about fighting for free trade with Morocco.

Part of the reason, too, was alliance management. Austria-Hungary would have to watch Germany's back in any general war, and the Austria's had no dog in the African pit. Now, if there were a crisis in which, say, a member of Austria's royal family had been killed, that calculation would be different....

So the Germans backed down, and by April 1906 accepted French control there.

That was just one of many incidents in the rivalry for control of Africa, a rivalry that extended all the way from the banks of the Mediterranean to the Transvaal.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.