28th July 1914

Franz Joseph I

The prominent British conservative, Gregory Lauder-Frost, posted this image of Kaiser Franz Joseph on Facebook today. On the 28th of July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, after Serbia’s rejection of the ultimatum following what Mr Lauder-Frost rightly calls the “organised murder in cold blood” of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, and Countess Sophie. Mr Lauder-Frost adds: “What should have been a localised conflict became a World War. We should all bear this in mind with the present situation in the Ukraine.”

The image actually appeared on a later occasion, attached to the Kaiser’s note “An meine Völker!”, issued after Italy’s declaration of war against Austria on 23 May 1915 (the so-called “intervento”). According to the only site on which I have been able to find it on the internet, it is a “Graphikpostkarte”. The message reads: “Der König von Italien hat Mir den Krieg erklärt. Ein Treubruch, dessengleichen die Geschichte nicht kennt, ist von dem Königreiche Italien an seinen beiden Verbündeten begangen worden. Nach einem Bündnis von mehr als dreißigjähriger Dauer, währenddessen es seinen Territorialbesitz mehren und sich zu ungeahnter Blüte entfalten konnte, hat uns Italien in der Stunde der Gefahr verlassen und ist mit fliegenden Fahnen in das Lager unserer Feinde übergegangen.”

But it is easy to imagine that the Kaiser could have looked like this on the 28th of July 1914 too. At least it is clear, from our perspective, that he should have looked like this. Certainly not in every way, but all in all, or at the very least in central and decisive respects, a hundred years of European decline followed. Ours are the lessons to learn.

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