Fritz Stern: If Only Holbrooke Had Been in the Balkans in 1914





[Fritz Stern is University Professor emeritus in the history department of Columbia University, and the author of Five Germanys I Have Known.]


Richard Holbrooke and I met in 1969 in Princeton, where we were in opposition to the Vietnam War, which we thought was putting a terrible strain on the country. He was 29 at the time (I was somewhat older), but I don't think the gap in our ages ever made any difference. He treated me as a contemporary, and I treated him in the same manner....

...I know Richard Holbrooke, if he could have, would have gone on alert as soon as the Austrian Archduke was assassinated on June 28, 1914. When he first heard rumors of the Austrian ultimatum on Serbia, he would have jumped on the Orient Express and gone to Belgrade. There he would have told the Serbs: "For God's sake, accept the ultimatum, with minor face-saving provisions. Cheat later." Before adding sotto voce, "I have in my pocket evidence of your complicity in the crime at Sarajevo."

He then would have been on his way to Vienna: "You'll destroy your multi-national empire, already attainted, if you allow the Germans to push you into war. Don't do it." On to Berlin: "You're going to risk your growing strength, your clear ascendancy, by linking yourself to a living corpse, the Austrian Empire? For a Habsburg -- your ancient enemy?" On to St. Petersburg: "Have you learned nothing from l905? Another war, another revolution?" He then would have come to London, threw his arms around David Lloyd George and said, "David, you musn't go to war. All your social reforms will perish and some future historian will write a book about The Strange Death of Liberal England."...

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