Monday, January 20, 2014

Review of 'Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!'

This summer marks the one hundred years since the beginning of World War I, a military action proclaimed to be the “War to End All Wars.” While it did not accomplish that, the war did change the world as anyone knew it: devastating a generation in Europe, promoting technology while questioning colonial ideals, and bringing the United States fully into the international arena. In Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World Without World War I, author Richard Ned Lebow takes a step into the genre of alternate history and examines what the world might be like without a World War I.

Lebow comes from a solid background in political and historical analysis with an impressive resume. Having written dozens of books and over two hundred peer-reviewed articles, he is routinely called upon for interviews by news media in the US, Britain, France, Germany, and beyond. He serves as professor of International Political Theory in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London as well as James O. Freedman Presidential Professor Emeritus of Government at Dartmoth. In addition to his professional background, Lebow includes his own experiences as a person of Jewish heritage and an immigrant to the US and how different his life may have been without a World War I.

Lebow actually paints images of two worlds as he reviews counterfactuals following the Point of Departure from history at the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne. While some argue that World War I would have soon happened anyway with a different spark, Lebow shows that it may not be as simple as that. In Germany, the majority of the politicians and royals did not want war, German Chief of Staff Moltke alone pressed for action. It was not until the Kaiser felt honor-bound by the cowardly assassination that he committed himself and his country to fight.

In the first world, the “Best Plausible World,” Lebow looks at a world where one of a half-dozen things could have happened differently in an assassination that was practically a fluke. Europe remains calm, and the Archduke stabilizes the empire by extending voting franchises to minorities (much to the chagrin of the Hungarians). Russia comes into political relations with the crowns rather than Republican France, and a new balance of power takes shape in Europe. In that world, we see the center of business, arts, and science remaining in Europe. Lebow goes as far as to suppose what might happen to famous figures such as Adolph Hitler (a mail-order salesman), Richard Nixon (a televangelist), John F. Kennedy (the scandalous younger brother to the president, Joseph Kennedy, Jr.), Jazz musicians who seek out better lives in Europe, and Albert Einstein, who stays in Germany amid a circle of geniuses. Yet there are also downsides to this world. Technological development such as radar, penicillin, nuclear physics, and computers are stunted without the enormous support of total war, and race relations languish through extended Jim Crow.

Lebow also explores the “Worst Plausible World” where Germany falls to military authoritarianism nonetheless as democracy crumbles. Atomic weapons become part of an ever-escalating arms race. Propaganda and information-control are understood day-to-day affairs. The United States and Japan routine butt heads in the Pacific. When the war finally does come, without the lessons of our own World Wars I and II, the all-out nuclear blasts obliterate Europe.

The thought-experiments in Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! serve purposes on multiple levels. At its core, Alternate History has always been an intriguing chance to ponder “what it?” Through Lebow’s work, we may see further through analysis that we can apply to our own world and judge our own trends in culture, and science, and political leadership.

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