Comparative Disadvantage...
Mark Warner

Origins of World War I

From Stefan Zweig (1942), The World of Yesterday (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press: 0803252242)

It was a very small episode, but most impressive to me. In the spring of 1914 I had gone with one of my friends... to... Touraine, in order to visit the grave of Leonardo da Vinci... roamed along the mild and sunny banks of the Loire for hours... decided to go to the cinema in the sleepy city of Tours, after first paying respects to Balzac's birthplace.

It was a small suburban cinema, utterly different from the modern palaces of chromium and glass; a sparsely fitted hall, filled with humble folk, workers, soldiers, market women--the plain people--who chatted comfortably, and in spite of the "no smoking" sign blew thick, blue clouds of Scaferlati and Caporal into the sticky air. First the "News of All the World" appeared on the screen. A boat race in England; the people chattered and laughed. Then there was a French military parade: here also the people paid little attention. The third picture was "Emperor Wilhelm Visits Emperor Franz Josef in Vienna." Suddenly I saw the familiar platform of the ugly West Station in Vienna on the screen, with a few policemen who were awaiting the arrival of the train. Then a signal: the aged Emperor Franz Josef appeared, walking between the guard of honor to receive his guest. When the old emperor appeared on the screen, a bit bent, a bit shaky, walking along the platform, the people of Tours began to laugh heartily at the aged party with the white whiskers. Then the train came on the screen, the first coach, the second, and the third. The door of the compartment was thrown open, and out stepped Wilhelm II in the uniform of an Austrian general, his mustache curled stiffly upwards.

The moment that Emperor Wilhelm appeared in the picture, a spontaneous wild whistling and stamping of feet began in the dark hall. Everybody yelled and whistled, men, women, and children, as if they had been personally insulted. The good-natured people of Tours, who knew no more about the world and politics than what they had read in their newspapers, had gone mad for an instant. I was frightened. I was frightened to the depths of my heart. For I sensed how deeply the poison of the propaganda of hate must have advanced through the years, when even here in a small provincial city the simple citizens and soldiers had been so greatly incited against the Kaiser.... It only lasted a second, a single second.... It had only been a second, but one that showed me how easily people anywhere could be aroused in a time of crisis, despite all attempts at understanding, despite all efforts....

A few days later I told my friends.... Most of them did not take it seriously.... Only [Romain] Rolland saw things in a different light. "The more naive a people are, the easier it is to get around them. Things are bad since Poincare was elected. His trip to Petersburg will not be a pleasure jaunt." We spoke at length about the socialist congress that had been called, but here too Rolland was more skeptical than the others. "Who knows how many will remain steadfast once the mobilization order has been nailed up? We live in a time of mass emotion, mass hysteria, whose power in the case of war cannot be estimated."

But as I have already said, such moments of anxiety were swept away like cobwebs in the wind.... And Paris was too beautiful, and we were too young and too happy.... The city was more carefree than ever and, being carefree ourselves, we loved the city for being carefree.... I accompanied Verhaeren to Rouen.... At night we stood in front of the cathedral... did such gentle wonders belong to only one "fatherland," did they not belong to all?...

Without a care I took leave of my other friends and of Paris.... My plan... was clear. To retire to the country somewhere in Austria and there to continue my work on Dostoievsky... and thus to complete my book, Drei Meister.... All lay clear and plain before me in this, my thirty-third year. The world offered itself to me.... And I loved it for its present, and for its even greater future.

Then, on June 29, 1914, in Sarajevo, the shot was fired which in a single second shattered the world of security and creative reason in which we had been educated, grown up, and been at home--shattered it like a hollow vessel of clay.