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There’s no pleasing some people

January 13, 2012

Do you know how the first World War started? It would be a really funny story, if it wasn’t ultimately so sad. The exchange below is paraphrased from Brockhaus’ Deutsche Geschichte in Schlaglichtern, a German book on German history.*

Austria-Hungary: Hey! Some Serbian upstart shot our crown prince! Let’s attack Serbia! Only we’re gonna need help from Germany, because otherwise Russia will attack us. Say, Germany, are you in?

Germany: Sure! If we’re in then nobody else will join, and then we can keep this conflict local. So yes, let’s attack Serbia!

Austria-Hungary: Ah, well. We’re not so sure about this whole war thing any more…

Great Britain: Great! How about we take this whole conflict to court instead?

Germany: What? You don’t want to go to war any more, Austria-Hungary? Are you going to let the terrorists win? Don’t you have any spine? Don’t you have any honour?

Austria-Hungary: Of course we’re not gonna bow down to some terrorists! Okay, all you Serbian punks, listen closely. We demand that the people who shot our crown prince be punished. All of them. Every member of that organization. Also, we demand that our police and military be a part of the search for them.

The rest of Europe: Oh shit. There’s gonna be a war for sure. Serbia will never agree to that!

Serbia: We agree, Austria-Hungary! We agree! You can do anything you want!

Austria-Hungary: Not good enough.

…and then Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia, and when Russia mobilized to help Serbia, Germany attacked Russia, and then… well, then came trenches and shell-shock and Spanish Flu and All Quiet on the Western Front.

The interesting part is, I think, how nothing Serbia did or said could have been enough to stop the war. Possibly not even giving up sovereignty and voluntarily becoming a part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Austria-Hungary and Germany had decided that there should be a war. There was no pleasing them any more, and the whole ultimatum was just for show.

Lately, I suspect that the nebulous collective known as “The Market” is also impossible to please. The Market has decided that Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and France aren’t trustworthy any more. The Euro collective is bending over backwards to try to regain trust – look! Another trillion Euros! Another harsh cost-cutting measure! Another tax hike! – but it’s not helping. There’s just no pleasing the Market. It has already decided.

So maybe we could keep a couple hundred million Euros for ourselves? Just a thought. It won’t be missed from the trillions that are bandied around when trying to please the Market. The Market distrusts us anyway. But for our domestic budgets, it could do a world of good.

* I challenge all random people on the internet to find a better phrase than “a German book on German history”. “A German history book” only makes clear that the book was written in Germany, not that it focusses on German history. And “a German German history book” is so clumsy, it’s almost a garden path sentence.

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