The Event That Started It All

Postcard_for_the_assassination_of_Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_in_SarajevoToday is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife that set off the chain reaction of alliances that led to the outbreak of World War One.  On the evening of June 28, 1914, 19-year Gavrilo Princip, unknowingly changed the course of history that is responsible for the world order in which we live today.  If World War One did not happen, World War Two would not have happened.  The aftermath of World War Two resulted in the world order that we live in today.  From London, to Moscow, to Nairobi, to New Delhi, to Tokyo, to Tel Aviv to New York City, nearly every part of the world was somehow shaped into what it is today because of an assassination in Sarajevo that most Europeans did not care about, and hardly anyone outside of Europe even knew about.


In 1914, Europe dominated the world with its overseas empires.  The present-day countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America were the colonial properties of Europe.  World War One lessened Europe’s hold on its colonies and planted the seeds for the independence movements that came in the years following World War Two.

The European continent was torn apart by World War One, and historians today continue to debate whether it was inevitable or could have been prevented.  Although the period between 1875-1914 is called ‘la belle epoque’ for its relative peace, this was largely confined to the upper classes of society.  Elsewhere, tensions in Europe were building over nationalism, colonial possessions, and monarchy vs democracy.  As World War One caused the demise many monarchies, which were replaced by dictatorships in a psuedo peace in a world economy battered by an economic depression.  World War Two would become the war between democracy and dictatorship.

Before World War One, the British Empire was at its peak, controlling 25% of the world’s population.  However its leaders worried about a rising Germany, whose leader Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to supplant the British.  Rulers of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires were fearful of losing their great power status after a demoralizing loss to a nation presumed inferior, and centuries of domination, respectively.  France, having been humiliated in the Franco-Prussian war wanted a chance to redeem itself in on the world stage.

World War One is my favorite war but it does not get a lot of attention in the United States.  The little attention it does receive focuses on how they shaped the leading figures in World War Two and American intervention in 1917.  World War Two gets most of the attention in our classroom textbooks, movies and political discussions.  But being a European history nerd, I cannot help but delve into the root causes of the war that supposed “To End All Wars.”  Especially as the same themes and dynamics repeat themselves today.


India’s New President and What It Means for US-India Relations

On May 26, 2014 India swore in it’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in a decisive victory, with a record 66% of the electorate voting at the polls.  Nonetheless, Modi is regarded as a wild card by the international community, given his record.  As a member of India’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s new prime minister has drawn comparisons to Ronald Reagan, Ariel Sharon, Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe, to Slobodan Milosevic, Margaret Thatcher and Vladimir Putin.  However it remains to be seen whether he will actually live up to any of these comparisons.


As chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, Modi became a controversial figure in the West in 2002 after riots between Hindus and Muslims resulted in over 1000 deaths including 800 Muslims.  Modi was accused of allowing Hindus to attack Muslims in revenge after a train with Hindu pilgrims caught fire.  Although Modi was never charged in the Indian court system, he drew condemnation from western leaders.  Since then the West has slowly re-embraced Modi, save the United States which leaves leaders on both sides wondering how Modi’s rise to the head of India’s government will affect relations between the world’s largest democracies.  US president Barack Obama did call to congratulate Modi on his historic victory and invited him to the White House but the travel ban officially remains in place.  (However the ban is meaningless now since Modi has diplomatic immunity as a world leader.)

Despite his religious fervor, Modi’s campaign emphasized his economic success as chief minister of Gujarat for residents of all faiths.  Under his leadership Gujarat experienced the highest rate of economic growth in the country by making it an attractive place for business.  Modi is now poised to replicate this success across all of India and bring in foreign investment and combat corruption.  When criticized, Modi expresses his desire to bring prosperity to all Indians, not religion or caste specific and to cultivate strong economic ties with India’s neighbors.  So while a religious figure, the draw to Modi was secular and economic based.  India is a country with untapped economic potential as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates its economy will grow experienced increased growth in 2015.

The US has supported and continues to support world leaders with worse records than Modi, so to shun him is hypocritical.  Unlike some of them Modi was legitimately elected prime minister.  He has the consent of India’s electorate and will be held accountable if he lives up to his promises.

More importantly if the US ‘pivot to Asia’ is to be taken seriously, it does America no good to isolate the largest democracy in the world.  Indian and American geopolitical interests are too similar.  For example, Modi promised to take a tougher stand with China.  American interests in Asia have a better chance of succeeding with as many alliances as possible.  Now with Russia and China moving closer and China’s neighbors worried about its rise, India with its large population and untapped potential already has Japan calling India a counter-balance to China.