Department chair discusses interpretation of Great War

Published: Last Updated on

Chair of the History and Political Science Department Lawrence Sondhaus spoke about World War I on Nov. 12 in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

The lecture, which lasted for an hour, briefly reviewed the historical events that preceded the Austro-Hungarian and Serbian conflicts that eventually led to World War I.

Sondhaus first introduced the topic by clarifying the nature of the conflicts that he described as a “spontaneous combustion,” the result of a series of events that sparked one of the deadliest conflicts known to mankind.

According to Sondhaus, World War I was the only major international conflict that started with terrorism. He provided a picture of the 19-year-old Bosnian student responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, one of the events known in the history books as the spark to World War I. He then shared information on one of the Balkans region’s most dominant terrorist groups, “Black Hand,” led by Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the man pulling the strings behind the assassination and the orchestrator for the international terrorist group.

The affairs between Serbia and Austria-Hungary quickly involved other major European countries stepping in before officially declaring war. Sondhaus emphasized the strong influence that Dimitrijevic had on his country. He was not only the man behind the terrorist attacks but also chief of the Serbian army intelligence. Angered by the Black Hand’s attack on the Austrian archduke, the conflicts surrounding that region began.

To clarify the geographical situation during that era, Sondhaus showed a map of the Balkan region, demonstrating the differences in land and borders of the countries involved. He mentioned the fact that Austria-Hungary had no major ethnicity and that it basically comprised a variety of the different ethnicities surrounding its territory. He also mentioned that Serbia, on the other hand, was not a revolutionary state like Austria-Hungary,  but neither was it fair to call it a failed state. Instead, he called it a “dysfunctional semi state.”

As soon as tensions arose between the two countries,  Austria-Hungary sought out its most powerful ally, Germany, for help, and Serbia did the same with Russia. Soon after, the rest of Europe, including France and Britain, became involved, fearing that Russian and German inclusion in the Balkan affairs might threaten a general outbreak of war.

Sondhaus made it clear that Germany was to be feared at the time. The country became interested in building a colonial empire and established the second largest navy in the world after Britain. This caused the British to feel intimidated by Germany’s development. This strongly influenced the decision to collaborate and an alliance was formed.

Sondhaus concluded his presentation by explaining that no single country was responsible for this international outbreak. Going back to the beginning of his speech, he best described it as “spontaneous combustion.”

“Serbia might be responsible for sparking the war, but Germany helped manage it,” he said.

After his lecture, Sondhaus spoke individually with students who had questions about his interpretation of the war. He said by closely analyzing the events that took place during World War I, people can understand the nature of today’s international affairs. Sondhaus believes that most, if not all, of today’s conflicts are products of World War I.

Some students who attended hoped to gain additional knowledge of one of the most impactful events from an expert.

International student Abdullah Yusef said, “It was very a very insightful lecture that has helped me understand more the reason behind such an impactful war.”

Recommended for You