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Emperor Franz Joseph and the Incredible Missing Dossier

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Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire haplessly occupied the Hapsburg throne from 1848 to 1916, one of the longest reigns in history. As the French noted, Franz Joseph “has no character to speak of; he’s a drifter, floating from one system to the next; he has no real friends or confidants; he trusts no one, and inspires confidence in no one, nor does he even believe in himself.” Further, he was an “utterly inert, stupid and despairing soul.” As Emperor, Franz Joseph would not allow anyone to speak to him unless he spoke to them first. At 84 years old in 1914 he was borderline senile or as one scholar puts it “the emperor had been an alarming state of dotage for years.” (Wawro, xxiv, 17, 21, 31). All of this would be interesting trivia except for the fact that Emperor Franz Joseph bears the ultimate responsibility for Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, leading to World War I. That declaration can only be termed recklessly suicidal and inexplicably stupid.

My argument begins on July 13, 1914. On July 13, 1914, the Austrian lawyer, Freidrich Von Wiesner, had completed his investigation into the conspiracy to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. His findings directly implicated Serbian officials. According to Sean McMeekin, in July 1914: Countdown to War (p. 120) :

While Wiesner all but ruled out actual Serbian government complicity in plotting the crime, he did declare it “beyond reasonable doubt” that the plot had been hatched in Belgrade with the assistance of (Serbian Army) Major Tankositch, who had provided the assassins with “bombs, Brownings, ammunition, and cyanide of potassium” to swallow after their deed. It was also clear that “Princip, Chabrinovitch, and Grabezh [had been] secretly smuggled across the frontier by Serbian officials.” While Wiesner’s report did not go far beyond what Potiorek had already discovered, his careful, lawyerly prose reassured Berchtold that a proper dossier outlining Serbian guilt would be ready in time to make Austria’s case for war.

Tankositch was was a co-founder  and senior officer (McMeekin, 7) of the Black Hand, which had deep connections within the Sebian state, most particularly through the head of Serbian Military Intelligence, Apis (who ultimately confessed to the assassination). (McMeekin, 9). In other words, in just over two weeks the Austrian lawyer had uncovered a conspiracy that certainly involved senior members of the Serbian government, even if the government itself had not formally sanctioned the assassination. In fact, it ultimately came to light that the Prime Minister himself had foreknowledge of the entire affair, as noted in my prior post. So, Austria-Hungary had solid cause to demand a more thorough investigation in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, as they would do in their ultimatum to Serbia that triggered war.

But, instead of using this evidence to show the justness of their cause Austria sat on it until July 25, 1914, when they finally shared a dossier of their evidence with the other powers of Europe (including their ally Germany). (Document No. 19). This is after they sent their ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, after France and Russia pledged complete support to Serbia, and long after any reasonable expectation for such a crucial document containing such crucial evidence should have been issued. At that point all the powers had well-anchored positions.

The dossier should have been ordered to be distributed to all powers by Franz Joseph on July 15, 1914, at the latest. But he was on vacation, five hours from Vienna, with his mistress.


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