Last night I saw an article by Alistair Horne in which the eminent historian of France suggests that most if not all the horrors of the 20th century could have been avoided had the French only responded differently to the Ems Telegram. As Horne tells it, the dispatch was designed by Bismark, the Prussian statesman, to goad the French into a war the couldn't win. The gambit worked, and the French were defeated in weeks costing them Alsace-Lorraine and leaving the world with a unified German state and permanent French animosity toward Germany.
(The war also gave us the viciously anti-clerical Paris Commune, whose offenses against the Church -including the murder of Paris's archbishop- fed the resentments of miserably reactionary French Catholics who eventually capped decades of anti-Semitic invective with their feverish campaign against Dreyfus.)
Had the telegram been ignored, Horne argues, the predominant cause of World War 1 would have been removed, and no World War 1 would have meant no Hitler, which in turn would have meant no World War 2, no Holocaust, and no Cold War.
You're familiar with the teaching, I'm sure, that all bad things can be traced to Tish B'Av. Indeed, World War 2 is often traced to Tisha B'av via the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 who, we're told, had his fatal collision with a bullet on 9 Av. Alas, as it happens, this is wrong -the Archduke was murdered on 4 Tamuz- however, the first declaration of war was on 5 Av, the first mobilization was on 8 Av, and the German declaration of war came on 9 Av.
With this in mind, part of me fully expected to find that the Ems Telegram had also been issued on 9 Av. It wasn't. However, the first action of the war was on 6 Av, and the first of three critical French defeats occurred on 7 Av.
So who knows.
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