Sanctions Didn’t Stop Germany from Roaring Back After WWI

A 1939 political cartoon by Charles Werner (1909-1997) for Time magazine comments on the worldwide mood 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles. The original art sold for $836 at a February 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

From 1939 to the winter of 1941, the German military won a series of battles rarely equaled in the history of warfare. In rapid succession, Poland, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia, Denmark and Greece all fell victim to the armed forces of the Third Reich. In the summer and fall of 1941, the USSR came close to total defeat at the hands of the Wehrmacht, losing millions of soldiers on the battlefield and witnessing the occupation of a large portion of Russia and the Ukraine. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, played a central role in this remarkable string of victories.

It was even more startling to those countries that had participated in WWI and taken draconian anti-war measures when it ended. This was simply something that was NEVER supposed to happen again, much less a mere 20 years later. How was it even possible?

The Allied powers had been so impressed with the combat efficiency of the German Luftwaffe in WWI that they made a concerted effort to eliminate Germany’s capability to wage war in the air. Then they crippled their civilian aviation capability just to be certain. The Allies demanded the immediate surrender of 2,000 aircraft and rapid demobilization of the Luftwaffe. Then in May 1919, the Germans were forced to surrender vast quantities of aviation material, including 17,000 more aircraft and engines. Germany was permanently forbidden from maintaining a military or naval air force.

No aircraft or parts were to be imported, and in a final twist of the knife, Germany was not allowed to control their own airspace. Allied aircraft were granted free passage over Germany and unlimited landing rights. On May 8, 1920, the Luftwaffe was officially disbanded.

Other provisions of the Versailles Treaty dealt with the limits of the army and navy, which were denied tanks, artillery, poison gas, submarines and other modern weapons. Germany was to be effectively disarmed and rendered militarily helpless. An Inter-Allied Control Commission was given broad authority to inspect military and industrial installations throughout Germany to ensure compliance with all restrictions.

However, one critical aspect got overlooked in the zeal to impose such a broad set of sanctions. They left unsupervised one of the most influential military thinkers of the 20th century … former commander-in-chief of the German Army Hans von Seeckt. He was the only one who correctly analyzed the operational lessons of the war, and accurately predicted the direction that future wars would take. Allied generals clung to outdated principles like using overwhelming force to overcome defensive positions, while Von Seeckt saw that maneuvers and mobility would be the primary means for the future. Mass armies would become cannon fodder and trench warfare would not be repeated.

The story of the transformation of the Luftwaffe is a fascinating one. Faced with total aerial disarmament in 1919, it was reborn only 20 years later as the most combat-effective air force in the world. Concepts of future air war along with training and equipment totally trumped the opposition, which was looking backward … always fighting the last war.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Greatest Generation was Led by Roosevelt, Churchill and Superman

Superman got his own title in 1939. This copy sold for $358,500 at a November 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Popular journalist Tom Brokaw in 1998 wrote a book about Americans who lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Millions of others stayed home to support the war effort. Brokaw wrote, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced,” and went on to argue they did it because “it was the right thing to do,” as opposed to doing it for fame or fortune.

The Greatest Generation became a bestselling book and a term to describe a large group of people who sacrificed in many ways, ended a war, and then came home, went to college on the G.I. Bill, and helped rebuild the world. They certainly preserved our way of life and redirected the domestic economic engine that provided jobs, automobiles, and new homes to a broad swath of our citizens.

However, it seems clear that few Americans alive in 1939 had a hint of this remarkable outcome. All the polls indicated that most were leery of another entanglement in “foreign” wars. They were still acutely aware of the tremendous suffering and loss of life in the last “war to end all wars” – WWI, an “accidental” war that is still a puzzlement today. Historians struggle to explain how or even why it started and, amazingly, how four major empires – German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian – were toppled in four short years. Approximately no one would have been able to predict such a remarkable situation.

Besides, by 1939, the United States was still mired in a severe economic depression with 17 percent of the workforce unemployed and the most needy and least organized (domestic workers, sharecroppers, new immigrants, blacks, and unmarried women) unable to reap any of the New Deal benefits. On April 14 of that year, John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published and it captured the plight of many by focusing on the economic hardships of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma land by drought, the Dust Bowl, and bank foreclosures. The book won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and was cited prominently in 1962 when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize.

My family was among the many “Okies” that escaped to California in quest of the milk and honey (no, we didn’t pick any fruit).

Then on Friday, Sept. 1, Germany invaded Poland and democracy around the world was at risk. Economies were in collapse and suddenly communism and totalitarianism seemed to have appeal. There was even talk about revolution in America. When the great British economist John Maynard Keynes was asked if there had ever been anything like the Great Depression, he said, “Yes. It was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years.”

Fortunately, what would become “The Greatest Generation” was led by the greatest leaders: Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. As an insurance policy, Superman #1 debuted that summer, just in time. Between the three of them, the world was saved!

Alas, only one of them is still around and all the other superheroes are untested rookies. (Sigh.)

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Best Way to Revamp Income Tax Might Be a Do-Over

A 1917 World Series Program, featuring President Woodrow Wilson on the cover, sold for $4,800 at a May 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1912, after 16 years in the wilderness, Democrats seized control of Congress and the White House, with Woodrow Wilson as their leader. To their disappointment, the new president kept celebrations to a minimum. He delivered a brief inaugural address on March 4, 1913, canceled the inaugural ball, and reviewed the parade with stoic forbearance. This is not a day of triumph, he declared, but a day of dedication. And it was a day to muster the forces of humanity, not the forces of party.

Wilson went on to produce the greatest outpouring of social legislation Americans had ever experienced, during a brief period when the ruling class would use Hamiltonian means of a strong federal government to bring about Jeffersonian ideals of egalitarianism. His presidency would transform the American banking and currency system, create new industrial and farm policies, and expand the protection of America’s natural resources. But the first accomplishment was lowering tariffs and enacting an income tax – reforms aimed directly at middle-class pocketbooks.

Wilson and his associates sincerely believed that the federal government needed to serve as a counterweight to corporate wealth and an aggressive agent to help ordinary citizens. Wilson’s legacy is often cited as a fateful turning point when “do-gooders” harnessed the income tax to both raise revenues to grow government and to redistribute the wealth of Americans in a way they viewed as more fair. Yet at the outset, no one could foresee that war, not social justice, would start an inexorable rise in taxes that would thwart all the moral absolutism dreamed about.

Starting the day after his inauguration, Wilson called Congress into an extraordinary session for a historic assault on the tariff system by delivering his message personally in the first presidential appearance inside the Capitol since the days of President Jefferson. Although he recognized the challenge he faced due to conservative committee barons who dominated Congress, despite being Democrats, Wilson stood with his progressives and intended to use his executive power to the fullest. By September, the Senate actually passed a tariff bill that helped consumers … a historical first.

However, there was the small issue of how to plug the $100 million loss of revenue that was created. And so we now meet the federal income tax, which turned employers into tax collectors. New York’s The Sun summed up the opposition by arguing that income taxes were repugnant except in times of great national emergency and charged “it amounted to taxation of the few for the benefit of the many.” Advocates claimed it was merely a way to tap the “surplus” income of the rich – “over and above the amount necessary for good living.”

On May 8, 1913, the House approved the first income tax that would actually take effect since 1872, when Congress repealed Civil War-era taxes. But the Senate disagreed, with some senators opposing the “confiscation of property under the guise of taxation” and others saying “No honest man can make war upon great fortunes per se.” The war of words continued until a law was passed that affected fewer than 4 percent of Americans, with working-class people virtually excluded. A 1 percent rate on $20,000-$50,000 graduated up to 6 percent on $500,000 and above. There was also a 1 percent flat tax on corporations.

After two years, everyone seemed angry at Wilson for doing either too much or too little. Feeling besieged, he entertained a fantasy of putting on a beard and sneaking out of the White House prison, or putting a sign in front of his office: “Don’t shoot! He’s doing his best.” The reform agenda was mobilizing to act when…

In June, a shot rang out at Sarajevo.

World War I would eventually cost the United States $50 billion and the federal budget grew from $742 million in 1916 to nearly $14 billion in 1918. Excise taxes and tariffs had been providing 90 percent of federal revenue and this was limited. What to do?

Thus started the long story of the U.S. income tax, which at one point grew to 90 percent and has become so complex not even the IRS knows with certainty what lurks on all 50,000 pages of highly technical jargon (or even if 50,000 pages is accurate!). It grows each day … as does the debt that is back in the news.

My recommendation to President Trump is to simply start over, since every effort to reform only adds more pages and complexity. Take a blank piece of paper and write down “Need 18 to 20 percent of GDP to run federal government. Question: What is the best way to get this money and do the least damage in the process?” Answer: Find three smart people to figure it out, then just do it … fast.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Wilson Turned Conscription into Act of Public Patriotism

This World War I recruitment poster for the U.S. Army sold for $13,742.50 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

One hundred years ago this month – in June 1917 – 10 million men between the ages of 21 and 31 started lining up to register for military service in the United States armed forces. President Woodrow Wilson had decided in 1916 to make one last effort to end World War I and made an offer on Dec. 18 to mediate a peace, pending both sides specifying their acceptance terms.

The Central Powers had no interest since they were confident of victory. The Allies – who had no sincere interest in peace – stipulated that their enemies had to dismantle and disarm.

Wilson’s offer was allowed to lapse, which ensured two things: First, the war would continue, and secondly, the United States would be forced to abandon a policy of neutrality and issue a formal declaration of war on Germany. Congress enacted it on April 6, 1917.

Once committed to hostilities, America’s extraordinary capacity for industrial production and human organization took over. A conscription system was created and the Selective Service Act enacted on May 18, 1917, to build a national army through compulsory enlistment. Aware of the nation’s reluctance to get involved, Wilson cleverly created local civilian registration boards, which decided whether individuals entered active service or stayed on the civilian side to support the badly needed build-up efforts.

Over 24 million men registered in 1917-18 and those deemed most eligible – young, unmarried males without dependents – formed the first contingent of 2.8 million draftees. The public nature of this process transformed the dread of being drafted into a spirit of public patriotism. It was almost magically and remarkably different from the Vietnam situation 50 years later.

Only 10 percent to 11 percent of those eligible tried to evade the mandatory registration and local communities had designated people to track down the “slackers” who were required to carry proof of registration via a draft card. If anyone was nabbed without one, they were put in jail and publicly humiliated.

Families proudly put a Blue Star in their home windows whenever a family joined the military, and let their neighbors know they were “Enrolling in Liberty.” Gold Stars were displayed if a death occurred. Soon, registrants started wearing lapel pins or ribbons to advertise their status since there were five classes for draft deferments. So you could register publicly, but then privately apply for a deferment.

Naturally, there were problems since 20 percent of draftees were foreign-born citizens, but any suspicions were allayed when the bullets started flying. Another major issue was that the Army was strictly segregated and about 90 percent of black men were assigned to non-combatant roles. In a pleasant twist, those sent to France were given special treatment by the French people, who welcomed them into their homes. For those from the Jim Crow South, this became an exciting adventure.

Under current law, all male U.S. citizens between 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. I wonder how many are aware of this law? However, the last prosecution for non-registration was in January 1986, so I guess they are safe.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Spanish Flu Actually Has Its Origins at a U.S. Army Base

Kafka for Beginners (also known as R. Crumb’s Kafka), an illustrated biography of the novelist and short story writer, includes a vignette about the Spanish Flu. This page of Robert Crumb’s original art for the book sold for $5,377.50 at a February 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 most likely got started at Fort Riley, an Army installation in North Central Kansas.

At least according to John Barry, the author and historian who spent seven years researching the topic. His 2004 bestselling book The Great Influenza describes how the plague began in Kansas, moved east as World War I troops were shipping out, and in the process killed tens of thousands of Americans.

The armistice ending WWI was signed in 1919 and the year before saw a high number of casualties. Then there was this influenza pandemic, which became the worst infectious disease in recorded history. It struck some 500 million people across the globe, with updated estimates of between 50 million and 100 million deaths … up to 5 percent of the world’s population at the time.

Influenza is really a simple virus … usually.

We get the flu when somebody around us has it and coughs or sneezes. This makes it airborne and we typically just breathe it in. Or, you get the virus on your hands and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth.

The virus has to get into your lungs since it only has eight genes and needs to live off human cells. While in the lungs, its only job is to turn a cell into a virus factory. The virus takes over the cell’s machinery and forces it to make new viruses. Then the cell dies, the virus escapes, and infects new cells.

It is a simple little plan.

With the unusually deadly 1918 flu strain, people died quickly, sometimes overnight, as their lungs filled with liquid. The still-gasping-for-breath people died as their skin turned dark (black) due to a lack of oxygen.

Every year, the flu makes its way through a population, affects everyone exposed to it and then burns itself out. After it mutates, the new version spreads around all over again. That’s what it’s programmed to do.

The 1918 strain did that, too. It was just an unusually deadly version of the H1N1 virus and more virulent than the previous wave.

Practice, practice, practice.

The next time a particularly serious strain returns (everyone agrees it will be back), we will have vaccines and antibiotics to help combat it. Plus, we’ll be more educated about how to avoid its spread (hopefully).

That is about the extent of our protection.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

American Forces Quickly Rallied to Face German Aggression

Tom Lovell’s World War I Soldiers on Horseback, painted for a magazine story illustration, sold for $8,750 at a March 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

At the start of 1917, only four months before the United States declared war on the German Empire, the U.S. army totaled 107,641 men. Sixteen other nations had larger armies. Another major weakness was the lack of recent experience in large-scale military operations. It had been a full 51 years since the armistice at Appomattox had ended the Civil War and many things had become rusty in the interim.

Also, somewhat remarkably, there was no modern military equipment heavier than medium-size machine guns!

Even the National Guard was larger (132,000 men), but this part-time militia was dispersed among the 48 states, generally poorly trained, and any federal oversight was unusually lax. One sparkling exception was the U.S. Marine Corps, over 15,000 first-class troops. However, they were scattered throughout the Western Hemisphere in America’s possessions and in Central American republics, acting as police in the aftermath of the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Despite this bleak situation, and because the Germans had committed far too many acts of war, on April 2, President Woodrow Wilson requested a joint session of Congress. On April 6, the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to go to war. The vote in the Senate was 82-6 in favor (with eight abstentions) and 373-50 in the House, with Jeannette Rankin of Montana in the minority. In 1941, she would become the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.

Yet, by June 1917, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, had arrived in France and on July 4, American Independence Day, elements of his 1st Division paraded in the streets of Paris. Throughout the following months, fresh units of an Army designed to reach a strength of 80 divisions – nearly 3 million men – continued to arrive. By March 1918, 318,000 men had reached France, the vanguard of 1.3 million to be deployed, and not a single one had been lost to enemy action in oceanic transport.

Rare are the times in great wars when the fortunes of one side are transformed by the sudden accretion of reinforcements. Napoleon’s enemies in 1813 when the Russian army joined Britain/Austria … the North in our Civil War when the adoption of conscription added millions versus the South’s hundreds of thousands … 1941 when Adolf Hitler’s stupid declaration of war on the United States, followed by Japan’s ill-advised action, saved an isolated Britain and an almost defeated Soviet Union.

This was another of those times, when Germany had declared unrestricted war in the Atlantic in the flawed calculation that the war would be over in Europe before the United States could mobilize.

As philosopher George Santayana so wisely observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Shortly After His Inauguration, Wilson Pivoted and Entered World War I

This World War I Tank Corps recruitment poster, issued by the U.S. government in 1917, sold for $8,962.50 at a July 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 31, 1917, Germany’s Navy Admiral Eduard von Capelle assured his nation’s parliament, Americans “will not even come, because our submarines will sink them. Thus America from a military point of view means nothing, and again nothing and for a third time nothing.”

American President Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected just months earlier on a campaign slogan of, “He kept us out of war.” Although the Germans were regularly sinking American ships in the Atlantic, Wilson had consistently declared, “America is too proud to fight.” However, a month after his inauguration, he led Congress to vote to enter World War I.

The 1916 presidential election was almost as bizarre as the one we suffered through in 2016. In this case, an incumbent president (Wilson) was running against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate. Wilson’s win was the first time a Democratic Party candidate had won two consecutive presidential elections since Andrew Jackson (1832).

But before the election, Democrats were so uncertain about their chances that they developed a radical plan to avoid leaving a potential four-month, lame-duck vacuum with war raging in Europe. It consisted of appointing president-elect Hughes (if he had won) as Secretary of State, followed by the resignation of Wilson’s vice president, Thomas Marshall. This would allow the new president to take residence in the WH immediately and avoid the gap until the scheduled March 1917 inauguration.

The Progressive Republicans had already essentially forfeited their chances by selecting Teddy Roosevelt for president and he had sent a telegram refusing their offer. The vice presidential candidate had already decided to support Hughes so that was out as well.

Admiral Capelle’s “they will never come” statement became one of history’s worst declarations when on May 29, the Allies launched a three-hour barrage of fire that exceeded what both sides fired during the entire four-year Civil War. The $180 million equated to $1 million of ordnance every 60 seconds. I suspect the folks in Afghanistan recently experienced something similar.

You can never tell about these American presidents.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Truman’s Time in Office Was Tumultuous, but He Still Ranks Among Best

harry-s-truman-inscribed-photo-signed
Virtually every prediction indicated that Harry S. Truman would be defeated by Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 election. A copy of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photograph, inscribed by Truman, sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Harry S. Truman moved back into the newly rebuilt White House in March 1952 and he had already decided not to seek reelection.

Since Truman had only served one full term as an elected president (having filled a partial term after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office), he was eligible to run for president a second time. This was the same dilemma that had confronted two of his predecessors: Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, both of whom had decided not to run a second time. Truman was well aware of their personal deliberations; the first Roosevelt had lived to regret not running, while Coolidge had never looked back.

In 1951, after four years of debate, Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution, which limited an elected president to two terms. This was a reaction to FDR’s long tenure, and it specifically exempted Truman. But, he had made up his mind.

He addressed the Democratic Party’s historic Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the D.C. National Guard Armory. “I shall not be a candidate for reelection. I have served my country long and I think efficiently and honestly. I shall not accept a re-nomination.” He added in an ironic tone not typical of him, “I do not think that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House.”

Although he was a tough-skinned politician, he resented the negative public opinion that had risen around him. His time in office, eight years less about two months, had been tumultuous, filled with achievements that had not been easy. His call for liberal change had been rooted philosophically in the New Deal, but in the wake of World War I and increased prosperity, his call fell on deaf ears.

The American public was turning elsewhere, particularly after he vetoed an ardent Republican crusade to turn coastal tidelands mineral rights over to the states, and it was viewed as a lame-duck president lashing out. It was actually one of the few vetoes that stuck (12 of his vetoes were overridden by Congress) and it created an energy that would result in a Republican victory in the upcoming election.

At about the same time, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit would be double than the previous year and in the last months of his presidency, his popularity and spirits were low. He was ready to go home.

History has been kind to Truman. Every year, his standing on the Best Presidents list seems to improve. He was a small man in stature who assumed a big job at a crucial time and did his very best. Who could expect more?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Americans’ Love of Travel Ran Into Dreadful Road System

new-mexico-and-arizona
This Union Pacific poster, circa 1925, promotes travel by train to New Mexico and Arizona – “Land of History and Mystery.” It sold for $2,031 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1919, America, now rapidly becoming mechanized, seemed to be filled with people inclined to travel. There was an abundance of money, and new transportation technologies were eager to provide alternatives to existing modes of travel. World War I was over and soldiers had returned home flush with cash and eager to join the social changes under way. A Model T Ford or Chevrolet 490 cost less than $400 … little more than three months’ pay.

Four million cars were already in use and Ford was selling 600,000 more each year. One in eight Americans owned a car and this would increase to one in six in the 1920s. Farmers were buying small trucks – 250,000 in use by 1916 – to haul produce to market and fertilizer back to their farms.

The stagecoach had all but vanished, but there were still 20 million horses conveying people or goods. Bus services were popping up to serve the less affluent. The joy ride was a hot, new leisure concept and the invention of the taximeter enabled motorcar taxi service in most cities. The roar of the Roaring Twenties was a combination of the internal combustion engine combined with the jazz bands on dance-hall floors and the din from speakeasies.

Amidst all this frenetic energy was a national disgrace: America’s roads.

There were plenty of them – some 3 million miles in total, but only 369,000 in 1919 were paved with any kind of durable, lasting surface. The rest were mostly dirt roads that were too often simply chassis-deep mud. They were plagued with hundreds of broken bridges or faint trails of blowing desert sands that quietly vanished, leaving travelers utterly lost.

Bad roads were a perpetual hindrance to trade, an abiding nuisance to agriculture and a profound inconvenience to the traveling public. One congressional report noted it cost more to move a peach from a Georgia orchard 20 miles to Atlanta by road than 3,000 miles by rail from California to New York.

Lobbying groups of drivers and car manufacturers were proliferating in Washington, D.C., primarily to get the federal government to assume national responsibility and eliminate the pervasive cronyism and corruption that existed in state legislatures. Most of this was ineffective since lobbyists hadn’t perfected their skills ($$$). However, help arrived from a totally unexpected source.

The War Department was developing plans to protect the West Coast from attacks from unspecified Asian enemies, a thinly veiled euphemism for Japan. Specifically, the war-gamers needed to know how quickly fully equipped soldiers could travel from the big Army bases on the East Coast to a hypothetical battlefield in the West.

A top-level decision was made to perform a real-life test to verify the time and feasibility involved. Fortunately, a quiet major volunteered to accompany the expedition strictly as an observer. His name was Dwight David Eisenhower.

Tomorrow: The creation of America’s Interstate Highway System – the greatest engineering project in world history.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Fate Gave Assassins Second Chance to Change the World

sophie-and-franz-ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand met Sophie Chotek at a ball in 1894. They were married in 1900 and she was granted the title Duchess of Hohenberg.

By Jim O’Neal

Gavrilo Princip was a 19-year-old student at the beginning of 1914, immersed in the study of ethics and politics. He was born to a kmet family (the Serbian version of a serf) in Austrian-controlled Bosnia and grew up in extreme poverty. Like many other young Serbs, he had grown frustrated with the conditions under the Austro-Hungarian empire and dreamed of liberating them to join the Serbian kingdom next door.

Princip chose Sunday, June 28, 1914, to stake his claim on history.

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand – heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne – prepared to visit Sarajevo on that date, Princip and six other members of the Black Hand terrorist group planned his assassination. None of them had ever handled a gun and they only knew their target was in line to succeed Franz Joseph.

On the morning of June 28, as Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie climbed into the back of a black convertible sedan, the seven plotters took their positions along a parade route in the Bosnia capital. The first two assassins to encounter them lost their nerve and fled. A third lobbed a grenade toward the car and missed, striking the car behind Ferdinand’s and then bungled his own suicide by not swallowing enough cyanide.

But fate decided to give the murderers another chance.

When Ferdinand resumed the tour an hour later, his driver took a wrong turn and ended up five feet from where Princip was standing in front of a delicatessen. Princip fired two shots directly into the car, killing both Ferdinand and Sophie.

The archduke’s murder triggered a feud between Austria-Hungary and Serbia that prompted Russia to come to the aid of the Serbs. Germany decided to aid the Austrians, and France jumped in to help Russia, and England to aid Belgium (which had been overrun by German troops on the way to invade France). The politicians justified their actions by pointing to carefully worded alliances that required mutual action.

There were some superficial attempts at diplomacy, but at 10 a.m. on Aug. 2, 1914, a group of German cavalrymen attacked a French sentry post on the border town of Belfort and gunfire was exchanged.

World War I, fought over little consequence, had begun and millions would suffer.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].