Thursday, May 19, 2011


The fellow above is one Count Leopold Berchtold, and his (only) claim to anything that would pass as fame is that he was the Imperial Foreign Minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the outbreak of World War I. I do not know if the good Count has any living descendants left to be offended by this post, but here's hoping that if he does they aren't so bored as to find this blog post. History remembers him only for the 'job' he held and even then probably not very fondly, or very well.  History is written by the winners, and Count Berchtold was on the losing side, only the melancholy historians of the world, the ones who are somewhat fascinated with the 'what ifs' of history would have anything other than a passing interest in the Count.  His term in office was from February 17th, 1912 until his 'fall' on January 13th, 1915, just 24 days shy of three years. However, those years were vital to the history of the world as we know it today, and the Count's performance, or lack thereof had far reaching effects that he probably never envisioned when he began to sign his name to all sorts of important documents as Foreign Minister. We never really understand the ripple effect of our actions until it is too late, and sometimes we fail to understand the effects at all. Thus, history is a fickle, fickle bitch.

The Count was born wealthy, married wealthy, and probably died wealthy. He was reputed to be one of the Empire's richest men, so it is sometimes difficult to have a ton of sympathy with him, and his plight/fate.  Although his plight was pretty bleak, he was appointed at the tender age of 49 (the youngest foreign minister in Europe at the time), and without really having the qualifications to do the job that was thrust upon him.  I feel his pain, there are times at my job that I have a similar feeling, but I guess, like the Count, we should just try to do our best, and hope no one catches onto the idea that we are basically faking it.  Luckily for me, my responsibilities aren't nearly as onerous at his were, and if I fuck up millions of people aren't going to be killed, maimed, or otherwise affected in bad ways. 

Still, you have to feel sorry for the poor bastard, in over his head, and harnessed to a creaking, decrepit Empire that was on its last legs, shackled with an army poorly trained, and composed of about 30 different nationalities, and forced to deal with a bureaucracy that was filled with village idiots.  Not that he covered himself in glory while fulfilling his duties.  After his fall, he retired to his country estate (don't we all have a country estate), and lived the high life, playing no further role in the events that he helped to create. A pretty sweet gig, if you can get it, and one that was probably better than he deserved.

However, the Count and his Empire did have a partner in the dance of destruction that was to engulf Europe during the late summer of 1914, and that partner (and to many the real villain of the piece) was Imperial Germany. Not the Nazi Germany that we all know and love, but the Kaiser/Bismarck Germany. The Iron Chancellor, and his Kaiser were the true power of the partnership that would be known as the Central Powers during the 'War to end all Wars'.  It is clear to any simple student of history that Austria-Hungary was clearly the second string/fiddle in their little tryst with Imperial Germany. The Germans were an organized, well-drilled, experinced fighting machine, with a strong-willed genius at the helm of the ship of state.  Bismarck had his flaws, but in his day, he was not someone you wanted to fuck with. 

And that is the basis of relationships/partnerships there almost always is a weaker partner. One that is the star, one that is the role player. We all remember Michael Jordan, but Hoarce Grant won a shit ton of rings too you know.  Not the best analogy, but I am not that creative, and you get the general idea. In these types of partnerships it is actually the weaker member that calls the shots. You would think Germany would just (metaphorically) reach over, and slap Austria-Hungary a few times and scream 'keep it together you fucking idiot, and we can win this war.'  The real true of the matter is that Austria-Hungary, by being the weaker of the two can always say 'sorry Germany, but if you dont give me more help, I am going to collapse entirely, and then you are fucked brother.'  And, if you are Germany, what choice do you have? The wolves are at the door, and you need all the help you can get, and any help is better than no help, and if the bumble fucks you have as partners are the only thing between your backdoor, and the wolves, well then you better help keep them afloat, or shit is about to break bad for you.

Suddenly all those rosy ideas about you being the big man in this alliance are roasting like marshmellows over an open flame, you have to help them, or face the cold, hard fact that without them, you are doomed (doomed I tell you), and no one likes to be doomed, not even melacholy students of history. So, you shrug your (slightly broad) shoulders, and lean into the burden that they bear, because by becoming their partner, you have signed up to help shoulder their burden(s) as well as your own. It does not matter if your burden was enough, or that you were barely keeping your own shit together, what matters now is that you have to help with theirs, or face the mutual destruction of the partnership that you so painstakingly put together.

It doesn't matter if the game is no longer worth the candle, you are trapped like a rat in a maze of your own making, and you are beginning to suspect that whatever 'cheese' there was has long since been moved out of your immediate reach. All you can do, all you can hope to do is prolong collapse long enough for a solution to either come to you in a flash of inspiration, or someone to see your distress, understand that you are 'tired of being Germany, and want to be Austria-Hungary for a while', and lean into your burden to help you. Sometimes that happens, and during those golden moments when it does, you should be grateful, and say thank you, and remember Count Leopold Berchtold, after all someone needs to.

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