After the June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, many voices clamored for war with Serbia. No one was louder than Conrad von Hotzendorf, chief of staff for the Austro-Hungarian army.
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It was not simply a question of military policy. Von Hotzendorf was involved in one of the great scandals of the time. His mistress was dusky-eyed Gina, 28 years his junior and the mother of six children with beer king Hermann von Reininghaus.
His plan was to so inflame her with military heroics that she would get a divorce and marry him. Von Hotzendorf also imagined that when he led the army to victory, the emperor would intercede with the Vatican to allow the Catholic pair to marry in church.
It didn’t quite work out as planned. The Russians dealt his forces defeat after defeat. But Von Hotzendorf did get to marry Gina, who left the beer king and converted to Calvinism.
I spoke with Jack Beatty, author of “The Lost History of 1914,” on the following topics:
1. Improbable Accident
2. History as Contingency
3. Blood on Their Hands
4. Local Determinants
5. Seminal Catastrophe
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)