Famous naturalist William Beebe had bitter remembrances of World War One:
“After creeping through slime-filled holes beneath the shrieking of swift metal, after splashing one’s plane through companionable clouds three miles above the little jagged, hero filled ditches, and dodging other sudden-born clouds of nauseous fumes and blasting heart of steel; after these, one craves thoughts of comfortable hens, sweet apple orchards, or ineffable themes of opera.”
Such were William Beebe’s thoughts, having survived World War One – The Great War –the First World War – The War to End Wars – which began 100 years ago this year. The war touched many authors of Listen2Read audiobooks, in many different ways.
Beebe’s way of escaping the aftermath of war was to enter the jungles of British Guyana and establish a tropical research station. And, of course, he wrote the wonderful book “Jungle Peace”. (Free preview: https://listen2read.com/jungle-peace)
Sixteen million people, soldiers and civilians died because of World War One.
History books tell us that the war began because in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie, were assassinated.
Their killer was a Yugoslavian rebel, Gavrilo Princip, who had traveled to Bosnia for this purpose. This assassin did not act alone, but was a member of a revolutionary group, whose goal was unification of the Slavic people – a direct threat to the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The assassination took place June 18, 1914. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire finally declared war on Serbia over a month later, it was really for a variety of reasons – the assassination was only the excuse.
But before Franz Joseph made any serious moves, he made sure Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany would back him up.
What these two men visualized was a small military action. What they got was World War One. So, what happened to these two men, after their fatal decisions?
One afternoon, a few years ago, I was in the basement of the old Capuchin church, on Neuer Market Square in Vienna, Austria, where I could see for myself what happened to Franz Joseph.
His body is entombed in the basement of that church, which is a mausoleum for all the rulers of the Hapsburg Empire. Franz Joseph died of pneumonia in 1916 and never saw the end of the war he started.
What happened to the Kaiser is shocking. The end of World War One left Germany in confusion, and then in revolution. The United States had entered the war on the side of England. As part of the armistice terms, US President Woodrow Wilson demanded that Germany reject the Monarchy and become a Democratic Republic.
Against his will, Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9, 1918. On the following day, the former Kaiser left by train from German military headquarters in Spa, Belgium, and traveled to the Netherlands to take up residence in exile.
The Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that officially ended the war, demanded that Wilhelm II be charged with “supreme offence against international morality” and be tried in court as a war criminal.
But the former Kaiser was now living in the Netherlands, a neutral county. Queen Wilhelmina, of the Netherlands, a very strong willed woman with a dislike of England, and a blood relative of Wilhelm, refused to extradite him.
After an assassination attempt by a Frenchman, the former Kaiser, the last ruler of the Hohenzollern dynasty, bought a large estate called Huls Doorn, safely far from both the Belgian and German borders. And here he lived the life of a gentleman for 22 years.
How did Wilhelm II spend his time? He visualized himself as a monarch in exile, with the possibility of returning to power. He entertained dignitaries and wrote letters as if he were still important. An energetic man, he took up the hobby of wood chopping and decimated most of the trees on his large estate. As Kaiser, he was proud of and well known for his wonderful mustache, which he waxed daily. In exile, he allowed the mustache to droop a bit and he grew a beard to disguise himself.
Wilhelm was extremely anti-Semitic and, after Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, he hoped for some position or status in Hitler’s government, which he never received. He wrote a congratulatory letter to Hitler for conquering Paris during the Second World War. The invasion of France was a happy moment for the former Kaiser. A year later, he died of a pulmonary embolism.
So, the man responsible for millions of deaths, including 116,700 Americans, lived the remainder of his life in total luxury and died untouched by any criminal court or governmental intervention, at the ripe old age of 82 on June 4, 1941. To this day, German monarchists visit his tomb in Doorn, Netherlands to honor him.
There is some kind of life lesson in all this. I’m afraid it’s not a happy one.
©Listen To Read, LLC
PS: The war touched James Norman Hall in two ways: he joined the English army and fought in the foxholes on the Western Front between France and Germany; after he was wounded and taken out of battle, he joined the French Lafayette Escadrille, the first fighting air force and wrote about his experience in his book, “High Adventure”. (Free preview: https://listen2read.com/high-adventure/)
PPS: The war even touched naturalists Roy Chapman Andrews and his wife, Yvette Borup Andrews, who were exploring and collecting specimens for the Museum of Natural History in New York when the war broke out. As they relate in our audiobook, “Camps and Trails in Old China”
(Free Preview: https://listen2read.com/camps-trails-old-china/), they could not ship their materials directly to New York because of the threat of German U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, they had to ship to the west coast of the United States and then, by train, back to New York.