Bertha von Suttner’s Peace Conference

Bertha von Suttner in the middle with members of her International Peace Committee

Bertha von Suttner in the middle with members of her International Peace Committee

For those who read German and wish to understand how Austrian and German historians interpret the First World War, I can recommend Manfried Rauchensteiner’s ‘Der erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburger Monarchie’. Rauchensteiner was for years the director of Vienna’s impressive Military Museum. His account is at nearly 1000 pages, very long, but it reads as elegantly as Golo Mann’s history of Germany in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, with the advantage of having copious references and footnotes. One of the interesting factoids that I learned was that the 21st World Peace Conference was planned for Vienna in the summer of 1914. Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), only the second person and first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, was in charge of the organisation of the conference, which due to her aristocratic connections enjoyed enormous support, including members of the Habsburg family and imperial court. As Rauchensteiner explains, the situation in Europe at the time was tense with Austria’s Chief of General Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf trying to persuade the Habsburgs to engage in a preventative war against Serbia long before 1914. Indeed, Rauchensteiner explains how Germany was arming itself and looking for any excuse to go to war. Plans as to how Germany and Austria would fight a war were never adequately shared with one another, though planning for conflict was already underway in both countries. Austria had tolerated Serbian expansion in the Balkans since the Austrian annexation of Bosnia in 1908 and Hötzendorf believed, probably correctly, that a preventative war would save more lives and avoid a greater conflict. Neither Franz Joseph nor Arch Duke Ferdinand were convinced by Hötzendorf’s arguments and it is paradoxical that after offering his resignation, Ferdinand and his wife Sophie travelled to Bosnia to weigh up the qualities of the man who was to be Hötzendorf’s successor. Under the circumstances, Von Suttner’s World Peace Conference in Vienna was seen as being particularly significant, given the deliberate raising of tensions by both the German and Austrian military. She was, however, already extremely ill and died on June 21st before the conference could take place. The Archduke and his wife were assassinated on June 28th and the Peace Conference was cancelled.