NO DOUBT ONE of the reasons the Czechs did not offer more resistance was the widespread assumption that the men would be home by Christmas. Millions would never see home again, of course, but the absence of a lengthy European-wide conflict during the hundred years prior to 1914 provided a—false—assurance that the war would be brief. Of the twenty-one wars fought in the nineteenth century, only one lasted more than a year. “The trend toward decisive campaigns and conclusive battles, followed immediately by peace talks, typified the modern wars of the nineteenth century in Europe,” according to military analyst Béla K. Király. Once assembled at a battlefield often some distance from a major town or city, opposing armies would commence narrow, if deadly, assaults. The side that began to suffer what it saw as unacceptable losses to its army would either flee the field, perhaps to fight another day, or capitulate and negotiate terms. Among combatants, casualties could be high, but professionals did most of the fighting, and civilians were less directly affected by large-scale, mandatory enlistments, or by the combat itself.
Of greater importance was the absence of any significant European conflict since the Franco-Prussian War—which lasted all of ten months—had ended in 1871. This was the longest period without war in European history. The last major conflict involving the Habsburgs was their defeat by Prussia at the Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Králové, Czech Republic) in 1866, a conflict that some reference works call the Seven Weeks’ War. Habsburg subjects up through the age of fifty—including the vast majority of men in uniform—had absolutely no recollection or previous experience with war. It was only natural that most soldiers shared the same expectation about the length of the war. “We were convinced that it would be a short war,” said Kohn, the officer in the Czech unit, “probably over by Christmas, 1914.”
09 June 2016
A Century of Short Wars, 1815-1914
Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe, by Kevin J. McNamara (PublicAffairs, 2016), Kindle Loc. 1165-1180: