A century ago, in 1914, war erupted across Europe following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a conflict that by its end claimed 37 million casualties worldwide. It was four years of fighting that closed the 19th century and set the 20th into motion. Because its worst horrors remained to be seen (Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum est" captures the disillusion well), there was still hope it'd come to a speedy end. Although this small sample is not representative of every published illustration, political cartoon, and comic, it still provides some insight into the nation's feelings of that decisive year. Here we see doubt over the merits of sustaining a standing army (this being 15 years after the Spanish-American War and the nation's first foray into imperialism). We see as well both doubt and optimism for war -- and finally hope for 1915.
Yesterday I came across a poem and, reading it, obsessed over its simplicity, its horror, its capacity to make the past breathe (or, more appropriately, choke). Although there are many reasons why one may write poetry, one of the highest, I believe, is to aspire for timelessness. "Dulce et Decorum est" by the WWI-era British soldier Wilfred Owen does that.Wilfred Owen A few weeks ago I wrote about the centennial of the assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand and how it triggered the events that led to World War One. So, it's in this same spirit I'm posting the work of Owen who, unfortunately, never lived to see much of his poetry published. Sadly, on November 4, 1918, he was killed in the battlefield one week before the Armistice was signed. It's easy to distance oneself from the past, to see epochs not our own in faded colors, the actors as automatons playing their parts to achieve the present. In some ways, I think this habit is a self-defense mechanism, but I'll save that for another article (Does this mean the future will forget my own humanity? But everything I do is so important!). But it's through pieces like this that the snake-trenches across Europe become real. It's scenes like those in the last stanza that the horrors of war become vivid.
Today, June 28, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Murdered alongside his wife while traveling through the streets of Sarajevo, it was the catalyst for a series of unfolding events that, one month later, led to Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia. Within one week, by August 5, 1914, Russia was marching west and Germany was at war with five countries, including France and Britain. As the fabric of Europe frayed, the United States maintained its neutrality. Among historians there is consensus that the shots fired in Sarajevo were the first shots fired in every successive western conflict - the Armistice of the "Great War" set the stage for the spread of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II. That in turn led to the Cold War and its proxy conflicts within the Middle East and elsewhere. I say this only to highlight the fact that it was an event that set the twentieth century as we know it into motion. Well, this and imperialism.