Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Holy Shit, the Great War!

World War I
One hundred years and two days ago, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after a series of political machinations that followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Due to a tangled web of alliances and escalations, this declaration of war was followed by at least half a dozen others in less than a week. The next four years tore Continental Europe apart, both figuratively and literally.
Beaumont-Hamel Newfounland Memorial
This is Beaumont-Hamel after almost a century of healing.

World War I isn't as sexy as its sequel. It's much messier. There's not a clear "bad guy" to hate. I mean, if you're looking for a villain, you're not going to do much better than friggin' Hitler. No such luck in The Great War. The villain there was the war itself. The trenches. The ineffectual artillery barrages and futile charges into certain death. The gas.
Mustard Gas Burns know...fuck that noise.

All told, nearly 18 million men, women, and children died as a direct result of the war. That's close to 2% of the population of the participating countries. Some fared worse than others. Serbia may have lost as much as 18% of their population, which...Jesus, can you imagine what that would do to your country? That's not to mention the specific battles like the Battle of the Somme, where the first day of the fighting cost 20,000 allied lives and resulted in a single mile change in the battle lines.

It was horrific, to say the least. And a lot of people will tell you it started because of a sandwich. Because several assassination attempts failed on the day Franz Ferdinand's death set the wheels in motion, and Gavrilo Princip happened to sit down and ruminate on the day's events with a sandwich from a deli that happened to be exactly where the Archduke's car would stop after the driver got turned around. Rest assured, though, that the sandwich had nothing to do with it.

It wasn't a coincidence. Princip went there not to ruminate, but because he suspected that the motorcade would come that way. Aside from that, the bare fact is (and I can't believe I find it necessary to explain this) sandwiches don't cause world wars. Not even a little bit. World Wars are caused by tangled webs of diplomacy, mass escalation at crises, and overconfident world leaders whose only experience with war is in fighting a vastly technologically inferior foe.
Cecil Rhodes
Which was this whole other thing

If it wasn't Franz Ferdinand, it probably would have been someone else. Germany, France, England, Russia, and Austria-Hungary were positively itching for a fight. Germany was once the voice of reason. Otto von Bismark kept the whole thing together more or less by sheer force of will for quite some time. But then he was sacked, and the world began its inexorable march toward a preview of Armageddon. And no, I don't mean the campy oil industry wet dream film.

After the Great War came and went, nothing would ever be the same. My pet example of the effects of World War I is Dadaism. The avant-garde art movement was born of a complete rejection of everything in civilization up to that point, because that's what got us into this mess. Realism, reason, and logic were thrown out the window, and artists embraced the absurd. Because when you're dealing with constant explosions, fruitless sacrifices, and gas that melts your face and lungs, what else are you going to embrace?

Holy shit.

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