Understandably, all the attention on this day has been on those who were killed, with no notice taken of the killers and why they started the War. Understandably because no one in public life or among the veterans knows, or has even thought about it. That sad ignorance and indifference will be compensated for here now, albeit all too briefly.
The minds that manned the guns of August that blew open the 1914 Epoch began arming during the century that followed The Congress of Vienna, 1814-15, which sought to restore Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. British Viscount Castlereagh and Austrian Prince Metternich are standardly credited with having engineered there a balance of power that ushered in and maintained the so-called Hundred Year Peace, which has served as a model for balance-of-power politics in the 20th Century. Rubbish. Monumental Muddleheadedness. In reality that period constituted the Hundred Year Cauldron of War. In that cauldron were forged the ideology of Communism, the scourge of the 20th Century, and Reichism II, the ideological foundation of the Second Reich and the fundamental engine of the First World War.
One may say that The 1914 Epoch began in 1862, when Bismarck became Prime Minister of Prussia. Building on the warlike spirit that had been indelibly impressed on the Prussian people and Army by the 18th Century Prussian King Frederick The Great -- a spirit we will call Reichism I, after Fredericks First Reich -- Bismarck concocted a modern warlike spirit. From the philosophies of Kant, Fichte and Hegel, and a distorted sense of Christian mission, he and the Junkers forged the prototype of modern aggressive, religio-secular national ideologies. It legitimated Bismarcks famous program of Blood and Iron and diplomatic deceit, and unified and motivated Prussia and the Hohenzollern dynasty behind it. The growing momentum and intensity of those ideas permeated Wilhelmian Germany, especially the Court, the General Staff, and ultimately the Kaiser himself.
By the Spring of 1914 the German General Staff fervently sought war, albeit a brief one. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, at Sarajevo on June 28 by a member of a secret society of Serbian nationalists provided the chance. The Kaiser and the German government spurned the mediating counsels of Austria with the cry Now or Never!, and spurred Austria to declare war on Serbia immediately, giving it the Kaisers famous blank check. Events then moved swiftly.
On July 28th Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. On July 31 Germany declared war on Russia. On August 1 Germany declared war on France. The Continental War was on. At 11pm on August 4, the expiration of Britains ultimatum to Germany to withdraw from Belgium, Great Britain entered -- and World War I began. On August 23 Japan declared war on Germany. On October 29 Turkish warships of the Ottoman Empire bombarded Russian ports on the Black Sea, and Russia responded with a declaration of war. On November 5 Great Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Within approximately three months the First World War exploded and engulfed Serbia, Montenegro, Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, France, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and Belgium -- spanning five of the planets six continents.
The epochal convulsion comprising the First World War was the inevitable, direct consequence of sanctified, spiritualized, rationalized, glorified, idolized WAR: the ideology of the Second Reich: Reichism II.
My childhood impressions of that War were limited to pictures of my father in uniform, and to the very big book of black and white photos of its carnage. Now I can remember clearly only the photo of about five men in cushioned baskets set out on a table -- in baskets because their arms and legs had been amputated at the shoulders and thighs. Basket cases they were called. They were smiling. I asked my father why. He didnt know. I wished I could have asked them. I wished I could have spoken to so many of the anguished, destitute, bloodied men, women and children in the ruins of what had been their towns. In my simple childish way I thought, to the extent that a child can really think, in fact, maybe I just felt, that war was absolutely awful. I often went back to that book. Its impact was augmented by what I could make out of the news on the radio that my parents listened to and talked about, and their visiting friends talked about, which I could sense was about rumblings of a new war. I had no idea, and neither did my parents, that there, already in childhood, my destiny had been set.
The Columbia History of the World (1972) concludes its chapter on World War I as follows:
"More than 10 million Europeans had died in battle--as well as 115,000 Americans. At least twice that number had been wounded, many of them to live out their lives as cripples. Thereafter, millions of mutilated men walked the streets of Europe as reminders of the ravages of war. France lost half of its men between the ages of twenty and thirty-two--and others suffered almost as much Among the dead was the promise and flower of Europes youth. The potential leaders of the 1920s and 1930s had been decimated, as thousands of men of recognized talent died alongside others whose talents and genius would remain undiscovered forever. In those futile charges across no mans land, junior officers and volunteers were mowed down first Even Europe, with its historic abundance of talent could not suffer such loses without greatly impoverishing its future.
that earlier world had been thoroughly discredited. It had been discredited by the bloody bungling of incompetence, by the failure of leadership, by the greed of war aims, and by the hollow claims of church and state. The rough deference for church, fatherland and social superiors that still existed in 1914 was hopelessly compromised four years later. Superiors had been proven inferior, and the old notion that there was a social order that made sense, this too had been broken down. What was to take its place? What faith could claim the disillusioned?
Also in childhood, I would learn first-hand the special factor that leads to and is required by war: Hate. Every Sunday I was dragged across the Avenue in mid Manhattan, New York City, up the big stone steps to the big doors, and into Saint Ignatius Loyola Church. After Mass, as we descended those same steps, we were all harangued by fierce priests handing out copies of some publication. Eventually my mother explained that they were Father Coughlinites down from Canada, that the publication was called Social Justice, and that they were propagating a hate doctrine called anti-Semitism, which we will have nothing to do with. At some later Sunday I told my mother that I didnt want to go there anymore. She agreed. In my parents view, a child should not be pressed into, but only exposed to, a religion, which he should choose when he has become older and capable of truly choosing.
In the course of growing up I realized that wars were predominantly about and required ideas to drive and legitimate them. So in Columbia College and University I majored in Physics and Philosophy as fundamental to dealing with the validity of ideas and hence of various political philosophies. I hadnt yet learned the word ideology. And I was focusing on Marxism-Leninism, which I foresaw as driving us into a World War III with the Soviet Union after World War II.