Tag Archives: World War I

The Guns of August

While posting that title, I’m immediately struck by how many uses of guns in the month of August there might be. Even now, we might be talking about current fighting in Iraq or the Ukraine.

This time, though, I’m pointing back to the Guns of August 1914. In our remembrance of World War I, we should point out that the initial attacks and invasions occurred throughout August 1914. I have always been fascinated both by the German attempt to sweep through Belgium into France according to the Schlieffen Plan and then the France final stand at the Battle of the Marne. These gripping moments make an appearance in my lectures on World War I for both European and American History.

The phrase “the guns of August” was popularized by the historian Barbara Tuchman, who wrote a book by that name about August 1914. Last year, I reflected on Tuchman’s writing, both content and style.

(However, if that’s too serious, I can also say that the topic was parodied by Stan Freeberg, in his United States of America, volume 2.)

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Two Historical Anniversaries

Keeping up the theme of “backward-looking blog posts on Friday,” this week let me direct your attention to 2 historical anniversaries in the last two months.

June 6th saw the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. This would be a great opportunity to reach for a Stephen Ambrose book, maybe his Band of Brothers. Also commemorating the event was my friend Sean Brennan, who blogged about some research he’s been doing on a Catholic Chaplain who was at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Later in the month of June, we witnessed the centennial of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Franz Ferdinand was the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a reformer. In June of 1914, he traveled to the city of Sarajevo near the border of the Empire. Waiting for him was an assassination plot devised by the “Black Hand,” a secret organization controlled by the Serbian government. Riding the crest of nationalism, Serbia believed that Sarajevo and its surrounding Bosnian countryside should belong to it (after all, the area contained many ethnic Serbs).

File:Archduke Franz with his wife.jpg

On the morning of June 28, 1914, one attempt had been made on the Archduke’s life: a bomb had been thrown at the motorcade. Though the Archduke and his wife were unhurt, others of their party were injured and were taken to the hospital. Later in the morning, wanting to visit the hospital, the Archduke’s motorcade got backed up in the streets, stopping right in front of a cafe, where another plotter, Gavrilo Princip, was sitting despondently. Princip immediately seized his chance, jumped to the car’s running board, and fired fatal shots directly at the Archduke and his wife.

More than just an individual tragedy, the assassination of the Archduke set in motion the diplomatic steps that would drag Europe into World War I by the end of the summer. Though the summer of 2014 was beautiful in Europe, behind the scenes were doings that would create unforeseen destruction. This centennial summer, we might plot the steps, as Austria conferred with its ally Germany, Germany gave them the blank check to attack Serbia, and then the German command prepared for the war it knew it would fight with both Russia and France.

The assassination of the Archduke was thus the boulder that started an avalanche that would bury Europe’s 19th century ideals and open the door to the horrors of the 20th century, including the rise of Nazism and, eventually, the Allied invasion on D-Day.

As time allows, I hope to blog more this summer about how we might remember World War I, through several significant books on the topic.

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