One hundred years ago today on August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany, after Germany declared war on France and Belgium. Canada also was automatically at war with Germany, since we were part of the seamless British Empire. With scarcely any diplomatic negotiations, public consultation or apparent thought, the great imperial powers of Europe plunged the world into the as-yet-unknown and unimagined horrors of mechanized warfare and death.
Our modern era began with that "reckless dance into the abyss" as the Great War was called in a recent article by Brian Stewart, former CBC foreign correspondent and current Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.* He wrote that World War I --
has been called the "seminal catastrophe" of modern times and the calamity from which all other calamities sprang. . . .
The conflict itself saw 16 million killed, including 10 million soldiers, half of whom, it has been estimated, were never found or identified in the sea of mud and craters that the battlefields became.
No one will ever be able to calculate the lifetimes of grief left for those millions of relatives of the fallen, and for those survivors with broken bodies and spirits.
For years after the war, people talked of "the great silence" as the pain lay too deep to be spoken aloud. . . .
In just four years [the war] collapsed four entire empires — the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman (Turkish).
It bankrupted Europe both literally and emotionally, shattered faith in governments everywhere and left people desperate for extreme new ideologies that promised to make life livable again.
By giving birth to communism, fascism and the Nazis, the First World War was the essential precondition for the Second World War just 21 years later, and for the nuclear age and Cold War that followed.
"It is hard to imagine a worse initial condition for the modern era of which we are the inheritors," the Australian historian Christopher Clark wrote.
LEST WE FORGET
* Brian Stewart, "The 100-year conflict that is the First World War" (July 30, 2014) found here.
[All photos are from the internet. The first two are of Canada's National War Memorial in Ottawa. The third shows one of the seven Books of Remembrance housed in the Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa which list all the names of Canada's war dead.]