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THIS MONTH IN HISTORY
August 1914 may be the most important August in history. Tensions had been simmering in Europe for years, and in August the first shots were fired — the beginning of World War I. Patriotic jingoism amongst European nations soon turned to horror as the full picture of mechanized slaughter became clear to all. By the end of 1914, a million European soldiers and citizens had been killed in the trenches and city streets. The war would claim the lives of 15 million more — and the souls of a rapidly globalizing world. The war put immense pressure on lines of supply, pressure that was intensified by intentional blockades of civilian food supplies by both sides. Historian N.P. Howard writes that these blockades “spread death and disease, as famine encroached upon the civilian populations of Central Europe.” Blockades on some countries, especially Germany, were not lifted after the war ended in 1918. These punitive measures resulted in needless death and more tensions between Germany and the rest of the world — which led to the Second World War a few decades later. Some countries fared better. America and Canada, untouched at home across the Atlantic, found what Canadian Lieutenant Timothy C. Winegard describes as “a context of nationhood and a sense of pride
in an achievement” as new-world nations testing their mettle. This was particularly true in America, which entered the war relatively late to topple the German alliance. It was the United States’ first European intervention.
But in August 1914, nobody knew any of that. Not
the world leaders, not the men and women back home, and certainly not the millions of soldiers headed for the trenches. It was a lesson the world would never forget, even when war broke out again two decades later.
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