The Guns Of August

The causes of World War 1 were complex. Suffice to say that by 1914, Europe was a powder keg waiting to explode. Nationalist sentiment was on the rise, and a new, ambitious nation, the German Empire, founded in 1870 by Bismarck, was set on challenging France and especially Britain for the coveted position of world leader, which the British Empire still at least nominally held.

On June 28th, 1914, the fuse to the keg was lit when Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria and heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was gunned down together with his wife Sophie by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. The fuse burns rapidly after that, as Emperor Franz Josef of Austria asks Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany for support in a war against Serbia, knowing well that any action against the tiny Balkan nation will bring Russia into the conflict on Serbia's side.

Within weeks, the entire European continent is plunged into war. Following the convoluted set of alliances, Germany joins with Austria against Russia and Serbia. France joins to support Russia, and when Germany invades Belgium on August 1st, Great Britain joins the war on the side of the occupied Belgium.

On August 1st, 1914, citizens pack themselves into the town squares of capitals across Europe to hear the announcement that war has arrived. Emotions run at a fever pitch in London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and St Petersburg. Hymns of praise and thanksgiving spontaneously arise from the masses. The chance of a heroic adventure, suppressed by decades of Victorian restraint, entice thousands of young men to enlist on the very first day. The first armies of the War to End All Wars constitute the largest volunteer army to ever fight in a major European conflict.

Each side predicts a swift victory. Every soldier envisages himself home by Christmas.

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