It’s rare that I have two ideas on my mind both of which I’d like to talk about.
You probably will think they’re totally unrelated, which isn’t far from the truth. Let me start by pointing out to those of you who might not think, or even care, about historic anniversaries, that this is a big one, probably the most important in the past 100 years.
It was 100 years ago tomorrow – June 28, 1914 – that an event took place that reshaped the world, and by that I mean today’s world, as well. June 28, 1914, was the day that the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, were on a royal tour in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a part of Serbia, when the archduke and his wife were assassinated.
There was a month of political turmoil, with various countries mobilizing millions of troops. There was furious diplomatic activity, but the high command, especially in Germany, said war was the only solution.
They thought four weeks might be all the time they would need to crush France and Russia, for starters. Austria-Hungary, one nation at the time, had received the glove across the face – a vow to duel – from Serbia, so they were the first in the ring.
After a month of political turmoil and diplomatic activity, the talking faded and the antagonists had drawn their swords.
Let me cite from the new “Cambridge University History of the First World War” (Volume 1 of 3) from the chapter titled “1914: Outbreak”: Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Russia ordered general mobilization on July 30. Austria-Hungary decided to mobilize during the night of July 30-31, followed on Aug. 1 by Germany and France at approximately the same time. Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1, and on France on Aug. 3. The United Kingdom declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, and on Aug. 6, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia.
Before the war had ended four years later, on the 11th hour of the 11th day or the 11th month, 10 million combatants had been killed, another 20 million wounded, and many millions of civilians killed or wounded. The first case in the 20th century of genocide was conducted by the Turks, also referred to as the Ottomans, against their captive Armenian population.
Arguments rage to this day as to whether the death of millions of Armenians as the Great War raged could possibly be considered “incidental” to the deportations, famine and forced marches in the deadly cold of winter. Most historians, including this amateur, come down on the side of murder.
Having settled on the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, I was taken aback by a phone call from a former high school classmate. I had graduated from Mamaroneck High School in suburban New York in 1961, had never been back and had only talked to a few good friends over the years. It turns out that Richard was contacting, or attempting to contact, everyone in the Class of 1961. To make a long story short (I know – too late for that), Richard emailed me a roster of fellow graduates, complete with address, phone number and email.
What I wasn’t expecting was the word “deceased” after so many names. Some I knew about, but there were a few who had been real friends who were dead. Those names with “deceased” in the margin made me think I should remember the dead of 1914-18 and the dead of Mamaroneck High School’s Class of 1961.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]