Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The War That Ruined Everything

A century ago yesterday (the future Queen Mother's 14th birthday), Britain declared war on Germany. The initial cast of characters for the destruction of Europe's old order was complete. There would be no real enduring glory, for the savagery that would unfold would prove as damaging to the "victors" as to the vanquished. Everyone lost...except those to whose short-term advantage it would be to build ...hideous new orders on the ashes of the old. It is perhaps the greatest and most tragic irony of modern European history that the traditional values of patriotism, courage, and obedience in this case ultimately contributed to the fall of the very authorities those values tried to serve. With hindsight we can see that it would have been better if more questions had been asked. But any explanation that attempts to blame one country or one ruler for the war is overly simplistic. Whatever the causes, the catastrophe happened, and there is little we can do today but mourn for what was lost, not only the human lives but an entire tapestry of dynastic and aristocratic rule with its roots in the chivalry of the Middle Ages. Instead of kings and kaisers an age of ugliness and banality is upon us, from which virtually the only relief is the surviving beauty of that which was created before the apocalypse of 1914.

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