Summer 1914: War Enthusiasm, Real and Imaginary

During the years leading up to 1914, Europe’s upper classes, the landowning aristocracy and the industrial-financial bourgeoisie, had lived through years of almost intolerable tension. Obsessed by the fear of a revolution, they imagined themselves to be witnessing a race between war and revolution, a sprint whose outcome could be decided at any time. Which one of the two was going to win? The elite feared revolution and therefore prayed for war. From the viewpoint of Europe’s elite, history had been moving in the wrong direction, as democratization was making progress and the revolution appeared to be approaching rapidly. A change of course, a U-turn, was urgently required. The bourgeoisie wanted to return to the era before 1848 and 1871, the years when the working class and other proletarians had become truly troublesome. As far as the nobility was concerned, it preferred to go all the way back to the “good old days” of the ancien régime, the era before the French Revolution. In order to put a definitive end to the execrable process of democratization, the clock had to be turned back to that Age of Aquarius before the fateful year 1789, that is, to the time when, as far as class relations were concerned, the planets had been perfectly aligned

In view of this, the upper classes experienced the outbreak of war in 1914 as a deliverance after years of uncertainty, tension, and fear, and they heaved a sigh of relief. The coming of the war, writes Eric Hobsbawm,

“was widely felt as a release and a relief . . . Like a thunderstorm it broke the heavy closeness of expectation and cleared the air . . . After a long wait in the auditorium, it meant the opening of the curtain on a great and exciting historical drama in which the audience found itself to be the actors. It meant decision.”

When he learned the news, the famous Field Marshal Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener declared laconically that “it is better to have an end of the uncertainty.” And a young Briton

— source | Jacques R. Pauwels | Aug 5, 2022

Nullius in verba


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