Monday, July 28, 2014

Great War Centennial, July 28,2014

What was the mood in Europe one hundred years ago?  Things had been mostly quiet since the Germans won Alsace-Lorraine in 1871, and war was still seen as a glorious enterprise. Sir Edward Elgar had written four of his five Pomp and Circumstance Marches ( #4 in 1907).  These celebrated the "Pomp and Circumstance of War."  That's not mentioned very often when they play this one for graduating seniors.

There wasn't any such thing as a Peace Movement at that time. That came along in the 1920's largely as a result of the slaughter that happened from 1914 to 1918. There was Stephen Crane's warning, but he had died in 1900, and I don't think his poem was paid any attention in 1914.

Do Not Weep

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands towards the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep
War is kind.

  Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
  Little souls who thirst for fight,
  These men were born to drill and die,
  The unexplained glory flies above them,
  Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom -
  A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

  Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
  Eagle with crest of red and gold,
  These men were born to drill and die.
  Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
  Make plain to them the excellence of killing
  And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

It was more like this, from violinist-composer Fritz Kreisler, in his book, Four Weeks In The Trenches. (from

"The outbreak of the war found my wife and me in Switzerland, where we were taking a cure. On the 31st of July, on opening the paper, I read that the Third Army Corps, to which my regiment (which is stationed in Graz) belonged, had received an order for mobilization.
Although I had resigned my commission as an officer two years before, I immediately left Switzerland, accompanied by my wife, in order to report for duty. As it happened, a wire reached me a day later calling me to the colors.
We went by way of Munich. It was the first day of the declaration of the state of war in Germany. Intense excitement prevailed. In Munich all traffic was stopped; no trains were running except for military purposes. It was only due to the fact that I revealed my intention of rejoining my regiment in Austria that I was able to pass through at all, but by both the civil and military authorities in Bavaria I was shown the greatest possible consideration and passed through as soon as possible.
We reached Vienna on August first. A startling change had come over the city since I had left it only a few weeks before. Feverish activity everywhere prevailed. Reservists streamed in by thousands from all parts of the country to report at headquarters. Autos filled with officers whizzed past. Dense crowds surged up and down the streets. Bulletins and extra editions of newspapers passed from hand to hand. Immediately it was evident what a great leveler war is. Differences in rank and social distinctions had practically ceased. All barriers seemed to have fallen; everybody addressed everybody else.
I saw the crowds stop officers of high rank and well-known members of the aristocracy and clergy, also state officials and court functionaries of high rank, inquest of information, which was imparted cheerfully and patiently. The imperial princes could frequently be seen on the Ring Strasse surrounded by cheering crowds or mingling with the public unceremoniously at the cafés, talking to everybody. Of course, the army was idolized. Wherever the troops marched the public broke into cheers and every uniform was the center of an ovation."

Europe stepped onto the slippery slope on this date in 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and it would be just a matter of days before armies were on the move to begin what was then called the "Great War." 

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