I was surfing Ye Olde Online Bookseller the other day and couldn’t help but notice that the first of the WW1 centennial titles will be hitting the shops this fall. The books I perused were not being advertised as such, but I have no doubt that publishers have been signing historians for these projects in recent years with the anniversary in mind. I was especially glad to see that Margaret McMillan will have a new book, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Her Paris 1919 is one of the authoritative books on the Versailles Treaty and its aftermath. When I saw the news of her upcoming title I couldn’t help but think of something a history prof told me once, more as aside than anything. He said it is often a wise move to write history backward, because you know at least the basic outline of events going in. I have no doubt that Professor McMillan’s latest will rise to her usual high standards.
A few of us at work were having coffee the other day when we got on the subject of the Great War centennial. Someone wondered aloud to the group if there was a specific date one can christen as the anniversary of the war. In comparison, there is no 100% consensus on the anniversary of the Civil War sesquicentennial, but Fort Sumter is the most common answer. For World War 1 it could be the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, 28 June 1914; Austria-Hungary’s attack on Serbia on 28 July; or any of the succeeding dates of mobilization for the various principle participants. I suppose the anniversaries might and will vary from country to country. The United States did not become officially involved until 1917; I would be surprised though if the World War 1 Centennial Commission waited until 2017 to unroll its commemorations.
Here is a piece, with remarkable photos, about a massive undertaking currently underway in Europe to refurbish many thousands of headstones. I have been to Flanders Fields and can testify that it is powerful and moving to see. I am making it a goal right now to get back in the next few years during the anniversary.
It will be interesting to see if the commemoration of the Great War will lead to a paradigm shift in our understanding of the conflict, which would be something given that so many of the problems in the world today can be traced, at least in part, to ’14-’18. Whatever happens, it will be worth watching.