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Editorial: ‘They declare for a wholesale murder’

Europe plunged itself, and the world, into war a century ago this week. It’s worth looking back to see how much, and how little, has changed.

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

One hundred years ago, the guns of August roared, and World War I erupted in Europe. When an armistice ended it on Nov. 11, 1918, about 10 million military combatants and seven million civilians had been killed, with millions more wounded.

A political assassination a month before sparked the hostilities; declarations of war began the conflict on July 28, 1914.

By Aug. 3, 1914, the Telegraph carried these headlines:

“German navy hunting British fleet”

“Germans drive Russians back in first naval battle”

“Germany invades Russia”

“Luxembourg invaded; Belgium is defiant”

“British army will mobilize”

The news worsened on Aug. 4, 1914:

“France says ‘War is declared’”

“Britain to aid France in conflict”

“Switzerland invaded”

“Germany tells U.S. state of war now exists”

Helpfully, the Telegraph carried photos of the monarchs of the Triple Alliance – Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy – and the leaders of the Triple Entente – Czar Nicholas of Russia, George V of Great Britain, and President Poincare of France.

The Sterling Daily Standard, on Aug. 3, 1914, carried the banner headline:

“European powers go to war”

One bulletin read: “A French aerial squadron crossed the frontier today and is scouting over Germany. The war office was notified today that a hostile dirigible was sighted. …”

On Aug. 4, the Standard reported:

“French & German boats in battle”

“Great Britain is expected to declare war against Germany within the next 24 hours”

And so it went.

The most destructive war up until that time had numerous causes: nationalism, ambition, blood feuds, outmoded monarchies and entangling alliances. New technologies for killing – poison gas, machine guns, submarines, airplanes, tanks – ensured maximum carnage.

A Telegraph editorial on Aug. 3 bemoaned the fact that, despite the monarchies of Europe having had their children marry into royal families of other European nations, war still came.

Presciently, the editor wrote, “These family rows are always the bloodiest kind, anyway.”

Jealousies, hereditary hatred, and covetousness brought on the madness, according to the editorial.

“What do these ultra-civilized people do? They declare for a wholesale murder and right now they are engaged, millions of them, in trying to destroy each other’s lives and steal each other’s property.

“It looks as though it will be necessary to change human nature before it will be possible to have universal peace.”

The editor could not have known that the United States would be drawn into the war in April 1917, send hundreds of thousands of soldiers “Over There,” and lose more than 100,000 lives to combat and disease.

And the editor also could not have known that the war would produce one of Dixon’s best-known landmarks. The first Dixon Arch was built in 1919 to welcome home the troops.

Idealistically, President Woodrow Wilson hoped the war would end the need for future wars.

A century later, with fighting ongoing in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, we know better.

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