The Suicide of Europe
The assassination on June 28, 1914, of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand accelerated escalating tensions between European nations culminating in a declaration of war by Austria-Hungary exactly one month later on July 28. The reasons for this war, the dearth of leadership in permitting it, and the nature of entangling alliances fill volumes – in every language. My interest in this early war period, aside from the failure of leadership, involves the individualism demonstrated in a mostly forgotten event on Christmas Eve 1914, on a battlefield near Ypres, Belgium.
Though many thought this war would end quickly, others felt differently, envisioning a protracted, bitter struggle. The fierce fighting moved Pope Benedict XV, who called the war the “Suicide of Europe”, to write his first encyclical, Ad Beatissmi Apostolorum, published in the Autumn of 1914, appealing to the leaders of the world to sign a Christmas truce as a means for a meaningful dialogue on a lasting peace. World leaders ignored his pleas and, with less than five months of fighting between the warring states, German military forces opposed British and French from deeply trenched positions, six to eight feet deep, carved into the countryside. A signed armistice was four years and fifteen million dead away. What happened amidst heavy fighting in the winter of 1914, confounded many. Continue reading