While Thunder Bay Public Library commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War 1 through a series of displays and events between 2014 and 2018, it is timely to remind ourselves how the war began in the first place. Europe was at peace in June 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by Serb nationalists. Just over a month later the continent was embroiled in a conflict which would consume 15 million lives (including 65,000 Canadians), bring down three empires, and change the world forever. Clark goes on a tour of the capitals of Europe looking for answers to a number of key questions. How did the Balkans become such a flash point? How did the shifting alliances and allegiances among European powers affect their foreign policy? What led to the misunderstandings and mistrust that enabled war to happen so quickly? The roots of World War 1 lay as far back as the 1870s when a unified Germany began to assert its new found power. This led to a scramble for colonies in Africa and a naval arms race with Britain.
Meanwhile the old Austria-Hungary Empire was starting to crumble leading to a show of force against Serbia, supported by Russia. France and Britain were sucked into the conflict through treaties and railway timetables. Perhaps the biggest cause of war was weak leadership, from heads of state to politicians, diplomats and bankers. The new angle which Clark brings is to view the war as ‘a modern event, the most complex of modern times, perhaps of any time so far’. He concludes that far from being inevitable, this war was in fact ‘improbable’ – at least until it actually happened.
John Pateman is Chief Librarian for the Thunder Bay Public Library.