Victor Davis Hanson: The Guns of August





[Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

Historian Barbara Tuchman characterized the events leading up to World War I as The Guns of August.

While there is no statistical evidence that wars break out any more often in late summer than in other seasons, the world was torn apart at that time of year twice during the 20th century: in early August 1914, and then again on Sept. 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Maybe it is the effects of the heat, or the sense of urgency to do something before the cold of winter; but nonetheless, we’ve also seen a lot of late-summer violence the last few decades....

What can we learn from these dog-day cataclysms?

First, for all the rising prewar tensions, the general slaughter to follow was mostly unforeseen. Experts thought August 1914 would lead only to a war “over by Christmas” — not 500 miles of trenches from the North Sea to Switzerland, and 8 million combat dead by 1918. Even after Hitler invaded Poland in a lightning strike, no one dreamed that more than 50 million deaths would follow....

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