A hundred years ago Europe was in the midst of the July Crisis.
July 27, 2014 1:23 PM   Subscribe

The BBC will be covering World War One in great detail over the next four years. They've already started, with podcasts, interactive guides, online courses, programs new and old plus much, much more. Perhaps it's best to start at the beginning, with Professor Margaret MacMillan's Countdown to World War One (podcast link) or the account of her fellow historian Christopher Clark, Month of Madness. Of course, how the war started is still contested by historians, as recounted in The Great War of Words. The latter two are also part of the main WWI podcast. Or you can dive into the Music and Culture section, go through an A-Z guide or look at comics drawn by modern cartoonists.
posted by Kattullus (42 comments total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm gonna give the podcast a listen, but, hokey smoke, they're putting out an episode every two days! I'll definitely fall behind. Than again, with In Our Time on hiatus, this just might fill the time for awhile.

Also...LOL Zune link on the podcast page
posted by Thorzdad at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kattullus, I love you. Thank you for this!
posted by stoneandstar at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


As someone who just recently finished Dan Carlin's "Blueprint for Armageddon" and wanted more this post is a treasure. Thanks!
posted by bigendian at 2:00 PM on July 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


Apart from wishing the "Countdown to WWI"' podcast consisted of, like, weekly 40-minute long shows rather that daily 5-minute shows, this is a brilliant resource. I've been needing something to fill in the wait for the next Dan Carlin, too!
posted by Jimbob at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Related question: can anyone recommend a good WW1 documentary series that is available on youtube?
posted by Erberus at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks! Have subscribed to the 1914: Day by Day podcast. In case this isn't enough to keep you busy, I've just discovered The Bugle and the Passing Bell, which is a CBC podcast about WWI which uses a lot of interviews with veterans recorded 50 years ago. I've only listened to the first episode so far but, wow, is it heartbreaking. There were stories of a couple men who were so keen to go and fight they were completely shocked on payday to learn that they were getting paid to fight. Can you imagine that happening now?
posted by carolr at 3:16 PM on July 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have also listened to Dan Carlins three podcasts on WW1 -- Blueprint For Armageddon. As always, he's doing his best to give it all to us, really well done IMO; YMMV. I wonder how many episodes it will take him to cover the entirety of WW1 -- another 1, another 2? More?

I'm now about half-way through Barbara Tuchman's (Wikipedia) "The Guns of August" (Amazon) on Audible, it is long but it is not a slog, she gives so much insight on the large personalities of people in large roles, on all sides, in that first month. It is focused on that first month of the conflict but she ranges far and wide, really sets the stage, who what why when where. Tuchman is an American historian, won the Pulitzer Prize for this book.

Related question: can anyone recommend a good WW1 documentary series that is available on youtube?
posted by Erberus at 4:36 PM on July 27

This might be a good place to start: 1965 B&W documentary which follows closely Tuchman's "The Guns of August." I've not watched it -- yet -- your question a good prompt for me here -- thank you.

Everything I've read and/or listened to seem to agree that this war was started as an 1800s war IE no idea yet the role that artillery and machine guns and modern rifles were going to play. Many of the soldiers didn't have helmets to start, they wore nice little hats -- "Hmmm, I'm gonna go on out into those showers of shrapnel and machine gun fire wearing a Cubs hat." The Germans had gray uniforms, suited to war, while the French wore bright red pants, pretty much a target saying "Kill me! Kill me!" The French in particular just had not learned the lessons taught in the US Civil War, the lessons taught in the fight between Russia and Japan in 1905, the lessons of artillery, the lessons that modern rifles pretty much preclude any success of massive charges at the other side. Machine guns *really* brought that point home.

These people, on all sides, they marched gaily off to war -- A Festival! Hurray! They soon found out different, if they lived long enough to find out. I don't know but I think all parties still had cavalry units, whose leaders were all about rushing in on their horses and slashing at people with swords. Good plan, that, except for devastating artillery, except for modern rifles accurate at long ranges, except for machine guns.

And airplanes -- they were found to be useful for spotting, the role the cavalry used to play, and then some pilots took bombs up with them and tossed them out of the cockpit, they carried pistols and shot at each other, Germans and French, but by the time the war was over the airplane was definitely part of war. Germany first dropped bombs from a zeppelin, I think on a Belgian town that wouldn't just roll over and surrender -- that was the first bombing from the air, damn sure not the last.

Tanks. They are called tanks because that is what the British called them, pretending that they were water tanks to deliver water to the front, so that any German spies who might see them or hear of them would not grasp what they really were. They started out about as effective as if you were in a garbage can, death-traps to their crews, but they improved. Fast.

I find myself surprised at the fact that kings and "royalty" still held such huge sway in Europe, just 100 years gone by. Most of that appears to have been blown out by WW1.

Pretty much everyone agrees that The Versailles Treaty was a guarantee of another world war; the reparations laid onto the Germans just about broke that country to bits. France was understandably filled with hatred for the Germans, who'd stomped their ass just 40 years before, and they -- the French -- didn't want this to continue happening all the time. And the Germans, they definitely did kick the whole thing off, and did it by running over an innocent bystander, and stomping them into the mud as they did so. The minute they crossed the Belgian border they lost any moral high ground they might ever have been able to claim, and when they killed so many Belgians in reprisals for this or for that or just for no reason at all, pretty much the whole world saw them as total psychos, murderous, brutal psychos, which they damn sure were.

The Germans thought they were going to agree to Woodrow Wilson's 12 Points plan, which was totally designed to prevent another war on the continent, pretty much forever. But when they laid down their arms they found themselves facing altogether different terms, Wilson's 12 Points Plan only valid had they accepted it while the fight still raged. They were blockaded, no food nor supplies nor anything coming in, they were forced to agree to The Versailles Treaty -- German people were starving to death, literally starving to death. There was huge anger in Germany, and huge unrest, all of it setting the stage for this other guy to take over in just 12 or 14 short years ... But that's a different story, right?

Thank you so much for this post, and for all the links -- great stuff.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:32 PM on July 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Just think, a hundred years previously for *them* the whole Napoleon thing was getting close to finally winding down.

And now a hundred years later, by leveraging a relatively tiny amount of economic influence and spending, Russia has basically paralyzed European politics and kickstarted oddly traditional factionalism with an odd bunch of nudge-nudge, wink-wink imperialism and clientism all over again. As these histories show, it used to take blatant sabre-rattling (of actual expensive armaments) and naked threats to accomplish this sort of thing. It's remarkable that the EU and its client states now seem so easy to prod into a general slide into appeasement and accommodation. Sleepwalkers indeed.
posted by meehawl at 9:24 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've taken history classes, have read a book on WWI specifically, and now subscribe to two different WWI day by day twitter feeds and I still can't figure out why the war really started except maybe that it was Europe and fighting a little war now and again is just what governments did. But now everybody has started bringing pistols to fight club and maybe a little booze too.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you're really interested in WWI, I can't recommend Liberty Memorial in Kansas City enough. I visited there a month and a half ago when I was in town visiting family, and it is just full of interesting memorabilia.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:31 PM on July 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just think, a hundred years previously for *them* the whole Napoleon thing was getting close to finally winding down.

Well, except Napoleon's crushing of the German states set the stage for Bismark's unification efforts, which required, to some degree, the humiliation of France.

And we are not free of WWI. Not only was WWII basically WWI, part 2 (with a Michael Bay-like progress in the size of explosions), but the problems in the Balkins, the Middle East, and around India have a lot to do with decisions made because of WWI.

WWI is the bath water we're all still bathing in....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I recently started watching BBC's The Great War, a twenty-six-part series narrated by Michael Redgrave and produced in 1964. So far it's pretty excellent. Its historical proximity both from now (50 years ago) and to the war itself (50 years after) has only made it more interesting with age.

Pretty similar stylistically to the better-known World at War, which came out ten years later and covers WWII.
posted by eagle-bear at 4:37 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow - I'm looking forward to diving into that "Music and Culture of WWI" podcast. Wonder if they'll talk about Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain which I read about a year ago and loved. It's a literary distillation of the state of Europe in the lead up to the war, as representatives of different cultures and philosophies of the continent spend their days isolated in an Alpine sanatarium.
posted by dnash at 5:44 AM on July 28, 2014


> I find myself surprised at the fact that kings and "royalty" still held such huge sway in Europe, just 100 years gone by.

Yes and no. They certainly were taken more seriously than they are now, but they didn't really hold "huge sway." If they had, there wouldn't have been a war; none of the crowned heads wanted one, but they were pressured into it by their prime ministers, ministers of war, etc.

> the reparations laid onto the Germans just about broke that country to bits.

This is not true (though it is, of course, common wisdom). Germany broke itself to bits. It financed the war by taking out loans rather than through taxation (good thing we've learned better today!), and their economy would have been a wreck even without reparations; furthermore, having fallen prey to the dangerous delusion that they didn't actually lose the war but were "stabbed in the back," they refused to accept the consequences of defeat and dragged their feet on paying the reparations (which were onerous but not in and of themselves devastating). To claim that "reparations broke that country to bits" is to buy into the worldview of the German right wing; it's like claiming that whichever side you support in the Israel/Palestine mess is justified in their actions because [insert that side's propaganda here].

> Just think, a hundred years previously for *them* the whole Napoleon thing was getting close to finally winding down.

Yes, that's really being brought home to me by having interrupted my reading of Dominic Lieven's Russia Against Napoleon (a superb book, and a must-read if you're interested in the period, because—amazingly—he's the first Western historian to seriously deal with the Russian side of the war) to read Sean McMeekin's July 1914: Countdown to War (which is disappointing me somewhat—it's well written and gripping, but I'm finding a disturbing number of errors). There are even similarities in the international situations (with Russia caught each time trying desperately to figure out which of the rival Western states to support).

> I still can't figure out why the war really started

In a sense, nobody knows or can ever know. The more you read, though, the more you get a feeling for what's surface foam and what's a genuine current pushing events; at the moment (having read a slew of books, starting with the indispensable Sidney Fay) it seems to me that the single most important trigger was Austria-Hungary's foolish and provocative annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, which enraged both the Serbs and the Russians (their foreign minister, Izvolsky, had been tricked into accepting it by the deceitful Austrian foreign minister Aehrenthal) and turned the Balkans into a tinderbox that was bound to explode. I think the idea that the war was inevitable because of the web of treaties into which all parties had been drawn is silly and the result of the human desire to find some general overwhelming cause that allows us to wash our hands and say "See, nothing we did mattered anyway, so we don't have to feel guilty."
posted by languagehat at 6:34 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


"I think the idea that the war was inevitable because of the web of treaties into which all parties had been drawn is silly and the result of the human desire to find some general overwhelming cause that allows us to wash our hands and say "See, nothing we did mattered anyway, so we don't have to feel guilty.""
Really this.

There is this really weird sense that everyone at the time could feel that the dominant paradigm in European politics, where the whole continent twirled on the escapades of a small collection of cousins who occasionally took breaks from fucking each other just long enough to murder each other, was at an end and something new was coming. In the middle of communist, nationalist, and democratic agitation, by the time the war came around the establishment had been busy building a beautiful system of international law governing at least the western world in a more authentic and robust way than anything the world had seen before. Borders in Europe were open and porous, it was dramatically more multicultural and ethnically fluid than it is today, and international disputes were handled by panels appointed by impartial nations. All of the 'root causes' that are plausibly claimed for both the Franco-Prussian war and the first World War are still being experienced by Europe today, with a united Germany still out-sizing the other nations of Europe and the Balkans still being a mess of strongly felt yet utterly absurd rivalries.

The most salient difference between then and now that I can see is a lack of military infrastructure capable of supporting intra-European fights and a state of mutual surrender that highlights the absurdity of aggression.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:32 AM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


languagehat: it seems to me that the single most important trigger was Austria-Hungary's foolish and provocative annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, which enraged both the Serbs and the Russians

Interestingly, that seems to be the common perception at the time of the war's outbreak, if we take this Economist article from August 1st, 1914 as a guide to received wisdom. Excerpt:
Readers of The Economist are aware of the train of events which led up to the catastrophe. The quarrel between Austria and Servia may be said to date from the time when an Austro-Hungarian army conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in rescuing it from the Turkish yoke encountered the bitter hatred of Servia.
posted by Kattullus at 10:49 AM on July 28, 2014


> if we take this Economist article from August 1st, 1914 as a guide to received wisdom

Thanks for that link; a very interesting read, and classic Economist:
Certainly the cry for vengeance would have been raised, and can we be sure that any measure milder than the Note sent from Vienna to Belgrade would have been despatched from London or Calcutta to Kandahar? It is only after saying this that we feel justified in stating that the terms of the Austrian Note and the action of the Austrian Government, when most of these terms have been conceded, appear too stiff, too rigid, too relentless. There should have been more solicitude for the peace of Europe, and a livelier perception of the fact that neighbourly conduct and good feeling cannot be inculcated by military measures.
Of course, what they couldn't have known is that the note was designed to be "too rigid, too relentless"; it was written to be rejected, since Austria wanted not peace but war. The only one who wanted peace was the Hungarian prime minister, István Tisza, who insisted on giving Serbia a chance to respond to an ultimatum rather than (as everyone else wanted, and the Germans expected) invading immediately. Had they done the latter, there might well have been no wider war; the longer the delay, the more evident it was that any military action was not a hot-blooded response to intolerable provocation (which would have been understood, if deplored) but a cold-blooded use of the provocation to settle the Serbian problem once and for all (which in fact it was).

It should be borne in mind that nobody wanted a pan-European war; when the Germans gave Austria the famous "blank check" (support in advance for military action), they were expecting Austria to march in immediately, teach Serbia a lesson, and withdraw. And when Austria did invade, they certainly weren't expecting the Germans to almost immediately force them to withdraw from Serbia (their enemy) and use their troops against Russia (Germany's enemy). What a pity they couldn't have accepted their slow decline as a European power gracefully!
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on July 28, 2014


So is this thread dead already? Where are all the WWI fans??
posted by languagehat at 4:59 PM on July 28, 2014


A sinister conspiracy hidden within Serbian Intelligence decideced to silence it.

Also, the Kaiser's mustache.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:32 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


We've all been hastily packed onto a specially arranged German train to Sweden with aliases and fake mustaches, giving us time to prepare the April MeTas for next year.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:11 PM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


One thing I find fascinating about WWI is how it seems both completely inevitable, but at the same time the lead-up to the outbreak of war is so full of freakish coincidences and actions that are hard to understand. An example of a freakish coincidence (which MacMlllan goes into) is when the Russian ambassador to Serbia, a few days after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, keels over dead while visiting his Austrian colleague. It's almost certainly not crucial to the outbreak of the warm but it didn't help matters.

And I'm generally of the opinion that a major European war was nearly inevitable in the early part of the 20th Century. If it wasn't some damn foolish thing in the Balkans, it was some damn foolish thing in Marocco or between Russia and Turkey. There wasn't much of a peace faction in the government of any of the major powers in Europe. When everybody's pulling in one direction, it's hard to see how war wouldn't have broken out eventually.

Of course, then it's another question whether the war needed to take the form that it did. There were many points during the war when the stalemate could have been broken, but it didn't.
posted by Kattullus at 12:46 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, speaking of damn foolish things... has anyone come across a source for the Bismarck quote beyond 'he said it at the Congress of Berlin'?
posted by Kattullus at 12:50 AM on July 29, 2014


And I'm generally of the opinion that a major European war was nearly inevitable in the early part of the 20th Century. If it wasn't some damn foolish thing in the Balkans, it was some damn foolish thing in Marocco or between Russia and Turkey. There wasn't much of a peace faction in the government of any of the major powers in Europe. When everybody's pulling in one direction, it's hard to see how war wouldn't have broken out eventually.
posted by Kattullus at 2:46 AM on July 29

What I'm gleaning from Tuchman's book is that every country over there was preparing for war. Not just thinking that it might come but rather formulating and continually refining offensive and defensive plans. The French and the Germans just didn't trust one another at all, with good cause. Lots of bad blood between those two.

Tuchman wrote about the death in 1910 of Englands king Edward VII, called The Uncle of Europe because he was the uncle of the Kaiser in Germany and the Czar in Russia, and cousin to heads of many of Europes bickering kingdoms, major and minor. He was a steadying influence, a good player, brought England into pretty good position with all the other nation-states, and brought said nation-states into pretty good positions with each other. And then he was gone. Whoops.

Here's a bit that I never knew -- both Kaiser and Czar translated to "Caesar" which sortof gives a bit of a clue who these guys were, or at least thought that they were.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:54 AM on July 29, 2014


Englands king Edward VII, called The Uncle of Europe because he was the uncle of the Kaiser in Germany and the Czar in Russia

Fun quote I found on one of the BBC pages linked above - Kaiser Willhelm is reported to have said "Georgie and Nicky played me false. If my grandmother was alive, she never would have allowed it." (His grandmother being Queen Victoria, of course.)
posted by dnash at 7:25 AM on July 29, 2014


> There wasn't much of a peace faction in the government of any of the major powers in Europe.

This isn't even a little bit true. There were peace factions, important ones, in all of them (not, so far as I know, in Serbia, but that hardly counts as a major power). One of the problems for hawks like Conrad and Moltke was finding ways around the determined opposition of the peaceniks (whom they derided as "cowards"); they were thrilled when the Archduke (I originally typed "Archduck"!) was assassinated because he was a close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm, and they knew if they caught Wilhelm soon enough after he got the shocking news they could overcome his normally cautious, peace-loving nature and get him to sign off on supporting Austrian aggression (which is what happened). And a powerful peacenik like Tisza almost managed to derail the whole train of war preparation. It was touch and go, by no means "everybody pulling in one direction."
posted by languagehat at 9:30 AM on July 29, 2014


Well, it's perhaps a matter of semantics, but I think that the "cowards" weren't pacifists so much as people who didn't want war at any cost. Tisza, for instance, prevaricated on whether war was a good idea or not. There was no one in power who wanted peace at any cost, unlike, say, socialists.
posted by Kattullus at 9:43 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, well, then, I didn't understand you, sorry. It didn't occur to me you might have been talking about people who wanted peace at any cost, since such people are rare to nonexistent in all governments at all times, for obvious reasons.
posted by languagehat at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2014


I subscribed to the feed and I've been listening to a bunch of the podcasts since this post — and I'm finding them really uneven. The "Great War of Words" shows that I listened to were infuriatingly mealymouthed and exculpatory about the war's political causes (perhaps this should not have been surprising, given that the host, Michael Portillo, is a hardcore Thatcherite). The one episode of "At Home" that I've tried so far was just soporific. The "Woman's Hour," "Cultural Front," and "Minds at War" shows seem generally better, if sometimes tending toward either sentimentality or abstruseness. And so far I've liked "Free Thinking" the best — I really liked their take on John Buchan and the spy novel, though I suppose it was only very tangentially a WWI-history discussion.

More individual episode recommendations (and recommendations to skip) would be very welcome.
posted by RogerB at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2014


languagehat: It didn't occur to me you might have been talking about people who wanted peace at any cost, since such people are rare to nonexistent in all governments at all times, for obvious reasons.

Well, there's Switzerland. And many of the people involved in building what became the EU wanted peace in Western Europe at any cost.
posted by Kattullus at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2014


I thought I was claiming something fairly uncontroversial, that in a situation where you have an unbalanced set of views, the decision-making will tilt towards one side. There was a very strong war faction, and the most everyone else in government was willing to be persuaded. This seems to me to indicate that a great power war was very likely to break out in Europe at some point.
posted by Kattullus at 12:56 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Well, there's Switzerland. And many of the people involved in building what became the EU wanted peace in Western Europe at any cost.

Once again I'm not understanding you. It is clearly not the case that either the Swiss or the people involved in building what became the EU wanted peace at any cost; the Swiss are famous for violently resisting invaders (which is one reason they tend to be left alone), and the people involved in building what became the EU certainly did not want peace at the cost of (for a relevant instance) becoming Soviet vassals. People who want peace at any cost are hardcore pacifists; I'm one, but they're not common, and they're vanishingly rare in governments, for (as I said above) obvious reasons.

But "peace at any cost" is irrelevant to the start of WWI, because you didn't have to be a hardcore pacifist not to want all of Europe to go to war because of Austria's resentment of Serbia; in fact, very few of the significant members of governments wanted that, which is why those who did had to work so hard to take advantage of chance opportunities. Like I said.
posted by languagehat at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2014


I hope I'm not coming across as arguing too aggressively. It's just that I really hate the idea of historical inevitability, especially in connection with war and other horriblenesses. I think it's untenable philosophically (quantum uncertainty, the butterfly effect, etc.) and destructive in practice (there were generals who wanted to just go ahead and use nukes against the Soviet Union because it was going to happen anyway, so why not?). For examples of situations in which mass violence was supposedly inevitable, see the fall of communism in Europe and the end of apartheid. You never know.
posted by languagehat at 3:54 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, I shouldn't have used the phrase "nearly inevitable." I didn't mean to say that World War One as we know it was inevitable, but that conditions in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century were so favorable to an outbreak of war between the great powers that any number of things could have triggered it. Too many people in power were looking for any excuse to start a war.
posted by Kattullus at 5:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


> conditions in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century were so favorable to an outbreak of war between the great powers that any number of things could have triggered it.

Ah, well that's different—I don't think anyone could argue with that. I certainly can't.
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on July 29, 2014


Here's a paragraph from McMeekin's July 1914 that nicely sums up what I was saying about crowned heads:
Just at the moment when Russia's tsar was demanding that the kaiser do what he could to stop his Austrian ally from “going too far,” Willy was promising Nicky that he was “exerting his utmost influence” to do just that. Although neither sovereign was a man of strong will or keen intelligence, each did possess moral imagination. Both men clearly felt a grave responsibility about unleashing a war sure to kill thousands, if not millions,of their subjects. As that war loomed ever more closely on the horizon, Willy and Nicky were searching desperately for a way out. Were their sovereign authority as absolute in practice as it appeared on paper, they might even have succeeded.
posted by languagehat at 1:27 PM on July 30, 2014




Well, thanks. This post has sent me into an orgy of podcast-listening that has left me somewhat dazed and depressed. Whether war was inevitable or not, it's pretty clear that various people high in all the European governments were eager for war while pretty much no one had any idea of what that war would entail. The more disturbing thing to me is the way that at least some on each side (Falkenhayn for one) realized what the war was going to entail but were unwilling or unable to convince the top decision-makers that the war was essentially not winnable in normal sense (although Falkenhayn's "solution" to this particular problem made things worse rather than better).

Me? I blame Kattullus.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:21 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]




I have to say I find that a rather annoying essay. It seems to be saying modernism grew out of the war:
Among writers, World War I changed both the stories they told and how they told them. Artists in general left behind an extraordinary legacy of painting, music, literature and film and many of the defining achievements of a movement, Modernism, that challenged our very identities and raised questions still being asked today.
The only hint that the author is aware that modernism began before the war is the word "had" in this paragraph:
World War I was a severing of history, and a violation of logic, that justified the scepticism of Modernists who had questioned whether a book needed a beginning, middle and end, whether a song needed a melody, whether a picture needed to faithfully reproduce its subject — or even have a subject. James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and other Modernist authors rejected conventional narrative and grammar. Dadaist artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Hans Richter turned out jarring, surreal paintings, plays and sculptures that mirrored their feelings about the war, while composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg produced disjointed, “atonal” works.
Joyce published Dubliners in 1914; Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase was 1912; of the modern-art movements, Die Brücke was founded in 1905, Der Blaue Reiter in 1911; Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire was 1912, as was Berg's Five Songs on Picture Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg (premièred in Vienna, conducted by Schoenberg at the Skandalkonzert: "The audience, shocked by the expressionism and experimentalism of the Second Viennese School, began rioting, and the concert was ended prematurely"). The war wasn't responsible for modernism, it just pissed it off.
posted by languagehat at 12:27 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that modernism and the avant garde would've happened without World War I, but there are definitely forms of it that wouldn't have been created without it. If we look at individual works, for instance, Woolf would never have written Mrs. Dalloway if not for the war. On a wider level, I doubt that Dada would've happened without it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:49 PM on August 11, 2014


Oh, and on speaking of art in response to WWI. This isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in computer games and World War I, this is a very interesting podcast episode about The Last Express, one of the few computer games that has World War I as its setting. It specifically takes place from July 24th to July 27th, 1914.
posted by Kattullus at 12:55 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, I think that modernism and the avant garde would've happened without World War I

They did happen without the war. They were going strong, and would have been even better if so many of the artists and writers hadn't been killed in the fucking war, or sidetracked into things like Dada (which, enjoyable as it can be, is basically anti-modernist). The war not only derailed history, it derailed art as well. We'll never know what masterpieces might have been created without it.

Of course, as Joyce says:
Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam's hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death. They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass? Weave, weaver of the wind.
posted by languagehat at 1:28 PM on August 11, 2014


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