Letter From New York August 5, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun is playing hide and seek, darting in and out from behind clouds, a day that is both dark and bright, mood changing by the minute. The creek flows by, clear and steady; in a southeasterly direction, which I was informed yesterday, was very good feng shui. I’m pleased to hear that; we all need as much good feng shui as we can manage to find.

I didn’t realize it until I was scanning the headlines from the New York Times on my iPhone while having my first cup of coffee but yesterday was the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war that was to end all wars. Which, of course, it didn’t. It was merely a prelude to that greater catastrophe, World War II.

A century ago and we are still reaping the effects of that whirlwind.

The Russian Tsar was toppled in 1917 and, with his family, assassinated in 1918. Out of the ashes of the Russian Empire grew a very brief democratic government that gave way to the Soviet Empire. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, rolled into exile in the Netherlands on a private train where he remained for the rest of his life. The last Austrian-Hungarian Emperor abdicated. The last Ottoman Sultan got the boot in 1922.

Borders were remade.

The Ottoman Sultan decided to side with Germany and Austria-Hungary, which was not a wise decision. When the war ended, his Empire was carved away. The British chopped up the Ottoman Empire for their own purposes. The British did a lot of that, doing things for their own purposes. The sun had not yet set on the British Empire. It took World War II to finish that off.

Iraq was not Iraq before the end of World War I; it was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Jordan was born out of the great carve up of the old Ottoman Empire as was Syria.

Germany lost territory and a swath of Poland cut the country into East and West. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire was no longer an empire. Austria and Hungary became separate countries. A new country called Yugoslavia was created, as was Czechoslovakia.

The new Soviet Empire was diminished from what the old Russian Empire had been; new countries arose out of the demise of the old Tsarist domain. The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were no longer subservient to Russia. Finland was no longer a Russian Grand Duchy, declaring its independence.

After the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine, America began to lean toward the Allies, entering the war in 1917. Its role in helping win the war established America as a global power and manufacturing powerhouse. It was the beginning of the American century.

Many of the best and the brightest of a generation of Europeans died during that war. The ones who survived wrote some of the greatest war stories ever told. Hemingway gave us A FAREWELL TO ARMS and Erich Maria Remarque gave us ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. F. Scott Fitzgerald became the chronicler of “The Lost Generation.” The war years were followed by the Roaring 20’s, a grand party partly fueled by a need to find distance from the horrors that had been.

World War I gave us modern warfare: tanks, gas, war planes. It wasn’t the War to End All Wars but it set the tone for all wars to follow. It gave new meaning to the horror of war. The great players in the Second World War all were present during the First War. Hitler was formed in the trenches of World War I. Churchill’s role in the catastrophe of Gallipoli marred his reputation, only fully redeemed by World War II. Stalin was formed in the crucible of the war and the subsequent Russian Revolution. Roosevelt had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy and itched to have a military command, a hope blunted by Armistice.

It was a century ago. But it seems so much of now started there, a remaking of the world order that we are still sorting out.

 

 

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One Response to “Letter From New York August 5, 2014”

  1. elizabeth a. presseller mische Says:

    did you have relatives that lived in mn? in the early 1900’s?

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