Friday, 27 June 2014

World War One in a Nutshell

100 years ago today someone was shot in Sarajevo. Four years and 16 million killings later, the Armistice was signed and World War One ended.

The two events, of course, are causally connected. But how? Why did the death of the heir to the Austrian Empire lead to World War? If you've ever pondered on such things, and if you're knowledge of the facts is hazy, here's my brief guide to the Great War.

1. Bosnia, 100 years ago today, was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the assassination was part of a campaign for independence;

2. Austria was a long-standing ally of Germany and when it finally got round to responding to the events in Sarajevo, it made sure it did so with Germany's complete support (the so-called 'blank cheque);

3. The problem was the Russians. Both Austria and Germany feared Russian involvement in any fighting in Serbia, and they were right.

4. On August in response to Austria's declaration of war on Serbia (basically, punishment for the assassination of the heir to the throne) Russia mobilised its army;

5. This meant France was now committed thanks to a mutual assistance treaty with Russia to fight against Germany;

6. Which led to the enactment of the Schleiffen Plan by Germany - invading France through Belgium and having a pop at the Russians through Poland.

Which is basically where World War One begins. See? It's not really that difficult is it? Meanwhile, over in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary was indeed fighting in Serbia, the Turks became involved and the Italians, Bulgarians too ultimately and the whole thing went to hell.

Monday, 2 June 2014

On this day

June 2nd 1840, Thomas Hardy was born. 

Musician, poet, architect, novelist, in that order, Thomas Hardy must surely rank as one of this country's greatest men. But why? His novels are wonderfully crafted social observations, historical records and moral commentaries but then, so are many others. His poems - a vast body of sometimes variable work - are immediate and memorable, original and musical. But others are equally good. His architecture? I can't comment on his skill as an architect though I can be pretty certain that he must have been a more than useful musician, given what regular duties he and other members of the Hardy family undertook.

More than anything, perhaps, is Hardy's immense influence on other writers: and what he most consistently speaks to fellow authors is the importance of honesty. Hardy is always honest, uncomfortably so at times, and his style and idiom are as honest as his themes and his subjects. 

That, probably more than anything else, is the true mark of greatness. It sounds easy doesn't it? But making great art out of honesty... that's another story!