The Twelve Days:
Two Weeks in Europe's Fatal Summer, July 24 to August 04, 1914,
When the World was Plunged into the Blood and Horror of War
George Malcolm Thomson

Putnam, 1964
ISBN-10 1125866888
ISBN-13 978-1125866887
228 Pages

ThomsonThis is a fascinating account of how World War I actually started. Another little gem from the Used Military Book Room of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, but now, of course, long out of print and hard to find.

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Serbian nationalists while on a state visit to Sarajevo, the Serbian capital. On 24 July, in retaliation, Austria sent a humiliating ultimatum to Serbia. This book chronicles the events of following twelve days, ending with England's declaration of war on Germany on 04 August.

The book is filled with fascinating little insights into the personalities of the people involved, culled from memoirs and other contemporary accounts.

But the account of the twelve days would be sterile without an extensive prologue and epilogue. The prologue points out that all of the major powers in Europe had huge standing armies, in effect a powder keg waiting for a spark. And the tinder for the spark was the long-smouldering resentments left over from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. And the accelerant for the fire was the failure of the diplomacy of the day to foresee clearly what was coming and speak plainly.

And the epilogue points out that, once the conflagration was well and truly underway, almost all of the "old order" in all of the involved countries was gone by the end of the year. All that was left after that was almost four years of indescribable destruction and human annihilation that absolutely no-one foresaw.

And one of the little ironies was that, following Serbia's rejection of Austria's 24 July ultimatum, Austria did invade Serbia -- and was almost immediately defeated and sent packing. But by then the main event -- Germany, France, Russia and England -- was well underway, with absolutely no cognizance of how it all started!

And then when, with the aid of Thomson's epilogue, the reader sees how much Europe changed in the four years ending in November 1918, it is easy to understand why World War I was referred to as "The Great War".

Thomson also includes little vignettes on Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky and Lenin. All were active and/or involved during World War I, and it is interesting to contemplate how their lives played out leading up to World War II.

Written in a very articulate style, very easy to read, almost "old English" to the modern generation. It even uses sentences!!

There may be "better" accounts now, but for immediacy and insight into how it all went sideways and ended in catastrophe, I think this account is hard to beat. I commend this book to you.

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