A Decade Like No Other, 1911-1920; Volume I: Countdown to Catastrophe, 1911-1914: A Monthly Narrative of the News of the World in the Second Decade of the Twentieth Century [Cross]


We know now that the Great War started in the summer of 1914, and that it changed the world forever. In 1911, our grandparents and great grandparents were still living in a nineteenth century world, a world of wars and revolutions, despotic governments, assassinations, poverty, disease, economic disparity and amazing technological advances, but a world blissfully unaware of the horrors the future held in store.

In this narrative I will follow world events as they happened, month by month, from a more or less arbitrary beginning date of September 1911 through the approach of the Great War, the War itself, and its immediate aftermath in Paris and Washington, where President Wilson failed to achieve Senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. This is the first of three planned volumes, covering the years leading up to the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914. The second will cover the years of American neutrality, and the third the years from American entry into the war through the armistice and the creation of a postwar world.

I originally wrote about these events in a blog posted every month starting in September 2011 and continuing through the years of the First World War centennial observations, writing as if I were reporting the events as they occurred in real time a hundred years earlier. I invite the reader of this narrative to do the same. As we do so, we are of course aware of the subsequent history of the world (from our perspective of a hundred years later), and will necessarily view what happened then through the prism of what came after. As we follow the story, however, we can try to put ourselves in the shoes of people who lived at the time, who reported and reacted to the news of the day and made their decisions, political and otherwise, with an eye on the future but without knowing for sure what the future will bring or how the events they were living through might affect that future. Most narrative histories, even as they follow a generally chronological structure, are organized thematically, and for good reason. The best way to tell a story is to choose a theme and stick with it. But this chronological organization is meant to encourage us to experience history as the people who lived it did -- day by day, month by month, with many things are happening all over the world, maybe related or maybe not, but all happening more or less at the same time and all affecting the lives of the people who experienced them. At any given moment in time, people were necessarily processing information about not only what was happening in the White House or Congress, but also what was happening at the same time in Parliament or the Reichstag, in Mexico or Japan, on the battlefields of the Balkans or North Africa, on the streets of Petrograd or athletic fields or Broadway stages. By adopting this chronological month-by-month format, I hope to provide a somewhat different perspective and perhaps improve our understanding of this seminal period of history.