When the lights went out over Europe
At 11 p.m. GMT 100 years ago today, Britain’s ultimatum to Germany — get out of Belgium by midnight — expired, and World War I was fully underway.
The British immediately declared war on the Germans, the day after France and Germany had declared war on one another.
British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was reported to have said the following, a phrase that still haunts after a century:
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Between 10-11 p.m. tonight in London, lights of some of the city’s most famous landmarks will be extinguished to begin the commemorations.
For more than 4-1/2 years, the carnage claimed more than 16 million lives. Britain lost between 700,000 and 888,000 men. Nearly 1.4 million French soldiers died, as did around half a million Italians and more than 115,000 Americans.
Russia suffered the most of any country, with between 1.7 million and 2.3 million military deaths, even though its participation ended in 1917 with the Bolshevik revolution.
On the Central Powers side, Germany suffered the heaviest losses, with 1.7 million to 2 million men killed; Austria-Hungary lost between 1.2 million to 1.5 million men in uniform; and the Ottoman Empire between 325,000 and 770,000.
Finding the Words
The poet Edward Hirsch discusses writing an elegy for his son: http://nyr.kr/1xAjgSO
“A person who’s only suffering can’t write a poem. There are choices to be made, and you need to be objective. I’m working, I’m making decisions, but it’s so red hot, thinking about his life and what he might regard as appropriate for someone else to know.”
Collage by Patrick Bremer