I love reading and writing about times of transition. I’m not so sure that I would like to live in one.
Of course, the people who live through transitions may well have no idea that their world is changing. Take the latest budget crisis in the USA. I suspect that the activists in the original Boston Tea Party had a sense of change and that they wanted to drive that change. They succeeded, big-time, helping to create a new nation without the need to bend the knee to a monarch, a nation destined to be the greatest economic power in the world.
What an irony if the present day Tea Party would have initiated an equally seismic change. It is not just their political opponents who felt they were in danger of destabilising the American economy, maybe setting it on the path towards decline. All empires have trod this path and there is often no foretelling at the time which factors may start them on the road.
However, we have to go back less than a century to find one event where it seems astonishing that there was no such foresight. This was to prove an event which destroyed empires and peoples on an unprecedented scale, an event which has haunted the politics, imagination and soul of the continent.
On August 2 1914 the German Government conquered Luxembourg and signed a secret treaty with the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Empire invaded Germany. In a move which meant that Great Britain and eventually the USA joined the war, the German government sent an ultimatum to Belgium and Britain began to mobilise.
The First World War proved to be Europe’s suicide attempt.
It would never have the same wealth, power and influence again. Four empires would fall, two more would live on weakened and on borrowed time. Worse than that, the whole savage conflict would be replayed a generation later.
I will look tomorrow at the extent to which people thought they were living on a precipice and what those who suspected they were actually did at the time.