My cousin serves at the U.S. Embassy in Serbia. When he visited this summer, he said he was surprised that there were no World War I events here. “There’re all sorts of remembrances all over Europe,” he said. These include exhibits, educational events and repairs to war memorials and cemeteries.
It’s true that today — July 28 — is the centennial of the start of what H.G. Wells called “The War to End War.” On July 28, 1914 that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in retaliation for the assassination, a month earlier, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, by Serbian nationals. The archduke was heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Before the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, more than 15 million had died on all sides, with 30 to 33 million — soldiers and civilians — wounded. The face of Europe was changed forever. So was the face of war.
Today, July 28, 2014, the German Catholic bishops acknowledged the shared guilt of churches for the conflict. “We know today that many people, including those high up in the church, brought guilt upon themselves, failing in the national blindness to perceive the suffering of the war’s victims, and realizing too late the consequences of absolute loyalty to their respective nations,” the German bishops’ conference said in a story reported by Catholic News Service.
I must admit that my cousin is right; I haven’t seen too many commemorations here. But after some research, I think I might know why: On Aug. 4, 1914, the United States declared itself neutral in the increasing conflict. It was not until April 6, 1917, that America declared war against Germany and entered the fray. Perhaps between now and April 6, 2017, churches in the United States will offer commemorations of our own “lest we forget” the horror that is war.