For the Fallen Jun28


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For the Fallen

One hundred years ago today, Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated while visiting Sarajevo by a nineteen year-old Gavrilo Princip, a member of the nationalist group Young Bosnia.

I found two relatively unknown aspects of that day intriguing. First, while the assassination had been planned in advance to be carried out by six nationalists and was funded by a secret Serbian military society, it ended up as something of a tragic comedy of errors. The first assassin threw a grenade at the Archduke’s car and missed, harming instead those in the car behind and innocent by-standers. Alerted to the threat, the Archduke’s car moved quickly past each of the other assassins and none of them got off even a shot. Later in the day, the Archduke and his wife insisted on visiting those who had been harmed by the bomb at the local hospital to which they had been taken. On the way back to the governor’s mansion, their driver got lost and happened to stall in a side-street while turning around. Sitting at a café on that street was one of the dejected assassins, Princip, who seized his opportunity and shot and killed both the Archduke and his wife.

Second, while widely hailed as the event that started World War I, it would be more accurate to say it was the event used as the pretext for the war. Ferdinand was hardly a popular person in his home country and reports of his assassination were met with little interest. But in Sarajevo, Austrian officials used the occasion to encourage anti-Serbia riots, and violence against Serbians spread to other cities throughout the Austria-Hungarian empire. Diplomats on all sides met throughout July that ended with an ultimatum to Serbia that consisted of ten demands that were widely considered impossible for Serbia to agree to. When only eight of the demands were met, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28. Little more than a month after that, Russia was pulled into the war on the side of Serbia and Germany entered in favor Austria-Hungary. Germany soon invaded Luxemborg, and declared war on France and Belgium as well. England joined the conflict soon after to counter German offensives.

By the end of the war, fifteen million perished. Because of the immense carnage, the brutality of the warfare, and its widespread effects throughout Europe and the world, people called it “the Great War” and “the War to End All Wars,” but of course that wasn’t the case. It’s harshly punitive treaty set the stage, in fact, for the next world conflict.

To mark this day, the war it contributed to, and the lessons we failed to learn, I’m posting a poem by English poet Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) published on September 21, 1914, near the outset of Britain’s involvement. The fourth stanza, which Binyon later said was where the poem began for him, contain its most famous lines and still exerts its haunting power today. As you read it, perhaps take a moment to pause in remembrance of those fallen and a prayer that we learn to study war no more.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Robert Binyon, 1914.