The Moron's Weekend Briefing

Jul. 26 - In my first book, The Five-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics: Great Books for the Short Attention Span, I observed with characteristic stupidity that by the turn of the previous century, "the nations of western civilization had woven themselves into a tight and complicated knot of treaties designed to prevent the kind of widespread military conflagration that had plagued Europe at regular intervals since the French Revolution. Sadly, these were weak treaties, many of them having been written on the backs of cocktail napkins or matchbook covers, and pretty much everyone knew that sooner or later it was all going to blow up in their faces."

On a sweltering July 28, 1914, it did just that. That was the day on which, still reeling from the recent assassination of their Archduck Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Because Russia was a Slavic nation, like Serbia, Czar Nicholas II sent a few troops toward Austria the very next day, hoping either that Austria-Hungary would become nervous and back off or that the Russian troops would loot someone else for a change.

But it was hot, people were angry, and Austria wasn't in any mood to back off. If anything, they were feeling a little pissy: a day later, they sent some troops of their own toward Russia.

The Russian Czar was unaccustomed to this kind of confrontational behavior. His self-esteem in tatters, he mobilized the entire Imperial Army against Austria and began calling himself Tsar.

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany observed the Russian mobilization with unease. The Slavs of Russia considered the Slavs of Serbia their blood cousins, but the Germans and Austrians were closer still. Like brothers. Like twin brothers (fraternal, not identical). The Emperor dashed off a note to his friend the Tsar (formerly the Czar), asking if maybe Russia wouldn't mind calling her troops back in, say, the next twenty-four hours or else. He sent another little note to France, asking if they wouldn't mind promising to keep their noses out of certain other peoples' business, if certain other people should happen to go to war within the next, say, eighteen hours.

Neither Russia nor France offered any reply to the Emperor's little notes, and his feelings were understandably hurt. He mobilized his own army, declared war against Russia on August 1, against France on August 3, and started calling himself Kaiser.

To reach France, the Germans had to cross through Belgium. Belgium expressed its sincere desire not to be crossed. This was unreasonable, so the Germans began killing Belgians on the night of August 3.

Britain, meanwhile, didn't care about Serbia. Britain didn't care about Russia. And Britain certainly didn't care who attacked France--it had been their own national sport for centuries. But they had foolishly pledged their support to unreasonable little Belgium, and had no choice but to declare war on Germany on August 4.

On the same day, the United States declared its reluctance to become involved in the European conflict until it had a better idea who'd win.

Austria, meanwhile, had been touched by the fervor with which Germany had come to her defense--and by the rapidity with which Russian troops were advancing toward both of them. Emperor Franz Josef declared war against Russia on August 5.

Serbia, already being pounded by Austria, declared war against Germany on August 6. Montenegro considered this bold and dashing, and wanted a piece of the action: she declared wa