Facing 2014 with Trepidationtags: World War I
Adam Gopnik has been writing for The New Yorker since 1986.
We make the turn toward the new year this January with trepidation. Well, we make the turn toward every new year with trepidation, but added to the anticipatory jumps this year are what might be called the retrospective willies. You don’t have to have a very enlarged sense of history to remember what happened last time Western Civilization sped around the corner from ’13 to ’14. Not so good. The year 1913 had been full of rumbling energy and matchless artistic accomplishment—Proust kicking off, the Cubists kicking back, Stravinsky kicking out—and then, within a few months, the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the troop trains were running and, pretty soon, the whole positive and optimistic and progressive culture was on its way to committing suicide. The Great War left more than ten million Europeans dead and a civilization in ruins (and presaged a still worse war to come). Naturally, a lot of people, staring at this year’s tea leaves—at rising new powers and frightened old ones—are searching for parallels between that ’14 and this one, and finding them. In the Times recently, the historian Margaret MacMillan pointed out a few, clustering around the folly of “toxic nationalisms” that draw big powers into smaller local disputes, with the Russians trying to play a better hand today in Syria than they played in Serbia a century ago....
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