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Thursday, May 22, 2014 A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by GJ Meyer

Today's selection -- from A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer. World leaders in 1914 did not understand how powerful their armies had become and how much destruction they would cause. In the centuries before the 1800s, world population had grown at a snail's pace. But between 1870 and the beginning of the first World War, the population of Europe had increased by 100,000,000, more than the total world population before 1650, the result of a technological revolution that improved life spans. But this technological revolution also produced unprecedented weaponry, and thus World War I unleashed destruction that would kill 8.5 million and wound in excess of 20 million more, many times the casualties of all the Napoleonic wars combined. As the war started, a young and naive Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, could not contain his excitement:
"Russia's general mobilization ... called up the Russian reserves -- a staggering total of four million men, enough to frighten any nation on earth. ...

"This was war on a truly new scale; the army with which Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had totaled sixty thousand men. ...
"The Germans ... hauled into Belgium ... two new kinds of monster artillery: 305 Skoda siege mortars ... plus an almost unimaginably huge 420 howitzer ... produced by Germany's Krupp steelworks, [that] weighed seventy-five tons and had to be transported by rail in five sections and set in concrete before going into action.

Austro-Hungarian 30.5 cm siege mortar/howitzer being towed by a motor tractor, together with its complete crew"Among the holders of high office, one man at least did not share the sense of glum foreboding: the ebullient ... young Winston Churchill ... he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith's wife ... 'I love this war. I know it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet -- I can't help it -- I enjoy every second of it.' "

Arial view of the Douaumont French military cemetery, which contains remains of French and German soldiers who died during the Battle of Verdun in 1916

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

Author: G.J. Meyer

Publisher: Delacorte Press a division of Random House

Copyright 2006 by G.J. Meyer

Pages 74, 77, 127, 133

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