Category: WWrite articles main
Images from top left: Wilfred Owen, a photo from the Battle of the Somme, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, and Gavrilo Princip
Written exclusively for the WWrite Blog! WWrite asked Donald Anderson, Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at the United States Air Force Academy, to write a post about WWI for the blog. A few days later, he sent the following original piece, entitled "How Do Wars Begin?" A unique mix of poetry, prose, fiction, and history, "How Do Wars Begin?", brings together British poet Wilfred Owen, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the Archduke's assassin, Princip, bombs, and an expired cyanide pill to put into question not only the origins of WWI but of all contemporary conflicts:
How Do Wars Begin?
Today’s newspaper: Wilfred Owen died on Armistice Day 1918, the last day of the war.
Actually, Owen’s parents were informed of his death on Armistice Day. Owen had died the week before.
The newspaper is running the story in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria—the act that starts the war.
Turns out that the assassin is one of nine children, six of whom had died in infancy. The newspaper reports a celebration in Sarajevo where the assassin, Princip, is treated as hero.
In truth, it was Princip’s accomplice who first tosses the bomb—a kind of grenade—at the motorcade. The bomb is deflected by the Archduke—hitting him in the arm. The Archduke is in an open car, so as to wave at his non-Austrian minions. The deflected bomb explodes late, missing the Archduke’s car all together. Hard not to see it as a kind of cartoon: the Duke in a tallish hat with a lavender plume and the bomb a black ball with a visible fuse lit. Right? So here’s the rest: the bomb thrower swallows a cyanide pill, then leaps into the nearby river. The cyanide pill, though, is expired, and the river that time of year is four inches deep.
The Duke—ever paternal—drives to the hospital to visit the injured victims of the car that actually caught the bomb. Big mistake, because Princip happens to be on the sidewalk when the Duke’s driver takes a wrong turn. The Serb had been in a sandwich shop. While the driver is backing up, Princip shoots the Duke and then the wife when she tries to shield her royal hubby.
What if the Serb hadn’t been hungry?
This is what starts the war: a mis-thrown bomb, a wrong turn in a car, bad cyanide, child non-mortality, lunchtime? Austria takes a hard line against Serbia and other powers in Europe choose sides. Within 30 days, a half-assed squabble between Austria and Serbia transforms into the first great modern war.
At the 100-year assassination site celebration, someone calculated that to hold a second of silence for every person killed in WWI in Europe that the attendees would have to stand mute for about two years.
And this: Princip’s cyanide pill was expired too.
Anderson's books: Below Freezing, When War Becomes Personal, Fire Road, and Aftermath
Donald Anderson, who served 22 years in the US Air Force, was born in Butte, Montana in 1946. His fiction and essays have appeared in The North American Review, Fiction International, Epoch, PRISM international, Western Humanities Review, Columbia, Michigan Quarterly Review, Connecticut Review, and elsewhere. Since 1989, he’s been Editor of War, Literature & the Arts: an international journal of the humanities. He’s editor, too, of Aftermath: An Anthology of Post-Vietnam Fiction (Henry Holt, 1995), Andre Dubus: Tributes (Xavier University Press, 2001), and When War Becomes Personal: Soldiers' Accounts from the Civil War to Iraq (University of Iowa Press, 2008). His story "Fire Road" was awarded First Place in the Society for the Study of the Short Story 2000 Contest, and the collection Fire Road won Iowa's 2001 John Simmons Short Fiction award. His essay “Gathering Noise” was named a “Notable Essay of 2012” in the 2013 edition of The Best American Essays. His essay "Rock Salt" was listed in 2008 and his essay "Luck" was listed in 1999. In 1996, he received a Creative Writers’ Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds an MFA from Cornell University. A former Air Force officer, he now lives in Colorado, where he directs creative writing at the United States Air Force Academy. His most recent book, Gathering Noise from My Life: A Camouflaged Memoir, was named by the Christian Science Monitor as one of “12 Electrifying Memoirs” appearing in 2012.