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Wake up, August is anything but a sleepy month

Some of the biggest events in history have happened during the holidays, writes Amol Rajan

Every Thursday morning, I do a live chat with the brilliant Mick Coyle from Liverpool's CityTalk105.9, the best radio station in the North. We do a round-up of what's happening in Westminster, then look at a few big global stories. Yesterday, we shared delight in the fact that, even though it's August, there's plenty going on, not least the hacking scandal and Washington's kindergarten conniptions. This time last year, we mostly talked about cricket.

But why is that? Why do we all call August "silly season" and assume it's time to revisit the stories at the bottom of the news list, or reignite eccentric campaigns (the Daily Mail wants a pogrom of plastic bags). Sure, our political class flies away during school-holiday season. But I was struck by the evidence Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times produced this week to argue that, looking over modern history, it turns out to be an unusually busy month.

In August 1898, the Spanish-American war ended, with the latter nation winning. In August 1914, the First World War broke out. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed on 23 August 1939, which led to the invasion of Poland. A year later, the Blitz over London began. Four years after that, on 6 August 1945, the Americans bombed Hiroshima. Eight days later the Japanese surrendered, ending the war.

Two Augusts later, a nation was born as India gained independence from Britain. In August 1962 Marilyn Monroe died and Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for attempting to end apartheid. The following year saw Britain's Great Train Robbery. In August 1968 the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was crushed. Six Augusts later, Richard Nixon quit. Three after that, Elvis Presley died. In August 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait; a year later Mikhail Gorbachev was arrested, and the fall of the Soviet Union underway. In August 1997, Princess Diana died. Eight years later, Hurricane Katrina struck, and three years after that, Russia invaded Georgia.

Journalism, Phil Graham said, is the "first rough draft of history". In August, the draft tends to get rougher. But it often does so just when the opposite is required. Too many hacks are on holiday, just as the biggest stories tend to break. News editors and readers take heed.

On that note, see you in September.