Editor's Letter: 100 moments that capture the horror of the Great War

It’s the business of journalists to tell stories about the world as it was, is, and will be

Share

Morning all. A subject as vast, horrifying and contentious as the Great War of 1914-18 is a rare and big challenge for journalists. How to bring the events of a century ago to life and make them relevant for a modern audience? Does relevance even matter? And how to deal with the huge issues that academics still dispute today, such as how many casualties there were, and whether or not the whole conflict was pointless or avoidable? This week, we began to give our answer.

In yesterday’s paper we launched “A History of the Great War in 100 Moments”, a unique centenary series. On consecutive days – and including our sister paper The Independent on Sunday – we are publishing articles of varying lengths on a hundred pinpricks in time that capture something of the tragedy that unfolded after Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Sometimes, as in yesterday’s masterful essay by Boyd Tonkin, they will cover two pages; at other times they might be a much shorter article, or an excerpt from the archives, or perhaps a beautiful photograph.

The idea is that these moments each tell a tale, and together they form a narrative for the war as a whole. Of course such a narrative could never be complete. But it’s the business of journalists to tell stories about the world as it was, is, and will be; and I hope you find in these moments a story of the Great War that is compelling.

By the way, you’ll read acres of newsprint over coming months about parallels between 1914 and today (we’ll do a bit too). Some are indeed quite striking. China today, like Germany and to a lesser extent Russia in 1914, is an emerging power annoyed by the established hierarchy in world affairs, which uses nationalism to quell popular unrest and stifle true democracy.

Pax Americana, like the British Empire in 1914, is in retreat; the protectionism of a century ago has echoes in the response to a global financial crisis; and one particular region, the Middle East, is today a tinderbox of sectarian tensions, just as the Balkans were a century ago.

But to coin a phrase, a century is a long time in global affairs, and we should beware amateur historians – myself included! – using talk of parallels to flaunt academic knowledge they thought they had forgotten. The differences are infinitely starker, from the interconnectedness of the global economy today, to the fact that there are more big powers competing to be heard, like India, Brazil, and Indonesia. Nuclear weapons also make a new great war less likely.

Now there’s a cheering thought. Here’s another: a reliable mate at Paddy Power says back Prince de Beauchene at the National, at 20/1. Good luck with your bets, and have a great weekend.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman runs down the street  

Should wolf-whistling be reported to the Police? If you're Poppy Smart, then yes

Jane Merrick
 

Voices in Danger: How can we prevent journalists from being sexually assaulted in conflict zones?

Heather Blake
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence