Today is the Glorious Twelfth: the opening of the grouse-shooting season. No, worry not: your tricky one is no hunter. But it’s an important date, with its own interesting moniker, “The Glorious”. Why? For me, it says so much about the British class system of days gone by – and not so long gone. Shooting for fun (not necessarily for food), house parties, the beaters, preparatory full English breakfast, stupid tweed, angular accents and class angst – and it is said the birds are not overly bright.

Anyway, t’was on my mind because it was on 12th August 1914 that Britain declared war on Austro-Hungary, bringing to ‘life’ a war which killed an entire generation of young men from all parts of society, changing Europe and Britain for ever.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated on June 28th, and Germany then supported Austro-Hungary in trying to deal with “the Serbian question” in the assassination’s aftermath. On 23rd July, they sent an ultimatum to Serbia, which was rejected and so on 28th July, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Russians quickly mobilised, and Germany declared war on Russia and then France. By traipsing through Belgium, Germany invaded its neutrality, giving Britain a reason to declare war.

We were all tumbling in – as countries and as individuals. White feathers for those eligible men who had not enlisted. Patriotism the name of the insane game. How different (in home-context only: the horrors in the field remain) it is for today’s soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, painfully conscious that the vast majority of us back home do not support them as they risk and give their lives in theatre, watch their marriages fall apart when they return home, and that for shorter and shorter periods between jobs.

And today we have just faced the real possibility of another war square on between Russia and Georgia. As I type, Russian operations have been called off. We’re in two wars now already. While domestic economic gloom refuses to break its staring competition with our great leaders, I think we in the UK and US may be safe. But how long is that?

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