No, it won’t all be over by Christmas

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 18, 2023
john-rogers-cox-gray-and-gold.jpg
John Rogers Cox painted Gray and Gold shortly after the US joined the Second World War and its thought to symbolise the dark overtones of a time when fascism was spreading in Europe and Asia

Exactly 109 years and five months ago, one of the most popular sayings was “It’ll all be over by Christmas”.

That was in reference to the conflict we now know as the First World War. It kicked off properly on July 28, 1914, one month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassin was a Bosnian Serb and blaming Serbia, Austria-Hungary declared war on July 28. The Russians came into the equation to defend Serbia. By the first week of August, Germany, France and Britain were drawn in and by November, so was the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, around this time of year, the Western Front – another phrase we know so well from the film that portrayed the brutality of war – ran from the English Channel to Switzerland.

The madness wouldn’t end until November 1918 and by then 20 million were dead.

But at the start, the opinion in many capitals – London, Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg and elsewhere – was that it would all be over by Christmas. The received wisdom was that five months was long enough to prosecute a war. And the reasoning was that there had been no long and big conflicts in the century since the fall of Napoleon.

We all know what happened next.

Fast forward to 2023 and with several wars underway, it’s striking how little we hear the phrase “It’ll all be over by Christmas”.

Think about it. No one seriously expects Ukraine’s struggle for sovereignty to be over. For Israel to stop pounding Gaza. For Sudan’s warring generals to stop fighting.

In fact, the latest edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’s annual Armed Conflict Survey hasn’t suggested that peace will break out any time soon, anywhere. And it lists more conflicts than in the past three decades, which makes 2023 an awfully belligerent year.

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