“We had traveled from the Atlantic to the Bosphorus in just a few days. The railway brought together the most distant pieces of Europe. Distance didn’t matter anymore. Anything seemed possible. All we had to do was just wish for it enough. As children, we were thrilled by the rush of speed the new technologies gave us. The future was within our grasp. It seemed so bright, but we had no idea just how shaky the foundations of that future were. Not until the summer of 1914.” (From 14: Diaries of the Great War)
105 years ago today, a sickly teenager fired two bullets on a street in Sarajevo and in doing so, changed the world. That summer, Europe found itself swept up in an enthusiastic embrace of a coming conflict, one that would usher in a new and more terrifying age. To understand the modern world, one must understand this great calamity of the early 20th Century and the peace which followed. So how does one do that? You can spend a lifetime reading, of course, and you should read as many books about the Great War as you can. You can also enjoy a splendid documentary series.
14: Diaries of the Great War is hands down the best documentary series I’ve ever seen on any subject. It is done in a docudrama style, wherein you have a narrator, but also actors who play historical roles and voice their own lines in their own languages. (It is subtitled/dubbed for the non_English parts). This is not a story about kings, prime ministers, and generals. It is the story of everyday people rather like ourselves caught up in the war. All statements attributed to them are directly from letters or diaries they left behind. It covers the Western and Eastern Fronts and also the Russian Revolution. Sadly, the campaigns in Sub-Saharan Africa are not included but that is the only criticism I can levy. Some of the characters are soldiers. Others are civilians. They range in age from children to the middle aged. This is nine hours of your life that you won’t mind spending with a documentary. I assure you that.
Now the bad news. It was on Netflix for a few years, but they pulled it a while back. It has never been released on DVD in the United States, and is unavailable on Amazon. If you have an all region DVD player as I do, you can find it on Ebay. My copy is an Australian DVD release if memory serves me. So why I am telling you about it if it is so hard to find. Well, Dear Reader, you can watch it here, though for how long I cannot say. Why not take the time to give it a watch this weekend? You’ll be spellbound, amazed even. That I can tell you.
If you prefer books to television (and honestly, who doesn’t?), many of the people quoted in this documentary can be found in what is one of my favorite World War One books, The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War by Peter Englund.
So there you have it, Dear Reader.