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Price of August naps: history's rudest awakenings

Stay alert, stay alive – especially in August, when Washington and much of Europe are on autopilot.

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The world sometimes falls asleep in August. And when it wakes in September it sorely rues the nap. Some of the most consequential events in modern Western history happened in August. Yet many people still think “not much happens” this month.

It’s understandable. Most of Washington, including Congress, is on vacation in August. So is nearly all of Europe. It’s tempting for the centers of power to go on autopilot. And this has sometimes proved to be ruinous.

World War I

In August 1914, people were dancing in the streets in Britain and France, rejoicing that their countries were about to go to war with the Central Powers: Germany and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. France, Britain, and Belgium were taking on the Kaiser’s army on the Western Front. In the east, Germany was invading Russia. The opening battles of World War I, the most disastrous conflict in history to that point, were fought in the eighth month of 1914.

Today, it is inconceivable that Europeans celebrated the outbreak of war. What followed was so catastrophic it reshaped the world for the rest of the century. After the 1918 truce, lasting but 27 years, the world again fell asleep at the switch in August 1939 when Adolf Hitler was mobilizing his army to invade Poland, igniting World War II.

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