To read contemporaneous accounts of the beginning of World War I is to witness the disintegration of a world. The July 23 issue of The Nation doesn’t mention the European situation at all. The July 30 issue, apparently published just after the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia on July 28, observed that the entire continent seemed to be going mad all at once. Then a week later, Nation readers picking up the August 6 issue would have noticed a surprising bulge in the middle of the magazine: a massive four-page fold-out map of Europe in the first week of the Great War.
The first item in the Summary of the News in the issue expressed hope “for a speedy termination of the conflict and for a final settlement that may make it impossible for those few men who have brought about this calamity ever again to decide for nations the issues of life and death.” The magazine wished, that is, that if there had to be a war, it should be a war to end all wars.
After relating the timeline of the July crisis in all its unfortunate details, the editors reflected on the implications for the United States. Most remarkable is the complete absence of any suggestion that there would even become a debate about whether the Americans should get involved; the world of August 1914 was such that that contingency wasn’t even worth entertaining. In an item about the financial consequences, American isolation was taken for granted:
The part which the people at large will be called upon to play is to accept philosophically such temporary inconvenience as Europe’s troubles may occasion in their banking arrangements, and to recognize the great underlying strength and soundness of the American position. We shall presently learn what it really means to be a self-supporting industrial, agricultural, and commercial state, at a time when the rest of the world is going to war, and when the fighting nations must depend for their subsistence on the supplies of foodstuff which we are better able than ever before in our history to spare for them.
In its editorials section, the magazine laid the blame for war squarely upon Germany. “Her entrance into Luxembourg, her invasion of Belgium,” Rollo Ogden, editor of The Nation’s parent publication, The New York Evening-Post, wrote, “were the directest kind of challenge to England, and there was never any doubt as to how it would be answered. By this action Germany has shown herself ready to lift an outlaw hand against the whole of Western Europe…. By the light we have at present, this at least is clear, that if Emperor Willliam did not directly cause and desire the war, he at least failed to prevent it when it would have been easy for him to do so.”