Ah, sleepy, quiet August. A month filled with beach time, escapist novels, ice-cream cones and big, smash-‘em-up popcorn blockbusters. It’s a time when many Americans — including our president and members of Congress — check out of their regular routines, at least for a little while, to savor warm breezes, cool lemonade and relative peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world has never treated August in the same sink-your-toes-in-the-sand kind of way.
The eighth month of the year has quite a reputation for springing the unpredictable, consequential and violent on us when we least expect it.
The term “guns of August” originated with the outbreak of World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, set into motion a chain of events that led to the mobilization of the German empire on July 30, the French on Aug. 1, and Germany’s declaration of war on Russia the same day. Over the next four weeks, the Continent quickly plunged into an epic bloodbath, which would last another four years but whose parameters were largely set during that first dark month.
World War I was so horrific that President Wilson wishfully called it “the war to end all wars.” Of course, the next global massacre erupted just 20 years later, when Adolf Hitler spent the month of August 1939 preparing the Nazi invasion of Poland, which he executed on Sept. 1.
Five years later, on Aug. 1, 1944, the Poles began a revolt against their sadistic Nazi oppressors. Led by the Home Army — commanded by Poland’s government-in-exile in London — the uprising used 50,000 fighters deployed secretly in and around Warsaw. The poorly armed Home Army fought the superior Nazi forces street by street and suffered huge losses: Eighteen thousand Polish fighters were killed, along with 200,000 Polish civilians. After 63 days of fierce combat, the Home Army gave way, the Nazis expelled the remaining 500,000 Warsaw residents, and then they razed the city.
More recently, August has seen dastardly deeds carried out by modern-day tyrants.
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, where his forces violently made themselves at home. Months of diplomatic wrangling and payoffs followed, resulting in the international coalition that presented Saddam with an ultimatum: Quit Kuwait or face forcible removal. He called President George H.W. Bush’s bluff, and that was the end of Iraq’s adventure in Kuwait, though not without American casualties: 148 killed in action, 458 wounded and one missing in action. He was Navy pilot Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher, whose plane was shot down on the first day of the war and whose remains were identified this week by the Pentagon after being located by the Marines in Anbar province.
The following year also featured a happening August. On Aug. 19, 1991, hard-line communist forces overthrew Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and placed him under house arrest at his dacha in the Crimea.
It was a half-baked coup, however, because the disorganized hard-liners had no plan of action beyond throwing the cuffs on Mr. Gorbachev, who returned to power several days later. Nevertheless, it did give an up-and-coming politician named Boris Yeltsin a chance to grab the nation’s imagination by climbing atop a tank and demanding that the army not turn against the people. By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union was in full disintegration and soon thereafter, nonexistent.
Last August, another Russian leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, channeled his predecessors and launched an old-school invasion of one of Moscow’s neighbors, Georgia. It was a complicated conflict involving two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but moreover, it involved Russia’s deep concern over Georgia’s desire to enter NATO. Georgia, under President Mikheil Saakashvili, was moving away from the Russian orbit. War erupted on their common border, and Russia quickly prevailed. Although the immediate crisis was defused, tensions remain high, and this week, some Russian troops re-entered Georgia.
As for this August, the guns continue to fire in Afghanistan. July was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops since the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban began in 2001, and the violent trend continues this month, with nine NATO coalition forces killed in action — including six U.S. soldiers — in the first 60 hours.
The Taliban’s tactic is the same one used by extremist forces in Iraq from 2004 to 2007: Carry out terrorist killings of U.S. and coalition troops to undermine support for the mission in their home countries. It hobbled President George W. Bush in Iraq, and he was an interventionist. Imagine the effect it’s having on a new president obsessed with domestic affairs and shy of military conflict anywhere.
Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the humidity, but the guns of August rarely fall silent. If history is any indication, this August may be long and steamy, but it won’t be calm. We yearn for tranquillity and peace this month, but the world usually has other plans.
Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.