Quotations: the unfolding war

These quotations about the unfolding war in 1914 have been compiled by Alpha History authors. They feature statements from contemporary figures, political leaders, military commanders, service personnel, anti-war campaigners and historians of World War I. We will update this page with new quotes from time to time. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact Alpha History.

“A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week, he thinks it was on Monday August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk and the lamps were being lit in the space below… My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life time.”
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary

“If I am asked what we are fighting for… I say we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed in defiance of international good faith, at the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering power.”
Herbert Asquith, British prime minister, August 1914

“Our duty is to go forward into this valley of the shadow of death with courage and faith – with courage to suffer, and faith in God and our country… We must stand together at this hour. On us of this generation has come the sharpest trial that has ever befallen our race. We have to uphold the honour of England by demeanour and deed… We are standing for justice, for law against arbitrary violence.”
The Daily Mail, August 1914

“This morning I met a young lady I knew and I was almost ashamed to let her see me in civilian clothes.”
Unnamed German soldier, August 1914

“The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action.”
US president Woodrow Wilson, August 1914

“Should the worst happen Australia would rally to the Mother Country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling”
Andrew Fisher, Australian politician, August 1914

“Once blood is shed in a national quarrel reason and right are swept aside by the rage of angry men.”
David Lloyd George, British prime minister

“The first month of the war resembled a month-long patriotic festival. In the first three weeks of August, Germans said goodbye to their troops, smothering them with flowers and so much chocolate that the Red Cross asked the people to be less generous: the soldiers were getting sick… The national flag flew everywhere, even in the courtyards of Berlin’s working-class apartment houses, where it had never been seen before. Journalists, politicians and government officials contributed to this aura by employing a religious vocabulary… the ‘war enthusiasm’ was a ‘holy moment’, a ‘holy flame of anger’, ‘heroic’, a ‘revelation’; it had brought forth a ‘rebirth through war’.”
Jeffrey Verhey, historian

“The belief in war as a test of national power and a proof of national superiority added a scientific base to the cult of patriotism… In Britain, a real effort was made to teach boys that success in war depended upon the patriotism and military spirit of the nation, and that preparation for war would strengthen ‘manly virtue’ and ‘patriotic ardour’.”
Zara Steiner, historian

“[The people of Louvain] were remorselessly shot down by the guards. They drove the women and children into the fields, perpetrating upon them atrocities which cannot be detailed in cold print. They then bombarded the city and destroyed the best part of it in a few hours… Germans have been systematically taught by their military to be ruthless to the weak. The Kaiser, a single word from whom would have stopped this riot of savagery, has on the contrary done his best to kindle the lowest passions of his men.”
The Daily Mail, September 1914


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