I recently started reading The War in Outline by Liddell Hart, a history of WWI. (I don’t know why; I’m only a chapter deep and already thoroughly depressed). Anyway, as fan of concise writing, I was really impressed by Hart’s opening paragraphs, which are probably as deadpan and brief a description of the beginning of a war as you are likely to find:
On the morning of June 28th, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in the streets of obscure Serajevo by a young Slav nationalist. The assassination was the romantically emotional tool of a secret society of Serbian officers known as the “Black Hand.” The Archduke died at eleven o’clock.
So far as his dim lights allowed he was , and had dreamed of proving himself, the friend of the Slavs who had murdered him. His death was most welcome to the ruling body of Austrian officialdom. It gave them the opportunity of executing their own designs under the excuse of avenging the man whose accession to the throne they had feared. By crushing Serbia they hoped to cement the Austrian empire against the Slav movement within its borders, while establishing its ascendency in the Balkans. And in consolidating the empire each member of the ruling body had the hope of consolidating his own position.
At eleven o’clock on July 28th Austria declared was on Serbia, opening a war which engulfed all the great and most of the small peoples of the world.
P.S. Looking at Liddell’s Wikipedia page, I came across this gem:
During the planning for the Suez Crisis, Hart had been asked by Anthony Eden to submit plans for a campaign against Egypt. After his first four drafts were rejected for a combination of contradictory reasons, Hart was nettled and sent back the original when asked for a fifth version. Eden liked it this time; he called for Hart and patronizingly said; “Captain Liddell Hart, here I am at a critical moment in Britain’s history, arranging matters which might mean the life of the British Empire. And what happens? I ask you to do a simple military chore for me, and it takes you five attempts-plus my vigilance amid all my worries-before you get it right.” Hart replied, “But sir, it hasn’t taken five attempts. That version, which you now say is just what you wanted, is the original version.” According to Leonard Mosley, there was a nasty silence while the prime minister’s face reddened. Then he reached for an antique inkstand and, maddened, threw it at Hart. Hart sat still for a moment and then, with a tactician’s instinct for the devastating counterstrike, stood up, seized a wastepaper basket, and jammed it over Eden’s head.