The lessons of 1914 are in truth hard to sort out; their glare blinds the eyes. That "innocence" of which Larkin spoke is not to be equated with purity. It was ignorance -- blindness to human limitations, and to the consequences of stupidity and inhumanity. It was human malice (the execution of hostages, the destruction of homes and churches and libraries, slaughter as a goal. We possibly didn't think we were capable of it, we humans. No, no, not in the sanitized, purified, electrified 20th century, held together by science and rationality! We proved more than capable. We did it. We all -- by virtue of our membership in the human fraternity -- did it. And keep on doing it.
Much more than, "Who started the war in 1914?" that is the question we could profitably focus on in 2014 -- "Who are we, as opposed to who we would like to imagine we are?" Are we nuts? Human character is more fittingly under the microscope than are the acts and operations of humans who in a time not so long ago wore crowns and plumed hats as if every knob, every feather infused their minds with Right Knowledge.
The continuing imperfections of the human race are the headline story of 1914, not how one grossly imperfect Serb lurched up to a car in Sarajevo, killing two innocent people. The world of 2014 is saddled with the same encumbrances as the old one -- gluttony, pride, anger, lust and such like: just not so well-dressed, so well-perfumed. We might learn something by looking around. That is, if we could for a moment take our eyes off our own allure, our science and soaring landmarks, suspending the fateful certainty that any gods are still hovering out there, fine -- we just don't require their services.