August is bloody and dangerous, but rarely "silly"


Andrew Roberts is a British historian and journalist. His public commentary appears in periodicals such as the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.

At least this August is not going to be dubbed “the Silly Season”. No one is going to find anything remotely “silly” about armed police on the streetsinterest rates cut to their lowest level since 1694, Donald Trump threatening not to stand by America’s Nato commitments, and the threat of Chinese economic retaliation over Hinckley Point nuclear reactor. The astonishing thing is that August was ever considered silly in the first place, since year after year it has been the month when great and often terrible events have taken place, and it should therefore be the very last time of the year that newspapers are filled with jokey, lightweight stories about surfing hamsters and “Man Bites Dog”.

Consider the evidence: the First World War broke out in August 1914, and 25 years later in the same month Adolf Hitler gave the order to invade Poland (late on 31 August 1939, after originally planning the invasion for 25 August). Hitler loved August; it was the month when President Hindenburg died in 1934, propelling him to power, when he mobilised the German armed forces during the Munich crisis of 1938, and when the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed the following year. Both nuclear bombs were dropped within three days of each other in August 1945. 

The Vietnam War was sparked by the Tonkin Gulf Incident in August 1964; Russia chose August to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968; Saddam Hussein launched his invasion of Kuwait in August 1991. Shakespeare writes in The Tempest of “You sunburn’d sicklemen, of August weary”, but the Grim Reaper never seems to weary of these 31 days of summer.

Historically, August has also been the month in which British rule ended in India, the Berlin Wall was erected, Nelson Mandela was arrested, the Nuclear Test Ban treaty was signed, the Cultural Revolution broke out, Martin Luther King called for mass civil disobedience, Richard Nixon resigned, Mikhail Gorbachev suffered his coup attempt and Princess Diana died. It seems that ever since the month was named after Caesar Augustus, Julius Caesar’s nephew and heir, interesting and important things have happened, but why? Might it be coincidental, with important things happening in every month pretty much equally, or might the fact that it’s often the hottest month have been part of the reason?

The heat was certainly a factor in the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre on August 24 1572. Paris had been sweltering in fetid heat for more than three weeks and tempers were short and fraying when that terrible communal massacre of Protestants by Catholics took place. But high temperatures can hardly explain the prevalence of the month of August in history in the era of air-conditioning, which has been around since the 1940s. Perhaps the reason that a “silly season” myth came about in Fleet Street was not because nothing happened in August, but instead the very opposite. Maybe it’s the case that stories about somersaulting vicars and squirrels walking on their hind legs are given prominence precisely because of the horrors that so regularly occur during August, because there is a queasy suspicion that behind the jollity of the holiday season something sinister is lurking. ...

Read entire article at The Telegraph

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