“What is it about August?”

From Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times:  When something really drastic happens in the month of August, European leaders are often caught on the hop. In August 2008, when Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, had to deal with the crisis on a mobile phone from a holiday villa in Spain. . . .

When Mr Miliband took the job as foreign secretary, he had marvelled at the thought that his vast office was the one from which Sir Edward Grey had looked out from, on the eve of the first world war, and pronounced the famous and ominous words: “The lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our time.” Grey was, of course, speaking at dusk in early August 1914 – the month in which war broke out.

Twenty-five years later, in August 1939, Europe was once again hurtling towards war. On August 21, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was announced to a shocked world – making the invasion of Poland and a general war inevitable. On the night of August 31, Adolf Hitler ordered the German army to attack Poland.

The tendency for international crises to break out in August has persisted into the modern age. The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was crushed when the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded in August 1968.

President George H. W. Bush certainly noticed that there was something a bit odd about the height of summer. The first three years of his presidency were characterised by August upheavals. In August 1989, the first breach in the Iron Curtain was made when Hungary opened its borders to Austria, starting off the train of events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait – and within weeks President Bush was rallying a coalition to wage the first Gulf war. A year later, in August 1991, Mr Bush was informed that a coup was under way in the Soviet Union – and that Mikhail Gorbachev had been arrested. Within days, the Soviet Union begun to break up.

By this time, the president had begun to spot a pattern: “What is it about August?” he asked aloud.

It is a fair question. One possibility is that the fact that the democratic world tends to be half-asleep, or at the beach, in August makes it the ideal month for dictators and autocrats to make their move. It may be no coincidence that Nazi tanks in 1939, Soviet tanks in 1968, Iraqi tanks in 1991 and Russian tanks in 2008, all got rolling during August.  (graphic: movieposter.com)