Gallipoli and Crimea

by John Quiggin on April 26, 2013

Yesterday was Anzac Day, the 98th anniversary of the beginning of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, in which Australian, New Zealand and British troops assaulted Gallipoli in Turkey. Here’s what I posted on my blog.

Thinking about Anzac Day, with the inevitable mixed emotions, I was struck by tihe resemblance of the Anzac legend to that of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War – the same incredible bravery of ordinary men commanded by bungling leaders to undertake a doomed and futile mission.

There’s another, even more tragic, echo here. Both the Crimean War and the Gallipoli campaign arose from the same cause – the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the struggle over its partition. But in the Crimean War, the British and French were on the side of the Turks against the Russians. In the Great War, the imperial alliances had shifted, and the Russians formed part of the Triple Entente, while the Turks were on the side of the Germans.

Whatever the justice of the Allied cause in the Great War as a whole, the war with Turkey was nothing more than a struggle between rival imperialisms. The British and French governments signed secret treaties with each other, and with the Russian Czar, promising to divide the spoils of victory. At the same time, they made incompatible promises of independence for the Arabs and of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews.

There are no consolations to be had here. The Great War did not protect our freedom, or that of the world. Rather, it gave rise to the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism, and, within Turkey, to the Armenian genocide. The carve-up of the Ottoman empire created the modern Middle East, haunted even a century later by bloodshed and misery.

As we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who went to war nearly 100 years ago, we should also remember, and condemn, the crimes of those, on all sides, who made and carried on that war.

Lest we forget.

{ 213 comments }

1

Chris Bertram 04.26.13 at 8:19 am

Thanks for this John. Not even the worst disaster of the war for Australia, that would be Fromelles in July 1916 where my great uncle died fighting with the Australian Machine Gun corps. (To underline the horror, another great uncle – of whom I was unaware – lingered in an institution until the 1960s, destroyed by his wounds).

I’ve been thinking, with the 100th anniversary of the war approaching, that I should read something good on the origins, but googling suggests a confusing number of competing hypothesese. Any recommendations?

2

William Berry 04.26.13 at 8:47 am

A good occasion to watch again Peter Weir’s great picture, “Gallipoli”. Gripping and heart-breaking.

Mel is quite good in it. He looked very much the baby-faced innocent in those days.

3

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 8:47 am

I’d have guessed Pozieres. It’s striking that the battles of the Great Wararen’t remembered in the combatant countries as “victories” or “defeats” but as epic slaughters – the Somme for Britain, Verdun for the French and Germans, the Hundred Days for Canada. I don’t know about Russia – there were so many disasters, it would be hard to pick one.

4

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 8:55 am

On origins, the place to start is actually Angell’s The Great Illusion which exposed the foolishness of the standard rationales for war (still espoused today, as I’ve discovered at some cost). Once you’ve absorbed Angell, it’s clear that any search for rational causes is pointless – the war was a product of delusion and the inability to stop it reflected social pathologies that are still with us todya

5

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 9:03 am

“I’ve been thinking, with the 100th anniversary of the war approaching, that I should read something good on the origins, “

There a new book out on the origins, called Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark, that I’ve had recommended, though havent read. Here’s a review

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/421230.article

Though it also comes with blurbs from Niall Ferguson and Max Hastings, so I dont know what to make of that

6

Martin 04.26.13 at 9:12 am

Minor point, but it says “Gallopoli” once in the post. My apologies if this is a misunderstanding on my side. Fixed now, thanks – JQ

7

reason 04.26.13 at 9:25 am

John Q,
as a fellow Australian – have you any thoughts on why Australians (almost uniquely I think) have such odd days for their National holidays. (Australia day – which isn’t really an “Australia” day at all but is the beginning of the European invasion – initially almost catestrophic for the invaders – and the establishment of the great city of Sydney; and Anzac day – a senseless loss of valuable Australian lives and Winston Churchhill’s greatest mistake).
Is it a reflection of the pflegmatism of Australians – that brave failures (Sturt or Ned Kelly or Eureka Stockade) are often their heroes – that they see success as always elusive but struggle as being admirable. (Quite different from the US for instance). Any ideas?

8

ajay 04.26.13 at 9:49 am

Among the dead of Gallipoli, the brilliant English physicist Harry Moseley – whose experiments provided proof for the principle of atomic number, and whom Rutherford called the greatest experimental physicist of the century. A contemporary wrote that even if no one else had been killed in the war, the death of Moseley (at the age of 27) would still have made it an unbearable tragedy.

Australian, New Zealand and British troops assaulted Gallipoli in Turkey.

The bulk of the troops (and the dead) were British and Anzac, but there were also Indian Gurkha and French battalions involved, and a battalion of the Jewish Legion (recruited from Jews who had been ethnically cleansed from Palestine to Egypt in 1914).

9

ajay 04.26.13 at 9:53 am

Is it a reflection of the pflegmatism of Australians – that brave failures (Sturt or Ned Kelly or Eureka Stockade) are often their heroes – that they see success as always elusive but struggle as being admirable. (Quite different from the US for instance).

It’s a thing for a lot of countries. In Britain there’s the evocation of Dunkirk (which, while an extraordinary achievement, was still an evacuation in the face of utter defeat) and Captain Scott; in the US they have the Alamo, and, of course, the sympathy for the gentlemanly General Lee and his Lost Cause…

10

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 10:31 am

“and a battalion of the Jewish Legion “

….led by the delightful Vladimir Jabotinsky. Just saying

11

reason 04.26.13 at 10:45 am

ajay
true (billy the kid too), but what other countries celebrate such things as public holidays.
Of course Australia rather stuffed it up by federating on Jan 1.

12

ajay 04.26.13 at 11:07 am

11: good point. That’s just Australia, I think. Normal countries have their public holidays to mark days of great national significance, such as the Bank of England being closed for the day.

Australia’s national holidays are also unfortunately clustered in the first half of the year rather than being spread out across the calendar, a problem for which solutions have been suggested:

13

ajay 04.26.13 at 11:13 am

10: led by the delightful Vladimir Jabotinsky. Just saying

Nice try, but actually they were not led by Jabotinsky, but by an Ulster Protestant lion hunter played by Val Kilmer!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Patterson_%28author%29

14

marcel 04.26.13 at 12:20 pm

This seems as good a forum as any for my question: Why did the US enter WW 1? Given the strong anti-war sentiment ex ante in this country (i.e., I am an American), strong enough for staying out of the war to be one of W.Wilson’s major promises during his re-election campaign, the sinking of the Lusitania has never struck me as convincing. The best answer that I’ve managed to come up with is that major banks were anglophile and, more to the point, had much more in the way of loans outstanding to the UK than to Germany. The US entered the war to protect those loans.[1]

But I don’t know this to be the case, rather it just makes the most sense to me based on my rather limited knowledge. I would appreciate comments and, especially, suggestions for further reading. Thank you in advance.

[1] My understanding is that had the U.S. not entered on the side of the Entente, Russia would still have collapsed, but the remaining combatants would have likely ended the fighting when, close enough to simultaneously for government work, none were any longer able to continue. At this point, none would have been in any condition to repay any debts to anyone. Beneficial results from this outcome would have been both that the Carthaginian peace of Versailles would not have happened (along with all that followed from it), and the Russian civil war, with all of its attendant horrors, would likely have been less awful since fewer outsiders would have been in any position to intervene.

15

Z 04.26.13 at 12:22 pm

[I]t’s clear that any search for rational causes is pointless – the war was a product of delusion

You’ve expressed this idea several times on this blog John, but I’m not quite sure I agree. Or rather, I think that though this might be true from the anglo-american point of view, it is less so from the continental european point of view. The fact remains that in the 150 years or so between 1790 and 1940, neither France nor Germany (in its various political incarnations) accepted the political legitimacy of each other. So we had revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (leading to the rational belief on the part of the Germanic élite that only the military defeat of France could ensure a stable Germanic polity), then the 1870/71 war, leaving the two major continental military powers with a serious territorial conflict (and a rational belief in the part of the French élite as well as public that only military defeat of Germany could ensure a stable French polity).

Now it is almost certainly true that imperialism, delusion of grandeur and diplomatic maneuvers transformed a regional conflict into a catastrophic world war, but the point remains that the legacy of the war of 1870/1871 (itself a legacy of the Napoleonic wars, and thus ultimately of the French Revolution) made it impossible to imagine peace between the two majors continental military powers.

16

Z 04.26.13 at 12:50 pm

Why did the US enter WW 1?

Certainly not Lusitania, as its sinking precedes US entry by two years. But the impact of the unrestricted submarine warfare of early 1917 must have been non-trivial for the US, don’t you think? Another thing to consider is that past 1916, it is unclear what Germany really sought to achieve. Technically, it could have won the war, but then what? Occupy most of France? Retreat within its territorial borders? So in early 1917, there is a rogue military superpower waging an aimless territorial war and unrestricted submarine warfare (of course, the Allied powers, especially France, then proved equally irrational as soon as they had the upper hand). All in all, not the worst time in history for the US to declare war, considering.

17

marcel 04.26.13 at 12:57 pm

Then, in light of the apparent popularity of Wilson’s peace plank, how was it possible to gin up massive support for entry (outside of the massive ethnic German population)? Why do so? My understanding is that foreign trade was not central to the US economy back then, so why would unrestricted submarine warfare have been non-trivial?

18

ajay 04.26.13 at 1:05 pm

14: surely the Zimmermann Telegram had something to do with it? Germany expected that unrestricted submarine warfare (as 16 mentions) might bring the US into the war, and had suggested an alliance with Mexico, to be rewarded with bits of US territory.
Also, American civilians had started dying in ships sunk by U-boats in the Atlantic.

The best answer that I’ve managed to come up with is that major banks were anglophile and, more to the point, had much more in the way of loans outstanding to the UK than to Germany.

Oh, boy.

19

Peter T 04.26.13 at 1:12 pm

I can entirely agree with JQ’s cri du coeur, but I have to say that it’s bad history and, worse, it completely fails to grasp – does not even really attempt to grasp – the motives and intentions that made and carried on World War I, and does no honour even to the humblest participants, who are seen as unwitting tools in the hands of evil or witless statesmen. The sad truth is that the modern social democratic world so dear to John (and to myself) was not made by reason and compromise, but wrested by force from people who had quite another vision of the way the world ought to be run. And World War I was one of the great contests in that struggle.

It could – perhaps – have been waged less destructively (although it is hard, once one is familiar with the issues confronting those people, to see quite what else many of them could have done). It was not even spectacularly destructive by the standards of European great wars (proportionally, loss of life was about the same as the Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars, and much less than, say, the Thirty Years War). It is certainly not clear that it led directly to Nazism and Bolshevism – the Russian state was rotten and ripe for revolution well before the war, and Nazism was built on much the same social coalition that the Kaiser relied on in entering the war. That coalition survived the war, undermined the peace and tried again.

In thinking about the war, you need not only to note the blunders and idiocies, but also that Australians enlisted in large numbers (there was no conscription) until the end, that the French fought on despite a million casualties in the first few months, that Germans did likewise, but that Russians largely gave up after two years and turned on their own government and so on. That, in fact, quite ordinary people mostly thought that it was worth fighting and dying for the various ends involved. And that when they did not, they did not in fact fight.

20

David Kornreichs 04.26.13 at 1:19 pm

A great book on the war: “The Great War and Modern Memory” by Paul Fussell. A book of tantalizing insights: “A Peace to End All Peace” by David Fromkin. Martin Gilbert wrote a book on the Somme in 2006. http://www.amazon.com/Somme-Heroism-Horror-First-World/dp/0805083014. I didn’t read it through, but parts of it struck me as an apologetic aimed at shoring up support for the effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyone else get that impression?

21

Barry 04.26.13 at 2:14 pm

marcel :

“My understanding is that had the U.S. not entered on the side of the Entente, Russia would still have collapsed, but the remaining combatants would have likely ended the fighting when, close enough to simultaneously for government work, none were any longer able to continue. At this point, none would have been in any condition to repay any debts to anyone. Beneficial results from this outcome would have been both that the Carthaginian peace of Versailles would not have happened (along with all that followed from it), and the Russian civil war, with all of its attendant horrors, would likely have been less awful since fewer outsiders would have been in any position to intervene.”

From my casual knowledge, outside intervention in the Russian civil war wasn’t that big – it might have made the Soviet government more paranoid, but that in the end they were quite capable of slaughtering each other in massive numbers.

As for who would have won on the Western Front, Germany seemed to be more capable. They were still able to mount a dangerous offensive in 1918, at which point French and British morale was improved by American intervention, and American supplies were hitting French and British factories and troops. Subtract those,…….

22

LFC 04.26.13 at 2:20 pm

CB@1
I’ve been thinking, with the 100th anniversary of the war approaching, that I should read something good on the origins, but googling suggests a confusing number of competing hypotheses.

There’s no such thing as a ‘consensus account’ of the origins of WW1, b/c there is no consensus in the historiography. Accounts will tend to tilt, at least subtly, one way or the other in terms of apportioning blame — thus Clark’s ‘Sleepwalkers’, mentioned above, apparently (from what I gather, haven’t read it) is slightly more favorable — or less unfavorable — to Germany than some other accounts, possibly b/c Clark is an historian of Prussia.

With that said, a few things I wd read or re-read if i were going to embark on reading or re-reading things about the origins/roots of WW1 (which i’m not):

James Joll, Origins of the First World War
S. Van Evera, “Why Cooperation Failed in 1914,” in K. Oye, ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy
K. Lieber, “The New History of WW1 and What It Means for Int’l Rels Theory,” Intl Security Fall 2007

(For some of the older material, from diff. perspectives: Sidney Fay, Luigi Albertini, Fritz Fischer, and maybe? Tuchman [Guns of August], to name a few)

Note that a lot of the most interesting writing on WW1 (eg Fussell; Modris Eksteins; Daniel Pick, War Machine) doesn’t have much directly to do w its origins/causes.

23

Omega Centauri 04.26.13 at 2:24 pm

On American entry in the war. Wasn’t unrestricted submarine warfare the equivalent of today’s terrorism? We’ve seen how we’ve let the later infect our national psyche in such a way that we are/were willing led into war. Being outraged about your fellow citizens becoming innocent and helpless victims has an effect far disproportionate to the actual numbers.

24

reason 04.26.13 at 2:46 pm

Z @15
“The fact remains that in the 150 years or so between 1790 and 1940, neither France nor Germany (in its various political incarnations) accepted the political legitimacy of each other. “

I was under the impression that for a lot of that time (until about 1870 anyway), there was no such entity as “Germany”.

25

Anarcissie 04.26.13 at 2:50 pm

Long ago, in U.S.A., John Dos Passos told me that the reason for U.S. participation in World War 1 was that its ruling class had invested heavily in British bonds. Or at least he has one of his good-guy characters say that.

26

Anderson 04.26.13 at 2:55 pm

“the war with Turkey was nothing more than a struggle between rival imperialisms”

Bad history indeed. Turkey could have stayed neutral, but instead declared the straits closed, then allowed the Germans to use them and to bombard Russian positions in the Black Sea. Of course the Allies declared war. Bigger picture, the Ottomans were hostile to Russia, so Germany was the enemy of their enemy. If one is going to chatter about “imperialisms,” perhaps it bears remembering that the Ottoman Empire was, hello, an empire? Had Germany won the war, presumably the Ottomans would have obtained some Russian territory?

27

LFC 04.26.13 at 2:55 pm

D Kornreichs @20
Martin Gilbert wrote a book on the Somme in 2006. … I didn’t read it through, but parts of it struck me as an apologetic aimed at shoring up support for the effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyone else get that impression?

Didn’t read it so i can’t say, but i wdn’t be completely shocked if that were the case. OTOH there are more direct ways, to put it mildly, to write an “apologetic…for the effort in Iraq and Afghanistan” if that were one’s aim.

Btw, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth is a WW1 memoir still worth reading (a judgment based on reading parts of it).

28

Anderson 04.26.13 at 2:56 pm

… As for America, it entered the war because the Germans bent over backward to drag America into the war.

29

Kenny Easwaran 04.26.13 at 3:19 pm

This week appears to be an anniversary of the Armenian genocide. At least, on Wednesday, I saw many cars driving around different parts of Los Angeles with Armenian flags on them, and the bus was on detour for a demonstration of some sort.

30

Brett Dunbar 04.26.13 at 3:28 pm

The USA entered the war was a direct result of the Lusitania despite the delay. Following the sinking the USA issued an ultimatum demanding that either Germany end unrestricted submarine warfare or the USA would declare war. Germany obeyed at the time. In 1917 Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, figuring that it would take the USA about eighteen months to mobilise a useful army (based on that being how long it had taken Britain) due to factors such as a poor northern hemisphere harvest increasing the distance food had to be shipped and therefore the demand on shipping they thought they could knock Britain out of the war by then. Even if they didn’t bring America in they would be running out of troops at that point so if they couldn’t force Britain out they would lose.

The Germans used pretty much their last major reserve in March 1918, without the Americans Britain would have been able to recruit in India, historically as the USA had entered we didn’t need to. Due to one-stop the American army didn’t play a major part in the hundred days offensive the British did most of the fighting. If the USA hadn’t declared war the Germans would still have reached breaking point in October 1918 while Britain had enough reserves to carry on into 1919, it doesn’t really change the outcome. Germany and Britain were the only significant participants with anything much left by 1918. Japan had shown no inclination to participate in anything other than the low risk seizing Germany’s Pacific colonies.

Britain actually achieved her war aims, Belgian neutrality was restored and a fairly brutal (Germany committed serious atrocities when invading Belgium) and reactionary state was defeated. In the short term the liberal democratic order was significantly extended into central Europe. The cost was however grossly excessive.

31

rootlesscosmo 04.26.13 at 3:34 pm

@David Kornreichs: complete agreement re the Fussell book.

And: here’s E.M. Forster on memorializing the war dead:
http://tinyurl.com/cjzk8dl

32

Z 04.26.13 at 3:44 pm

I was under the impression that for a lot of that time (until about 1870 anyway), there was no such entity as “Germany”.

Yes, hence the “various political incarnations”.

33

Anderson 04.26.13 at 3:59 pm

” If the USA hadn’t declared war the Germans would still have reached breaking point in October 1918 while Britain had enough reserves to carry on into 1919, it doesn’t really change the outcome.”

You may be correct, but the Germans still had a fair number of troops in the east whom they could’ve moved to the western front, and could have made bad trouble for the western Allies had they stayed on the defensive. Nor could the British have done much without the French in tow, and the French were not interested in taking the offensive. As it turned out, Ludendorff squandered his forces because the clock was ticking with the Americans having entered the war.

34

ajay 04.26.13 at 4:17 pm

the Germans still had a fair number of troops in the east whom they could’ve moved to the western front

Not without abandoning their vast new Lebensraum in the East, though.

Nor could the British have done much without the French in tow, and the French were not interested in taking the offensive.

Except that they did take the offensive, from August to October. They took almost as many casualties as the Americans in the Meuse-Argonne alone. Did you know they were involved?

35

rea 04.26.13 at 4:26 pm

“We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President [of Mexico] of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves.”

How could that not result in war?

36

MPAVictoria 04.26.13 at 4:33 pm

“Not without abandoning their vast new Lebensraum in the East, though.”

This is key. Remember what the Germans were trying to do here, namely build a “Greater Germany” out of Eastern Europe.

37

Barry Freed 04.26.13 at 4:47 pm

Ataturk, who commanded and defended brilliantly at Gallipoli, gave a famous eulogy for his former enemies that that never fails to choke me up. I’m sure many here know it:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

38

Anderson 04.26.13 at 4:49 pm

“Not without abandoning their vast new Lebensraum in the East, though.”

That’s silly. They weren’t “abandoning” anything. Russia was through as a combatant, and the Germans kept way too many troops in the East. It’s not like Russia was going anywhere.

“Except that they did take the offensive, from August to October.”

I was talking about the counterfactual where the Americans weren’t in the war. After the Nivelle fiasco and the mutinies, Petain was not going to embark on another offensive without plenty of Americans there to die alongside. Had the French alone undertaken Meuse-Argonne, how would that have gone?

39

Tom Bach 04.26.13 at 5:33 pm

Anderson:
They, which is to say Ludendorf and Hindenberg, left “too many” troops in the East because they wanted to keep what they had conquered.

40

Anderson 04.26.13 at 6:07 pm

I believe the Germans kept a million troops in the East (thus saith Wikipedia anyway, can’t find a figure in the books I have at hand). “To keep what they had conquered” … against whom? Instead of simply holding the front, Germany started playing at empire-building in the East, which was stupidity on stilts. The war was going to be decided in the West; the East would keep. So Germany ended up launching an offensive without any significant numerical superiority, which the past 4 years had demonstrated to be a recipe for failure.

41

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 6:19 pm

@Anderson “If one is going to chatter about “imperialisms,” perhaps it bears remembering that the Ottoman Empire was, hello, an empire?”

Hmm. Perhaps that’s why I wrote “”Both the Crimean War and the Gallipoli campaign arose from the same cause – the decline of the Ottoman *Empire*, and the struggle over its partition. “

Of course, the Ottomans hoped to gain (or regain) territory from the Russians, and vice versa, while the other European empires hoped to benefit at the expense of the losers. That’s how empires, and imperialism, work, or in this case, fail. So, what is your point?

42

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 6:28 pm

As a further response to Chris @1, if you want to see why the search for a rational account of the war is pointless, you only have to read the comments of people like Anderson. Unlike the people who started the war, he (I assume, with high confidence that he’s male) has seen how it turned out, and is still convinced it was a good idea.

43

Tom Bach 04.26.13 at 6:32 pm

It’s one thing to say the German decision was stupid and silly, which it may have been and which the war certainly was, and it another thing to say that they didn’t leave the troops in the East to keep what they had conquered, stupid and silly may the decision have been.

As to the against whom, one might consider some of the various forces active in the Russian Civil War, say Ukrainian nationalists (who were briefly German stalking horses), or say the emergent Red Army or the still existent White Army or the other etc who might look unkindly on German expansionism. One leaves troops in place in territory one conquers to make sure one keeps it. Stupid and silly though it might be.

44

Bill Murray 04.26.13 at 6:44 pm

“Then, in light of the apparent popularity of Wilson’s peace plank, how was it possible to gin up massive support for entry (outside of the massive ethnic German population)? Why do so? My understanding is that foreign trade was not central to the US economy back then, so why would unrestricted submarine warfare have been non-trivial?”

The Committee on Public Information
The Four Minute Men

So lot’s and lot’s of propaganda with new psychological techniques

45

Anderson 04.26.13 at 6:48 pm

“and is still convinced it was a good idea”

So your best argumentative tactic at this point is defamation? Where did I say WW1 was a good idea? I didn’t, and you are dishonest.

Saying that Gallipoli “arose from” imperialism is a little too much explanation, since it’s only true in the sense that nitrogen-based fertilizers, U-boats, and “All Quiet on the Western Front” “arose from” imperialism, or for that matter from the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Peking.

Britain launched a campaign in Turkey based on the notion that it was better for Britain to supply a land power (Russia) with the means to fight than to become a major land combatant itself. For various reasons this failed, so that conscription, and British bloodbaths, ensued. “Imperialism” was not any sort of direct motive.

46

Brett Dunbar 04.26.13 at 6:51 pm

Petain wouldn’t want to go on the offensive, but by 1918 Petain wasn’t in charge. Due to his defeatism Foch had been appointed supreme allied commander effectively demoting Petain. Foch was quite offensive minded. The involvement of the USA made the German position hopeless, but they were still fighting a war of attrition against enemies with greater resources.

47

Ken 04.26.13 at 6:55 pm

A side light, at least to me, is how the same mistake is repeatedly made by the militaery and then excused as irrelevent to the outcome because.. Just because.

My point is that a major failing at Gallipoli was the failure to seize the high ground around the landing beaches immediately while resistence was its weakest.
This failure enabled the opposition to high a perch from which they could monitor and target anything in what had become essentially a shooting gallery.

Flash forward to 1944 and the Anzio landings and it is a bad rerun. The only thing that saved Allied ( US troops) at Anzio was the continued pressure by allied forces ( including notably Polish and Jewish units besides US and British forces) Alas Gallipoli had no such saving forces squeezing the Ottoman forces.

Flash forward again to 1982 in Lebanon where failure to seize the high aground again inhibited, and contributed, to the failure of the MNF in Beirut. No where near the debacle of Gallipoli or Anzio but still an example of a repeatable failure.

I am confident that a military historian could cite many more of these failures to learn from history.

Object lesson. The Military mind does not learn from repeated failure.

48

Davis X. Machina 04.26.13 at 6:59 pm

Brand new (March) and definitely worth a read. How the war broke the Balkan firebreak is labyrinthine, but fascinating — Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

49

Anderson 04.26.13 at 7:07 pm

Brett, I respectfully disagree. (1) Foch was appointed *after* the German onslaught, because the British were panicking, not because anyone (other than Foch!) was thinking about taking the offensive. See Taylor’s survey of the war, at 218-19. (2) The Germans did not opt for attrition in the West in 1918. If you mean that without the Americans’ entry into the war, they would have been resorting to attrition, okay, but I am missing the reasons why the Germans couldn’t have stayed on the defensive at least until 1919. Between the French mutinies and Passchendaele, would Britain and France alone have been in any hurry for the offensive in 1918?

Because of the Americans, Germany bet the farm on winning in 1918 or not at all, which accelerated its defeat. That is why it was stupid to leave anything but a screen in the East. But who could argue with Ludendorff by that point?

50

Anderson 04.26.13 at 7:10 pm

“the same mistake is repeatedly made by the military and then excused as irrelevant to the outcome because.. Just because.”

Exactly right. People whose careers and perhaps even nations depend on doing their job with minimal competence, simply fail to do so. The book from which I first learned that generals and governments cannot be trusted to do anything right was “The Guns of August.” (Well, everybody’s gotta learn that somewhere.)

51

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 7:12 pm

Anderson, I’m sick of your wargaming. Your comments don’t engage with the post in any useful way. Please, nothing further from you on this thread.

52

Stephen 04.26.13 at 7:19 pm

Coming in late, and so with numerous comments:

JQ: “The Great War did not protect our freedom, or that of the world”. Are you sure? Consider a statement from an important German, when it looked as if the Kaiserschlacht would succeed: “This is the triumph of autocracy over democracy”. Would it not have been?

William Berry@2: “Peter Weir’s great picture, ‘Gallipoli’. Great, but it’s only a picture. Rambo isn’t historically accurate, either. Nor Braveheart.

Ajay@8: “there were … French battalions involved”. You can win some bets from Australians, if they (the great majority) do not know the dedication for Prufrock, as to whether more men from France or from Australia died in the Dardanelles campaign. Getting the Aussie bastards to pay up may sometimes be more difficult.

Ajay@18, Rea @35: Also a German alliance with Japan, to be rewarded after German victory by (parts? all? I don’t remember) of the US Pacific coast. Not exactly the thing to persuade Americans that the war did not protect their freedom.

Peter T@19: “the modern social democratic world … was … wrested by force from people who had quite another vision of the way the world ought to be run”. Notably, the WW1 German government.

Anderson@38: “Had the French alone undertaken Meuse-Argonne, how would that have gone?” Well, in the first phase the Americans did badly and the French did well; in the second, the Americans advanced ten miles and the French twenty; in the last phase, from October 28th on, it hardly mattered since the war had been won elsewhere.

JQ@42: “the search for a rational account of the war is pointless”. With deep respect, I fear you are confusing two propositions. One, that it would have been far better if WW1 had never happened: total agreement. Two, that there is no rational account of how and why the war happened. Briefly: deliberate decisions by the pre-war German Government ensured that if the Russian Army mobilised (which would not otherwise have brought about an inevitable war), the German Army must immediately attack France by way of an invasion of neutral Belgium; and further, that Germany had to do that by 1916 at the latest, otherwise their plans for overwhelming victory could not work. You may, of course, argue that things would have been better if their plans had worked.

53

mpowell 04.26.13 at 7:44 pm


The Great War did not protect our freedom, or that of the world

WWI was a horrible tragedy, but this is a really curious point to make. What would the correct actions by the French and British governments have been? Certainly they made many mistakes, but was defending against the invasion of France one of them? Could they have forestalled that diplomatically? It seems that the war was necessary for France and Britain once Germany had resolved its international policy objectives and it is only the prosecution of the war, namely it’s resolution, that you could find fault with. Is there another interpretation of the choices facing France and Britain someone would like to offer?

54

NMissC 04.26.13 at 7:46 pm

At 9:25, Reason noted:

>
Is it a reflection of the pflegmatism of Australians – that brave failures (Sturt or Ned Kelly or Eureka Stockade) are often their heroes – that they see success as always elusive but struggle as being admirable. (Quite different from the US for instance).
<

Well, not in the Southern US, in any event, where brave failures (black, white, and otherwise) abound. Pretty much every town's courthouse has a monument with a memorial to the heroes lost in the "just and holy cause" of maintaining chattel slavery.

55

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 7:56 pm

“Is there another interpretation of the choices facing France and Britain someone would like to offer?”

I think there’s a difference though between acknowledging the difficulty of the decisions that had to be made, and perhaps the inevitability of the war, and selling it as a clear case of good vs bad, or of freedom vs tyranny etc (as WW2 could be sold)

56

Tom Bach 04.26.13 at 7:59 pm

Two points: The Poques Waltzing Maltida and I am not sure that a “rational” account of WWI is possible. It is, of course, possible to write an account that provides a logical account of the events and decisions in which rational means accepting the looney tune ideas of many of the decision makers. In addition to the Angell’s and Bloch’s work on war’s impossibility, it is helpful to read Bernhardi’s Germany in the Next War, which is a nearly perfect encapsulation of the irrationality of the war party in years leading up to the catastrophe.

57

Memory 04.26.13 at 8:52 pm

Mentioned once in this thread in passing is Fritz Fischer’s “Griff nach der Weltmacht” (edited English translation published as “Germany’s Aims in the First World War”). To my knowledge no more enlightening, well-researched, or important book about the First World War has been written. In my opinion, it is not possible to understand the war without coming to terms with the internal politics of Imperial Germany that largely motivated the war and determined its course. It is also impossible to understand 20th century German history more broadly without knowing what Fischer reveals about the political culture of Imperial Germany. (Bonus points for historical literacy if you compare Fischer with his archnemesis in the establishment Gerhard Ritter, whose “Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: das Problem des “Militarismus” in Deutschland” (English edited translation as “Sword and Sceptre,” I believe) is the defining apologetic for Imperial Germany)

Please let me emphasize this again: whether you ultimately are convinced by Fischer’s causal arguments or not, the factual points he raises are incredibly important to a knowledge of modern German history.

58

Hektor Bim 04.26.13 at 9:09 pm

mpowell,

There was always another possible action to take. The British could have not entered the war or delayed entering the war. In that case, the war would have been shorter, almost certainly with France and Russia defeated by the Central Powers. Would that have represented the triumph of autocracy over democracy? Perhaps, though of course, Russia was not more democratic than Germany or Austria-Hungary. Would it have meant less loss of life? Almost certainly.

It’s a hard, probably unknowable question. But it was a real possibility, and would have changed the world even today in innumerable ways.

59

LFC 04.26.13 at 9:11 pm

Peter T @19
That, in fact, quite ordinary people mostly thought that it was worth fighting and dying for the various ends involved. And that when they did not, they did not in fact fight.

I don’t entirely agree w this. Some thought the ends were worth fighting for, but many others had relatively little idea of what the war was (ostensibly) about and/or became disillusioned fairly quickly (I think a glance at cultural histories of the war, eg Fussell which has already been mentioned or eg Modris Ekstein’s Rites of Spring, and various memoirs, will support this point). On motivations for fighting: loyalty to immediate friends and fellow soldiers, knowledge that one cd be shot for desertion, desire not to show cowardice etc probably counted for more than abstractions for many, as has been the case in a lot of wars. The British eventually had to introduce conscription, as has already been noted upthread, and by the end of the war prob. all the belligerents had conscription, I guess except for the Australians according to Peter T.

Davis X. Machina @48
you recommend The Sleepwalkers but fail to say anything about where the author is or may be coming from — see my comment on this @22.

60

Hektor Bim 04.26.13 at 9:13 pm

Let me suggest another good book on the start of World War I.

The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began
Jack Beatty

61

Ronan(rf) 04.26.13 at 9:46 pm

” The best answer that I’ve managed to come up with is that major banks were anglophile and, more to the point, had much more in the way of loans outstanding to the UK than to Germany.”

Adam Tooze did touch on this slightly ( although in the context of the inter war years) in a recent NLR review of Michael Mann’s new book:

“But to have brought that into sharp relief would have required Mann to focus, as Eichengreen refuses to do, on the principal medium through which US power was excercised: inter governmental debt. From the moment the Entente contracted its first war loan with JP Morgan in 1915, down to the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971, it was political debt that defined a novel problem of hegemony: loans distributed not to private borrowers or the Imperial periphery, but from one political centre to another within the core..”

Though I’m not sure what he’s saying, if it’s relevant, how important loans were in US war decisions etc Any ideas?

62

LFC 04.26.13 at 9:50 pm

Although one scholar of whom I’m aware (namely R.N. Lebow) has argued that the war might well have been avoided had Franz Ferdinand not been assassinated, many if not most historians — or such is my impression, and I will accept correction if wrong — seem to think that by the time July 1914 came around the war, if not perhaps strictly inevitable, was ‘in the cards’ in the sense that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was falling apart in the face of pressure for secession from its various ethnic minorities and it was only a matter of time before that fact intersected w other factors, such as the alliance systems and longstanding military mobilization etc plans, to produce a crisis that escalated into general war (unlike previous Balkan crises, which had been contained although sometimes bloody). Within that framework, some place more blame on German power ambitions and Weltpolitik and also internal German politics (eg Fischer, Immanuel Geiss, from a bit different angle J. Snyder, Myths of Empire). Others place the emphases somewhat differently.

Second point: the war’s origins in the broader sense can’t be understood w/o paying attention to the underlying attitudes and ideological assumptions of the elites (civilian and military) of the period, many of which today strike us as loony, to use a word from upthread, but didn’t obviously strike them that way. (On this, see eg James Joll, “1914: The Unspoken Assumptions” or eg Mueller’s discussion in Retreat from Doomsday and works cited therein.)

Also worth mentioning is that there were small active anti-war movements in several countries, which have been studied and written about — for one recent example, see Hoschild’s To End All Wars link; though they were repressed by governments during the war, their long-term impact was in some cases quite significant.

63

LFC 04.26.13 at 9:53 pm

spelling correction: Hochschild

64

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 9:56 pm

“What would the correct actions by the French and British governments have been?”

1. Not entering an alliance with Russia in the first place
2. Seeking peace on the basis of the status quo ante from the moment the initial German advance was halted

65

LFC 04.26.13 at 10:15 pm

I also agree w previous suggestions re Angell, Bloch, Bernhardi, though I confess to having read secondary works about them rather than the works themselves. Obvs. any historian w the relevant interests will have read them; not being an historian, I have an excuse. (Angell’s argument, as I’ve had occasion to note here before, is often mischaracterized.)

66

Bloix 04.26.13 at 10:47 pm

#1, #20 – I second the recommendation of Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace (subtitle: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East), and also, more specifically on the origins of the war, his Europe’s Last Summer.

67

John Quiggin 04.26.13 at 11:07 pm

“many of which today strike us as loony”

Clearly, not all of us. In particular, the shared assumptions of the US Foreign Policy Community differ only marginally from those of their 1914 counterparts in Europe.

68

Peter T 04.27.13 at 12:00 am

On the elite attitudes that drove Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary to prefer war to peace:

The Kaiser to Chancellor Bulow in 1905: war too dangerous because of Socialists – first task to get rid of Socialist “if necessary by means of a bloodbath, and then a foreign war, but not beforehand…(by 1914 he had come to see war as the best way to crush the social democrats)

Sazonov (Russia) and Hotzendorff (Austria) are both on record as preferring war because the alternative was yielding to the “socialists” or the “slavs”.

On “Seeking peace on the basis of the status quo ante from the moment the initial German advance was halted”:

The German program for a peace settlement, as determined in April 1917 at a conference of leaders at Kreuznach: German annexation of Latvia and Lithuania, Poland under German military government, German control of Romanian oil, annexation of much of Belgium and part of France, control of Belgian railways…..

Germany could have had a peace on the basis of the status quo ante in 1915, but proposals were contemptuously rejected by people who were fighting not just for territorial agrandisement but also to preserve the conservative old order and to crush “socialism”.

69

Peter T 04.27.13 at 12:22 am

One could add that the Welsh miners and English farm labourers who found that in the army you were safer, better fed and worked less than in the mine or on the farm went on to ask just why that was so. The Oxbridge poets who came face to face with the realities of industrial life are good reading, but much of what they found so disturbing was part of daily life in Sheffield or Peebles.

70

LFC 04.27.13 at 12:43 am

John Quiggin @67
In particular, the shared assumptions of the US Foreign Policy Community differ only marginally from those of their 1914 counterparts in Europe.

Well, there may be certain points of commonality I suppose between these foreign policy communities’ shared assumptions, but I think there are also some basic, important differences. Will leave it at that — we can agree to disagree — since I don’t have time or energy at the moment even for a mini-argument on this.

71

gordon 04.27.13 at 1:52 am

Barry (at 21):

“From my casual knowledge, outside intervention in the Russian civil war wasn’t that big…”

Wikipedia suggests a total of over a quarter of a million foreign troops, including 40,000 British, 12,000 French and 13,000 Americans. Then there was military assistance to White forces. Pretty big.

72

gordon 04.27.13 at 1:53 am

Barry (at 21):

“From my casual knowledge, outside intervention in the Russian civil war wasn’t that big…”

Wikipedia suggests a total of over a quarter of a million foreign troops, including 40,000 British, 12,000 French and 13,000 Americans. Then there was military assistance to White forces. Pretty big.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_intervention_in_the_Russian_Civil_War

73

gordon 04.27.13 at 2:05 am

Stephen (at 52):

“…One, that it would have been far better if WW1 had never happened: total agreement…”

Mph. So Tsarism would have continued in Russia, and the Ottoman Govt. in the ME, and that would have been fine? Or, the costs (repression, backwardness, misery etc.) of the continuance of these antique regimes, though high, would have been less than the costs of WWI? I suspect you mean the latter, but of course the price then would have been paid by the Russian and Ottoman peasantry rather than the French, Belgians, British (incl. Imperial) and Americans. You could be accused of cost-shifting rather than an impartial estimation of costs and benefits.

74

William Berry 04.27.13 at 4:47 am

Stephen@52: “William Berry@2: “Peter Weir’s great picture, ‘Gallipoli’. Great, but it’s only a picture. Rambo isn’t historically accurate, either. Nor Braveheart.”

Right, not a historical document, only an excellent anti-war picture. And we all know that art can never make a serious statement about war, history, or reality, right?

But the sneering Rambo reference was cute, though.

75

another lurker 04.27.13 at 6:35 am

‘the price then would have been paid by the Russian and Ottoman peasantry rather than the French, Belgians, British (incl. Imperial) and Americans’ (gordon, 73)
Russian peasants paid for that change in the Great War and later in the Russian Civil War, the early 20’s famine, the Collectivization and more famine, the Great Terror and the WWII.
The Ottoman peasantry got off more lightly, unless they were Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish or something like that.

76

dAnr 04.27.13 at 7:02 am

I think the Irish, the Finns, the Latvians, the Poles, the Croatians, the Saudis – All might have a different perspective on the futility of the new world that was created by the war.

77

Z 04.27.13 at 8:02 am

What would the correct actions by the French and British governments have been?”
1. Not entering an alliance with Russia in the first place
2. Seeking peace on the basis of the status quo ante from the moment the initial German advance was halted

But see John, this is exactly what I would characterize as too anglo-centric. The French were extremely dissatisfied with the status quo ante and had been preparing for war for 40 years in order to change it. To me, saying that WWI could have been averted or stopped by reverting to the status quo ante is slightly akin to saying that peace could be achieved in the middle east if only the Palestinians were ready to accept the territorial status quo. They’re not, and legitimately so. Likewise with the French in 1914.

78

jb 04.27.13 at 8:19 am

“To me, saying that WWI could have been averted or stopped by reverting to the status quo ante is slightly akin to saying that peace could be achieved in the middle east if only the Palestinians were ready to accept the territorial status quo. They’re not, and legitimately so. Likewise with the French in 1914.”

I understand that they weren’t ready to accept the territorial status quo. I even understand why. But what precisely is “legitimate” about this? Was Alsace-Lorraine really enough to justify French participation in the war?

79

jb 04.27.13 at 8:21 am

Frankly, I would ask this of the Palestinians too. I understand their national aspirations, but how is firing rockets at Israel a justified response?

80

gordon 04.27.13 at 8:54 am

another lurker – at 75

If the price of getting rid of Tsarist and Ottoman rule was WWI, everybody paid, including those you mention plus the populations of Western Europe, the US, and the British Empire. If there had been no WWI (as Stephen at 52 would like), then those you mention would have paid the continuing price of living under repressive, immiserating regimes but the others would have escaped scot-free. That would have been better for W.Europe, the Brit. Emp. and US (you could have an interesting discussion about Germany), but would it have been better in the long term for the Russians and Ottoman subjects? Maybe without WWI the Tsarist and Ottoman Empires (and Austro-Hungarian, too) would be with us still, and would be imposing what we think of as “third world” conditions on their populations – or some of them – right now. How do you reckon the cost? (I’m not raising questions about independent Poland and Czechoslovakia, just to keep it simple, but they are out there).

By the way, I don’t count the Russian Civil War etc. as part of WWI. If we are looking at the costs and benefits of WWI, who paid and who benefited, we should stop at the end of the war. If we go past that, we fall into the fallacy (I think) of regarding historical events as all predetermined by what went before. We aren’t entirely historical automatons.

PS – blog management is at liberty to delete my comment at 71, now superseded by my 72. I pressed “send” prematurely. Sorry.

81

Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 9:21 am

“So Tsarism would have continued in Russia, and the Ottoman Govt. in the ME, and that would have been fine? Or, the costs (repression, backwardness, misery etc.) of the continuance of these antique regimes, though high, would have been less than the costs of WWI? “

How was what followed any better?

82

jb 04.27.13 at 9:49 am

Well, you could make a decent argument that Ataturk’s Turkey was better than the Ottoman Empire in several areas, particularly in women’s rights and general modernization, though probably not for minority rights. It would be more difficult to argue that for the rest of the Middle East.

And while the Russian Empire was certainly an oppressive and despotic regime, one could argue that the Soviet Union, was, at certain times, actually worse.

83

jb 04.27.13 at 10:21 am

Also, although counterfactuals are obviously speculative and unprovable, I highly doubt that those regimes would have survived to the present even had there been no WWI. The Ottoman Empire had been declining in power and prestige for centuries before WWI, and had already lost almost all of it’s European territory in the Balkan Wars. By 1914, it was clearly in a state of near-terminal decline, and I doubt it would have survived for more than a few decades at most. The Russian monarchy was also clearly heading towards some kind of social revolution even before WWI, given the vast level of social discontent in that country,and the utter incompetence of the Tsars, as well as their complete unwillingness to reform even when it was urgently needed. It is possible that these states would somehow have reversed their decline, or that the damage they caused to their populations as they tried to cling to power would exceed the damage done in the World War. But I find that unlikely. WWI may have been the immediate cause of those regimes’ collapse, but the rot had set in long, long before it.

84

Ronan(rf) 04.27.13 at 10:40 am

Yeah that’s what I was thinking. From a laymans view, I assume that the Ottomans would have had to make continued compromises with Arab nationalism in the 20th century, and (all things being equal) I don’t see how those compromises could have been worse if removed from the context of WW1 and then western imperialism in the Middle East.
(Logically it seems the equivalent of saying ‘the war was worth it as we got rif of the Kaiser, then yada yada yada, Helmut Schmidt)
Which I guess goes back to the question of whether the Ottoman/Entente aspect of the war was imperial, surely it was to the extent that the context was imperial (rather than a defence of national borders as in Europe), the Ottomans alliance decisions were made explictly (afaik) on protecting their empire and the Entente couldn’t offer a defence alliance with them on account of Russian aspirations on Ottoman territories. (Although I don’t really have a clue, so that might be off base?)

85

Z 04.27.13 at 2:15 pm

But what precisely is “legitimate” about this? Was Alsace-Lorraine really enough to justify French participation in the war?

I don’t get it. Between 1,2 and 2 millions people lived under occupation (depending on when you count). The occupied zone was 1/40th of the size and 1/20th of the population of France. In (current) US terms, that would be a middle-sized state and 15 millions people. Add to that that Alsace-Lorraine was then the industrial heart of France. How does that not justify the wish to regain territorial integrity?

86

Albert 04.27.13 at 3:27 pm

Status quo ante? Sure, after the Germans unshoot the Belgian civilians, unborn the Louvain library … Anglocentric indeed!

87

Barry 04.27.13 at 5:30 pm

Gordon, remember that we’re talking about Russia here; a quarter-million troops isn’t that much.

88

Hektor Bim 04.27.13 at 8:41 pm

Z,

Alsace-Lorraine was territory seized by France through aggressive war from the Holy Roman Empire. Alsace-Lorraine was part of the German Empire and the inhabitants could vote in elections. There was a complicated franchise that reduced their effectiveness, but the inhabitants were citizens of the German Empire. It was in no way “occupied” in the sense that the West Bank is occupied today.

We even have records of how the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine felt, as reflected in their voting.

The Autonomist party which was pro-French garnered very high votes 96% in 1874, but this declined to 30% or so in the early 1900s, but climbed in 1912 to 46.5% after the Zabern affair.

It is by no means clear that the Alsace-Lorrainers themselves wished to rejoin France, particularly because very few of them spoke French in 1914 (the territory had always been predominantly German-speaking), and also that they tried to form their own independent country at the end of 1918, which the French did not tolerate.

It is no means clear to me why we privilege a French conquest by force of arms of an area over a German conquest of the same area by force of arms.

89

Chris Williams 04.27.13 at 10:50 pm

If I wanted to find out more about the origins of the First World War, I would begin with the work of Annika Mombauer, notably her 2002 book “The origins of the First World War” NB she’s my friend so I need to declare an interest here. But it’s good.

90

gordon 04.27.13 at 11:53 pm

Jb (at 83) and Ronan(rf) at 84 –

To assume that the Tsarist and Ottoman regimes would have ended or been radically modified for the better soon after 1919 even if WWI had never occurred, and then concluding that the non-occurrence of WWI is unambiguously good for everybody in the long run, looks to me like begging the question (petitio principii).

91

Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 12:17 am

I’m just saying that I dont think 40 million deaths was a price worth paying for regime change in Turkey/Russia

92

Peter T 04.28.13 at 1:39 am

The historiography of World War I sheds some light on the argument (alternative histories aside). The first round of writing focused on the diplomatic moves, so the alternatives were posed in terms of what the foreign offices could have done differently. This was perhaps best synthesised in AJP Taylor’s The Causes of the First World War. The second round was sparked by George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, which pointed out that the old liberal order was very much under threat (and not responding very ably) well before the war. Arno Meyer’s The Persistence of the Old Regime convincingly argued that the old elites were not in retreat before the bourgoisie but very much in control in Europe (David Cannadine made the same case for Britain). Franz Fischer (Grasp for World Power, War of Illusions) put German attitudes and decisions at the heart of events – a thesis that has stood up well. Comparable work on Russia and Austria points to the intertwining of old attitudes, class panic and delusional diplomatic calculation in both those countries. V R Berghahn’s Germany and the Approach to War illustrates just how detached from reality German elites (not just junkers, but industrialists, professionals and others) had become – again largely driven by class panic.

Germany – not Britain or France – was central both to the decision for war and to its continuance, just as in 1939. And resistance to social change in Germany was central to German attitudes. The lesson of World War I is not about better policy-making, it is about how much tension social change can generate, the lengths people will go to to protect their identities, and how very dangerous it is to let the insecure have charge of an army. We are lucky that the US right has, so far, only perpetrated an Iraq, and not something far worse.

93

jb 04.28.13 at 1:57 am

Peter T

So is it your argument that Germany was solely responsible for the war, just as in 1939, and that the Allies were right to assign it all blame?

94

jb 04.28.13 at 2:02 am

I meant to assign full blame for WWI, obviously.

95

Peter T 04.28.13 at 2:13 am

jb

How does one blame a country? And the German elites of 1914 were seriously delusional – even if they were to “blame” they were plausibly unfit to plead (as they were not in 1939). The German delusions were the most serious, because they were the central power, had the biggest army and their agendas impacted Europe directly, but their mindset was, in varying degrees, shared across Europe and the US. The war points up the limits of rationality as much as anything else.

96

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 2:22 am

We’ve had an impressive number of rationales/ex post justifications for the Great War in general and the Gallipoli campaign in particular, including, in no particular order:
* The need for France to recover Alsace-Lorraine
* The need to avenge Belgium
* Making the world safe for democracy
* Making the world safe for social democracy
* That small nations might be free
* The destruction of the Ottoman, Romanov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern (sp?) empires
* Turkey started it (in the East)
* Germany started it (in the West)
* It made things so much better in the Middle east
* It made things so much better in Eastern Europe

If there were any arguments advanced by the propagandists of 1914 and after that have not made it into this comments thread, I can’t think of them, but feel free to prove me wrong.

Also looking at this list, I’m reminded of the variety of reasons advanced, before and after the fact, in support of the Iraq War, and of the cases now being pushed for yet more wars in the Middle East. It seems as if the work begun with such success at Gallipoli is not yet done, but that its completion will attract plenty of supporters.

97

Omega Centauri 04.28.13 at 3:13 am

The thing so amazing to me about WW1 was nor so much why it started, but why it became such a desperate existential struggle for most of the participants. Not only did it stalemate, but advancing any sort of peace terms was unthinkable -even in the face of millions of casualties. Thats what drove participants to try to break the stalemate by dragging in yet more combatants, until it truly became a world war.

98

jb 04.28.13 at 3:22 am

Peter T-

Thanks, I understand your position better now. (And I think I largely agree).

99

Andy Lowry 04.28.13 at 3:43 am

I have lost all track what Quiggin is trying to say, if anything. Germany declared war on France, invaded and occupied Belgium, seized NE France, all in hopes of quashing France and joining Austria-Hungary in defeating Russia. And I am supposed to imagine that it was somehow illegitimate for France and the UK to resist that? Germany should have been acknowledged as the warlord of Europe, because fighting back would have been insufficiently pacifist or something?

So anti-imperialist bleating ends up rationalizing German imperialism. What idiocy.

100

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 4:39 am

It’s just a pity there are no German propagandists here, to point out that Russia mobilized first and that Germany was heroically defending European civilization against the threat of Tsarist autocracy.

101

Peter T 04.28.13 at 6:24 am

JQ

If I recall correctly, the sequence was – 1. Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia; 2. Serbia basically accepted the terms of the ultimatum; 3. Austria (in consultation with Germany) rejected Serbia’s capitulation as inadequate and started to mobilise; 4. Russia served notice that it would mobilise to protect Serbia: 5. Germany demanded that Russia de-mobilise and that the French declare neutrality; 6. When these demands were refused, Germany mobilised and struck at France through Belgium.

The record is quite clear – Austrian moves were made in concert with Berlin, indeed with Berlin as the acknowledged senior partner, and in full knowledge that they would probably precipitate general war. Austria – and Germany – were not interested in any settlement that did not absolutely crush Serbia, knew that this was unacceptable to Russia, and went ahead anyway.

More generally, the record does not support the view in the OP that this was all a miscalculation, a mistake, or the imposition of awful policy by small coteries. Europe 1914 was a bit like the Soviet joke that Brezhnev communism is an Ilyushin airliner: everyone wants to be sick but no-one can get out. In the end they all decided jumping without a parachute was preferable to staying on board, and this ended very badly. Economics says people don’t do these things. Well, sometime they do.

102

another lurker 04.28.13 at 6:43 am

‘By the way, I don’t count the Russian Civil War etc. as part of WWI. If we are looking at the costs and benefits of WWI, who paid and who benefited, we should stop at the end of the war. If we go past that, we fall into the fallacy (I think) of regarding historical events as all predetermined by what went before.’ (gordon, 80)
If you argue that rapid, radical regime change in Russia and the Ottoman Empire was worth it, you don’t get to ignore the actual change that happened. A collapse is seldom pretty, when it occurs in a context of militarization and total war, it is pretty much predetermined to be very ugly indeed.
It is possible to argue that the Ottoman empire was about to break up in any case, the Young Turks were in power and they were bound to come into conflict with the Armenians, the Greeks, the Arabs and so on, and outside powers were bound to intervene as they had before, starting with the Greek war of independence. Wars and ethnic cleansing were going to result.
And Russia had had an abortive revolution in 1905, new attempts were bound to follow given a serious crisis. It’s not like the Tsar had learned anything. A revolution and a civil war would have come sooner or later.
But you appear to be arguing that without WWI the empires would have gone on indefinitely.

103

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 7:02 am

Europe 1914 was a bit like the Soviet joke that Brezhnev communism is an Ilyushin airliner: everyone wants to be sick but no-one can get out. In the end they all decided jumping without a parachute was preferable to staying on board, and this ended very badly.

This is about right. The kind of delusion that gave rise to the war was not confined to the elites and is still well represented in this comments thread. I didn’t say anything to the contrary in the OP – the reference to bungling leaders referred to the local military commanders (I meant to write “blundering” with reference to Tennyson). I’m well aware that both the Crimean War and the Great War were very popular, at least at the outset.

As regards the start of the war, I did not, of course mean to endorse the German propagandist claims, just to say that they were no worse than some of the Entente propaganda that’s been put forward in the thread. As between Russia and the Central Powers, it’s absurd, in my view, to claim that either was in the right in any meaningful sense. Both were imperialist autocracies, committed to the delusion that they could make meaningful gains through war. Whether the first move was the Russian mobilization, the Austrian ultimatum, the Sarajevo assassination or some earlier outrage is a nonsense question.

As regards the Western Allies, France entered an explicit alliance with the Russin autocracy, and declined to commit to neutrality in 1914. So, in a war between Germany and Russia, it would be absurd to expect Germany to leave France alone. Britain had a little more justification for its intervention after the invasion of Belgium, but in reality it was tied to France and Russia. Does anyone think that, if the French had violated Belgian neutrality, that Britain would have entered the war on the German side?

Regardless of all this, the crucial point is the one made by OC@97. The war had ground to a halt by Christmas 1914, with casualties that were horrific in absolute terms but tiny relative to the losses that were to follow. The fact that it continued for four bloody years can be explained, but not justified. All those who persisted with the war, for whatever reason, failed in their duty to humanity.

And, contrary to some claims above, Nazism and Bolshevism were direct products of the Great War, just as much as the Versailles Treaty. The idea that they can be treated separately is like the reasoning of those Iraq War fans who say that the decision to go to war should be evaluated based on the first two months, and that the subsequent disasters were the fault of the Baathists, Islamists etc. So, the crimes of 1914 cost tens of millions of lives in addition to the 10 million or so lost by 1918.

104

Kerry Farmer 04.28.13 at 7:55 am

Maybe the war was just an arms race that got out of control. It was an arms race between the Royal Navy and the German Navy. It had been going on since the 1870’s. The British threw their army in to try and get to Northern European ports so the Germans could not use them as naval bases. Ironically, the naval arms race lead to a land war and the navies were not really part of the action.

105

Peter T 04.28.13 at 8:09 am

Fair enough, John. But the more you look at this, the more you see something like a trolley problem. Stopping the war in December 1914 would have been social and political suicide for the German, Austrian and Russian elites (and probably equated to actual suicide for a lot of the Russian elite, given that country’s politics), and for their numerous supporters. Their “duty to humanity” was over-ridden, as far as they were concerned, by their duty to their families their friends and their class.

And, again , there was no way out without German cooperation – and the Germans were not going to cooperate.

Bolshevism may have been a product of the war – but it was pretty much inevitable that Russia was going to have a revolution and a nasty time of it. The Chinese had a revolution and no bolshevism, and the suffering there was pretty intense (civil war, famine etc).

Ze’ev Sternhell makes a good case that Nazism was a really peculiar outcome. The usual outcome in the other countries (Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Poland, Spain) where the old order was discredited was fascism, reaction or militarism. Any of these in Germany would have been less nasty than Nazism, but still pretty horrible. For one thing, German dreams of lebensraum in the east were a staple of the right well before 1914, and maybe a non-Bolshevik but weak Russia would have played the role of China to Germany’s Japan? The flavour of what a military – but non-Nazi – Germany would be looking to do is given by the Kreuznach Conference I referenced above.

106

Igor Belanov 04.28.13 at 9:41 am

On the issue of war guilt, I’m going to refer to the noted historian and graduate of the ‘University of Life’, E. Blackadder.

“George, the British Empire covers a quarter of the globe while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. We can hardly be absolved from blame on the imperialistic front.”

Clearly waging aggressive war in the attempt to gain territory in Europe is deserving of criticism, but justifications of Britain’s role in World War One do depend on some grossly racist definitions of national self-determination. I don’t think it should be difficult to accept that national elites can pursue self-serving policies with only the most tenuous moral backing, and that nobody is really ‘in the right’. Britain usually intervened in European wars from a ‘defensive’ point of view, but it does need to be remembered that it was defending world-wide interests, and that even after World War One it took the opportunity to seize extra overseas territories that it was increasingly unable to protect militarily.

107

Z 04.28.13 at 10:15 am

Hektor Bim,
We even have records of how the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine felt, as reflected in their voting. […] It is by no means clear that the Alsace-Lorrainers themselves wished to rejoin France

We have even better records: 200,000 Alsacians left occupied Alsace-Lorraine. The German Empire had a strong policy of (internal) emigration of German residents to Alsace-Lorraine. As far as I know, no significant number of Alsacians left french Alsace-Lorraine. In addition, there was a huge passive resistance movement to germanization of Alsace (especially). Just ask anyone named Yvon (the reference might be very hard to get for anyone outside France, and even for most French: the germanization policy of Alsace mandated that children were given a germanized version of their french name. In the short list of names with no known german equivalent, and thus tolerated in its French form, was Yvon; hence the disproportionate number of people so named around the turn in the century in Alsace). I don’t want to play the propagandist: if historical blame is to be looked for, it is clear to me that France under Napoleon bears the blame for the enduring geopolitical hostility between France and Germany , but it seems pretty clear to me that people in Alsace-Lorraine definitely wanted to be part of France and definitely did not want to be part of the German empire (even the numbers you quote indicate so: any party garnering 30% of the vote at its minimum is reflecting a hugely popular position, in any situation, and especially with 10% of the population having left already. What electoral score did the pro-German party get when Alsace was French?).

If there were any arguments advanced by the propagandists of 1914 and after that have not made it into this comments thread, I can’t think of them,

What did I write to be characterized as a propagandist for war? I took issue with your claim that there was no rational cause at the time. So of course I’m going to use arguments from then, not now. Of course millions of dead for Alsace-Lorraine seems utterly pointless, and of course the pacifist of the time (say Jean Jaurès or Rosa Luxemburg) were absolutely right, from our current point of view. But the fact remained that France in 1910 had a legitimate significant territorial grievance that Germany was absolutely not prepared to address diplomatically (as proved by the fact that it refused to do so in 1916). So there was a rational (or maybe better, understandable) cause (and again, if historical blame is to be traced, I think France, not Germany, is ultimately to blame). Pretending otherwise does not help the cause of peace, not then and not now.

108

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 10:19 am

Certainly it seemed so at the time, though in fact, continuing with the war turned out to be literally suicidal for the Russian elite.

109

Igor Belanov 04.28.13 at 10:58 am

What Alsace-Lorraine demonstrates, and even more so areas of Central Europe and the Balkans, is how the issue of national self-determination was so unclear in practice as to make it very problematic as a justification for mass slaughter. The boundaries were usually drawn to the benefit of the ‘victors’, and in many cases there were such mixed populations as to make self-determination a completely arbitrary criterion for setting borders. The complications that ensued undoubtedly helped to persuade more zealous regimes to resort to ethnic cleansing in order to make matters more straightfoward. The national tensions and hatreds of the time would undoubtedly have led to problems, but the ideology of national self-determination often seems to have obscured rather than created solutions.

110

Chris Williams 04.28.13 at 11:29 am

Reading this thread as a professional historian, I can’t help wishing that 90% of the people on it would go off and read a few relevant books before commenting so confidently and trenchantly on what happened. Several scores of very clever people – many of them without noticable nationalist axes to grind – have spent decades researching this event, in archives all over Europe and beyond. Clearly, what we’ve failed to do is to inform our intellectual peers about what we’ve found out. I’d hope that if I addressed an economics-related discussion (or a polsci one, or a philosophy one, etc) and declared that I know exactly what’s going on because I read a book written in 1968, I’d be gently put right. With history, everyone’s an expert out of the box, it seems.

NB – Did you see what I did there? Making a claim to special authority over my subject area and marking it out for me and my professional colleagues to have the right to make the very trenchant claims that I so disdain in others. Yes, I’m a hypocrite and there are big problems with this claim – but please, go away and read Mombauer’s book on the origins, which neatly summarises the historiographical debates up to the turn of the century, and _then_ come back and tell me I’m an arsehole.

111

Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 12:52 pm

“Clearly, what we’ve failed to do is to inform our intellectual peers about what we’ve found out.”

What has been found out? (Genuinely, out of interest…..)

112

daNr 04.28.13 at 1:31 pm

To claim that the war wasn’t justified, and to claim that nothing good came of it are two different things.

Very few wars in history pass the first threshold. And even then many actions during those wars don’t.

113

Rich Puchalsky 04.28.13 at 1:49 pm

“I took issue with your claim that there was no rational cause at the time. So of course I’m going to use arguments from then, not now.”

I”ve been avoiding this thread, but this is a perfect example of contemporary thought. Pacifists are marginalized by the elites always, so their arguments never count as rational ones made at the time. They only count as rational afterwards, once the bad effects of the war — which are generally quite easy to predict, ahead of time — are apparent. But then “they were right for the wrong reasons”. So their opinions certainly don’t count as being rational in the run-up to the next war.

114

gordon 04.28.13 at 1:51 pm

another lurker – at 102

“If you argue that rapid, radical regime change in Russia and the Ottoman Empire was worth it…”

It may have been worth it for the subjects of the Tsar and the Sultan in order to escape from what were repressive, exploitative, primitive regimes which otherwise would have continued for an indeterminate time. Ronan(rf) at 91 thinks it wasn’t worth it. Maybe he’s right. As well as the cost of the war in lives and misery, “worth it” depends a lot on your discount rate and how long the Tsarist and Ottoman Empires would have persisted (and whether they would have improved) without the war. Unfortunately, we don’t (and can’t) know that.

I think the best justification for Ronan(rf)’s view is to say that we know that the cost of the war was huge; we don’t know how long those Empires would have persisted without the war, and their persistence represents a cost in the other side of the scale, but we are entitled to avoid a big known cost at the risk of another unknown cost which might – just might – be less than the big known one. That is far from watertight. It’s a sort of practical, rule-of-thumb thing. It’s vulnerable to the objection that it’s wishful thinking. One problem with it is that it isn’t available, even in principle, to the populations of the Tsarist and Ottoman Empires. They couldn’t know the huge cost of the war in advance.

“…you don’t get to ignore the actual change that happened…”

That depends on the extent to which the actual change that happened was really a result of WWI. I’m happy to accept that the end of the Tsarist regime and the final collapse of the Sultanate were results of WWI. But people continue to make decisions daily, and as time passed the way those changes played out more and more reflected decisions made after the war. I think you get quite quickly to a point where you can’t blame the war any more. That, incidentally, is why I disagree with Prof. Quiggin’s conclusion at 103. How far back do you want to go? Maybe we should blame Charlemagne for WWII?

As far as your claims that these empires were “bound to collapse” or “bound to break up” are concerned, I think you are just making stuff up. You don’t know that. You can’t know that – not without a passport to a parallel universe where everything else was the same as here but WWI never happened. Also see my comment at 90.

115

Hektor Bim 04.28.13 at 2:23 pm

Z,

After 1918, the French forcibly deported everyone who they believed to be a “German” settler in Alsace-Lorraine after 1870. So Alsatians did in fact leave French Alsace-Lorraine. The French government divided the population into four classes. Contrast this with the German approach, where every person in Alsace-Lorraine automatically became a German citizen or was allowed (not forced) to leave the country. It is also interesting that the French language was allowed to be used from 1871-1914 where French speakers were a majority (a small part of Alsace-Lorraine), and it was only repressed during the war itself, when French language street signs were pulled down in Metz, for example. This isn’t as strange as it sounds, since the first direct French action against German forces in WWI was to invade Alsace-Lorraine to attempt to conquer it. Contrast with the French repression of German education, language, and media after WWI, which was near total. You weren’t allowed to have German names in Alsace-Lorraine after WWI, for example.

Also, everyone who didn’t vote for the Autonomists in Alsace-Lorraine voted for pan-German political parties, which suggests that a majority of the electorate supported the union with Germany, at least in some sense. Alsace-Lorraine was a stronghold for the SPD, for example.

One other thing, the statistics I have seen suggest 100-130,000 left for France, which is closer to 5% of the population.

I don’t think we actually disagree that strongly, but complaining about German regulations on acceptable names is laughable for a Frenchman, where the regulations on every linguistic minority up until very recently were extremely onerous.

116

Hektor Bim 04.28.13 at 2:28 pm

Z,

How could Germany have addressed France’s territorial grievance with it without giving up Alsace-Lorraine? After all, Germany had not prevented a huge expansion in the French overseas empire after 1871 and Bismarck in many ways subtly aided it. Is your rule of thumb that in international relations France should always get what it wants and other should like it or lump it? Are French territorial conquests sacred and never to be given up?

117

Stephen 04.28.13 at 3:43 pm

JQ@96: “If there were any arguments advanced by the propagandists of 1914 and after that have not made it into this comments thread, I can’t think of them, but feel free to prove me wrong.”

If there were any arguments advanced by the propagandists of 1914 and after that began by saying ” it would have been far better if WW1 had never happened”, I can’t think of them, but feel free to prove me wrong.

118

Z 04.28.13 at 3:54 pm

Hektor Bim,

Frankly, your reading of my posts is so inaccurate that it is borderline offensive (where did I complain about German regulations, I just noted that they existed and that they were resisted; and where did I even suggested that “France should always get what it wants and other should like it or lump it”? I went out of my way to repeat in just about each of my posts that France was probably ultimately to blame for the franco-german hostility of the 1790-1940 period).

But let’s cut to the facts. My impression is that the population of Alsace-Lorraine was in favor of being part of France (and again, your own numbers show it: the regionalist party got an absolute majority of the vote for 20 years straight and was always the relative majority party, even with the 5%, your figure, of the most pro-French population leaving and with 10% plus of the population being recent German emigrants). That said, I am not an expert on the topic, far from it, so if you believe the converse, that a majority of the population was in favor of being part of Germany, then just say so and present evidence for it. That would definitely alter my perception of the period.

If you agree that a majority of the population of Alsace-Lorraine wanted to be part of France (do you?), then there was indeed only one fair settlement of this particular territorial conflict, that Germany just gave it up (as it did, eventually, just like France eventually gave up its claims towards Geneva, for instance). And this is emphatically not because I think that France should always get what it wants in the international area or some repugnant blather about French territorial conquests being sacred (where did this nonsense come from?) but because I think that a majority of the population should get what it wants for itself. And that I do believe.

119

Z 04.28.13 at 3:58 pm

With deep respect, I fear you are confusing two propositions. One, that it would have been far better if WW1 had never happened: total agreement. Two, that there is no rational account of how and why the war happened.

I find myself in perfect agreement with this comment of Stephen FWIW, and like him I agree perfectly with the first statement and disagree with the second.

120

Andy Lowry 04.28.13 at 4:22 pm

Chris, I too would like to hear what the state-of-the-art view is.

“Blame Russia” is popular, but it wasn’t Russia’s fault that Germany had no plan for an Eastern war. Had Germany not invaded Belgium en route to France, it’s difficult to see Britain joining in. In which case, would France really have honored its treaty and been the aggressor vs Germany? With Russia arguably the aggressor in the east?

121

LFC 04.28.13 at 4:29 pm

Chris Williams @89 and 110 is upset that no one has referred to Annika Mombauer’s book, but he/she (‘Chris’ can be either a male or female name of course, though I’ll assume Chris is male based on the nature of his post) has not said anything substantive.

This happened the last time there was a post on this topic, as I recall. A professional historian came along and said virtually everyone on the thread was uninformed and ignorant and that they shd go away and read X before commenting so confidently. For better or worse, that’s the way blogs tend to work: whether the subject is history, philosophy, economics or whatever, people, often less informed than they might/should be, make confident claims, then other people explain why (in the opinion of the commenters) they’re wrong, then they have an argument. Of course someone should not make a confident claim based on having read a bk published in 1968, but it’s not v. helpful simply to scold people for their ignorance and tell people to go away and read a particular bk which, chances are, most people are not going to read no matter how forcefully you tell them to. You didn’t even bother to say why Mombauer than X Y or Z, except to note that Mombauer is a friend of yours.

Then there is this:
Clearly, what we’ve [historians] failed to do is to inform our intellectual peers about what we’ve found out.
So, as Ronan already asked, what have you found out? Or is your position that only you deserve to know because you are a professional historian, and moreover anyone who has not done archival research on the origins of WW1 should basically go fu*k themselves?

122

LFC 04.28.13 at 4:31 pm

correction:
“why Mombauer is better than than X Y or Z”

123

LFC 04.28.13 at 4:33 pm

I can’t even type a correction properly. It’s that kind of a day.

124

LFC 04.28.13 at 4:37 pm

Andy Lowry 119

I’m sure you know what you mean, but I don’t. If Germany invaded France — whether through Belgium, through Alsace-Lorraine, or through Timbuktoo — France had the right to defend itself.

125

Stephen 04.28.13 at 4:48 pm

Chris Williams@89: I’ve not read the book by your friend Annika Mombauer, “The origins of the First World War”. Amazon however makes it possible to dip into it, and what she says is:

“The current consensus among most historians attributes the largest share of responsibility to the decisions made by German leaders in 1914 …
Even in July 1914 a European war was not inevitable. Right until the last moment, some were desperately trying to avoid the outbreak of war and to resolve the crisis at the conference table, while others did everything in their power to make it happen. That war finally broke out was less the product of fate or bad fortune than the result of intention. In order to understand why the crisis escalated into full-scale war, we must look at Vienna and Berlin, for it was here that war (at least a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia) was consciously risked and planned … Most historians would today agree that Berlin’s decision-makers put substantial pressure on Vienna to demand retribution from Serbia, and that they were happy to take the risk that an Austro-Serb conflict might escalate into a European war.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Dipping into the book, of course, does not make it easy to decide whether this is her summary of what most historians think, or her own views: possibly there is a bit I’ve not found in which she argues that most historians today are completely wrong. Could you explain?

But if we go along with the analysis of Berlin/Vienna causing the war as per most historians, and of JQ@103’s description of the central powers as autocracies (which France, Britain and the US really weren’t, you know) we do I think have a non-propagandist and rational account of how the war began.

JQ may still argue that, even if the war was begun by militarist autocracies, it was wrong to fight them. If so, it would be interesting to know why.

The argument that Tsarist Russia was also an autocracy has its weak points. Soviet Russia, after it stopped being a German ally, was also an autocracy, but that doesn’t mean the other allied powers were wrong to fight.

126

Igor Belanov 04.28.13 at 4:50 pm

He means that if the Schlieffen Plan had not existed, Germany might have thrown most of its efforts against Russia and opted for defence in the West. In that case, it would have been France’s decision whether to comply with its alliance with Russia and attack Germany.

127

Igor Belanov 04.28.13 at 4:51 pm

Sorry, that was in answer to 123.

128

Igor Belanov 04.28.13 at 5:02 pm

@ Stephen.

Somewhat ridiculous to pretend that WWI was a war for democracy against dictatorship. Russia’s status as an autocracy was obviously of significance, as it provides evidence that Britain and France did not see themselves as fighting for a liberal cause, and the secret treaties show that they were quite happy for Tsarist Russia to annex wide areas of Turkey and the Balkans. The major factor is that, Alsace-Lorraine apart, France and Britain were effectively committed to maintaining the status quo in Europe in order to protect their imperial interests abroad. The problem they had was that the alliance/entente that was intended to achieve this tied them to an autocratic, increasingly unstable and potentially expansionary power in Eastern Europe. The irony was that the interests of the traditional ruling elites in Austria, Germany and Russia would have been safeguarded much better by the maintenance of the Dreikaiserbund, but internal pressures drove them into militaristic and nationalistic dead-ends. In many ways these problems of modernisation essentially provoked BOTH world wars.

129

Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 5:25 pm

“Ronan(rf) at 91 thinks it wasn’t worth it. Maybe he’s right.”

But it also goes beyond the specifics of how bad the Ottoman Empire/Tsar were, (which Ill leave up to others with more knowledge to judge) and the fact that what followed wasnt really much better..it’s the fact you’re selling a war which developed in the heart of Europe, (involving countries that ran their own empires with a good deal of brutality) as a force for good because it helped ‘free’ those living under Ottoman tyranny etc

130

Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 5:30 pm

..if it destroyed all the European Empires aswell, I’d begin to see your point

131

Andy Lowry 04.28.13 at 5:56 pm

123, 125: yep. Germany chose a two-front war. When folks act like only X is possible, despite the existence of W Y and Z, it’s a good bet X is what they really want to do.

132

Stephen 04.28.13 at 6:15 pm

Igor Belanov @127: nobody is pretending that WW1 was a war for democracy against dictatorship: indeed, nobody that I have seen is claiming that dictatorships were involved in that war. Autocracies, yes.

And nobody doubts that Russia, on the Allied side, was a rather unpleasant autocracy which, if victorious, would with Allied agreement have annexed neighbouring territories. That doesn’t mean that France, Britain, the US were not (reference the central powers) democracies. How many times do I have to make the analogy with WWII, in which Soviet Russia was an extremely unpleasant dictatorship that did annex neighbouring territories: and yet, Britain, etc, were fighting as democracies …

Also: a little thought will show you that for Britain and France to “protect their imperial interests abroad”, they had to do minor things like preventing a German conquest, or starvation, of their own countries. Do you blame them?

As for WWII being caused by “problems of modernisation”: words fail me.

133

Stephen 04.28.13 at 6:19 pm

Igor Belanov@127: “the interests of the traditional ruling elites in Austria, Germany and Russia would have been safeguarded much better by the maintenance of the Dreikaiserbund, but internal pressures drove them into militaristic and nationalistic dead-ends.”

Remind me who abandoned the Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia, and what “internal pressure” made them do so.

134

Stephen 04.28.13 at 6:29 pm

dAnr@76: “I think the Irish, the Finns, the Latvians, the Poles, the Croatians, the Saudis – All might have a different perspective on the futility of the new world that was created by the war.”

If you accept that WW2 was a consequence of WW1 – particularly, of the German belief that they were robbed of victory at the last moment by a treacherous stab in the back – then the views of Latvians, Poles, Croatians and similar might not be what you think they are.

Likewise, those Irish who remember that Home Rule had been agreed in 1914 might differ.

Finns, yes, they did on the whole benefit. Likewise the House of Ibn Saud. There are not very many Finns, and I can’t bring myself to care much about the Saudis. As for the rest of Europe, they do rather outnumber the admirable Finns.

135

Hektor Bim 04.28.13 at 6:35 pm

Z,

We don’t know what the Alsace-Lorrainers wanted in 1918 because none of the great powers were interested in finding out. The vote totals are a poor measure of that, but they do show a majority of voters favoring pan-German parties even after the Zabern affair. We don’t know how they felt in 1918, and the French were not going to allow an independent state.

If France had lost the war, a lot of people would say that Alsace-Lorraine was obviously German as demonstrated by their fidelity to the German language.

136

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 6:40 pm

“JQ may still argue that, even if the war was begun by militarist autocracies, it was wrong to fight them. If so, it would be interesting to know why.”

For the same reason as the Iraq war was wrong, and that nearly all wars are wrong. The predictable harm outweighed the benefits.

The Austrian war with Serbia was bad (Saddam was bad too) but a general European war was bound to be worse. Given the existence of the Entente (which people who start the clock in July 1914 invariably ignore) the only way to prevent such a war after Russia’s mobilization was an explicit declaration of neutrality.

That might have led to a Russian backdown or to a war between Russia and the Central Powers in which, presumably, Russia would have lost fairly quickly. Bad outcomes either way, but there were no good outcomes on offer.

Either way, the war was not “against” militarist autocracies, but in support of one (arguably the worst) against the others. And to repeat, the French-British decision to fight wasn’t made in 1914 but when they allied themselves with Russia.

137

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 7:12 pm

On the impossibility of “rational” explanations, I’m not denying that events can be explained in a coherent way. It’s not hard to explain, for example, why no-one who mattered pushed hard for a negotiated peace after the war bogged down. In just the same way, it’s not hard to explain why so few people who mattered in the US opposed the Iraq war or (even more) the belief that the US can and should use its military power to promote its national interest.

I’m saying that there is no explanation in which any of those who made the decisions to prepare for, begin and continue the war can be said to have been acting rationally in the pursuit of a morally defensible end.

138

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 7:30 pm

And, to go right back to the OP, we’re over 100 comments and no one has yet sought to defend the secret treaties (Sykes-Picot and so on) which were the central point of the post.

This is an issue where specific historical expertise might be more relevant than in the futile attempt to allocate war guilt to some specific party, so I’d welcome any contribution or pointer to the literature.

139

Stephen 04.28.13 at 8:00 pm

JQ@136: re WW1, “The predictable harm outweighed the benefits”.

Here we differ. You would be entirely right to say, the harm which we (with 20:20 hindsight) knew would happen outweighed the benefits: which is why I said, it would have been better if the war had never been fought.

But predictable harm? Do you really mean to argue that intelligent, well-informed people in responsible positions in 1914 predicted the harm the war would cause, knew they could have avoided it, and went ahead anyway? Really?

“Given the existence of the Entente … the only way to prevent [a general European] war after Russia’s mobilization was an explicit declaration of neutrality.”

Given the existence (not known to the Entente) of the Schlieffen plan, which called for an invasion of neutral Belgium to get at France as soon as Russia mobilised, that seems a rather dodgy statement.

140

Rich Puchalsky 04.28.13 at 8:28 pm

“But predictable harm? Do you really mean to argue that intelligent, well-informed people in responsible positions in 1914 predicted the harm the war would cause, knew they could have avoided it, and went ahead anyway? Really?”

This is tiresome. Of course people predicted the general forms of harm that the war would cause. Here’s a bit of potted history from wikipedia, because I can’t be bothered with anything better:

“In Britain prominent peace activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse went to prison for refusing military service, citing his convictions as an “International Socialist and a Christian”[47] Many socialist groups and movements were antimilitarist, arguing that war by its nature was a type of governmental coercion of the working class for the benefit of capitalist elites. The French socialist pacifist leader Jean Jaurès was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic on July 31, 1914. The national parties in the Second International increasingly supported their respective nations in war and the International was dissolved in 1916. Nevertheless many groups protested against the war, including the traditional peace churches, the Woman’s Peace Party (which was organized in 1915 and led by noted reformer Jane Addams) and the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP) (also organized in 1915).[48] Other groups included the American Union Against Militarism, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee.[49] Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, was another fierce advocate of pacifism, the only person to vote no to America’s entrance into both World Wars.”

But pacifism is *definitionally* — according to the opinions of people who like these discussions — never “intelligent”, “well-informed”, or “responsible”. This despite the general history of what countries have gained or lost through war. And of course, because of this propagandized disinclination to pacifism, pacifists never become “people in responsible positions”. Finally, it’s not good enough for people to predict general harm, they have to know the exact form of harm that will be caused, or it’s not good enough. It’s not enough for them to have been right, they have to have been incredible prophets who can predict detailed consequences beforehand.

That’s why we haven’t really progressed at all since early 20th century in this matter. When people here were defending the U.S. intervention in Libya, they had the same attitude towards rejection of voluntary war as people did then. And the same disinclination to be called warmongers, because their motives were apparently so good.

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Andy Lowry 04.28.13 at 8:51 pm

Quigginism apparently would have let Germany take over Europe “one piece at a time,” because a general war would have been worse than any particular conquest. If one were trying to make pacifism look absurd, one could do little better.

I’m not sure why this doesn’t carry over equally to WW2. Why not let Hitler have Poland? and France? Better than a general war and 30 million dead, right?

When your position matches up with the Cliveden Set and Pat Buchanan, it’s time to check one’s premises.

142

Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 8:59 pm

“so I’d welcome any contribution or pointer to the literature.”

I’ve no expertise whatsover, so I’ll leave it to those more knowledgeable, but I found D. K. Fieldhouse’s Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958 a helpful general overview (and if no one responds it has a useful bibliography)…..but before that, Priya Satia’s ‘Spies in Arabia’ is fascinating. I’d love to know what experts on the region think of it. I have to say I thought it was bloody marvellous
(on Sykes/Picot specifically there’s been a new book out by James Barr called a line in the sand,though I havent read it, and Fromkin’s book, obviously..which is an overrated gem)

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Rich Puchalsky 04.28.13 at 9:07 pm

Andy Lowry: “Quigginism apparently would have let Germany take over Europe “one piece at a time,” because a general war would have been worse than any particular conquest. If one were trying to make pacifism look absurd, one could do little better.”

Yes, because Hitler’s rise to power had absolutely nothing to do with Germany’s defeat in WWI — right? You’re seriously saying that it wouldn’t have been better to let Germany keep Alsace-Lorraine if you could thereby avoid WW II?

Maybe you should check your premises. They appear to depend on counterfactuals that depend for their apparently convincing quality on other people not getting to present their own counterfactuals.

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Mao Cheng Ji 04.28.13 at 9:15 pm

Pacifists are willing to lose the empire, or forfeit empire-building. Pacifism is probably incompatible with nationalism. Most people are nationalists, to one degree or another. That is why pacifism is not a responsible position; in fact, given the current state of affairs (not to mention the year 1914), it’s outright despicable. Pacifists are traitors.

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John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 9:30 pm

As regards predictable harm “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our time” (assuming it was recollected accurately) was a pretty good effort from someone whose own actions contributed substantially to the breakout of war.

146

Andy Lowry 04.28.13 at 9:40 pm

“You’re seriously saying that it wouldn’t have been better to let Germany keep Alsace-Lorraine if you could thereby avoid WW II?”

Have you ever read a book of history in your life? Only you, I’m sure, could have predicted Hitler (and Stalin, and the A-bomb, and nylon) in 1914.

As for Grey, he said something portentous. Yay. (And don’t forget, his wife’s death left him talking like that most days.)

147

John Quiggin 04.28.13 at 10:06 pm

@Stephen As usual in war, both (all) sides assumed the others would follow their plan. The French assumed that they could let Russia and Germany fight, then enter the war or not, at a time of their convenience. The Germans, with the rules rigged against them, decided to cheat with the Schlieffen plan, assuming that they could knock France out of the war before Britain could do anything about it. The British thought the Entente and an adequate supply of dreadnoughts would maintain the status quo and keep Germany in its place. The Austrians and Russians thought they could snap up more of the former Ottoman Empire. The Turks thought Germany would deal with Russia and they could regain lost ground.

And all of this is typical of war, and of warmongers, as is evidenced by this thread. To make the point yet again, the pro-war group commenting here have seen the end of the movie, but they are still convinced that the good guys did the right thing at every stage (except for some unfortunate tactical blunders).

The fact that tens of millions of people ended up dead is no more of a problem for them than are the millions of dead, wounded, orphaned and exiled Iraqis in the war they just backed there (I assume – to support the Great War and oppose the Iraq War would be a truly bizarre position).

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Ronan(rf) 04.28.13 at 11:12 pm

“Only you, I’m sure, could have predicted Hitler (and Stalin, and the A-bomb, and nylon) in 1914. “

Well could you not predict the Germany would continually aspire to dominate Europe? And just..give in? Obviously they weren’t going to do that in the real world, but theoretically surrender seems like the sensible option

149

Rich Puchalsky 04.28.13 at 11:59 pm

“Only you, I’m sure, could have predicted “

This from someone who felt free to make his own counterfactual predictions. But his are all tough and macho, so they must be true! I think that I read that in a history book somewhere.

I wonder how many people here were in the Keyboard Kommandoes during the Iraq War? Feels like that kind of crowd. A century from now people will still be going on about how we had to take down Saddam because he was gassing his own people, and how those WMDs are still going to turn up. Why, if we hadn’t invaded the county and killed hundreds of thousands of people, Saddam would have killed tens of thousands forever and no one would have stopped him.

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MPAVictoria 04.29.13 at 12:02 am

“And all of this is typical of war, and of warmongers, as is evidenced by this thread. To make the point yet again, the pro-war group commenting here have seen the end of the movie, but they are still convinced that the good guys did the right thing at every stage (except for some unfortunate tactical blunders).

The fact that tens of millions of people ended up dead is no more of a problem for them than are the millions of dead, wounded, orphaned and exiled Iraqis in the war they just backed there (I assume – to support the Great War and oppose the Iraq War would be a truly bizarre position).”

Come now John. That is a grossly unfair characterization of those disagreeing with you on this thread.

151

floopmeister 04.29.13 at 12:18 am

‘Lest We Forget’

Hardly possible given the wall-to-wall coverage of ANZAC Day here in Australia. Not a criticism of the memorial day itself, or the need to remember past sacrifices, but the whole thing hasd become a little qwarped IMHO.

As someone who’s been to Gallipoli Cove (thankfully not on the actual day) and seen the behaviour of the Australian tourists ‘on pilgrimage’ in Istanbul afterwards (done the visit; got the commemorative T-shirt; got pissed and urinated in the streets to the strains of ‘I Come From a Land Down Under’; now I’m off the the running of the bulls in Pamplona…).

You’d be surprised (or maybe not?) how many think the ANZACS actually won against the Turks…

How the Turks actually put up with this influx of drunken nongs is beyond me.

We need to think hard about what it is we are remembering.

152

gordon 04.29.13 at 12:23 am

Ronan(rf) at 129 –

I’m not actually trying to “sell” WWI. I’m trying to show that there were outcomes (the collapse of Tsarism and the Ottoman Empire) which in themselves could be seen as good for some people (the subjects of those regimes). I’m doing that as a reaction to the sweeping statement by Stephen (at 52) “that it would have been far better if WW1 had never happened”. Whether those good outcomes outweighed the cost that those same people had to pay in the war is hard to decide, even with hindsight – see 80 and 114. My main interest is frankly not to either defend or condemn WWI, but to explore how Stephen’s historic-interpretive statement actually works – what it really means – at least in part.

I might just mention here that I agree with Stephen (at 139) when he queries the predictability of the huge cost of WWI. From memory, in August 1914 most Govts. were quite convinced that a general war would be short – “Home before the leaves fall!” So I also disagree with Prof. Quiggin (at 136): “The predictable harm outweighed the benefits”. Predictable?

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 12:41 am

If both sides are predicting an early victory, at least one must be wrong. If neither side is completely crazy (confident of an easy win, when any objective observer would predict a rapid loss), then this is a situation when a long and/or indecisive war is more likely, not less.

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Peter T 04.29.13 at 12:42 am

I haven’t read Mombauer’s book (although the conclusions stated above agree with what else I have read). I have read her long article on Moltke and the war and, although handicapped by incomprehension of the many passages quoted in German, the thrust is clear: Moltke, Bulow, Bethmann-Hollweg, Kiderlen, Conrad, Tirpitz and many other – pretty much all those in charge of German and Austrian policy – planned for a war with France and Russia, wanted one, were disappointed when they did not get one in 1909 (the Bosnia crisis), argued for one in 1911 (the Agadir affair) and pushed very hard in 1914. And they did not think a war would be quick and easy – they thought a few million dead would be worth what they hoped to gain – permanent German domination of the continent, a free hand in the Balkans and maybe in the east and, internally, against the Social Democrats. And much the same coalition thought much the same in the 30s.

German policy along these lines went back to the 1890s at least. And they gave everyone else a very poor set of choices. Every time the other powers smoothed things down, Germany found a reason to push harder. Very like the neocons and Iraq – given who was in charge, war was pretty much inevitable (no concession from Saddam was ever going to be enough).

Given the social fragility of all the regimes, even a minor war was going to cause major – and unpredictable – upheaval. Again, many of those making the choices recognised this. This makes much of the argument about policy pointless – those involved were not to be persuaded by probable costs or dangers. They were not operating on that level.

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Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 12:45 am

“I might just mention here that I agree with Stephen (at 139) when he queries the predictability of the huge cost of WWI. From memory, in August 1914 most Govts. were quite convinced that a general war would be short – “Home before the leaves fall!” So I also disagree with Prof. Quiggin (at 136): “The predictable harm outweighed the benefits”. Predictable?”

Wow, another perfect example. So because their official predictions were universally very bad, the harm was not predictable. They were wrong, but they were wrong for the right reasons. Meanwhile the people who said “I think that a major war in Europe will predictably cause a lot more harm than good” were right, but they were right for the wrong reasons, so they don’t count.

I think that maybe I’ll try this if I ever feel like crashing a car. I’ll set out and while I’m driving I’ll blindfold myself, or get really drunk. That way I won’t be able to see the crash coming, or think about it. When I’m brought into court, I’ll tell the jury that the crash wasn’t predictable, because I didn’t predict it, and really there was no way that I could have.

156

John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 1:18 am

Certainly the Germans and Austrians were keen for war, but as you’ve already pointed out, so were their Russian counterparts, as well as the substantial revanchist faction in France. And France and Britain had been on the brink of war as recently as 1898 (Fashoda). All were imperialists committed to the use of military force to achieve (illusory, as Angell pointed out) gains, and all imposed massive suffering on their own people as a result, while laying the ground for future disasters.

To repeat the concluding line of the OP, to which so many have taken objection, “we should remember, and condemn, the crimes of those, on all sides, who made and carried on that war”

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gordon 04.29.13 at 1:24 am

Or maybe Prof. Quiggin is right, the long duration of the war was predictable. After all, Bloch and Kitchener predicted a long war, and if somebody predicts something then you can call it predictable. So maybe the problem was that the Very Serious People of 1914 declined to believe the predictions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Gotlib_Bloch

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Kitchener,_1st_Earl_Kitchener

158

jb 04.29.13 at 1:26 am

To Peter T-

That is certainly my impression of Mombauer’s book.

See http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/291, and for a more critical review http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=7288.

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Peter T 04.29.13 at 1:51 am

To JQ

No. Most people of the time thought of war as a “normal” and acceptable instrument of state. But most British and French policymakers did not want a general European war, or even any war in Europe at all. They had gone out of their way to avoid this over Fashoda (which was more a press beat-up than a serious issue), Bosnia, Morocco etc. Russian leaders feared that war would mean the end of the regime – but they also feared that yielding to Germany or Austria would end the regime. So they were prepared to cut deals that avoided war, so long as they could save face. The Germans and Austrians were not prepared to deal – too many of those at the top actually wanted war.

But it bears repeating – this was not based on any rational calculation, but on a melange of fears, panics, dreams and illusions. The lunatics really were in charge of the asylum. Picture Tony Abbot and colleagues faced with a climate crisis.

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sherparick 04.29.13 at 2:06 am

It is pretty hard not to argue that WWI was utter catastrophe. Of course for the mind set that existed in 1914 among both the Central and Entente powers, both among the governing elites and masses, their was a profound ignorance as well as great malice. In defense of Great Britain and France, Germany did not give them much choice about being in the war once they launched the Schiefflen plan to attach France through Belgium. Of course the decisions taken years before (Russian-French Entente, Germany’s decision to build the High Seas Fleet, the secret Anglo-French staff talks, etc.) I still think it was Austria-Hungary and Germany that made the biggest gambles, although the whole of Europe seem to behave like a drunk driver surprised that his actions led to a catastrophe.

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jb 04.29.13 at 2:57 am

Quiggin-

I think the reason people have taken exception to that line is that it implies that all participants in the conflict were equally guilty. Many of the posters here seem to be asserting that while all parties bear some responsibility for the war, the primary responsibility belongs to Germany (and Austria and Russia as well).

If I’m not misunderstanding, I think many posters here are not arguing that WWI was a good thing, still less something they would wish to repeat. They are arguing that the decisions Germany made were the primary cause of the war, and that those decisions narrowed the options that Britain and France had to avoid war. Given this, the argument goes, Britain and France were justified in responding. (And I’m not sure that all of your opponents would actually add the preceding sentence to this argument).

I don’t really agree with this argument, but it is, at least, somewhat defensible. It is also increasingly prevalent amongst several historians (many of them German, interestingly enough). It has a number of weak points, but to dismiss it as ‘Entente propaganda’ is a mistake.

“And all of this is typical of war, and of warmongers, as is evidenced by this thread. To make the point yet again, the pro-war group commenting here have seen the end of the movie, but they are still convinced that the good guys did the right thing at every stage (except for some unfortunate tactical blunders)….The fact that tens of millions of people ended up dead is no more of a problem for them than are the millions of dead, wounded, orphaned and exiled Iraqis in the war they just backed there”

Look, its true that WWI caused massive amounts of suffering, death, and destruction. That is the nature of wars. All wars cause death and suffering, which is why they are so terrible. War is NEVER a good thing. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes nessecary. If a nation is attacked by another nation, for instance, most people would argue that the attacked nation has a right to fight back. Moreover, it may have to do so, to avoid being conquered. Word War II is considered by almost everyone (except those who are pacifists*), to have been a justified war. Yet it caused even more death, suffering, and destruction than World War I did, and this suffering occurred over a much larger part of the world. I could be wrong, but I assume that you think WWII was justified. Therefore, the presence of suffering does not automatically mean the war was unnecessary.

*note to Rich P: I do not mean to disparage pacifism. If Quiggin is a pacifist that is fine. Pacifism is a perfectly reasonable position to take. (And frankly, I much prefer pacifists to ultra-nationalists, and those who declare war at the drop of a hat.) I just don’t agree with it.

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jb 04.29.13 at 3:09 am

@160

I’d say it was more ignorance and stupidity than intentional malice myself. On the other hand, someone once said that “sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice”.

What particularly astounds me is the way almost everyone believed it would be a short war, even though all the Great Powers (especially Germany) had spent years building up their armies.

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Peter T 04.29.13 at 3:27 am

@162
The quote hits it.

“Everyone” did not include many professionals (Kitchener, Moltke, Fisher…) who thought the war would be long and hard. What amazes is that that some were prepared to go ahead anyway.

The long tradition that “war is the school of the nation” – toughening, ennobling etc is – fortunately – very nearly extinct now, and so hard to understand, but was quite prevalent then. This despite that the UK and Russia had been through major wars not much more than a decade previously.

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 3:35 am

“The long tradition that “war is the school of the nation” – toughening, ennobling etc is – fortunately – very nearly extinct now, and so hard to understand, but was quite prevalent then. This despite that the UK and Russia had been through major wars not much more than a decade previously.’

Absolutely right, and central to the Anzac legend in Australia. But if you agree with me in attributing the outbreak of war to the prevalence of such legends, along with delusional imperialist beliefs of various kinds, I fail to see why you took such offence to the OP. It’s not as though the rulers of 1914 were primitive warriors who had never been exposed to anti-war ideas. They were faced with choices between right and wrong, and they collectively chose wrong (or, if you prefer, they chose being wrong, and holding on to power, in preference to being right, and forgoing it).

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jb 04.29.13 at 3:43 am

Quiggin-
This does not mean that I necessarily agree with your critics here either. A few of them, frankly, seem to be motivated by their own nationalism. I have never seen Steven, for instance, criticize a single thing done by the British, and he often seems to take the UK’s side in every single historical debate here. His contributions on Irish history, in particular, are laughably biased. He also seems to take a perverse pleasure in contradicting anything that you or Chris Bertram say, and often seems to be deliberately annoying. There are times I think he takes certain positions for the sole purpose of irritating people. Anderson is much more reasonable, but his posts also seem to show a certain British nationalism.

Quite frankly, I believe states should only go to war when they are directly attacked, and World War I does not seem to have met this criteria. I can see making some exceptions to this principle, as in the case of something like the Holocaust, but the German atrocities in Belgium did not really rise to that level. I can understand why Britain and France felt they had to participate, but American participation in the Great War has always seemed inexplicable to me.

Additionally, as something of a socialist, I have a hard time seeing good in the American participation, given that it resulted in the suppression, not just of the Socialist Party, but of numerous anti-war groups. It also resulted in a huge increase in nativism, and the persecution of various immigrants, as well as giving rise to a climate where dissent was equated with disloyalty.

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 3:43 am

Coming back again to the OP, I’ve skimmed through the opening bits of Line in the Sand, and the actions of the Western Allies were actually worse than I claimed. Not only were the motives of the British and French thoroughly imperialist but most of the book describes the way in which they sought to undermine each other after the war, exploiting tensions between Jews and Arabs, among others, and helping to create the poisonous conditions of the modern ME.

It starts with a meeting between Sykes and the British war leaders – Asquith, Balfour, Lloyd George and Kitchener, in which Sykes describes the partition he wants to offer the French. Lloyd George and Kitchener come out as eager imperalists, while Asquith just wants to avoid upsetting the French. Only Balfour suggests that taking over Palestine is likely to produce more costs than benefits.

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jb 04.29.13 at 3:44 am

Quiggin-
I think he’s saying that it was primarily the choices of Germany’s rulers that were responsible for the war, and that the choices of Britian and France had much less to do with it.

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Omega Centauri 04.29.13 at 4:15 am

JQ If both sides are predicting an early victory, at least one must be wrong.
Impeccable logic. But poor psychology. “We know we are right about this, they should have their heads examined.”

WWI largely reads like a classic tragedy. The primary actors can see a very bad outcome coming, but are compelled because of character and circumstances to act as they do.

169

Peter T 04.29.13 at 4:20 am

Not offence as such – more irritation with projecting back onto the past our own attitudes and judgements, Doing this gets in the way of understanding what happened, and turns what were genuinely difficult issues into rather facile exercises involving unknowable alternate histories.

There was, as an example, no likely way either to deter the Germans of 1939 from war, or to defeat them once it had begun, or to rescue their various victims. Whatever you did, there was going to be a great deal of blood and suffering. We project back from that horror, and say “well, if only this or that had been done in 1914, then…[no Nazism, no Bolshevism]..”

The economic and social transformations of the C19 and C20 had a wrenching impact across Europe and the US: they forced millions into migration, other millions into conditions that were felt as uniquely exploitative and unjust, confronted elites with a choice that often seemed to them to be between extinction and a desperate fight. The reaction of the German and Austrian elites was to retreat into illusions and, finally, to fight – a flucht nach vorn, as they say. Given the centrality of Germany to Europe and to the system of which they were a critical part, other elites had little choice but to seek to soothe and, when that failed, to fight back.

The useful lessons from the period are not ones about who was right or wrong. They are about how a whole social system can paint itself into a corner and then take the most desperate gambles. It is also a sad, but useful, reminder of the limits of reason.

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ChrisB 04.29.13 at 4:55 am

“What would the correct actions by the French and British governments have been?”
1. Not entering an alliance with Russia in the first place
2. Seeking peace on the basis of the status quo ante from the moment the initial German advance was halted

Yes, but (2) there is a nonargumental evasion, because the German government had absolutely zero interest in an sqa peace up to about ten minutes before the armstice, largely on the grounds that they had gained much of what they wanted – Belgium, etc – to set against their human losses. Having sought peace on the basis of sqa and got nowhere, what do the Allied governments then do? Fight on, or opt for a very non-sqa peace? Bearing in mind that they believe, correctly, that any government signing an acceptance of a defeat would certainly be voted out or revolted against? The French, after all, could remember the Paris Commune.
The question whether the war could have been avoided is one question: the question of whether the German attack should have been resisted is another: the issue of whether, the war having started, the Allies should have surrendered is another.

My grandfather was at Gallipoli, by the way – write some interesting letters; https://sites.google.com/a/theborthwicks.net/www/home/alexander-hay-borthwick/alexander-hay-borthwick-letters/alexander-hay-borthwick-letters-from-gallipoli

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 5:03 am

“projecting back onto the past our own attitudes and judgements”

I agree with this up to a point. But where do you stop? Do the Bushies get a free pass for Iraq, as men and women of their time and class? How about Assad, for whatever crimes he committed yesterday? If not, there must be some point at which we say that events are so recent that this excuse doesn’t apply.

To my mind, there are two criteria

* Relevance to our current political situation. The question of how to view the Great War is alive today (not in the US, but certainly in Oz and Canada, and I think also in the UK) – many of those defending the War do so because they want to defend contemporary militarism against one of the clearest examples of militarist disaster

* Whether the debate was alive then. I don’t blame, say, Julius Caesar for upholding slavery. No one at the time had even raised any questions about this. Conversely, I have no patience with defenders of the Confederacy, or of the slaveholders among the US Founders, who object to applying our own judgements to their actions. Plenty of people were around to apply that judgement at the time. And the same is true of the imperialists and elites of 1914 – they chose to fight, or send others to do so, in defence of their privileges, while others from the same social background, and with the same information, supported peace and progress. Understandable, but not justifiable or forgivable.

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Bruce Wilder 04.29.13 at 6:09 am

Perhaps I’m overreading the OP and some of the comments, but I find the absence of institutional qualification of moral judgements to be rather disturbing.

I have no difficulty in saying that George W. Bush, in invading Iraq, was committing a crime, because there’s an institutional framework and legal precedent, meant to restrain such behavior, which defines unprovoked, aggressive war as a crime. And, that framework was a product of the experience of the two world wars, and earnest efforts to constrain the behavior of politicians and nation-states.

It seems to me that analysis of the First World War, its origins and conduct, does largely confirm something like the view taken here by Peter T, that the social and economic transformations of the preceding decades had de-stabilized the various Empires of Europe. Woodrow Wilson, who took the U.S. into the war from fear of what a victory by the German Empire over Britain and France might mean, had some ideas about how to restructure the international order, in ways that might reduce wanton warfare. But, there’s barely been a dismissal of those ideas, let alone a discussion of them.

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ajay 04.29.13 at 8:48 am

147, 171 et al: Efforts to imply that everyone defending – or even trying to explain – Entente actions in 1914 is secretly a militarist, a warmonger, delusional, fooled by century-old propaganda or a supporter of George Bush and the war in Iraq are, frankly, pretty grubby stuff.

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Ronan(rf) 04.29.13 at 9:03 am

But genuinely ajay, do you not think there’s some merit to letting the Germans take Europe in 1914? What would that have meant for Britain (let’s do a Niall Ferguson cost/benefit analysis of a German civilising mission)..better infrastructure, stronger unions, British rail upgrades..negatives..?

175

John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 9:09 am

This is driving me to the point of despair.

Bruce, if I read you correctly, you’re saying that the OP, and my subsequent comments, ignored Wilson. Point one of the 14 Points “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view” is commonly summarized as “No secret treaties”.

The key point raised in the OP was the fact that the secret Sykes-Picot treaty (and others made with Russia) undermined the claims of Britain and France to be different in kind from the imperialist autocrats with whom they were contending. Despite repeated invitations, no one on the pro-war side has responded to this point. And now you accuse me of ignoring Wilson’s ideas.

It’s clear that I’ve made basic mistake in rhetoric here, though I don’t know how I could have done better. Peter T’s attack @19, based on some kind of cultural relativism, seems to have opened the floodgates to the likes of Anderson and Lowry pushing straightforward war propaganda. None of these have faced more than minimal pushback from other commenters, who have been much more offended by my responses than by the defence of mass murder (there, I did it again, but at this point I don’t care).

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 9:21 am

At least in your case, ajay, I can drop the “secretly”. You’ve been a consistent militarist as long as I can remember.

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jb 04.29.13 at 9:36 am

Oh boy.

This thread has been really nasty.

178

jb 04.29.13 at 9:37 am

And has ajay really been a consistent militarist?

I don’t think he supported the Iraq war, though I may be misremembering

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jb 04.29.13 at 9:44 am

Look JQ,

I actually agree with you, at least in large part, about WWI. It was, in large part, an imperialist war.

And I do not regard President Wilson with much fondness. It’s hard for me to think well of someone who (a). was a massive racist even by the standards of his time and (b) introduced authoritarian legislation and imprisoned socialists and anti-war activists.

And that’s not even getting into what he did in Latin America.

But the reason people aren’t taking you seriously is that your rhetoric is very extreme and you dismiss all people who disagree with you as militarists and nationalists. Look, you are entitled to your opinion on the war. But please don’t act as though your position is the only moral one. That tends to irritate people.

Again, I agree with you, yet you are alienating even me.

Think about that.

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 9:54 am

I can’t remember back that far, but his comments on drones and in the thread on navies were strongly pro-militarist, so I don’t think I’m being unfair in using him as supporting evidence for the case that support for the Great War is correlated with (among other things) support for militarism today. That in turn, is one of the reasons I’m unwilling to accept the suggestion that those who caused the War should be judged by different standards.

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 10:06 am

jb, fair enough, but to repeat the usual line of people who get into wars* I didn’t start it. A review of the comments thread will show lots of attacks on me, quite a few before I made any response in kind.

More generally, I guess, it’s difficult to have civilised disagreements about war – Iraq showed us that, and I’ve been attacked with equal or greater vigor on most previous antiwar posts.

BTW, I agree with you on Wilson, but that doesn’t make him wrong on the Fourteen Points

http://crookedtimber.org/2011/12/26/reappraisals/

* Yes, I see the irony in this

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Asteele 04.29.13 at 10:29 am

Conversations about war certainly do seem to bring out people’s inner Pangloss, that’s for sure.

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bexley 04.29.13 at 10:40 am

PeterT @ 169

There was, as an example, no likely way either to deter the Germans of 1939 from war, or to defeat them once it had begun, or to rescue their various victims. Whatever you did, there was going to be a great deal of blood and suffering.

Is this actually true? My (limited) understanding is that had the Allies not fallen for the Von Manstein Plan hook, line and sinker the Germans would have been in a desperate position. The Allies had intelligence warnings of where the German forces were concentrated and roughly where the attack would come, but disregarded them. German victory in the West in 1940 was hardly pre-ordained.

Anyone more knowledgeable care to comment?

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Peter T 04.29.13 at 12:49 pm

bexley

Great powers are not defeated in a single battle – or a single campaign. That’s why they are great powers. It took three years to push Russia into defeat and the same for Turkey, even though both were tottering beforehand. The resources involved are very large. Quick victory is a recurring delusion, most of all among armchair strategists. JQ’s points about criminal culpability really do apply to anyone who says that a war will be quick or easy, and much more so if the war is against a major power.

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Anderson 04.29.13 at 1:01 pm

” German victory in the West in 1940 was hardly pre-ordained.”

Correct. See e.g. Ernest May’s “Strange Defeat.” One can argue how “decadent” the French were, but a first-rate division covering the Ardennes could have made the difference. Almost as many “terrible ifs” as 1914.

[/wargaming]

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Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 1:37 pm

Peter T: “Not offence as such – more irritation with projecting back onto the past our own attitudes and judgements, Doing this gets in the way of understanding what happened, and turns what were genuinely difficult issues into rather facile exercises involving unknowable alternate histories.”

So much wrong with such a reasonable-sounding statement.

1. Were the people opposed to war at the time merely a projection back of our own attitudes and judgements?

2. Does “understanding what happened” around “genuinely difficult issues” mean that effectively we’ve decided that the decisions made were the only decisions reasonably possible, given the social system then? That anyone who disagrees must have deficient understanding?

3. Unknowable alternate histories should be avoided, if you like, but in that case it only seems fair that everyone should avoid them. Is “if the Germans hadn’t been stopped in 1914, they’d have kept going” an unknowable alternate history? Or is it an obvious historical fact, and should be treated as such, while only the projections of people arguing against war are unknowable alternate histories?

4. What “useful lessons” can possibly be drawn from the period if we can’t project back certain attitudes that we don’t consider to have substantially changed between now and then? Presumably people of their time and people of own time similarly do not like being machine-gunned or killed by poison gas or indeed killed in war by any other means.

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bexley 04.29.13 at 1:37 pm

PeterT @ 184

I’m not really sure what you are saying here. I’ve bolded the part of your original comment that I disagreed with:

There was, as an example, no likely way either to deter the Germans of 1939 from war, or to defeat them once it had begun, or to rescue their various victims.

So my comment was arguing against the view that there was no way to defeat the Germans once war had started not that it would be quick or easy or even that war should be entered into lightly.

I’m also not sure what to make of your generality of “Great powers are not defeated in a single battle – or a single campaign.”

France was a great power that was defeated in a single campaign. The Germans did achieve victory in a single campaign. Although to do so they had to take a massive gamble that would have pretty much lost them the war had it failed.

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ajay 04.29.13 at 1:50 pm

180: You’ve been a consistent militarist as long as I can remember.

The kind of consistent militarist who has
opposed UK and US intervention in Libya,
opposed air strikes in Libya,
opposed an attack on Iran,
advocated withdrawal from Iraq,
advocated withdrawal from Afghanistan,
thinks that military action against North Korea would be completely nuts (not that the converse is exactly a minority position),
opposes military intervention in the Syrian civil war,
and believes that the UK should move immediately towards unilateral nuclear disarmament?

That kind of militarist? Yeah, I’m a real Krieghund, me. A regular blood-crazed psychopath.

I think that “grubby” was being a bit kind, to be honest.

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ajay 04.29.13 at 2:03 pm

France was a great power that was defeated in a single campaign. The Germans did achieve victory in a single campaign. Although to do so they had to take a massive gamble that would have pretty much lost them the war had it failed.

Add to this the fact that, in 1914, the most recent war between two sort-of-Great Powers was the 1905 Russian-Japanese war. From that, a not-too-bright general could have deduced
a) that wars between states with modern armed forces would be over very quickly – the land fighting lasted barely 12 months;
b) that the Russian army was not up to much.

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Peter T 04.29.13 at 2:17 pm

ok – badly phrased on my part. I meant that there was no likely way that Germany would be defeated quickly or easily. It has very occasionally happened (yes, France 1940), but it’s vanishingly rare, and definitely not to be relied on. Also note that France concluded an armistice with Germany that left it control of its navy and colonies, kept some freedom of manoeuvre by playing Germany off against Italy and Spain, and was back in action against Germany by the end of 1944. Hitler sensibly targeted his opponents’ political weaknesses as much as their military ones.

Rich – see Bruce’s comment @ 172. The problems to be understood are not ones of individual ethical judgements (although they are not absent) but of institutions and structures. Keir Hardie and a few others tried to organise against the war, but theirs was not a popular stance – why not?

And people then do not seem to have feared war as we do. It took the two World Wars to generate that fear. Again, why didn’t they?

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Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 2:48 pm

“The problems to be understood are not ones of individual ethical judgements (although they are not absent) but of institutions and structures.”

I didn’t say that they were problems of individual ethical judgements — that’s just as dismissive as everything else you’ve written about this. Yes, I think that they’re problems of institutions and structures.

People in the U.S. during the distant era of the Bush Presidency Iraq War don’t seem to have “feared war as we do” either. Some people tried to organize against the war, but theirs was not a “popular stance” evidently — why not? Perhaps because people said that theirs was an individual ethical judgement that had nothing to do with the reasons of state for why we had to go to war? That it was a difficult issue, and that we didn’t have sufficient understanding, and so on?

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LFC 04.29.13 at 2:50 pm

JQ @171
they chose to fight, or send others to do so, … while others from the same social background, and with the same information, supported peace

This statement is right (even if those supporting peace were a small minority). See the last sentence of my comment @62.

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Bruce Wilder 04.29.13 at 3:53 pm

Does “understanding what happened” around “genuinely difficult issues” mean that effectively we’ve decided that the decisions made were the only decisions reasonably possible, given the social system then?

Human beings are natural story-tellers. We look for the meaning of things in dramatic narratives. And, dramatic narratives have their own rhetorical logic of moral challenge and moral intent, which has no necessary relationship to the functional requirements of physics, let alone social institutions. That’s why magic works so well in stories. The problem with spinning out alternative histories as counterfactuals isn’t just that they are counterfactual (and not factual, and therefore not evidence to be interpreted), but that they tend to be alternative narratives, structured around some other narrative “moral logic”, and therefore fantasy. What if, Pickett’s Charge had won the day at Gettysburg, what a wonderful world it would be . . . and similar nonsense. So, yes, you can imagine that slavery was an institution doomed by economic development and, therefore, would have ended anyway, and, therefore, the horrifyingly bloody and destructive Civil War was “unnecessary”, but when you embark on such a flight of fancy, you miss that the Civil War did, in fact, end slavery. And, if that’s an historian’s Type I error, then, yes, there’s a Type II error, where the Civil War is inevitable, and none of the leaders had any choices (when, of course, all they did, all day long, in their actual lives, was to take, what, for them, were gambles, choices). History, it can be truly said, only happens one way, and historians construct their narrative analyses, knowing the future, but having to imagine the past, while the experience of their subjects was just the opposite, and shaped by confusion and contingency, which can be lost in straining to produce an economical narrative account of how we got to where we are, which does not drown in the minutiae, most of which proved more or less irrelevant to the outcome.

The carnage of the First World War on the Western Front, and at Gallipoli and some other more forgotten locales, was a spectacle, which truly and rightly horrified the world, (then far more intensely than it does now in our dim retrospect). I don’t think it was “intended” by any one individual; it was a product of how states were structured and governed and interacted with one another. The institutional structures channeled behavior, and leaders found themselves carried along by the channels built by others, which they neither fully understood, nor controlled. And, in the aftermath, they made a mess of the task of re-fashioning those institutional channels of national governance and the international order. Clemenceau, who played France’s Churchill, embodying the national will to persist during the late war, said something like, Moses gave us Ten Commandments and we broke them all; Wilson has presented us with Fourteen Points and we shall see, and then went merrily on blindly creating the Second World War at Versailles. And, of course, it is wrong to say literally that the Treaty of Versailles created the Second World War, as if, all the political actors and movements of the interwar period were mere automatons, falling like dominos across a twenty year period. My figurative accusation against Clemenceau is about the importance of institutions, and their architecture.

I don’t agree that those, who thought, that it would be a short war, were especially guilty of crime, any more than those, like Kitchener, who seemed to understand that it would be a long and enormously costly one (though not particularly effective in conveying to their political leadership why political choices were leading in that military direction), were less culpable for going ahead, and doing what they regarded as their duty, with that knowledge. The wars of German unification at mid 19th century had been short and decisive, perhaps because Bismarck was a master of the Game of Great Power alliances and diplomatic maneuver, and the scale of warfare had not yet been elevated by the industrial revolution and democracy (outside of the American Civil War).

I don’t think the imperialists, like Sykes and Picot, with their secret treaties, understood what they were doing in an institutional context, which made what they were doing individually unethical. I think the secrecy involved might have given even them a clue, that what they were doing was not for anyone’s greater good or a national interest, so they certainly don’t get off without blame, in my book. But, historically, what I think our interpretations should especially notice is the institutional context, and how that institutional complex was becoming obsolete, its pernicious consequences escalating as a result of being ill-adapted to the times and circumstances: to wit, the rising nationalism of the Middle East. (So, yes, Wilson Point 1).

The First World War owed a great deal to the feudal legacy of Empires ruled by hereditary aristocrats, whose business was rentier domination, in the context of the new capitalism, and glorious conquest of the world, in the old context of fancy titles and uniforms and the Great Game. It was, in a sense, a consequence of the failures of 1848, when Reaction triumphed, and put a cork in the tea kettle’s spout. The dissolution of Empire in the aftermath of the First World War, and the emergence of the nation-state as a standard template for governance, is the capital fact of the First World War; it doesn’t justify the carnage, or imply inevitability, but it is the way it happened, and ought to be noticed.

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Bruce Wilder 04.29.13 at 4:12 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 191

I don’t think Bush’s invasion and conquest of Iraq presented “a difficult issue”. It was wrong, a mistake, and, in my view, a crime of the worst sort.

What I think history may make of it will center on emergence of a plutocracy displacing a representative democracy. Accepting that the President and Vice-President were from different oil companies satisfied the Constitution’s requirement that they be residents of different states, or that a Fox News projection was as good as a vote count.

Individual, ethical repugnance for war is never enough. Nearly two thousand years of Christianity has proved ineffectual, no? The medieval Church was struggling to constrain the feudal lords by multiplying holydays and extending sacred sanctuaries to encompass markets on the cathedral steps, when they hit on the idea of sending the thugs on holy crusades, far away. How’s that been working out?

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Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 4:25 pm

Bruce: “I don’t think Bush’s invasion and conquest of Iraq presented “a difficult issue”. It was wrong, a mistake, and, in my view, a crime of the worst sort.”

History is going to disagree with you. I have no doubt that historians are going to go through the same routine with the invasion of Iraq as they’re going through with WW I now. It will be all about structure — with the plutocracy displacing a democracy as it was, what else could have been expected? The people then were of another time, and didn’t understand how institutional structures channelled their behavior, and we can’t judge them by the contemporary standards of 2100. And our looking back at them shouldn’t be about individual ethical judgements about whether they committed “crimes” or not. They were after all never convicted, much less charged with anything, by the laws of their era. No, the lessons of that time that we should take for the world of 2100 are something safe and abstract and best considered by experts.

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William Timberman 04.29.13 at 4:28 pm

Wilhelm II with his mustaches pointed fiercely up, and what looks like a gigantic chicken on his hat, or Hitler strutting like a bantam rooster on a dunghill at Nürnberg; these are the images that linger. It may be true that they symbolize forever the murderously silly mismatch of institutional inertia and individual malice that finally put paid to the Nineteenth Century, but what then are we to think about General Petraeus and his ten rows of service ribbons?

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Ronan(rf) 04.29.13 at 4:41 pm

You don’t have to support every war to be a ‘militarist’, you just have to buy into the trappings of militarism (a glorification of fallen heroes, an unrelenting support for *your* military, a belief (somewhat) in the exceptionalism of your national narrative etc)
There really isnt any difference between telling war stories on Remembrance Sunday* and slurring ballads to fallen marytrs every friday night..nothing wrong with either, really, but they’re both nothing more than manifestations of nationalistic nonsense

*except if you fought in the war, I guess

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bexley 04.29.13 at 4:42 pm

ok – badly phrased on my part. I meant that there was no likely way that Germany would be defeated quickly or easily. It has very occasionally happened (yes, France 1940), but it’s vanishingly rare, and definitely not to be relied on.

Oh absolutely.

Also note that France concluded an armistice with Germany that left it control of its navy and colonies, kept some freedom of manoeuvre by playing Germany off against Italy and Spain, and was back in action against Germany by the end of 1944. Hitler sensibly targeted his opponents’ political weaknesses as much as their military ones.

Slightly disagree – the Germans didn’t leave France in control of its fleet through choice. French control over a powerful fleet was one of the few remaining cards left to them. The Germans worried that the fleet would sail off and join the British and hence were willing to make a more generous peace (still very penal it’s true) than they otherwise might have done.

And people then do not seem to have feared war as we do. It took the two World Wars to generate that fear. Again, why didn’t they?

I think that’s slightly unfair to the British and French after WW1. They rightly feared another war but eventually had to fight one anyway.

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ajay 04.29.13 at 5:10 pm

And people then do not seem to have feared war as we do. It took the two World Wars to generate that fear.

Adding to bexley’s point, we have to be careful about what we mean by “people”, and, for that matter, “war”. This fear of war that we were all supposed to have acquired in 1945 didn’t translate into any actual unwillingness to send troops to fight in pretty much every year since.

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Stephen 04.29.13 at 7:11 pm

JQ@145: you describe Grey’s celebrated remark about the lamps going out all over Europe as coming from “someone whose own actions contributed substantially to the breakout of war.” I had seen him as someone who saw the war would be exceptionally disastrous (as opposed to the somewhat disastrous nature of wars in general) but could not stop it. Would it be too much trouble for you to explain how Grey’s actions contributed to the breakout of the war?

I realise you may be getting tired of this thread, and exasperated with those who disagree with you. Would it help if I explained that I, like you, regard GWB’s Iraq war as an act of criminal folly, the British government’s assisting him as disgraceful, and the lies used to justify it as unprecedented in recent American or British history?

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 7:43 pm

@Stephen: Grey supported and negotiated the Entente with Russia. My point in the OP was that the Entente, and the secret treaties that went along with it, undermined any claim of the British and French to be qualitatively different from the Central Powers. No one has yet responded to the OP and I think it’s too late now.

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John Quiggin 04.29.13 at 7:45 pm

I’ll start with general apologies for intemperate language and to ajay in particular. It was unfair to brand ajay as a militarist and I withdraw it.

I honestly can’t see how one can justify the actions of the Allied leaders in the Great War, in particular the carve-up of the Middle East and the lies and propaganda used to promote the war, and yet condemn Bush and Blair for similar actions 100 years later. The comments here haven’t given me any real insight on this. But, equally, I haven’t succeeded in changing anyone’s mind, so I’m going to sign off.

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Igor Belanov 04.29.13 at 7:51 pm

To be fair to the British and French leaders at the outbreak of World War One, at least they didn’t deliberately lie and manipulate evidence in order to start a war fought thousands of miles from their home territories.

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bexley 04.29.13 at 8:11 pm

I honestly can’t see how one can justify the actions of the Allied leaders in the Great War, in particular the carve-up of the Middle East and the lies and propaganda used to promote the war, and yet condemn Bush and Blair for similar actions 100 years later.

The Arab-Israeli conflict was one of the topics covered in my history GCSE (so not particularly detailed analysis). One of the conclusions that seemed unavoidable was that basically the British were responsible for the entire mess by promising all things to all men before taking control of Palestine for themselves.

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Rich Puchalsky 04.29.13 at 8:44 pm

“I honestly can’t see how one can justify the actions of the Allied leaders in the Great War, in particular the carve-up of the Middle East and the lies and propaganda used to promote the war, and yet condemn Bush and Blair for similar actions 100 years later. “

Bush and Blair did it a few years ago, before historians have had time to come in and tell everyone that the point isn’t to make ethical judgements and anyways people are missing the really deep meaning of what happened.

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Z 04.30.13 at 8:34 am

I honestly can’t see how one can justify the actions of the Allied leaders in the Great War, in particular the carve-up of the Middle East and the lies and propaganda used to promote the war, and yet condemn Bush and Blair for similar actions 100 years later. The comments here haven’t given me any real insight on this. But, equally, I haven’t succeeded in changing anyone’s mind, so I’m going to sign off.

To which you might add that the victors played their hands exactly as did Bush/Blair 90 years later: grab as much as you can from the defeated parties and screw your weakest allies (their behavior towards China is particularly egregious).

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Ronan(rf) 04.30.13 at 10:19 am

Well I guess the argument is that they had to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, and that the greater Arabia they promised the Sharif of Mecca wasn’t feasible, so the Mandates were the only responsible way to bring the regional state system into life .. which would be fine if they weren’t run overwhelmingly in the interests of the French and British (afaik) Rashid Khalidi wrote a short book(resurrecting empire) during the build up to Iraq, which (afaicr) drew parrells between the post war Manadates and the upcoming war

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Ronan(rf) 04.30.13 at 4:15 pm

Further to marcel’s question @14

http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-XIV-4.pdf

I didn’t know the US Sec of War and Sec of the Navy during WW1 were committed pacifists?

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Ronan(rf) 04.30.13 at 4:24 pm

The important point:

‘A broader question arises. Why did Congress and the American people accept the
characterization of the war on the side of the Allies as a war for Democracy, when Britain was an elitist governed parliamentary monarchy, Japan a militarist empire, Serbia an irresponsible dictatorship and only nominally a monarchy (which had sponsored theterrorist act that initiated the war in Sarajevo), Russia was in the turmoil of overthrowing the Czar, and French troops were in outright mutiny against their government? Doenecke raises this question and provides answers for some, but not all, of these nations. The objection that the Allies were hardly all ‘democracies’ was raised to the claim that the United States was joining “a war to make the world safe for democracy” in 1917. The answer as to why such a view b ecame broadly accepted can be found in the studies of the propaganda effort of the Wilson administration over the nineteen months of the war and the very foggy popular understanding of foreign governments that existed then..”

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Stephen 04.30.13 at 6:03 pm

JQ@201: I quite understand you want to put no more effort into this, and you deserve full credit for withdrawing your attack on ajay.

In case the topic ever arises again: you may like to note that the Anglo-Russian Entente, 1907, which you blame Grey for signing, dealt only with the removal of possible causes of conflict between Britain and Russia in Central Asia (which would normally be considered a good thing to do) and said absolutely nothing, rien, nada, niente, zilch about relations or war between either state and Germany. The parallel with GWB’s and TB’s conduct before Iraq II escapes me.

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derrida derider 05.01.13 at 7:04 am

John –
I think we can all agree that many of the actions of the Entente in the war were foolish, or wicked, or both. Sykes-Picot is the poster child for the wickedness, but I think your critics are right that Gallipoli falls more under “foolish” than “wicked”. And given the deep unattractiveness of the alternative offered by General Haig I’m not sure it wasn’t worth a try anyway.

And, conditional on it being August 1914, I really don’t see what alternative the British or French governments had. Whereas in July 1914 the German and Austrian governments did have alternatives.

I don’t, either, see what alternative the US had in 1916. Just let people keep torpedoing all your ships on sight? The giveaway here is that the GERMAN government expected they would have no alternative.

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Ronan(rf) 05.01.13 at 11:02 am

But there’s a difference between having a right (obligation) to protect your country from invasion, and for those 100 years removed from the conflict to claim that the British/French empires/political sytems were really worth defending, and weren’t just a diferent side to the same coin as the Central powers.
The British used force more than anyone else during the century leading up to ww1 (including the supposedly militaristic Germans) and used the opportunity of the war to further extend the Empire (just as they had to have it ripped away from them kicking and screaming after WW2) The problem is seeing the British army as anything more than dressed up terrorists, or British aspirations as anything better than well spoken criminality
But when the victors glamourise war they’re afficiandos rather than militarists

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Ronan(rf) 05.01.13 at 2:58 pm

Last thing:

Anderson said:

“Bad history indeed. Turkey could have stayed neutral, but instead declared the straits closed, then allowed the Germans to use them and to bombard Russian positions in the Black Sea. Of course the Allies declared war. Bigger picture, the Ottomans were hostile to Russia, so Germany was the enemy of their enemy. If one is going to chatter about “imperialisms,” perhaps it bears remembering that the Ottoman Empire was, hello, an empire? Had Germany won the war, presumably the Ottomans would have obtained some Russian territory?”

From Eugen Rogan’s The Arabs

“The Ottoman Empire entered the First World War in alliance with Germany in November 1914. It was a war that the Ottomans would have preferred to avoid. The empire was battle weary after fighting the Italians in 1911..and two devastating wars with the Balkan states in 1912 and 1913. As a major European war loomed in the summer of 1914, the Ottoman government hoped to stay out of the fight and secure a defensive alliance with Britain or France. However, neither Britain nor France was willing to enter into binding commitments against their Entente partner, Russia, whose territorial ambitions the Ottoman Empire feared most of all.
One of the leaders of the Young Turk government, Enver Pasha, was a great admirer of Germany. He believed Germany, as the only European power without territorial ambitions in the Middle East, could be trusted. Russia, France and Britain had enlarged their own empires at the Ottomans’ expense in the past and were likely to try and do so again. Enver was impressed by German military prowess and he argued forcefully that Germany alone could provide the protection the Ottomans needed against further European encroachment….”

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