Author Topic: World War I - Reassessing the Blame  (Read 66540 times)

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Offline Petr

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #60 on: January 02, 2014, 11:44:31 AM »
Just started a brand new book The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan. It's a history of the period from 1900 up to 1914. On the eve of the 100th Anniversary of World War I it's interesting to see how there is still the debate of who really is responsible for WWI.  From F. Fischer "The Foreign Policy of Imperial Germany and the Outbreak of the First World War War" (Germany's fault) to S. McMeekin "The Russian Origins of the First World War" (Russia's fault).  Of course you can't leave out the Austro-Hungarian government either.

MacMillan is a professor of international history at Oxford and wrote a wonderful history of the negotiations leading to the Versailles Treaty entitled Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World which won all sorts of prizes.  Looking forward to a good read.
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Offline TimM

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #61 on: January 02, 2014, 04:38:00 PM »
Sounds like a good book to me.
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Offline edubs31

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #62 on: January 02, 2014, 04:56:15 PM »
Yes Petr please come back and post on this topic thread when you finish reading. I'll be interested in getting this author's take.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Petr

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #63 on: January 10, 2014, 12:35:08 PM »
Interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal abut the plethora of books, both fiction and nonfiction, regarding WWI being published in this the 100th Anniversary year of the start of the War. The article points out that for Americans, unlike WWII, WWI bears little significance although arguably in many respects it may have had a more profound impact on world history. The US was only involved from 1917 to 1918 versus the almost four years it was involved in WWII (1941-1945) and suffered fewer casualties (116,516 vs 405,399).  Also no veterans remain to remind us of that tragic conflict.  As I'm continuing to plow through Margaret MacMillan's "The War that Ended Peace " (Note the interesting title -- her omission of "The" before "Peace" -- implying a much more general, far-reaching effect) I keep getting struck by the question is the course of history driven by individuals (Kaiser Wilhelm II and Nicholas II, for example) or are there general inexorable forces at work which mandate a specific outcome. The "what ifs" keep popping up, as events occur, some quite trivial, which seem to turn matters in ever dangerous unrecognized directions.  For example, Emperor Friedrich's and Tsar Alexander III's early deaths. Likewise, I'm struck by the addage "those that don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" which raises questions about events unfolding in the world today.   A parallel is drawn between George Kennan's "long telegram" outlining the policy of containment (generally thought to be successful) and Eyre Crowe's famous memorandum on New Year's day of 1907 to Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary, warning about Germany's aggressive tendencies which needed to be checked (unsuccessful).  Then, in my view, sadly only three decades later we had Chamberlain's "peace in our time" sellout in Munich. It just goes to show that the study of history is essential and to the extent that Universities are cutting back on liberal arts curricula in favor of more technical subjects we may be starting on a slippery slope which could have serious adverse consequences.                 
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Offline TimM

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #64 on: January 11, 2014, 11:18:33 AM »
Quote
The article points out that for Americans, unlike WWII, WWI bears little significance although arguably in many respects it may have had a more profound impact on world history. The US was only involved from 1917 to 1918 versus the almost four years it was involved in WWII (1941-1945) and suffered fewer casualties (116,516 vs 405,399).  Also no veterans remain to remind us of that tragic conflict.

Also, U.S. soil was totally untouched by World War I.  There was no WWI version of Pearl Harbour.
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Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #65 on: January 11, 2014, 12:58:05 PM »
Just started a brand new book The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan. It's a history of the period from 1900 up to 1914. On the eve of the 100th Anniversary of World War I it's interesting to see how there is still the debate of who really is responsible for WWI.  From F. Fischer "The Foreign Policy of Imperial Germany and the Outbreak of the First World War War" (Germany's fault) to S. McMeekin "The Russian Origins of the First World War" (Russia's fault).  Of course you can't leave out the Austro-Hungarian government either.

MacMillan is a professor of international history at Oxford and wrote a wonderful history of the negotiations leading to the Versailles Treaty entitled Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World which won all sorts of prizes.  Looking forward to a good read.

Another one people might enjoy is Christopher Clark's "Sleepwalkers", which one reviewer described as "the best book ever written" on the origins and outbreak of the war. It's been out for about a year but is still selling in bucketloads. Clark seems to place equal blame on them all - with France, Britain and Serbia coming in for particular comment, largely I think because his English-speaking audience will be less familiar with the case against the Allies than against the Central Powers - and it's a most readable book with some nice character sketches of the participants. He works at Cambridge.

McMeekin's book is - IMHO - a bit one-sided, as will always be the case with works which look at a certain country's responsibility in isolation. It's been controversial.
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Offline Превед

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #66 on: January 11, 2014, 01:29:26 PM »
Clark seems to place equal blame on them all

All in all, this seems to be the consensus now, hundred years after.
I hope the centennial will focus on Belgium, not just as the scene of much of the bloodshed, but also as a political entity. Was Belgium really worth fighting a world war for?
And what about Denmark? Food for thought that it's constantly ranked as the world's happiest nation. Perhaps because the Glücksborgers ever since 1864, in making alliances that would protect Denmark against total extinction, accidentally pitted the major powers against each other in a mutually self-destructive war that spared (even enlarged) Denmark.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2014, 01:33:23 PM by Превед »
Берёзы севера мне милы,—
Их грустный, опущённый вид,
Как речь безмолвная могилы,
Горячку сердца холодит.

(Афанасий Фет: «Ивы и берёзы», 1843 / 1856)

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #67 on: January 11, 2014, 03:30:23 PM »
Clark seems to place equal blame on them all

All in all, this seems to be the consensus now, hundred years after.
I hope the centennial will focus on Belgium, not just as the scene of much of the bloodshed, but also as a political entity. Was Belgium really worth fighting a world war for?
And what about Denmark? Food for thought that it's constantly ranked as the world's happiest nation. Perhaps because the Glücksborgers ever since 1864, in making alliances that would protect Denmark against total extinction, accidentally pitted the major powers against each other in a mutually self-destructive war that spared (even enlarged) Denmark.

Belgium as such seems a sort of red herring to me. :-) Presumably the principle of neutrality and legality was what was theoretically at stake, rather than Belgium itself. But I know what you're getting at with both examples....the unanticipated cause and effect.

What I think makes Clark's book slightly different is that instead of seeing everyone as equally belligerent, with Europe as powder keg moving towards an "inevitable" war, he argues that they stumbled into it - hence "Sleepwalkers" - largely as a result of factionalism within - as much as between - states and governments. The French, Austrian, Serbian, Russian and British governments in no sense acted as unified entities to whom blame can be corporately attached: there were specific individuals pursuing agendas often without the knowledge or consent of the majority of their colleagues. Edward Grey cops a lot of opprobrium for this - as he has elsewhere. Ditto Sazonov. It calls to mind one of my history tutors, who used to argue provocatively that "the assassination which caused the first world war" was that of Jean Jaures - and that had this French socialist had been alive in July 1914 he could have pulled France back from the brink by sheer force of his own personality and popular appeal.  
Shake your chains to earth like dew
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Ye are many; they are few.

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #68 on: January 11, 2014, 04:12:49 PM »
had this French socialist had been alive in July 1914

August 1914!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many; they are few.

Offline edubs31

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #69 on: January 23, 2014, 01:59:57 PM »
A little bit off topic but an interesting little article popped up on Yahoo news a moment ago...

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/roubini-doom-scenario-looks-1914-105552501.html

2014 or 1914? From the mind of Nouriel Roubini.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline Rodney_G.

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #70 on: January 24, 2014, 02:55:37 PM »
Very interesting. I've heard the 1914 era come up recently in other commentary. But in this scenario, the Middle East and its  current turmoil is cast in the Balkans role. I don't see it touching off a world war, but the prospect of small, aggressive, and little-to-lose populations drawing in more powerful regional players seems real enough. And with someone like Putin playing the peacemaker, the grownup in the room, as was the case recently  re:  proposed missile/air attacks on Syria,  well, who knows?
Rodney G.

Offline Превед

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #71 on: January 24, 2014, 08:29:02 PM »
I have reached the conclusion where I see WW1 as just the West European version of the Russian Civil War and ensuing genocides. Needless bloodbaths orchestrated by wicked fanatics. 2014 should be a year when Europe admits it was no better in 1914 than Stalinist Soviet.
Берёзы севера мне милы,—
Их грустный, опущённый вид,
Как речь безмолвная могилы,
Горячку сердца холодит.

(Афанасий Фет: «Ивы и берёзы», 1843 / 1856)

Offline edubs31

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #72 on: January 24, 2014, 10:27:16 PM »
I have reached the conclusion where I see WW1 as just the West European version of the Russian Civil War and ensuing genocides. Needless bloodbaths orchestrated by wicked fanatics. 2014 should be a year when Europe admits it was no better in 1914 than Stalinist Soviet.

The millions of Ukranian victims of Stalin's "Holodomor" surely agree with you.

The worst thing about WWI? Bad as it was it paled in comparison to the horrors of the 1930s and 40s largely orchestrated by the newer governments of Russia and Germany.
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline TimM

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #73 on: January 25, 2014, 11:36:27 AM »
Europe was much better off before WWI than after, as I have said before.
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« Reply #74 on: February 20, 2014, 07:53:10 PM »
Will be teaching an upper level on the topic of this thread come fall, and so I have been reading a great deal that has been recently published. I think it is acceptable to say that if there had been no assassination at Sarajevo, there would have been no world war. The impression from the reading is of people of very limited talent dealing with a situation above their pay grade, but not that it was inevitable. I think McMeekin actually makes some very good points, Janet, including the idea that Sazonov bears far more responsibility for things than he is usually given. And Germany really does carry some substantial guilt --- had Wilhelm and Bethmann not essentially given Austria-Hungary a blank check in regard to punishing Serbia, Berchtold wouldn't have pushed the envelope. There is also the interesting sidebar about French/British naval arrangements that all but guaranteed UK involvement in a war between Germany and France, far more so than Belgium (the Germans violated Luxemburg's neutrality a day or so before Belgium's, and no one seemed especially bothered). Where I parted company with McMeekin is his assertion that Germany began the war knowing it would lose, which just strains credulity. The happy surprise was Nicholas II, never what you might call the sharpest tool in the shed, warning his ministers that he didn't want to be responsible that would ensue if Russia mobilized. One of the few involved who actually thought in terms of the human cost of war.

 And thanks for the thread, you guys, it will give me a forum to try out some theories if that's okay.

Simon
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