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The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 [Hardcover]

David Owen
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Mar 2014
Within weeks of taking office in December 1905, British Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman and his Foreign Minister Edward Grey agreed to allow the General Staff to enter detailed talks with their French counterparts about sending an expeditionary force to France in the event of a German attack. Neither the Cabinet or Parliament were informed. Grey did not even inform Asquith, Campbell-Bannerman's successor as Prime Minister, until 1911, three years after he had assumed office. In the autumn of that year there were two stormy Cabinet meetings during which the details of the military conversations were at last revealed. The following spring Viscount Haldane, the Secretary for War, failed to slow Germany's rapid naval expansion on a mission to Berlin, despite Harcourt, the Colonial Secretary, advocating a land deal for Germany in Africa as an incentive. Recent historical evidence has shown that by July 1914, under pressure to compromise with Germany from Harcourt and Haldane, Grey had relented and a further attempt to negotiate was underway when the war started. All this time there was a hidden perspective of key diplomats alongside Grey Foreign Office. Together - and in some ways prescient of the build-up to the Iraq conflict in 2003 - they contributed to a feeling that there was a moral commitment to send troops to the continent. The Hidden Perspective shows how the 'mind frame' in the Foreign Office influenced political decision making and sentiment. Lord Owen's conclusion as a former Foreign Secretary, analysing the diplomacy and naval strategy, are that better handled at various stages over those eight years the carnage of the First World War was not inevitable and could even have been prevented altogether.

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The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 + The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 + July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Haus Publishing (15 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908323663
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908323668
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 14 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"The history of the First World War has been exhaustively studied in relation to events of the fateful structure of the alliances. The area in between, the impact of the tactical management of diplomacy on the inevitability of war, has received inadequate attention. David Owen has filled that gap. He explains in lucid detail how Britain s abandonment of its splendid isolation in favor of entente with France and an understanding with Russia deprived the international system of any flexibility. Britain, heretofore the balancer of the balance of power, transformed itself into a direct participant in the power politics of the Continent. This decision, taken essentially in secret by military staffs, was all the more fateful because it induced rigidity in two ways. In their strategic planning, France and Russia counted on British support; Germany half-convinced itself of British neutrality. In every previous conflict, the consciousness that Britain might intervene on either side had inspired caution in both. Now, Britain weakened its capacity to induce restraint by being taken for granted by one side even as the other discounted its deterrence. David Owen s book should be essential reading for contemporary statesmen; it is a story of how overreaction to immediate problems can lead to eventual disaster." --Henry Kissinger

'Countless new books and articles are analysing the origins of the War and the military convulsions that followed. David Owen makes a powerful contribution in his new book, 'The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914'. He looks through the keen operational eye of a former Foreign Secretary at the high-level manoeuvrings of London and other European capitals ... [arguing] that they took on a life and logic of their own, discouraging other political and military options that might have been far more effective - and far more wise. Readers of Diplomat will enjoy - and be startled by - many details Lord Owen gives us about diplomacy as practised a century and more ago.' --Charles Crawford, Diplomat Magazine

About the Author

David Owen (Lord Owen) trained and practised as a medical doctor before being elected a Labour MP in his home city of Plymouth. He served as Foreign Secretary under James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979. He co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and is now a Crossbencher in the Lords. Among many books, he is the author of In Sickness and In Power - Illness in Heads of Government during the last 100 years, The Hubris Syndrome, Balkan Odyssey, and the autobiography Time to Declare.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revealing Perspective 4 May 2014
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The Entente Cordiale of 1904 enjoyed wide support in both Britain and France as a hope of lasting peace between the two nations and the end of dangerous colonial tensions. But it also signalled the end of Britain's policy of "splendid isolation" or balance in its dealings with France and Germany.

Lord Owen has written a fascinating and revealing account of how in 1905 the incoming Foreign Secretary Edward Grey shifted from the original purpose of the Entente towards a secret military agreement with France, built on the French and Foreign Office assumption of future German aggression in Europe. Eight years of military planning for potential British army deployment then followed, mostly in secret, tying Britain into a position where "friendship entails obligations", as Grey eventually said in the House of Commons in August 1914.

Combining detailed documentation with clear explanations and personal insights, Lord Owen reveals the process by which a group of pro-French officials at the Foreign Office nudged Grey and Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman towards this secret understanding. To avoid political trouble neither the full Cabinet nor Parliament were consulted. The Crowe Memorandum of 1907, which embodied the "Foreign Office view" of officials (pro-French, anti-German) accepted by Grey is reproduced in full in an appendix.

We learn how the Military Conversations were, astonishingly, kept secret even from incoming Prime Minister Asquith for three years from 1908 until 1911, at which time three-quarters of the Cabinet voted against the Conversations. The German government had known about the secret agreement for years (via espionage).
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Lord Owen covers the eight-year long communications (1906-1914) between French
and English military departments during which England committed itself, in case
war was imminent, to supporting the French with a British Expeditionary Force on
the continent. These talks and commitments were kept secret from all but a few
ministers and, most irregularly, even from one Prime Minister. They also
precluded England from more balanced policies that might have avoided the
tragedy of WWI.

During the second Morocco crisis, the talks went further to consider the
dismemberment of the African Empire of England's oldest and most loyal ally,
Portugal, to placate Germany, again without disclosure to the Cabinet.

The occasionally exhaustive details are enlivened by Lord Owen's comments on how
similar mistakes have been made and opportunities missed in Britain's other
wars, from WWII to Iraq, as well as pertinent observations on democratic
governance. One wishes he could expand these nuggets of wisdom in a separate
chapter or, fingers-crossed, a separate book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read. 14 July 2014
By Damian
In this fantastic new book, David Owen, unearths a piece of vital history that has gone largely unexamined in war literature. The books makes a great read, showing that with a different approach and mindset, the outcome of war could have been prevented. It is a timely piece of research as in our current moment, nation states continue to face difficult decisions about when war becomes necessary. There much that can be learned from this book as policy-makers face vexing questions about credibility of diplomacy and legitimacy of war (Iraq), trust in institutions and the strength of evidence (Iraq, Syria) and the legal and political responsibilities of the executive to other institutions as as well as citizens.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gallomania? 12 July 2014
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It is an excellent study of what led to the tragedy of the IWW. Very convincingly documented and honestly presented, it underlines the whys and hows the process of democratic government was led astray, by those who should be the first to serve it.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book. 9 May 2014
By WF
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It should be remembered that Owen had previously prevented an agentinian landing on the falklands by openly sending a submarine. He makes a good case for cabinet government both in 1906-14 and Blair's disasterous support of Bush in his middle east invasions. Only gave it 4 stars as there may be other info he thinks it would be imprudent to include. Interesting to see that impeachment is still an option and that Blair should be impeached. The present situation in the ukraine is vaguely similar with the unfortunate situation in europe after 1906. Thank god Obama is not as big a fool as 'draft dodger' Bush..
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