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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revealing Perspective
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...
Published 12 months ago by Number13

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with it.
Not a helpful book. It purports to be a new look at the road to war but is Dr Owen's contribution to the "get Blair" cabal. A sanctimonious lecture "de haut en bas" on what should and should not have been done and by whom but without reference to the facts of the time. He will quote an observation (from a reputable scholar) that supports his view but the...
Published 4 months ago by T


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revealing Perspective, 4 May 2014
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Number13 (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
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). As neither an open military alliance with France nor a policy of balanced neutrality, the Conversations may have helped unsettle Germany without strongly deterring her from war.

The final chapter covers two failed attempts, again secret, to head off rising tension with Germany. First in 1912 over British fears of German plans for a naval fleet large enough to be a serious challenge; the proposed secret solution was a deal carving up the African colonies of Portugal, made with little regard for centuries of alliance and of course with total disregard for the peoples of Africa. One final attempt at negotiation was made in 1914.

Lord Owen illuminates the history by analogy with more recent crises, from Dunkirk to Suez, the Falklands War, Iraq and Syria. The result is a fascinating book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gallomania?, 12 July 2014
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This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough discussion of the evolving British commmitment to France prior to World War I, 7 April 2014
By 
Ross Amann (New Jersey, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read., 14 July 2014
This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not So Hidden, 17 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
This is an important book. It is the only new World War One book that makes any references, albeit very briefly, to recent conflicts and says what we learnt, or should have learnt, from the policies and machinations that got us into so much trouble 100 years ago. This is why it deserves 5 stars.

Lord Owen emphasises the importance of democratic cabinet accountability and full and accurate information. The Chilcot Inquiry comes to mind.

The book gives a highly critical account of the Military Conversations between Britain and France, between 1906 and 1914, approved by Grey, the Foreign Secretary, who hid them from his cabinet colleagues and circumvented "democratic cabinet accountability, the cornerstone of our democracy".

These Military Conversations (and the friendship with France) led Britain down the wrong path in 1914.

Notwithstanding the 5 star rating several of the author's key arguments are open to challenge.

(1) # The Military Conversations created an expectation in both Britain and France that if France was attacked by Germany, Britain would align itself with France and send a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the continent on the outbreak of hostilities to fight alongside the French army. And, this expectation was so strong it came to be seen in both Britain and France as an obligation.#

The Military Conversations started officially in January 1906 when France asked Britain if it would give France military support if Germany attacked France following a breakdown of the talks over Morocco then taking place.

Though Britain gave France no undertaking Grey approved the Military Conversations so that plans would be in place for military co-operation including the possibility of a BEF fighting on the continent, if Britain decided to fight a war with France against Germany, and informed the Prime Minister.

Britain was not saying, "in a conflict with Germany we will support France, and this is how we will do it!" It was saying "if we support France in a conflict, we need to know how we might do it".

The British politicians and officials involved regularly stated the talks did not commit Britain in any way. Right from the start the officials concerned were explicit using phrases such as "I made it clear that we were to be in no way committed by the fact of having entered into communication.", "... I see no difficulty in such communication made on the express understanding that it commits the government to nothing".

To crown it all Campbell-Bannerman, the Prime Minister, went to Paris in April 1907 and told Clemenceau, his French opposite number, even if England supported France "... the English people would be totally averse to any troops being landed by England on the Continent in any circumstances".

You can't speak plainer than that. The French cannot rely on Britain siding with them and the BEF is not going to France. Period.

The acid test is, of course, what happened in July-August 1914. The clear majority of the cabinet was against joining the war on the side of France if it was attacked by Germany.

On Saturday the 1 August, when it was known Germany had threatened to mobilise if Russia did not stop her mobilisation and there was no sign that Russia would do so and a European war was a near certainty, following a cabinet meeting, Grey told Cambon, the French ambassador, France could not count on Britain's support and the BEF would not be sent to the continent. He said:

"France must take her own decision at this moment without reckoning on an assistance that we were not now in a position to promise."

".... we had come to a decision: that we could not propose to Parliament at this moment to send an expeditionary force to the Continent. Such a step had always been regarded here as very dangerous and doubtful. It was one that we could not propose, and Parliament would not authorize unless our interests and obligations were deeply and desperately involved."

(2) # Grey hid the Military Conversations from his cabinet colleagues and circumvented "democratic cabinet accountability" #

Lord Owen explains the whole cabinet, all 19 members, only became aware of and discussed the Military Conversations in April 1911 prompted by a second Morocco crisis concerning France and Germany.

There was a very heated discussion. He goes on to say ".... the majority of the cabinet ... decided Grey had for nearly for six years compromised [the cabinet's] freedom of decision". This is an unambiguous indictment of Grey, Lord Owen suggests he should have considered resignation, but it is an exaggeration, if not plain wrong.

The book itself explains Grey told Campbell-Bannerman, the prime minister in 1906 shortly after the Conversations started. Campbell-Bannerman sensed the matter would create a row in the cabinet and for political reasons chose to avoid this. Campbell-Bannerman was responsible for not informing the whole cabinet, not Grey.

Asquith became prime minister in early 1908 and Lord Owen says [p91] "Grey's sin of omission was not to tell Asquith when he became Prime Minister in 1908 and to leave doing so until April 1911."

The basis of this view is a letter that Grey wrote to Asquith in 1911 written in a style that suggests he was telling Asquith for the first time. [This letter is quoted and analysed this way in Roy Jenkins' biography of Asquith]

It is hard to believe that Asquith didn't know anything until 1911.

(i) The letter can also be read as a "gentle reminder".

(ii) During the period 1908-1911 Asquith chaired defence planning meetings and at least at one in 1909 reference was made to an Anglo-French plan to assist the French if the necessity arose.

(iii) It is dangerous, in most walks of life, to keep a secret from your boss. You might not tell him every detail but bosses don't like surprises. And, Grey was not the only cabinet minister to know about the Military Conversations. The Leader of the party in the Lords knew, the Secretary of State for War knew, the First Lord of the Admiralty knew. Any one of them at any time could have said something to Asquith.

(iv) Grey himself claimed in his statement to the House of Commons on the 3 August 1914 that he told Asquith in 1906 when Asquith was chancellor.

(v) A research paper "The British Cabinet and the Anglo-French Staff Talks, 1905-1914: Who Knew What and When Did He Know" [Journal of British Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 1985, Authors: John W. Coogan and Peter F. Coogan] says Asquith learnt of the talks in July 1908 when Grey briefed him on the flare-up between Clemenceau and Campbell-Bannerman the previous year.

There is another side to this issue concerning those cabinet members who got so cross with Grey in 1911 when the matter came before the whole cabinet. What were they doing between 1906 and 1911?

The Entente with France was a well know fact. The possibility of a European war was often aired in the press. Didn't any of them think to ask some probing questions? Perhaps there are two sides to cabinet responsibility.

And after 1911 the cabinet which took so much offence at being kept in the dark did not stop the Military Conversations and allowed them to continue the only difference being they were now cabinet approved.

(3) # Lord Owen says of the Cabinet meetings during the closing fateful week of the July Crisis that: "Most around the table knew that it was too late to go back to a policy of neutrality. The die had been largely cast for better or for worse on that issue in November 1911 when this Cabinet did not stop the Military Conversations". #

There were eight cabinet meetings* and not until the sixth did a majority after much soul searching agree conditions that would bring Britain into the war. Even then, the neutralists hoped war might be avoided if Germany went though only a small piece of Belgium and the Belgians didn't resist.

[*A good meeting by meeting account can be found at whostartedwwonedotcom]

Churchill described the cabinet as "... overwhelmingly pacific. At least three-quarters of its members were determined not to be drawn into a European quarrel, unless Great Britain were herself attacked, which was not likely".

There were four reasons why the Liberal cabinet finally opted for war.

(i) Britain had no formal alliance with France but because of the friendly Entente between the two countries in 1912 the French had concentrated their warships in the Mediterranean. Consequently, the French northern and western coasts were open to naval attack by Germany unless protected by the Royal Navy.

(ii) The above, combined with the wholesale German invasion of neutral Belgium which greatly aroused British public opinion against Germany, and influenced Lloyd George, the chancellor and a key man in the cabinet, brought about a majority that was willing to oppose Germany. Four cabinet ministers resigned but two later withdrew their resignations.

(iii) A third reason to intervene in the war received little attention. It was mentioned by Grey in his statement to the House of Commons on the 3 August - the balance of power.

"If France is beaten in a struggle of life and death, beaten to her knees, loses her position as a great Power, becomes subordinate to the will and power of one greater than herself .... if that were to happen, and if Belgium fell under the same dominating influence, and then Holland, and then Denmark, then would not Mr. Gladstone's words come true, ... there would be a common interest against the unmeasured aggrandisement of any Power?"

(iv) The Liberal cabinet also knew that if the cabinet split and the government resigned, it would be replaced by a coalition or a Conservative government both of which would go to war. If there was going to be a war it was better that the progressive Liberal party was running it.

On this basis the Military Conversations and the existence of a plan to send the BEF to France played little part in the cabinet's decision for war. If they had a role it was as a precursor of the 1912 British and French Fleet deployments. The Royal Navy had also redeployed withdrawing old battleships from Mediterranean and concentrating in the North Sea.

How far the Fleet deployments were the result an agreed formal arrangement between France and Britain can be debated. Some of the neutralist in the cabinet supported the proposal to keep the German Navy out of the Channel because they were disturbed by the possibility of fighting on Britain's "doorstep" if Germany attacked the northern French Coast.

====
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with it., 10 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
Not a helpful book. It purports to be a new look at the road to war but is Dr Owen's contribution to the "get Blair" cabal. A sanctimonious lecture "de haut en bas" on what should and should not have been done and by whom but without reference to the facts of the time. He will quote an observation (from a reputable scholar) that supports his view but the reference turns out to be unattributed.. I had hoped for better than his earlier "In Sickness and In Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years" but in vain - they are of a piece. At least I didn't buy it but read it from my local library.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Important contribution to understand Britain's role up to the First World War, 14 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
Excellent account of the secret negotiations between Britain and France. Britain's support to France up to the First World War was not necessarily contributive to preserving peace because it led to the isolation of Germany.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time to Declare is one of the best autobiographies I've read, 2 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
I'm interested in Grey & how he got us into WW1. This book made some extremely persuasive points - not in Grey's favour! A local interest as Howick is nearby. It reminded me that 100 years ago the country was run by the 'ruling elite' - Owen very much comes down on the side of democratic governance. I was intrigued by Grey as one has heard he was a tricky character. I found him to be a typical Borderer - he is best known locally for his book on Fly Fishing.
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7 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book., 9 May 2014
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This review is from: The Hidden Perspective: The Military Conversations of 1906-1914 (Hardcover)
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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