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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account of the origins of World War One, 31 Oct. 2013
This review is from: July 1914: Countdown to War (Hardcover)
In the run-up to the centenary of the start of World War One, we are going to get vast doses of propaganda. For a century, most historians have obediently lined up behind one side or the other. Their opinions have been based not so much on the evidence as on the country of origin of the historian.

So most of the propaganda here will follow the British ruling class line that Germany started the war. McMeekin's book takes the different line, that Russia started it.

McMeekin observes, "The decision for European war was made by Russia on the night of 29 July 1914, when Tsar Nicholas II, advised unanimously by his advisers, signed the order for general mobilisation." France made no request to Russia to halt mobilisation. And British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey did nothing to restrain his allies: "Grey encouraged Russian and then French recklessness."

If the British government had assured the French and Russian governments that it would not fight, they might have backed down. The British government held the crucial position: it could have prevented the war, but it failed to do so. It chose to let Russia and France drag Britain into an unnecessary war.

But it doesn't matter which pirate drew the knife first. It was empire against empire. Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State from 1932 to 1944, wrote in his Memoirs, "The First World War was a culmination of years of intense bitter rivalry among a number of dangerous and desperate Powers seeking territory, trade advantage, raw materials, control of trade routes, and political, economic or military domination of small and helpless peoples."

In 1887, Friedrich Engels had foreseen "a world war of hitherto unknown dimensions and ferocity. Eight to ten million soldiers will strangle each other and in the process decimate Europe as no swarm of locusts ever did. The ravages of the Thirty Years' War telescoped into three or four years and extended to the entire Continent: famine, pestilence, and the general barbarization of both armies and peoples . . . ending in general bankruptcy; the collapse of the old state and traditional statecraft . . . to such an extent that dozens of crowns will roll in the streets and no one will want to pick them up."

It was not a war for democracy or freedom. None of the rival empires had universal suffrage. In Britain, only 9 million (18 per cent) of its 46 million people could vote. Britain had the most restrictive male franchise of any European country outside Hungary. The British Empire had 350 million colonial slaves, who could not vote on the war or anything else.

In 1914 only 14 million (22 per cent) of Germany's 65 million people could vote. In Germany's colonies, none could vote. So Britain, with only 18 per cent voters, was less democratic than Germany, with 22 per cent. The Entente, with 18 per cent voters, was less democratic than the Alliance, with 20 per cent. Both sets of empires were autocracies, not democracies.

The soldiers of both sides should have taken George Bernard Shaw's advice - "shoot their officers and go home to gather their harvests and make revolutions in the town." This would have saved immeasurable suffering.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Dec 2013 10:42:18 GMT
Manzikert says:
This isn't a review of the book, you haven't even read it, you're just using it as a platform to spout your off the shelf parlour socialist anti-imperialist prejudices.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2014 10:15:31 GMT
You assert that I haven't read the book - an incorrect assumption, all too typical of your contempt for evidence and due process. How could you possibly know whether I had read it or not? Arrogance beyond belief.

Posted on 12 Jun 2014 00:55:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Jun 2014 00:58:12 BDT
Re." McMeekin's book takes the different line, that Russia started it."

Yes, McMeekin attempts to argue Russia's 'war guilt' based on her partial mobilization having been ordered on 26 July (the Army Corps of the military districts Kiev, Odessa, Kazan and Moscow were activated that day for a possible partial mobilization against Austria), it cannot be disputed that it was Austria-Hungary who was the first to declare war on another country, namely Serbia. Mobilizations did not necessarily have to lead to war, as Russia's statesmen were keen to highlight on many occasions (although this did not apply to Germany, where in fact due to the constraints of the so-called Schlieffen Plan it necessarily did), but declarations of war did lead to war - and while some aspects of the July Crisis are a matter of interpretation, the timing of the declarations of war is one of those rare 'facts' in history that cannot be disputed.

One also should ad, that in the case of Russia (in contrast to Germany) mobilization did not have to mean war, and Russia continued to place its hope on mediation.

Or as the Tsar wrote in his telegram to the German Kaiser on July 31:' We are far from wishing war. So long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia's account are taking place my troops shall not take any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this. I put all my trust in God's mercy and hope in your successful mediation in Vienna for the welfare of our countries and for the peace of Europe.' (As quoted in The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and Military Documents (Documents in Modern History) by Annika Mombauer ( 2013 ) Paperback, p.491.

The next day however Germany *declared war* on Russia.

There is evidence that German leaders, preferred world war to a negotiated peace, and that Berlin thus took all steps necessary to prevent any kind of negotiated solution, while at the same time ensuring that Russia was blamed for the war.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2014 09:47:33 BDT
The ruling classes were all guilty - it doesn't really matter very much which pirate drew the knife first.

Posted on 14 Jun 2014 13:41:11 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Jun 2014 13:42:19 BDT
Mr. Podmore -

thanks for the interesting analysis of voting practices in the different countries. It is difficult, though, to label countries more or less democratic on the basis of their inhabitants' participation in elections.

Taking the example of pre-WW1 Germany (or, I suppose the UK, but don't have the necessary data), the 22% you cite should be seen in the light of structure of the population. Women could not yet vote, they made up slightly mor then half of the population; hence 22% for the men would correspond to something like 50% of the male population as a whole. The German population at the time, however, had a high rate of growth, with the group below age 25 - the minimum age for voting - making up half of the total male population which brings us to a very high figure of voter turn-out for the remainder of the men involved, certainly a great deal higher than what we seem to have in the US today...

Thank you as well for the Engels quotation, I did not realize how prescient he was.

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