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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A preventable, unnecessary, imperialist, war, 25 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Paperback)
So you'll see that I don't subscribe to the Sir Max (Hastings) (and others) thesis.
Their strongest point is to pop you into the cabinet in August 1914 and say "well of course we had to go to war for plucky little Belgium. Look, even Lloyd George saw the light".
But of course it's much more complex and goes back much further than that.
This is the best book I've read on the subject - like Hastings, the bug caught me at school and hasn't dropped me since. OK, if you're new to it, read Margaret Macmillan, or the wonderful 'Dreadnought' by Robert Massie: both have more narrative flow and take the events as they come. But Clark explores more angles, such as the nature of the Serb state and the methods of government (or lack of) and the ways of the individuals in the great powers.
Don't buy "it was the German blank cheque wot did it" line. As Clark shows, the French backed Russia to the same extent and the Russians cocked up by underplaying Austria's annexation of Bosnia and then deciding they'd not got a good enough deal.
As for pluckly little Belgium, well if, as Hastings considers, German conduct in South West Africa counts against them (the Kaiser's Germany was on a par with Hitler's line), then Belgium's conduct in the Congo pretty much puts them beyond the pale, let alone on moral equivalence, and having just been reminded of Britain in the Boer War (thanks to Roy Hattersley's biography of Lloyd George), we didn't exactly sparkle in a dim field (of 1,100 children taken into camps, 260 died; and why did we go to war there? Try gold and diamonds).
And what if the Russians had let Austria have its way in Serbia? Well 1) all the powers knew that Russia would die in a ditch over the Straits, and wouldn't push her to concede any other power's control of them, but Serbia wasn't the Straits - Russia could build up Bulgaria as its bulwark and 2) talking about biting off more than it could chew - just how much harm would Serbia do to Austria when in the Empire? That is probably the exception that proves the rule about urinating in the vicinity of tents.
And Britain? Well the only reason we were loosely associated with Russia was to reach an accommodation over the threats to the Empire. And that association was at risk on the forthcoming renewal.
And the Empire. Just why were we east of India? - opium. And in India? - a market for Lancashire cotton. East of Aden? - Persian oil for the Queen Elizabeth class battleships. And were we a good custodian? - Bengal 1943.
For something that we rightly pulled out of (and not gloriously - see Roberts on Mountbatten), there was little point in supporting Russia against Austria for a Serbia that Austria could never swallow.
Our only sensible national interest was France. But if France hadn't signed a cheque for Russia, then Russia would face Germany alone. And it would then see sense in backing Bulgaria and not Serbia, and in allowing Austria to suffer a bad case of indigestion.
It didn't need to have happened. In Germany, the economic forces would've gained over the Imperialist sooner or later, and the Kaiser wouldn't live for ever. The German method of government would've reformed, and when it became apparent that the British Empire was an anachronism, there would be no need to chase its own. It would just do what it does now - make things better than most others. And you never know, we might have done the same, left to peaceful ends.
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Initial post: 1 Apr 2014 16:43:27 BDT
Marcus Laver says:
Excellent review!
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