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it was Germany's Schlieffen Plan alone that provided the essential initiator for the massive chain reaction that engulfed Europe
on 4 August 2014
Ponting begins his book by rejecting '...the common view of [Germany's] primary responsibility for the war'. Sadly much of the evidence he goes on to offer supports this, the academically accepted view.
From the 'Blank Check' to Berlin's haranguing of Vienna to declare war on Serbia and subsequent failure to assist the efforts of third parties to mediate, Ponting provides a balance of evidence to suggest that Germany played not just a part, but the principal role in escalating an assassination in Sarajevo to the point of global crisis. He also offers primary source evidence of Berlin's diplomatic efforts to avoid the blame for the outcome of their actions.
Of 30 July 1914, Ponting argues that the, '... Russian decision to order general mobilisation was the one move in the crisis that was bound to produce a European war'. This conveniently ignores the fact that Russian mobilisation did not lead inexorably to war, and while Russian decision makers would have deduced that their own mobilisation would trigger a corresponding German reaction, they could not have known that for Germany, mobilisation and war were one and the same thing. These charges can be laid upon Germany alone.
Germany's only military plan, the Schlieffen Plan, demanded a speedy and direct transition from mobilisation to war - and all before Russia could complete its own mobilisation. Many senior German politicians and diplomats were entirely unaware of the details of this plan, so it beggars belief that their Russian, French or even allied Austro-Hungarian counterparts might know of its details and implications. Unlike the Russians and Austro-Hungarian military staffs who were prepared and able to amend their mobilisation plans, The German General Staff refused to do so, knowing that this allowed no other avenue but war with Russia and France, violating Belgian neutrality on the way and in all probability dragging the British Empire in.
If the densely inter-woven brocade of 'isms' - Nationalism, Miltarism, Imperialism, Social Darwinism - formed the necessary and always dangerous critical mass, it was Germany's Schlieffen Plan alone that provided the initiator for the massive chain reaction that would engulf Europe and the world in the Great War.
The main body of Ponting's book follows the diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing of the 13 days leading up to the British declaration of war in concise daily chapters; I read each of these on its centenary. They offer many interesting and colourful anecdotes, personal portraits and insights, but do nothing to dispel the orthodoxy that the lion's share of responsibility for the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 rests deservedly in Berlin.