Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
Worthwhile but uncomfortable reading
on 25 December 2014
There has recently been quite a crop of books that purport to show not only that Britain's involvement in world war one was generally a good idea, but also that there was no real alternative and that the country was united behind the Asquith government's decision to declare war on Germany.
Newton's book has a different mission: to show that British involvement in the war was far from being the only possibility and to examine the various flaws in British domestic politics and diplomacy that led the country towards war rather than peace.
In a well written and handy volume, he succeeds in both these aims, while always backing up his arguments with useful footnotes that will appeal to the serious reader as a basis for further research. Along the way he takes a useful look at some of the key figures opposed to war like John Morley, whose arguments and motivations have often been discounted or attacked for their supposed naivity.
He also reminds us of the insidious way in which promoters of a possible continental military commitment by Britain had quietly been working to advance their agenda for more than a decade, with no real public debate and even senior politicians and officials kept in the dark.
His discussion of events immediately leading up to 4 August is especially useful, reminding as it does of the way in which crucial decisions were rushed through a miminum of discussion and that the supposed guarantee to Belgium was more of an ex-post facto justification for war than a binding agreement that Britain was bound to honour.
All in all, it is hard to escape the conclusion that so called "liberal imperialists" like Grey and Churchill had, along with their backers, been looking for an excuse to cut an awkward imperial rival down to size for some time. Sarajevo and the events that flowed from it merely provided the crisis that they had been looking for.