A hundred years ago

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David Sedgwick
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by David Sedgwick » Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:46 am

David Robertson wrote:
David Sedgwick wrote:the country was betrayed when the provisions of the Treaty of London 2015 were repudiated
Whoa! Not so fast! You're getting ahead of events.
Good spot - thank you. I've edited the original post.

I do seem to muddle my centuries occasionally. On a previous occasion I referred to 2007 rather than 1997.

Geoff Chandler
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Geoff Chandler » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:43 am

Don't you guys know anything?

WWI started because the Germans were trying to keep the World Chess Title in Lasker's
hands so he could break Steinitz record. The war stalled Capa's assault on the title.

Don't believe me?

(Just realised St Petersbug 1914.....Capa nearly won it.....I may be right!)

Colin S Crouch
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Colin S Crouch » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:51 pm

Listening to the radio, I was struck by the thought that there was the gap of at least a month between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the start of the declarations of war. It was therefore not an immediate conflagration, and the diplomats and politicians had some time, though limited, to try to sort everything out. But of course they did not manage to succeed.
Possibly it is time to get back to the traditional one - the Germans started the war? Kaiser Bill, and all that? Having said that, there were plenty of other countries which were not too concerned to go to war.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Roger de Coverly » Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:08 am

Colin S Crouch wrote: Possibly it is time to get back to the traditional one - the Germans started the war? Kaiser Bill, and all that?
The Austrians were encouraged by Germany to invade Serbia and then the Germans invaded Belgium. Had the Germans had more confidence in their defensive abilities, they could have held off both the French in Alsace and the Russians in Prussia as they did in practice even with their armies marching through Belgium. That would probably have avoided also fighting the British and later the Americans.

On the British side, a cynical attitude of trying to profit from the war like the Americans would have encouraged nominal neutrality, or fighting in a manner that didn't end up with many of your most experienced and trained soldiers dead.

David Robertson
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by David Robertson » Wed Mar 05, 2014 3:50 pm

This is my informed recommendation for further reading on WW1. There is a mix of high quality academic work; some accessible military histories; and some selected literary material. I have read everything here except those items marked (*partly) and (**not yet). If you were to read this lot, you'd be very well-informed. If I find time and inspiration, I may add in a guidance commentary to the various sections.

If I were asked recommend just one item, what would it be? I'd say Chris Clark's quite brilliant, forensically-researched diplomatic history. The opening chapters on Serbian politics, 1880-1914, are breath-taking. Hastings (2013) describes Serbia as "a wasps' nest"; Clark (2013), as "a rogue state". They're right: the problem began here.

Pre-1989: the classical debate – Germany to blame

*Fritz Fischer (1961) (2007), Germany’s Aims in the First World War
Barbara Tuchman (1962), The Guns of August
AJP Taylor (1969), The First World War & War Timetables
Andreas Hillgruber (1981), Germany and the Two World Wars

Post-1989: the modern debate - Sharing the blame

Niall Ferguson (1998), The Pity of War
**Annika Mombauer (2002), Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus
Christopher Clark (2013), The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War in 1914
Margaret MacMillan (2013, The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War
**Sean McMeekin (2013), The Russian Origins of the First World War

The military debate – Lions led by Donkeys?

Max Hastings (2013), Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War, 1914
Alan Clark (1991), The Donkeys
Michael Howard (2007), The First World War: a Very Short Introduction

Cultural legacy

Charles Emmerson (2013), 1913: The World Before The Great War
David Reynolds (2013), The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century
**Frank Furedi (2014), The First World War: Still No End in Sight

Poetry and Literature

David Roberts (1996), Minds at War: the Poetry and Experience of the First World War
Pat Barker (1991-95), Regeneration Trilogy
Sebastian Faulks (1994), Birdsong
Ernest Hemingway (1929), A Farewell to Arms
Erich Remarque (1928), All Quiet on the Western Front

Finally, if your appetite remains unsatisfied, there is this blockbuster. At 2340pp. and £240.00, I’m leaving this one to you.
Last edited by David Robertson on Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:50 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:03 pm

Thanks for the thoughts, Paolo. As David Sedgwick's response shows, getting different perspectives can be vital. There is much less in the English-language secondary literature on the war about the German, Italian, Austrian, Russian and Turkish viewpoints, though it is there if you know where to look.

One of many starting points for those in the UK (not necessarily the best, but a starting point) is the BBC's website here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww1

TV and radio schedule here (the TV schedule appears to be updated on an ongoing basis):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01nb93 ... s/upcoming

Some of the recent programmes:

Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01nl00x

Max Hasting's The Necessary War
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03wtmz6

The First World War (10-part series):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jz8g2/episodes/guide

37 Days (3-part docudrama):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pf7dx/episodes/guide

Jeremy Paxman's Britain's Great War (4-part series):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03xtmn ... e#p01npqws

Plus lots more over the coming months.

I see David Robertson has provided an excellent reading list. David, if you had to pick just one book to start with, which one would you recommend? Have you been watching any of the BBC's output on this and what do you think so far?

Phil Neatherway
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Phil Neatherway » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:10 pm

I thought "Birdsong" was excellent.

Phil Neatherway
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Phil Neatherway » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:12 pm

My view is that WW2 was worth fighting, as our way of life was at risk, but WW1 wasn't. Is there anyone (apart from Michael Gove) that disagrees with this?

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Matt Mackenzie
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Matt Mackenzie » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:18 pm

Yes, there are a few others who think that WW1 was a just war - even if most of them are critical to various extents about how it was pursued.

And quite a few still believe that the real problem was the subsequent peace!
"Set up your attacks so that when the fire is out, it isn't out!" (H N Pillsbury)

Phil Neatherway
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Phil Neatherway » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:40 pm

I should say the real problem was millions of people killed for no good reason.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Wed Mar 05, 2014 6:53 pm

Phil Neatherway wrote:I should say the real problem was millions of people killed for no good reason.
The question is generally posed as whether a war that kills millions like that could occur today. We would hope not, but we do know that wars killing thousands and tens of thousands still occur. And what is sometimes called the 'Great War of Africa' is said to have killed over 5 million between 1998 and 2003:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Congo_War

A lot of those deaths are due to malnutrition and disease, but then there is a reason that those horsemen accompany war. Does it really come down to arguing which wars and deaths were more preventable than others? Or is it just that the baser side of human nature inevitably leads to periodic build-ups of power, weaponry, and outbreaks of death and destruction? Is it possible for those working to prevent such outcomes to control those forces and work for de-escalation, peace, and de-arming while still maintaining security and the rule of law and order? Sometimes, but maybe not all the time.

David Gilbert
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by David Gilbert » Wed Mar 05, 2014 11:27 pm

Matt Mackenzie wrote: And quite a few still believe that the real problem was the subsequent peace!
The misery didn’t end with peace. In the embers of the War came a worldwide influenza pandemic known as the "Spanish 'Flu". Between 1918 and 1919 more people died from ‘flu than had been killed during the whole of the conflict. No one really has precise data, but studies put the global number of deaths at between 20 and 100 million people.

MartinCarpenter
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by MartinCarpenter » Thu Mar 06, 2014 11:00 am

Well while you're at it you could try adding up all the other excess deaths caused by the quite appalling economic damage.... Terrifying, although I'm sure someone has had a go.

That cambridge history looks like an impressively monumental undertaking!

Colin S Crouch
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Colin S Crouch » Fri Mar 07, 2014 10:34 pm

Horrendous times, yes, but sometimes we need to go beyond just saying that “this is dreadful”.
I still have the chess-player's instinct that if a player has lost a game of chess, then that player must inevitably have made a mistake. The big analytical task is to find the losing blunder. If an analyst is unable to find a mistake, or perhaps a whole string of mistakes, then the analyst has not yet completed the task.
It is on the basis of this string of thought that I wanted to ask myself the question as to who started the Great War. Not just one person, but perhaps one country, or perhaps some sort of mistaken ideology, or even some sort of broad consensus at the highest level that everything is fine, not noticing that everything is about to collapse. It is too easy to say that everything was smooth and prosperous in Europe in 1913, but that somehow, by sleepwalking though disaster, we somehow suffered the nightmare of the trenches. Ceartanely not everything was prosperous for those who were in poverty, but the catastrophe was created not be the poor. So which groups, which elite groups, created the problem? “Nobody” is an unacceptable answer.
In sub-global terns, there were undoubtedly major conflicts in the two Balkan Wars, of 1912 and 1913, and it was perhaps unsurprising that a third Balkan war could start in 1914. Sad, but the unresolved problems had not yet been sorted out.
The critical problem seems to be that western Europe suddenly got embroiled into all-out war in 1914, and that any hopes that it will all be sorted out by Christmas did not materislise. Europe had, for about a generation, concocted a sophisticated set of alliances between the main powers, but once tensions had stressed too far, there was an overwheming backlash.
The main culprit, as far as the west is concerned, seems to be Germany, which invaded Belgium and Luxembourg, and was clearly intent on annexing territory in France. This was outrageous, and had very little to do with Sarajevo. Just look at the map! Germany was clearly taking advantage of the Balkan crisis, for its own territorial purposes.
Should Britain have responded things differently? Neville Chamberlain tried a more conciliatory approac in the late thirties, but history does not deal kindly with him.

Colin S Crouch
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Re: A hundred years ago

Post by Colin S Crouch » Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:13 am

Sadly, we can go well beyond Chris Kreuzer's suggestion of five million killed in the Second Congo War. In my life-time (I am no spring chicken), the death toll in Mao's “Great Leap Forward” have been generally estimated at around 40 million, between 1958 and 1962. There is no reason to believe that this is anything other than reasonably accurate.
Smaller countries inevitably would have been able to kill off far fewer people, slightly less than 2 million by Pol Pot in Cambodia, between 1975 and 1979. Another great Maoist.
Marx's Communist Manifesto is often greatle regarded as an extremely original piece of literary work, and he showed great insights on 19th century industrial development. Unfortunately, his writing on collectivisation, when it was taken seriously by the communists, ended up in disaster. However great a thinker might be, he should not be regarded as a god by followers.

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