Skip to comments.Britain entering first world war was 'biggest error in modern history'
Posted on 01/31/2014 11:47:48 PM PST by Berlin_Freeper
Britain could have lived with a German victory in the first world war, and should have stayed out of the conflict in 1914, according to the historian Niall Ferguson, who described the intervention as "the biggest error in modern history".
In an interview with BBC History Magazine, Ferguson said there had been no immediate threat to Britain, which could have faced a Germany-dominated Europe at a later date on its own terms, instead of rushing in unprepared, which led to catastrophic costs.
"Britain could indeed have lived with a German victory. What's more, it would have been in Britain's interests to stay out in 1914," he said before a documentary based on his book The Pity of War, which will be screened by BBC2 as part of the broadcaster's centenary season.
(Excerpt) Read more at theguardian.com ...
If someone less distinguished than Jesus College, Oxford, fellow Niall Ferguson had written The Pity of War, you could be forgiven for thinking the book was out for a few cheap headlines by contradicting almost every accepted orthodoxy about the First World War. Ferguson argues that Britain was as much to blame for the start of the war as Germany, and that, had Britain sacrificed Belgium to Germany, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would never have happened. Germany, he continues, would have created a united European state, and Britain could have remained a superpower. He also contends that there was little enthusiasm for the war in Britain in 1914; on the other hand, he claims the war was prolonged not by clever manipulation of the media, but by British soldiers’ taking pleasure in combat.
Not the soldiers taking pleasure from combat, but perhaps a few rear echelon generals...
The centenary of the Great War has not really been that big of a deal here across the pond but in Britain and the Continent they have been furiously digging up the graves of old resentments and rehashing old injuries. Curious....
I think it would have been in everyone’s interest, if no one had gotten involved in WW 1. I don’t think it accomplished much, except to get millions killed.
I also don’t think it would have prevented the Bolshevik Revolution. Tsarist Russia was ripe to fall one way or the other, and a defeated France would have been another likely spot for the Marxist fire to break out.
A lot of people forget that WWII was an intra family feud. Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria’s grandson. There’s a story that the Queen staged a parade of the British Fleet to intimidate the visiting Kaiser from attempting to build an overseas empire. The Kaiser’s reaction was to later say “I must have a fleet like Grand Mama’s!”.
Counter-argument from Professor Gary Sheffield:
Britain claimed that it was forced to act in 1914 to secure its borders and the Channel ports, but in reality its borders and Channel ports became less secure when it engaged Germany.
The Russians and Serbs had a legitimate gripe against Germany and Austria-Hungary, who in turn had a legitimate gripe against the Serbs for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand.
Drawing Italy, India, the UK, Australia, Turkey, and France into that war made little sense...dominoes of paper treaties costing millions of lives, and the intervention by Japan, Canada, and the U.S. made even less sense (though far lest costly overall for them, at least).
Worse, besides those geopolitical mistakes, countless tactical mistakes were made such as how to combat submarine warfare, gas warfare, entrenched machine guns, aerial combat, etc.
France suffered 64% national casualties from the above errors...its warrior class was wiped out and its militant culture changed forever, though it didn’t recognize that culture-shift until after WW2.
Argentina stayed out of that war and prospered by selling war materials.
China entered WW1 on the side of the Allies, but after the war all of the German ports and bases in China were instead given to...Japan.
This enraged the Chinese. Students such as Mao Tse Tung and Chou En-Lai rallied mass demonstrations in Tiananmen Square against the results of the peace treaty at Versailles, and formed the Communist Party in China when their demands were ignored by the Allies.
Worse, giving the Chinese ports to Japan merely stoked Japan’s territorial desires instead of enamoring Japan with its Allies.
Combined with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, one can quickly see that not only was entry into WW1 catastrophic, and not only was the execution of tactics in the catastrophic, but also that the conclusion of WW1 was so badly botched that civil war in China as well as global war such a short time later circa 1939 became inevitable.
I think it is more ironic than funny, but all the Russians did, was exchange one set of despots, for another bunch of despots, who were even worse. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It took the Russians 70 years to throw off communism. I wonder how long it will take Americans to also throw off communism?
Repeated hundreds, if not thousands of times in history, and it will continue until there are no humans left.
The counter-argument is weak when one considers that Britain lost fewer people in WW2, being in the position that it feared if it didn’t intervene in WW1.
Moreover, it didn’t put a great value on avoiding that position circa 1932 to 1939.
Yes, Europe on the Continent would have been a bit darker if Germany had won, yet people still dined outside at street cafes in Paris even under an obviously much harsher and nastier 3rd Reich circa 1940-1944.
Kaiser Wilhelm was tame compared to Hitler, and besides, what the French lived under was hardly Great Britain’s concern.
Yes, I have always thought it accomplished nothing but get a lot of people killed, and assure there would be another war.
The same Niall Ferguson behind McCain and Romney?
So which would have been better to have right across the English Channel, a relatively-benign France or an expansionist Germany?
The Schlieffen Plan was devised nine years before WWI started. And what justification was there for violating Belgium’s neutrality?
There are only two options for victory: Beer, wings, and westernization of the degenerate muhammadan hoard, or genocide of the same bunch of imbeciles.
Whatever it takes to stop the slaughter of the innocents is moral.
Curious it is. But perhaps explained by the fact that WWI was the ultimate game changer; it ushered out the entire world order as it had existed and was understood in Britain and the Continent. An entire generation of men were all but wiped out in France which explains their inability to field an army of substance for WWII. It upended the British Empire; it changed everything and rent the fabric of the social contract as it had existed and was understood.
I’ve been studying this phenomenon for years now and having traveled extensively throughout Europe I’ve observed first hand the fact that the effects of WWI and WWII scarred the psyche of successive generations on both the Continent and in Britain. I have no answers but I speculate that it may well explain the near zero birth rates in Italy and Russia. The sense I’ve gotten of it is that this systemic shock has adversely affected the resilience of the societies involved.
I think Germany winning WW 1 would have avoided WW 2. The Kaiser was far less imperialistic & evil than the Nazi’s. Had Germany not been financially decimated in the 20’s. Hitler would have never rose to power.
There is a new book out called “The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Christopher Clark. It is a detailed study of how European diplomats and government officials basically stumbled into the war. No one and no country comes out looking good, even less looking innocent. One of the most interesting parts of the book relate the political and economic advances of the Austrian and Slovak parts of the Austo-Hungarian Empire. It was an astonishingly modern state. It will probably be the definitive work on the subject from here on out. It’s available on Amazon and well worth the read.
We made pretty much these points in “Patriot’s History of the Modern World, vol. 1” The thing is, everyone, including the Brits, wanted the war. They were perhaps the least enthusiastic, but each nation saw advantages to a war, since none thought it would go on long. There is a good book on the German way of war that argues the Germany’s central position and lack of defensible borders dictated all strategy since Napoleon and emphasized the offensive.
The U. S. made a huge mistake getting involved. WWI changed the world for the worse in most every way.
It’s hard to imagine German dominance over France ending worse than the post-war history did.
1914 France was not benign. Germany would not have taken France as a new territory.
Second, France also should have stayed out of the Balkan conflict. France making a mistake is not good reason to follow.
The big error from which everything else flowed was the progressives’ “captive nations” fantasy. Many examples abound.
Who can doubt the the Turk knew how to sort out the Arabs? How can the Eastern European microstates compete with Germany and Russia? Even today, in the Western fantasy of a unitary, imaginary “Ukraine” within its present borders there is nothing but smoke and bloodshed.
We need an Emperor in Vienna, and a Sultan in Constantinople, along with a Czar in St. Petersburg.
And the Dodgers in Brooklyn.
Then, there will be peace.
What was the justification for a "Belgium" to begin with?
116,000 dead in less than 18 months.
It left a permanent scar on the British psyche: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQm3qfjhGB4
Evrerything you said is true and rational, but the powers that be insist that moloch be fed. Even now.
As bad as that sounds, it is roughly 1% of the overall death toll of that war.
Prof. Ferguson fails to address the Treaties in force in 1914 where Great Britain was a signatory.In a rewrite of history Great Britain gets the blame and the fun loving Germans get a pass.
Remember:-Letter from Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Emperor of Austria in the early days of the war, in which the German Emperor wrote:
“My soul is torn asunder, but everything must be put to fire and blood. The throats of men and women, children and the aged must be cut, and not a tree or a house left standing.
With such methods of terror, which alone can strike so degenerate a people as the French, the war will finish before two months, while if I use humanitarian methods, it may prolong for years. Despite all my repugnance, I have had to choose the first system.”
The Germans learned from Shermans march to the sea.
It’s slightly tangential but, per a book about the 1918 flu epidemic, if Wilson had remained healthy he would have been able to continue to deter France from vindictive terms imposed on Germany. He fell ill so France got their way, hence Hitler.
Of course, I didn’t post that as a comparison with the catastrophic losses of France and the UK. I’ve been to the public school chapels in London, I understand the scope of the disaster - a disaster that we are still paying for, IMO.
I was surprised that the waste of young American lives was so high in such a brief time, that’s all.
I would have loved to been a fly, or several flies, on the wall back then. It’s almost like someone was pulling the strings to get everything in place, then light the match so they could bring about that complete change in the world order.
Basically after that all of the major monarchies fell and we started this dance toward the One World Govt thing. I really truly wonder sometimes if the whole thing wasn’t orchestrated for exactly that.
Not exactly. At least by itself.
German suffered very nearly the same percentage losses, and seems to have been able to field an army of substance quite nicely.
I’ve a lot of respect for Mr. Ferguson, but this one is a little silly.
Since at least the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it’s been THE cornerstone of British foreign policy to prevent the Continent being dominated by a single power.
This is for the fairly obvious reason that Britain is an island. It’s historically been protected against invasion by its fleet.
The fleet-building capacity of the Continent, if united, was much greater than that of Britain. But as long as the Continent was divided, Britain could defeat any likely invasion fleet.
Unite the Continent, spend five years building a fleet, and the RN could be utterly overwhelmed.
Solution, prevent the Continent from uniting. Thus Britain’s traditional opposition to Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon and Kaiser Bil.
Except, of course, that Sherman did no such thing.
The notion that Sherman invented total war is really, really silly.
Read up on the chevauchées of the 100 Years War. Not to mention the 30 Years' War and most other early modern wars.
French knew they had lost most of their warrior class. That’s why they build the maginot Line. They didn’t have enough troops to defend itself and hoped the forts would do it.
I had a similar experience looking at the wall at Eton, seeing the ages of the fallen. Heartbreaking and wasteful.
In 1939, France had a large and modern army - around 900,000 men and 5 million reservists with at least some military training. They, however, lacked the will to crush Hitler early.
I just finished a book about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich; in the book they claim that the Czech resistance obtained Hitler's plans for the invasion of France a month before it took place - including their plans to bypass the Maginot line through the Ardennes. They passed the intel on to the French, but the French disregarded it.
I thank God He gave me the faith to believe that His Son will come and we will have a “thousand” years of peace. I believe it will be around 3k, but that is just a pattern thing. No actual proof. He will reign as dictator of the world, but with justice and mercy. Thinking about it is my place of peace.
Hindenberg was in DC observing the U.S. civil war. Certainly he learned what worked (e.g. Confederate raider ships and submarine) and what didn't (e.g. bayonet charges over open ground against automatic gatling guns).
Lincoln's aerial observation balloons fascinated him, and he returned to Germany to turn them from passive wind-swimmers into active war machines...later called dirigibles because of their framework.
Looking at the posts there are a lot here who know more about the beginning of WWI than some. But there has not been any mentions of the “conspiracy theories” of how we got involved.
Here is one from a conspiracy web page.
“WARBURG, PAUL: New York City. German, naturalized citizen, 1911. was decorated by the”Kaiser in 1912, was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Handled large sums furnished” by Germany for Lenin and Trotsky. Has a brother who is leader of the espionage system of “Germany.”
“Strangely enough, this report, which must have been compiled much earlier, while we were at war with Germany, is not dated until December 12, 1918. AFTER the Armistice had been signed. Also, it does not contain the information that Paul Warburg resigned from the Federal Reserve Board in May, 1918, which indicates that it was compiled before May, 1918, when Paul Warburg would theoretically have been open to a charge of treason because of his brothers control of Germanys Secret Service.”
There are so many conspiracy theories about how big bankers got us into WWI that it would take a library to list all of them.
How much is true I don’t know.
The Sultan in Constantinople was doomed no matter what. The rising ideology of the Turks at the time was for consolidation. They wanted to rid their country of the Arabs, they saw them as backward. They wanted a pure Turkish state that was secular and modern unencumbered by Islamic fanatics and backward tribesmen.
Is that supposed to vindicate the Kaiser? Not like he was going to turn Belgium into independent Flanders and Wallonia.
Anyone want to go a step further and say “Belgium only for the Belgae”?
It’s worth remembering that the world *almost* went to total war during the U.S. Civil War.
That’s why Hindenberg was in the U.S. observing the war, in case Britain decided to enter on the side of the Confederates (they did not...only because Egypt...now known for Egyptian cotton, had its first successful cotton crop in time for the UK to have an alternative supplier of thread for London’s textile mills).
Likewise, the Russians were considering mobilizing an Army for an invasion via Siberia/Alaska, and the French *did* invade Mexico but in what surprised Europe...the French were soundly routed by the Mexican Army on the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo).
By the end of the U.S. Civil War, Europe had seen France routed by what they had once considered an inferior Mexican Army, and they saw the U.S. fielding the world’s largest, most powerful navy of iron clads, submarines, crocodiles (semi-submergibles), and electrically-detonated naval mines, plus the world’s largest, most powerful Armies (with multi-fire weapons such as Gatling Guns), as well as the only combat air force of any sort with a fleet of observation balloons.
It’s from their observation (and in the case of France, unsuccessful intervention) of the U.S. Civil War that Europe drew for its military and political changes during the WW1 buildup.
You are right in the gist, but wrong in the details. Prussia would not have sent a 15-16 year old teenager to the United States to be a military attache. However Phil Sheriden was the US military observer at the HQs of the Prussian General Staff during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Sheriden became very close to Otto von Bismark. It is Sheriden’s relationship with Bismark where the Germans learned and adopted the concept of total war, as practiced by Sherman and Sheriden (Shenadoah Valley). This was important in the German’s dealings with the French francs-tirreurs behind their lines. As an aside, Gen. Burnside was observing from within Paris during the Siege of Paris.
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