|Professor Niall Ferguson|
Professor Niall Ferguson, considered by many a "Revisionist" in his writings about the Great War stirred up a hornet's next last year in an interview published in the BBC's online history magazine. The quote that caught everyone's attention was – in apparently referring to Britain’s entry into the war — it “the biggest error in modern history.” Since I had had a long discussion with Mr. Ferguson on this very point over coffee one day at Stanford University — and expressed my disagreement over this very point — I made the big mistake of not reading the article. I recently corrected my error and read the article. I recommend our readers also do so. The full piece can be found HERE.
I'd forgotten that he is both brilliant and provocative. I discovered he included some fascinating insights in his responses to the questions put before him. Here are a few that have given me pause. It will take a long time for me to think through them, but I found them undeniably thought-provoking.
The Germans made a series of miscalculations about what was in their own strategic interest, and one of those miscalculations was to believe that the summer of 1914 was the best available moment for a showdown with Russia. This was a mistake because it almost certainly exaggerated Russia’s future strength. After all, Russia had been in a revolution nine years before [the 1905 revolution which did not bring down the regime but greatly unsettled it] and it was hardly as powerful as the German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg seems to have thought.
The Austrians Were the Wronged Party
The heir to their throne had been assassinated and the terrorists had been sponsored by the intelligence service of Serbia. . . the Austrians were the ones in the right and those who lined up on the side of Serbia were essentially backing the sponsors of terrorism.
Politics and the Decision for War
The Liberal government on 2 August 1914 realized that if it did not go to war then it would fall from power, because Grey and Churchill would resign and Asquith would have felt obliged to go to the king and admit the government could not be continued.
|British Troops on the Western Front|
Did Britain Have a Moral Duty to Protect Belgium?
It had a legal obligation under the 1839 treaty to uphold Belgian neutrality, so would have had to renege on that commitment. But guess what? Realism in foreign policy has a long and distinguished tradition, not least in Britain — otherwise the French would never complain about ‘perfidious Albion’.
About the Costs
When you ask yourself what it was for, answers like the creation of a pan-Slav state in the Balkans or the upholding of Belgian neutrality seem ludicrously small compared with the cost in terms of human life and treasure.