Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Henry Kissinger Reflects on the Great War

Henry Kissinger, U.S. Army

Oppressed by the vulnerability of of its domestic structure in an age of nationalism, the polyglot Austro-Hungarian empire insisted on a generalized right of interference to defeat social unrest where it occurred. Because Britain was threatened only if Europe fell under the domination of a single power, Castlereagh was primarily concerned with constructing a balance of forces. Because the balance of power only limits the scope of aggression but does not prevent it, Metternich sought to buttress the equilibrium by developing a doctrine of legitimacy and establishing himself as its custodian.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh

Each failed as he succeeded: Castlereagh in making Britain a permanent part of the concert of Europe; Metternich in preserving the principle of legitimacy he had striven so hard to establish. But their achievements were not inconsiderable: a period of peace lasting almost a hundred years, a stability so pervasive that it may have contributed to disaster. For in the long interval of peace the sense of the tragic was lost; it was forgotten that states could die, that upheavals could be irretrievable, that fear could become the means of social cohesion. 

Klemens von Metternich

The hysteria of joy which swept over Europe at the outbreak of the First World War was the symptom of a fatuous age, but also of a secure one. It revealed a millennial faith; a hope for a world which had all the blessings of the Edwardian age made all the more agreeable by the absence of armament races and of the fear of war. What minister who declared war in August 1914 would not have recoiled with horror had he known the shape of the world in 1918, not to speak of the present? One who had such an intuition and did so recoil was, of course, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey.

That such a world was inconceivable in 1914 is a testimony to the work of the statesmen with whom this book deals. 

Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace 1812–1822

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