Note: Paul Gottfried is one of the few surviving German nationalists who happen to be Jewish, which gives him more freedom than your average guilt-denatured modern German to point out that we were hardly innocent third parties dragged into the horror of the Great War. The Germans did no more than anyone else to send the July Crisis out of control. They were no more unpleasant in the fighting than we were. Their war aims were no more unbalanced. The war guilt clause in the Versailles Treaty was monstrous, and I hope Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George are both in the next to innermost circle of Hell – the innermost being reserved for three really wicked people, whose names I won’t mention because one of them will send the usual suspects into a frenzy.
My own belief is that the order of things before 1914 was the best of all possible worlds. And it could so easily have been maintained throughout the twentieth century by a close and trusting Anglo-German friendship. Equal, though separate and complementary, in genius, in enterprise, and in all else that makes a civilisation great, both nations had so much to gain by friendship, and so much to offer in the way of friendly guidance to the lesser nations of the world.
This being said, Paul does overlook the effect on British opinion of building a German fleet. Its only possible use was against us. It sent us into a nervous frenzy. It scared us into allying with the ludicrous and declining French, and with the barbarous Russians. It allowed the devious and resentful Americans to slip the leash that kept them in the secondary status for which they have plainly always been fitted. Perhaps our response was excessive. But even a potential challenge by Germany to mastery of the seas had to be taken seriously. How would the Germans have reacted had we promised an army of three million men after 1898, and started joint military exercises along their border with the French? Because he overlooks the naval race, Paul fails to make his general case.
I think it’s best to regard the July Crisis itself as a catastrophic accident, for which no one actor can be uniquely blamed. It’s something for which whatever power you happen to be studying can be most credibly blamed. Almost every year in the two decades before 1914, there had been provocations from one great power or another. All were stupid. None wanted a general war.
Oh, and what makes it seem even more accidental is that, after 1912, Anglo-German relations were on the mend. The Germans had given up on the naval race, and would have been wholly out of it after 1916. The two countries worked amicably together to limit the scope of the Balkan War. If the crisis could have been delayed even another year, there might have been a war in Eastern Europe – but I see no reason why there would have been British involvement.
The Germans would probably have seen off the Russians in this war. But, let’s face it, so long as they aren’t wearing really sexy uniforms, when was German domination of Central and Eastern Europe ever such a bad thing?
I suppose I might also mention that this case is made at greater length in my novel, The Churchill Memorandum, which is currently on special offer via Amazon. SIG
A vastly underexplored topic is the British government’s role in greasing the skids for World War I. Until recently it was hard to find scholars who would dispute the culturally comfortable judgment that “authoritarian Germany” unleashed the Great War out of militaristic arrogance. Supposedly the British only got involved after the Germans recklessly violated Belgian neutrality on their way to conquering “democratic“ France.
But British Foreign Secretary Lord Edward Grey had done everything in his power to isolate the Germans and their Austro-Hungarian allies, who were justified in their concern about being surrounded by enemies. The Triple Entente, largely constructed by Grey’s government and which drew the French and Russians into a far-reaching alliance, encircled Germany and Austria with warlike foes. In July 1914 German leaders felt forced to back their Austrian allies in a war against the Serbs, who were then a Russian client state. It was clear by then that this conflict would require the Germans to fight both Russia and France.
The German military fatalistically accepted the possibility of England entering the struggle against them. This might have happened even if the Germans had not violated Belgian soil in order to knock out the French before sending their armies eastward to deal with a massive Russian invasion. The English were anything but neutral. In the summer of 1914 their government was about to sign a military alliance with Russia calling for a joint operation against German Pomerania in case of a general war. The British had also given assurances to French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé that they would back the French and the Russians (who had been allied since 1891) if war broke out with Germany.
“The British were more hostile to the Germans than vice versa.”
Grey spurned attempts by German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to woo his government away from their commitments to Germany’s enemies.
German concessions in 1912 included:
• The acceptance of British dominance in constructing railroads and accessing oil reserves in what is now Iraq
• Investments in central African ventures that would clearly benefit the English more than the Germans
• Meekly following England’s lead in two Balkan Wars where Austria’s enemy Serbia nearly doubled its territory.
The Russians and French were also vastly expanding their conscription to outnumber the German and Austrian forces, but neither German concessions nor the saber-rattling of England’s continental allies caused the British government to change direction. Lord Grey, who remained foreign secretary until 1916, never swerved from his view that Germany was England’s most dangerous enemy.
A book that makes this clear is Konrad Canis’s study of German foreign policy from 1902 until 1914. A massive volume of more than seven hundred pages, Canis’s Der Weg in den Abgrund (The Road Into the Abyss) is a groundbreaking revisionist account of the entanglements leading up to the war.
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