Marking the start of World War I

World War I was the most momentous historical event of the past century, having consequences that continue to haunt us still. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to take only one example, continues to reverberate through the Middle East with no end in sight. I have tried to engage with what is being written but so much of it feels remote, detached. It might just as well be about the Napoleonic Wars. Not that I have written anything that will change any of this, but I did post a piece at Quadrant Online not least because I could not let the moment go by without at least saying something. And what I have written about is my favourite book on the war, which is Frank Furedi’s First World War: Still No End in Sight which at least sees the war as the momentous event it was. The article is about the succession of wars we have fought since 1914, each one to defend very different countries even though those countries did manage to keep their names. From my QoL piece:

That WWI broke up ancient empires and created new ones is not in doubt. That we would be as different as different could be had WWI been somehow prevented I also have no doubt. But such is the way of the world. Major events happen, as they will continue to do. What Furedi does is remind you that things change and nothing stays as it is. There is no permanence, and that everything you think really matters, down to the core values by which you set your moral compass, is but windblown ephemera whose existence a century from now cannot be even remotely guaranteed.

We live in our own time in a particular place and can be lucky or unlucky in how it turns out. A hundred years from now is as unimaginable to us as we would have been to the lads who joined up at the start of the war a century ago.

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21 Responses to Marking the start of World War I

  1. Token

    It might just as well be about the Napoleonic Wars.

    It seems once a generations pass, the knowledge and understanding of the suffering ebbs.

    I listened to my grandfather& uncle tell stories about WWI & WWII, but for my kids it is too remote and they are too removed.

    I’m sure they’ll fall for the sweet sounding easy answers of the peace at any cost liars one day & hope they don’t have to learn the consequences of such casual recklessness.

  2. Ivan Denisovich

    Is this correct?

    http://business.financialpost.com/2014/07/26/world-war-one-the-war-that-ended-growth/

    Warren Harding’s successes were discussed here earlier so is WW1 responsible for this outcome?:

    The United States fared better than most through and after the war, but eventually the massive transfer of economic power to governments and the end of monetary discipline caught up with America.

  3. There was one good thing to come from the tragic massacre of Australians at Gallipoli. The bloke who beat us there and forged a reputation from the events was responsible for the shape of modern Turkey. He played rough in rough times, but if Turkey had not been radically transformed by Ataturk…

    Don’t want to think about it. Let’s hope the West never forgets the biggest headache they might have had, and still might have.

  4. stackja

    Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918
    Full text, digital format
    http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/
    The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 is a 12-volume series covering Australia’s involvement in the First World War. The series was edited by the official historian Charles Bean, who also wrote six of the volumes, and was published between 1920 and 1942. The books, with their familiar covers, “the colour of dried blood” in the words of one reviewer, rapidly became highly regarded internationally. Bean’s work established the tradition and set the standard for all subsequent Australian official war histories.

  5. Max

    Interesting Facts

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pw7nx

    All the agressors were First cousins and decendants of Queen Victoria, who, if she had been alive would not have let the war happen.

    The assassin of Franz Ferdinand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavrilo_Princip stated

    “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria.”

    A Serb family, the Princips had lived in northwestern Bosnia for many centuries[12] and adhered to the Serbian Orthodox Christian faith.[13] Princip’s parents, Petar and Marija (née Mičić), were poor farmers who lived off the little land that they owned.[14] They belonged to a class of Christian peasants known as kmets (serfs), who were often oppressed by their Muslim landlords

  6. jupes

    Interesting link to Hitchens, Ivan. Hitchens asks:

    Somebody please tell me, what we hoped to gain (we gained, in fact, nothing, and lost almost everything, but what, please, did we *hope* to gain?)

    Well I’d say they gained a Europe that wasn’t totally dominated by Germany. It wouldn’t have been too long after victory that they would have turned their sights to the pesky Island to the west. They would have had to fight them at some point. Staying out wasn’t an option.

    In my view, the mistake wasn’t to go to war; it was not to end it with the unconditional surrender and occupation of Germany.

  7. David

    It might just as well be about the Napoleonic Wars

    Not in this household. I had two grandfathers and several great uncles who fought in WW1. All bar one of them, a great uncle, returned and I still remember the stories from my grandfathers – especially those told when “Granny” was not around.

    My grand daughters have been given a good grounding in what they owe to that generation and to that of my father’s generation. Hopefully other families do the same. It helps if you have the service medals those previous generations earned.

  8. David

    In my view, the mistake wasn’t to go to war; it was not to end it with the unconditional surrender and occupation of Germany

    That was also the belief of Pershing, the American general. But then his country hadn’t lost the number of the fittest and finest that the other countries had so it was probably an easier call for him.

    There was an interesting History Channel doco a couple of years ago on the last casualty before the Armistice kicked it. A poor bloody American who was part of a small unit sent to attach the German lines so some useless bloody Officer could say he had actually been in combat. Can’t remember the name of the doco.

  9. David

    sent to attach

    Bloody dyslexic fingers. That should have been “sent to attack”

  10. manalive

    They would have had to fight them at some point. Staying out wasn’t an option …

    Possibly but a successful invasion of Britain was extremely unlikely if not impossible.
    Napoleon and Hitler never tried it.
    A world dominated by the USA, British Empire/Commonwealth, German Empire (Central Powers), diminished France and Russia and a rising Japan (which was a British ally), with no Hitler, no Stalin, no Mao et al. wouldn’t have been so bad (IMHO).

  11. Baldrick

    It is still too soon to discern what will be the ultimate effect of the war upon this country. Remote though the conflict was, so completely did it absorb the people’s energies, so completely concentrate and unify their effort, that it is possible for those who lived among the events to say that in those days Australia became fully conscious of itself as a nation.
    C.E.W.Bean (1920)

  12. Max

    A world dominated by the USA, British Empire/Commonwealth, German Empire (Central Powers), diminished France and Russia and a rising Japan (which was a British ally), with no Hitler, no Stalin, no Mao et al. wouldn’t have been so bad (IMHO).

    Pat Buchanan agrees here
    http://www.amazon.com/Churchill-Hitler-Unnecessary-War-Britain-ebook/dp/B0011UGM3W/ref=sr_1_sc_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1407557192&sr=8-3-spell&keywords=pat+buhanan

  13. jupes

    Napoleon and Hitler never tried it.

    Hitler tried it.

    Phase 1 was the Battle of Britain.

    Phase 2 was abandoned.

  14. Don’t worry too much about it David. I’ve got the shakes like a Kiwi shearer in the second week of a strike from anti rejection drugs. When your beer goes flat from shaking, you know it’s not good. Makes it difficult to type, and useless with a touch screen.
    I have to lurk until the system calms down a bit.

  15. Max

    At this moment it would be completely politically incorrect of me to link to the wikipedia of Winston Churchills mother and close strategic adviser.

  16. Ivan Denisovich

    Jupes, I find Hitchens’ argument that Britain should have stayed out of it intriguing. Historian David Stevenson, however, is with you:

    Britain went to war because strategically it would not allow Germany to liquidate France as a great power. Prime minister Herbert Asquith wrote that Britain “cannot allow Germany to use the channel as a hostile base”. Beyond that, Britain had obligations to Belgium’s neutrality…

    The… British Empire had compelling reasons for war. This was widely seen at the time by governments and peoples. And not just at the time — the commitment of allied armies and home fronts for four years reflected a basic truth: they believed they were fighting a just cause for principles of freedom. France and Belgium were fighting to save their nations intact. Long before the war’s end, Germany was a de facto military dictatorship.

    As time advances, the two world wars will increasingly be seen as different chapters in the same bigger event: a prolonged 30-year struggle over the aspirations of Germany, easily the most powerful nation on the continent, to satisfy its ambitions for power, territory and recognition.

    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/andrewbolt/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/not_a_war_about_nothing/

    So is Merv Bendle:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/andrewbolt/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/why_germany_had_to_be_beaten_in_world_war_1/

    Let’s assume Hitchens is correct, for argument’s sake. We’re, nevertheless, into the realm of crystal ball gazing in predicting how different (better) the 20 century might have been. It very well might have been but stupidity is not confined to 1914. Even if war had been avoided in 1914, immunity from catastrophic decisions is never assured, of course. As the saying goes, to err is human. WW1 is deemed a special case because it’s seen as the spawn of the huge evils that followed. It’s fascinating to speculate on what could have been, though, or more poignantly, what was lost.

  17. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    A poor bloody American who was part of a small unit sent to attach the German lines so some useless bloody Officer could say he had actually been in combat.

    November 11th, 1918 Canadian troops, under General Sir Arthur Currie, attacked and liberated the town of Mons, reversing the loss of the town by the British in 1914. After the war, Currie was blamed by the former minister for militia, Sam Hughes for needlessly wasting Canadian lives for ordering the attack, knowing that the Armistice had been signed. A newspaper ran an article featuring Hughes’ claims, and Currie sued for libel. He won. Good book called “The Last Day, The Last Hour’ about the trial, by one Robert J Sharpe.

    Currie received a telegram from the father of the last Canadian killed in the First World War, a man who I would have thought had every reason to be bitter about the loss of his son.

    “As father of George Lawrence Price, the only Canadian killed on Armistice Day, I wish to convey to you,Sir, my humble hope that you will succeed in bringing to justice those responsible for bringing this case before the public, because all this simply renews old wounds that are better forgotten. James Price, Fort William.”

  18. James Hargrave

    “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria.” Princip.

    No limits to the delusions harboured by overeducated (by Austria-Hungary) peasants infused with hypernationalism, then. Whereas Franz Ferdinand, once emperor, would have sought to create a south Slav entity within his realms, which might well have been better governed, more prosperous and a magnet of sorts to the other south Slavs trapped, as most of them were (since 1912/13 along with miscellaneous Albanians and Macedonians/proto-Bulgarians), in the ghastly little military-dominated, conspiracy ridden, (multi-)regicidal, paranoid dump run from Belgrade.

  19. Piett

    Napoleon and Hitler never tried it [invading Britain].

    Hitler tried it.

    Phase 1 was the Battle of Britain.

    Phase 2 was abandoned.

    Indeed. Napoleon was going to try it too. Phase 1 was the massing of the French and Spanish fleets at Cadiz, which led to the Battle of Trafalgar.

    Phase 2 was abandoned.

  20. Piett

    Also, an Imperial Germany that had won WW1 would have been well placed to win at sea, break the British blockade of the Continent, and impose their own blockade on the UK.

    We all know about the German submarine war in WW2 — the Battle of the Atlantic, as Churchill dubbed it — but in terms of numbers of ships sunk, the U-boats were even more successful in WW1.

    Also, in WW1, the German surface fleet was large and of excellent quality. Not big enough to go head to head with the RN, but not too far short. Now add in the Austrian fleet, and captured French and Italian vessels. And then picture Germany going all-out on ship construction for a few years after the end of the war, and forcing its subject nations to do likewise. The Lords of the Admiralty would have to be getting a bit nervous …

    So yeah, Britain did the right thing by entering the war — morally and strategically.

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