The Coming of the First World War

The Coming of the First World War

The Coming of the First World War

The Coming of the First World War

Synopsis

The debate about the conflict which transformed Europe between 1914 and 1918 is one of the most fundamental in modern European history. This book, based on public lectures given in Oxford, makes two distinctive contributions to that debate. It presents readable and judicious accounts of the events and decisions which directly precipitated the outbreak of war in each of the main countries and assesses the role of public opinion and popular mood in determining and responding to the "July Crisis." The book offers a stimulating survey of the historiography of the immediate causes of the war, before and since the famous "Fischer controversy" over German responsibility, and new reflections on the character of the official and unofficial "mentalites" during the last weeks of peace. Published on the seventieth anniversary of the 1918 Armistice, this book will appeal to anyone interested in how wars begin.

Excerpt

The origins of the First World War have created a heated debate and intensive controversy from the very beginning, in August 1914, until the present day. No other outbreak of war has attracted the attention of so many historians, journalists, writers of memoirs, and military authors. For decades long- and short- term causes have been analysed, and yet no end to the debate is in sight. New interpretations have alternated with new evidence, but if a more profound understanding of the political, economic, and social impact of the war on European society is to be gained, then yet further studies of the immediate pre-war years must be undertaken. It does not follow that great events also have great causes, but without a wide-ranging analysis of the origins of the war, the involvement of the powers and their economic and ideological mobilization remain unclear. Even the ascendancy of the United States, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the decline of European supremacy are linked to the pre-war period and thus belong to the origins of the war. A strong case could be made for connecting the fall of three empires, the Russian, the Turkish, and the Austro-Hungarian, and the defeat of a fourth, the German Empire, to the origins of the war. Here it may suffice to emphasize the outbreak of the war as an unparalleled watershed in European history.

As far as Germany is concerned, an additional factor has to be taken into account. German society rejected the defeat and became dominated by revanchism disguised as a bid for revising the post-war situation in Europe. Unlike French revanchism of the post-1871 years, German revisionism was closely associated with the rejection of the so-called 'war guilt' clause of the Peace Treaty. By studying the 'origins' of the conflict, the German revisionists tried to substantiate their conviction that Germany had not started the war. While French revanchism had aimed primarily at regaining the two lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, German revisionism aimed higher, and wanted to restore Germany as a Great Power. Once this aim had been achieved, it was imagined, territorial questions would fall into . . .

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