Academic journal article Military Review

JULY CRISIS: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914

Academic journal article Military Review

JULY CRISIS: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914

Article excerpt

JULY CRISIS: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 T.J. Otte, Cambridge University Press, London, 2014, 530 pages, $29.99

Among diplomatic and military historians alike, the origins of the First World War have long stood out as a topic of special interest. Since Barbara Tuchman published The Guns of August in 1962, if not before, there have been myriad attempts to extract sweeping lessons useful to both statesmen and generals. With the centennial of the Great War now upon us, fascination with the July crisis has spiked yet again.

In July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914, T.J. Otte attempts to produce an original synthesis of modern scholarship on the path to war. The result is not startlingly new, but is certainly fresh in terms of its points of emphasis. In particular, the author seeks to demolish some of the traditional clichés about the war-that it was inevitable, for instance-whether due to the alliance system or the rigidity of military planning. Neither is he persuaded that domestic pressures drove the principal powers into war.

In general, Otte is not overly impressed with the argument that inexorable forces operated beyond the capabilities of leaders to alter the course of events. On the contrary, the author maintains that there was ample opportunity to avoid a war, but that invalid assumptions, decadent institutions, and inept decision- making carried the day. In other words, "the role of individuals in July 1914 was critical."

Otte speculates that a different cast of players might have brought about a drastically different outcome. He observes that earlier figures such as Alexander I or Talleyrand possessed a much clearer vision about preserving the international order and the positions of the great powers. …

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