A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XXIII CHANGES IN THE POLITICAL AND MILITARY DIRECTION OF THE ENTENTE

I

DECEMBER 1916 is one of the most crucial months of the war. It marks definitely the beginning of a new stage. In Austria-Hungary the young Emperor Karl was bending his energies towards the attainment of a speedy peace, which alone could secure the maintenance of the Hapsburg dynasty and of his impaired inheritance. The German Chancellor disclosed to the world the German offer of peace, described elsewhere.

In England the Coalition Government fell after a life of eighteen months. Its head, Asquith, had been Prime Minister for nearly nine years, a continuous period only thrice exceeded in British parliamentary history. Its success, regarded simply as a coalition, was mainly due to the great loyalty, open dealing, and conciliation which he had shown towards colleagues differing so widely from himself and from each other in outlook and opinion. But its defects as a war ministry were also widely believed to have been largely due to his equable presidency. Kitchener testified to the unshaken calm with which Asquith had faced the worst news. It was contended, however, that his judicial mind allowed too much latitude to debate, and that decisions were deferred until the hour of their usefulness had gone by. The Cabinet was too large and responsibility was too much divided. In the often quoted words of Lloyd George: 'You cannot conduct a war with a Sanhedrim.' In each of the two autumns since the Coalition was formed the Central Powers had destroyed a small nation which Great Britain as the principal pillar of the Entente was bound in honour to protect. It is true that it was not within our power directly to assist Rumania, but the warning note sounded early in September by Lloyd George does not appear to have been taken very

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