81 internautes sur 91 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
John D. Cofield
- Publié sur Amazon.com
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Heir to the Throne of Austria-Hungary, made a ceremonial visit to the city of Sarajevo with his morganatic wife Sophie. Members of a Serbian terrorist organization dedicated to wresting Austria-Hungary's south Slav provinces away from her lined the streets that day, determined to assassinate the Archduke. One succeeded, and the aftereffects of his fatal two bullets (Sophie was also shot and killed) reverberate through the next century. In a little over a month's time the major European powers were embroiled in conflict, and over the next four years the war expanded until it became a global affair which ended with the collapse of a European order which had lasted for a century,laying the groundwork for an even larger global war a generation later.
It is a well known truism that history is written by the winners. Because Germany and Austria-Hungary were defeated in World War I they were assigned the entirety of the blame for the war in the peace treaties, and most historians have tended to concur with it. Sean McMeekin's fine new history of the missteps that led to war at the end of July, 1914, does not entirely refute that judgement, but it does add in new layers of complexities.
McMeekin's approach is to take the reader step by step through the diplomatic negotiations that began almost immediately after the news of the Sarajevo assassinations hit the European newspapers. Few in Austria-Hungary mourned the Archduke and his wife, but many were determined their country's fading international image be restored through a short, victorious little war of reprisal against Serbia. Serbia's traditional Russian protector also felt the need to regain prestige through conflict. These two rickety empires began in early July to make moves they hoped would lead to a short, localized conflict. Unfortunately both Austria-Hungary and Russia had allies. Germany assured Austria of its support in a notorious "blank check," while France told the Russians that it would stand by its alliance. For the moment Great Britain, distracted by turmoil in Ireland, paid little attention to the Continental troubles.
McMeekin details the month of July, 1914 in a series of well written, dramatic chapters in which the personalities of men like Berchtold, Conrad, Bethmann-Hollweg, Sazonov, Grey, Cambon, and many others are sharply drawn, along with the diplomatic manueuvering which they pursued. Much of the negotiations took place behind the scenes, with the public and much of the media of the nations affected almost completely unaware of the danger until it was too late. There were many short sighted blunders, including many cases where vital information was not forwarded to the officials who desperately needed it because it didn't suit the agenda of another official or ambassador. The two monarchs who are most often criticized for having dragged their countries into war, Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, emerge as more thoughtful and cautious than they are usually characterized, but with much less power to stop their bureaucracies' moves towards war than is generally supposed. Throughout the book the reader realizes over and over again how different the outcome might have been had the diplomats and generals put a little more thought into what they were doing. McMeekin assists in this by describing not only what was done, but what should have been done instead.
The book ends in the early days of August, 1914, with the guns beginning to blaze. McMeekin provides a fine Epilogue on the responsibilities to be laid at the feet of the various nations, considering not only their post-Sarajevo actions but also their policies for years beforehand. In a world that is even more dangerous than it was in the summer of 1914 it is always a good idea to be reminded of the consequences of decisions made without due reflection. President Kennedy famously said that he always kept Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" on his desk in the Oval Office to remind him of the danger of sudden war. Thoughtful leaders and diplomats today would do well to keep Sean McMeekin's "July 1914: Countdown to War" on their own desks.
15 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
The title informs clearly the potential reader what he/she is about to read.As there are thousands of books on the origins of the First WW,the first question is why select this one.
The answer is ,in my opinion,because it is one of the better ones in describing the events and because it is very well written,with literary skill in modern but elegant prose.Also because it is bound to be controversial.The book is a blow by blow account of how,within one month,Europe went from peace and prosperity to a 20 million dead war that became global and turned the rest of the 20th century into the biggest war century of all times.It is also very scholarly with a clear text.
The reader should be cautioned that the author is judgmental.He does not consider that the responsibility for starting the war,normally assigned to A-H and Germany by many historians,is an open and shut case.He points the responsibility for this strongly to Russia and France and,I consider,he tilts more than fair to that side.Yet,I consider that,in challenging the prevailing opinion on responsibility for the war,he provides a lot of arguments and food for thought,as certainly the responsibility for this war is not s clear cut case and there are a lot of responsible states,differing only by their degree of guilt.
The three main causes of War ,Militarism,Nationalism and Imperialism should taint all European Nations involved,because they transformed by their adoption the 20th century into a powder keg waiting for the spark.The only innocent Nations were Belgium and Luxembourg.
I do not expand on this because I stated my views in my review of The Sleepwalkers and this review is about this book.The three profound causes that I mentioned are not adequately covered ,but they are not the stated subject of the book either.
The reason,I believe,that the author shifted so much the blame on Russia and France ,is that Russia encouraged through her Representative in Serbia a panslavic confrontational attitude against Austria and indirectly Serbian State terrorism and France because she aligned with Russia for anti German reasons.Also because they prepared both war by timetable like everybody else but Russia mobilized first. This however is not the whole story.
Granted that they could equally well abstain on the basis that Serbia was not worth 20 million dead but they were not the cause of the spark.The primary responsibility for the spark is with Serbia,Austria and Germany.
The author treats the Kaiser in a softer way than most historians ,putting on the dock instead Bethmann,Berchtold and Conrad as Principals responsible for the war on the Triple Alliance side and underlines the belligerence and inflexibility of Samsonov and Pointcare,absolving to an extend the Tsar and Viviani on the Entente side
The incompetence of the Statesmen, their political myopia and inability to foresee the consequences of their act to the point of imbecility and their willingness to use brinkmanship to the limit to obtain insignificant aims are excellently and persuasively described.
I consider useful to go away from the cliche that all responsibility for this war is on Austria and Germany and be critical about it,but I feel that the author in his effort to do so charges the other side with more responsibility than they deserve.
In any case the readers of this sort of books are all thoughtful people and can draw their own conclusions.
The debate is endless and over simplifications should be avoided.Already clubs are formed assigning the responsibility to this or that Nation.You can join any of them or start your own.
The important matter is that the study of the origins of this war by responsible and intelligent Statesmen saved us a few times from a Nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War.
This is the real contribution of books like this one.
To facilitate those who start reading about this war's origins below is a not exhaustive list of some significant works on the subject
-The guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
(Impressionistic style ,excellent prose,easy to understand)
-The origins of the war of 1914 by Luigi Albertini
(The Classic )
-Political Philosophy and the Great War by G P Crean IV
-The origins of the First World War by Stephen Van Evera,MIT Political Science Dept
(Lists all points of view on responsibility,Neutral)
-The Sleepwalkers by C.Clark
(An excellent, very deep and profound analysis of the causes and the actors,exceedingly well written,avoids assigning responsibility)
-Europe's Last Summer by David Fromkin
(Very good Primer for the American Public,Classic conclusions)
-The origins of the First World War by William Mulligan(Broad and deep with thematic essays and a new approach as to the inevitability of the war)
-The Origins of ww1 edited by R Hamilton and H Herwig
(The most recent product of serious Scholarship.It goes as far back as 1815.Ten American and one British author examine the Nations behavior and conclude.No European author)
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Paul K. Rowe
- Publié sur Amazon.com
McMeekin mentions in his introduction that there are more than 25,000 books on WW1, many of them dealing with the question of "cause" and "responsibility." McMeekin's new book is an important new contribution, which is rare; especially for those of us who do not read foreign languages and are not professional historians. Why is this book better than most of the others that have come out recently (centenary approaching, publishers salivating....)? (1) McMeekin appears to have limited his account to contemporary archival and first-hand sources -- there is none of the annoying (though entertaining) reliance on postwar self-justifying memoirs that so many professional and journalistic historians of the period rely on. (2) McMeekin proceeds by taking the reader through a careful, detailed, almost moment-by-moment chronology; the beginning of wisdom. Following the trail of evidence in 6 or more capital over 40 days is difficult, but it is the beginning of wisdom. (3) McMeekin has a sensible approach to the "Who were the deciders?" question in each capital; he shows you what people did and said, and from that record there emerges a sense as to how events were shaped. To give a few examples -- neither Wilhelm II nor Nicholas II were really "deciders", in the sense, say, of US Presidents today, but they were important; nevertheless, McMeekin recognizes the primacy of the chancellors, ministers and others just below the "sovereign"/head-of-state level. (4) McMeekin recognizes that despite the crowned heads and ostrich plumes on the surface, the great European powers in 1914 were close to modern democratic states in which public opinion mattered -- sometimes for real, sometimes as a screen. (5) Importantly, McMeekin has a finely judged sense of contingency -- yes, there were "deep forces" at work; but some totally contingent events played a large part in how events developed. His discussion of counterfactuals is lively and provocative, but also appropriately restrained and illuminating. (6) There is a brief chapter at the end in which McMeekin offers a kind of summing-up of the "sins" -- he uses that word -- of the Great Powers. This is a tour de force -- persuasive by its very Olympian detachment ("None shall 'scape whipping", was my personal reaction.) ....... And here is perhaps the central aim of McMeekin, to balance out the inevitable hindsight effect of Hitler and World War II. It is easy now, in retrospect, to assume the German government in 1914 was as lawless, aggressive and arrogant as in 1939. But such was not the case. The "German war guilt" thesis does not hold up. It may be that McMeekin slightly overweights Russia's appetite for war. But it must be said, his evidence is there and the "case" he makes that the French egged the Russians on is both somewhat new in popular history (most Anglophone historians are rather pro-French) and convincing. All right, how about the negatives? I can think of only one -- McMeekin is not an especially gifted writer; he is clear (a difficult feat given his task), he has an eye for the telling detail, but his prose is rather flat. Here and there his publisher, perhaps, has encouraged him to engage in popularisms that fall somewhat flat (entitling a chapter "The Last Chance Saloon", for example). That's it. This was a much more satisfying book than Christopher Clark's Sleepwalkers (although the two historians share the same general Germany-isnt'to-blame-for-everything view). (Coda: So what did cause WW1? In a nutshell, I would summarize McMeekin (or what I took from McMeekin) as follows: After years of humiliations, Austria felt she must respond to the Sarajevo outrage; she contemplated a short, local response -- perhaps a brief occupation of Belgrade; she asked Germany whether Germany would support this, and Germany, giving too little thought to consequences but probably with the idea that Austria's move would be localized and contained, gave her only ally support -- unfortunately, support in the form of the famous "blank check"; once Austria sent a humiliating ultimatum to Serbia, Russia seized the opportunity -- or recognized a necessity -- of standing behind her Slav compatriots; France then seized the opportunity of engaging Russia in a two-front war against Germany; Germany diplomacy and strategic thinking was incapable of wiggling out of the resulting situation, as Britain was incapable of wiggling out of its prior soft assurances to France; and so, by the first week in August, Germany, Britain and even Austria (by this time) went into a war none of them wanted, only France and Russia really being happy about the outcome. Of course, no one knew how bad it would be. But McMeekin quotes some evidence suggesting that German leaders -- Wilhelm, Moltke and others -- had the same premonition Yamamoto had at the time of Pearl Harbor; i.e., that whatever the start of the war looked like, they were doomed to defeat. And all along, the story is one of successful deceit (all's fair, etc., but the French and Russians were much better at this than the Germans or British); bluster and war-lust alternating with reality checks and the fear of regime-destruction: and, most of all, unutterably depressing ignorance and incompetence on the part of all the players -- ignorance of what was actually happening (this was a world reliant on the telegram) and incompetence in judging realities, formulating strategic aims and then following through. I will leave to others the obvious parallels to our own time.) (Further coda: McMeekin generously credits Barbara Tuchman, a non-academic historian, as piquing his initial interest in WW! and its causes (although he is not shy in pointing out her mis-dating of an important event). I have always thought we all owe out present lives, literally, in some part to the fact that JFK was (with all his faults on other issues) in charge during the Cuban missile crisis and that he had recently read Tuchman's Guns of August, which argues a crude-but-effective version of the "railroad timetable" theory of WW1 causation; along with his anger at being misled over the Bay of Pigs, this helped teach him to question the rigidities of advice about military matters (I can almost imagine him repeating to the Joint Chiefs the point Wilhelm II made to Moltke when the Kaiser believed that re-directing Germany's attack tothe East rather than to France would keep Britain out of the war, and Moltke mumbled that operational and supply considerations would not permit the change.) McMeekin does not follow a crude version of the railway timetable approach, but gives appropriate weight to the key geopolitical consideration that was perhaps the largest determinant of the war's inevitabilty once the diplomats had made their blunders -- the fact that Russia, due to her enormous size, had to mobilize earlier than anyone else, and that once Russia mobilized, Germany had to, and then.....