July 1914: Countdown to War (Anglais) Relié – 9 mai 2013
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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.
The author does a great job of taking the reader through the process day by day as foreign ministers and heads of state reacted to the event and formulated the responses that eventually led to world war by early August.
This book attempts to blame Russia and France as the primary culprits responsible for the war. I have to admit that I read in detail and enjoyed his 2011 work The Russian Origins of the First World War which also placed the blame on the Russians and French. Rather than all of this being a "tragedy of miscalculation" as other historians have claimed, or totally the fault of Germany and Austria (losers do not get to write history), McMeekin in this work lays it squarely on, primarily Russia, claiming that her need for a warm water port and the need to access to the Mediterranean was vital to her economic well-being, and the need to bring allies like France and England was critical for her survival and progress ahead. And it is a major revisionist theory but one I found interesting, while others claimed he cherry picked documents. I don't know enough to make that call.
The same theory translates into this book, although the author does not hit on it as hard (and so far the reviews have not hit on the author as some on the previous work)and he is going into much detail on who did what and when during the critical month before the firing began. It is fascinating reading of how so much went wrong in so short a period and a simple chronology of just over a page is prepared to summarize a very complex time, but with that being said, the book showed me that a handful of people who should have known better, bungled their way through this with the result that England, France, and Russia (until her revolution) essentially killed and were killed by Germans, Austrians and Hungarians. From a lay history point of view it was obvious to me that the people that mattered did not have their eye on the ball and this whole thing was avoidable. It sounds cold, but it seems to be had Austria Hungary simply invaded and occupied Belgrade quickly, as requested by Germany, drawn their quart of blood, and obtained concessions the whole thing would have been a regional issue, and over with before major powers could become involved, but the dual monarchy bungled it, and the book shows clearly how they all were allowed to sleepwalk into a world war.
Now anyone can show duplicity in foreign affairs. The Russians are good at it, but do not hold a patent. After all, diplomacy is the art of saying enough but at times leaving your audience unclear of what you did say, or even more simply to evade the truth, or plain out lie about it. It is all here on several stages, but in the end it was Austria-Hungary mishandling this thing. and pulling in Germany that resulted in the war. There is blame to be placed everywhere, but this was a progression of errors and incompetence in diplomacy which far overweighted deception in this progess of tragic events.
So, the book is interesting and well written, and worthy of reading, but for me, it did not convince me entirely of the author's premise.
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)
Rechercher des articles similaires par rubrique
- Livres anglais et étrangers > History > Europe
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- Livres anglais et étrangers > History > World > 20th Century
- Livres anglais et étrangers > Nonfiction > Politics > History & Theory
- Livres anglais et étrangers > Nonfiction > Politics > International > Relations