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Sunday, 09 November 2008


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It was Niall Ferguson's "Pity of War" which explained to me that we (Britain) were plunged into the First World War because Asquith and Lloyd George wanted to "dish the Tories". That the war was happening at all was, as Professor Fischer discovered decades ago, because the German ruling clique were desperate for an occasion to pick a fight with Russia - which was industrialising so successfully that if they didn't soon defeat it, the chance would be gone.
Of course, there was a respectable case for Britain entering the war, embraced by Churchill and some of the others in the (Liberal) cabinet, but they were outnumbered by the cabinet members persuaded of the respectable case against. It was when the two Big Guns, Squiffy and LG, made their cynical decision that the Cabinet assented.

I would beg to differ on one point, 'DM'.

I think there was still a majority in Cabinet against entering the war almost up to the last minute. At Grey's insistence Britain refused to stand with France and Russia over Serbia, and Grey received a fair degree of criticism for it, but he feared for "the temper of the Asquith government" which was exhausted by the Irish problem. As late as July 27th, the Cabinet only agreed to confirm Churchill's decision not to disband the 1st and 2nd fleets on Summer manouvres in the Channel. LG was quoted after that meeting as saying, "there could be no question of our taking part in any war in the first instance. He knew of no minister who would be in favour of it."

"By that Saturday night, August 1st, the French, the Conservatives and the [Liberal] hawks had little to show for their pressure upon the Asquith Cabinet." By the following day, August 2nd, the government moved as far as warning Germany that Britain would not tolerate German naval action in the Channel or against French ports.

It was the German ultimatum and attack on Belgium whose existence was guaranteed by Britain that finally, on the 3rd, saw a decisive shift in Liberal attitudes within the government. Whilst the 'Entente' with France had only moral obligations (from the Brit point of view), the guarantee to Belgium was sacrosanct.

I really must get Fischer's book which is referenced constantly in my other books but let me recommend "The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain & France Prepare for War 1904-1914" by Samuel R. Wilson, Jr., a detailed, almost telegram by telegram, history of Grey's duplicity/wisdom (delete to taste) from which I take the quotations above.

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