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Tuesday, 13 July 2010


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Hmmm, if not the assassination of Ferdinand to light the first spark, then what do you think it would have been, Mr.Duff? I like playing these 'What If?' games, please do indulge me :)

Oh you can always concoct some pretext, DSD. When the USA thought to invade Canada in 1812 while Britain was busy with Napoleon, a pretext was easily concocted - as a read of the gormlessly uncritical account on Wikipedia will persuade you.

I suppose, 'DSD', that you would have to look hard at the relations between Austria and Russia as they ground away against each other in the Balkans. However, it would not do to write off possible French mischief. It was a constant worry to the British that the French tail might try to wag the British dog, as it were. Remember, the French were tremndously gung-ho for war because they thought matters might never be so much in their favour again and they were desperate to regain Alsace Lorraine. It was British insistence that no French troops enter Belgium, despite the advantage it gave the Germans, so that the first moves would be indubitably German. Still, as 'DM' indicates above, there are always ways and means to concoct a pretext.

Germany was in a similar position with its ally, Austria. Some of the German government were nervous of being towed along by Vienna, but others were all for it. The German General Staff (the world's greatest collection of military experts - pass the sick bag!) were extremely worried that a window for German military predominance was fast closing and believing that now was better than later, they would have accepted any old excuse. However, I can't, off-hand, think of any particular event - even Ferdinand's "five minutes of fame" came as a surprise to everyone, not just him!

Always fascinated me, too. I upset my proper Lefty history teacher so much she greeted my parents at parents evening with the classic 'Ah yes. The pain in my arse.' Unfortunately I then scored the top mark in my year by answering the third option on the paper which wasn't one of the two out of three we'd spent the previous terms covering :) - this happened to be 'Causes and early stages of WW1'.

When I home-educated the eldest for a year we did WW1 as her main history topic for a few months. She produced an excellent project book, complete with photos with every essay she wrote. She was particulary fascinated by Lettow-Vorbeck for some reason, which turned a fairly minor sub-topic on the African theatre into something rather more hefty.

I tend to agree with you that there were far too many big nations elbowing for room in far too small an area. The fact that the spark was lit in a relatively obscure area seems to have just been coincidental.

Your daughter did well! I have to confess that my knowledge of the Africa campaigns, and indeed the whole subject of Germany's ambitions in that area is something I have never looked into. Oddly enough, Fischer's book (see above) lays great emphasis on Germany's desire to own 'mittel Africa' from the Atlantic to the Indian ocean. According to Fischer, the Kaiser had three major imperatives; the creation of a German-controlled mitteleuropa, a German-controlled mittel Africa and parity, if not an outright advantage by the German fleet over the British.

The other area which is devilish complicated is the nefarious goings-on in the mid-east and the near east, to say nothing of the intricacies of the southern Balkans. What a tangled web and my admiration of Grey who kept his eye firmly on the ball grows apace.


This is all anecdote but I've read reports to this effect elsewhere.

The grandfather of one of my school friends had - lucky for him - fled Germany in 1932 and settled here with his family. He had served in the German army in WW1 (they were glad to have Jews fighting for them then). One afternoon, unusually, Oppa Heinz was willing to talk about his time in pre-WW1 Germany. Amongst a lot of other fascinating stuff he remarked that at school and at university, whenever the subject of the future of Germany was discussed (in or out of class) there was always mention of "Der Tag" - literally - The Day. The Day was when Germany would finally revenge herself on England (it was always England - never Britain) for slighting and thwarting German imperial ambitions in Europe and, particularly, Africa. He said that he never saw again in his lifetime the joy when England declared war on Germany: the joy of VE day in London was just a pale shadow. So whether or not Germany was the instigator and main cause of WW1, it's doubtful that Germany was in the vanguard of those who wished to prevent war.

Of course, it may be that, as A J P Taylor mooted, it was all the fault of those damned railway timetables.

Indeed, 'Bongers', there were several engines driving German policy towards war, amongst them popular public opinion, particularly as expressed through organisations like the 'Navy League' and such like. As I'm sure you have read, public opinion became very cross, not to say downright outraged, at the Kaiser when he appeared to back down from the precipice prior to 1914.

I did read Taylor's book - years ago - and I think he was right about the trains in a certain sense but only once the machinary of war had begun to turn.

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