• How England Helped Start the Great War

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    by Paul Gottfried: League
    of Acceptable Nations

    A vastly
    underexplored topic is the British government’s role in greasing
    the skids for World War I. Until recently it was hard to find
    scholars who would dispute the culturally comfortable judgment
    that “authoritarian Germany” unleashed the Great War
    out of militaristic arrogance. Supposedly the British only got
    involved after the Germans recklessly violated Belgian neutrality
    on their way to conquering “democratic“ France.

    But British
    Foreign Secretary Lord Edward Grey had done everything in his
    power to isolate the Germans and their Austro-Hungarian allies,
    who were justified in their concern about being surrounded by
    enemies. The Triple Entente, largely constructed by Grey’s
    government and which drew the French and Russians into a far-reaching
    alliance, encircled Germany and Austria with warlike foes. In
    July 1914 German leaders felt forced to back their Austrian allies
    in a war against the Serbs, who were then a Russian client state.
    It was clear by then that this conflict would require the Germans
    to fight both Russia and France.

    The German
    military fatalistically accepted the possibility of England entering
    the struggle against them. This might have happened even if the
    Germans had not violated Belgian soil in order to knock out the
    French before sending their armies eastward to deal with a massive
    Russian invasion. The English were anything but neutral. In the
    summer of 1914 their government was about to sign a military alliance
    with Russia calling for a joint operation against German Pomerania
    in case of a general war. The British had also given assurances
    to French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé that
    they would back the French and the Russians (who had been allied
    since 1891) if war broke out with Germany.

    Grey spurned
    attempts by German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to
    woo his government away from their commitments to Germany’s

    German concessions
    in 1912 included:

    • The
      acceptance of British dominance in constructing railroads and
      accessing oil reserves in what is now Iraq
    • Investments
      in central African ventures that would clearly benefit the English
      more than the Germans
    • Meekly
      following England’s lead in two Balkan Wars where Austria’s
      enemy Serbia nearly doubled its territory.

    The Russians
    and French were also vastly expanding their conscription to outnumber
    the German and Austrian forces, but neither German concessions
    nor the saber-rattling of England’s continental allies caused
    the British government to change direction. Lord Grey, who remained
    foreign secretary until 1916, never swerved from his view that
    Germany was England’s most dangerous enemy.

    the rest of the article

    2, 2012

    Gottfried [send him mail]
    is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown
    College and author of Multiculturalism
    and the Politics of Guilt
    , The
    Strange Death of Marxism
    in America: Making Sense of the American Right
    , and Encounters:
    My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers
    His latest book, Leo
    Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal
    was just published by Cambridge University Press.

    Best of Paul Gottfried

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