World War One Historiography: Are we getting closer to the truth 100 years on?
The prevailing view on World War One- pushed by the “court historians” has been deeply seared into the minds of generations of people around the world. Even in Germany, children have been led to believe it. But is there counterpoint to the accepted view? Is there valid counterpoint? The answer to both questions is yes. But what is the “accepted” view?
As the tale goes, Germany was to blame for the war and the Kaiser was killing babies by impaling them on his pickelhaube. There have always been some challenges to this view but they have never taken hold due to the fact that victors get the spoils AND the best press. There is a legacy to protect. What if the last 100 years of foreign policy was built on the legs of a scarecrow?
It is not the intent of this paper to do an exhaustive look at the historiography. That will come with a later paper that I hope someone will want me to pursue and publish. My goal is to look at the recent turn away from the kennel-fed views that dominate academia.
I am not going to get into the “Fischer Controversy” since Gerhard Ritter dispatched that quite nicely back in the 1960s.
I remember reading an essay written around 1972 by called “World War One as a Galloping Gertie.” This paper by Paul Schroeder made me really question the state of the emperor’s clothes. Schroeder looked at the encirclement of Austria by the British. Pat Buchanan’s book “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War” (2008) picks up on the “British Bully” theme with the encirclement of Germany. Niall Ferguson’s “The Pity of War” (1999) targets the British as main culprits behind the war.
To be sure, there were war camps in each of the major powers pushing for madness. David Fromkin shows in “Europe’s Last Summer” (2004) that the war party in Germany was able to win by lying to the Kaiser and denying him key information. The same thing happened in Russia where I believe it is clear that Sergey Sazonov bullied and lied to Tzar Nicholas II. The English Parliament was lied to as well.
Had this REALLY been left to Wilhelm, Nicholas and George there would not have been a war. Their governments betrayed them.
I encourage readers to look at two new exciting works. Sean McMeekin has written “The Russian Origins of the First World War.” One of the newest works that I just finished reading is “July 1914”- McMeekin. McMeekin uses new evidence to show that the war camps succeeded in leading nations to war- led by Kings who did not want war. This new scholarship is a must read.
100 years on, will we finally recognize what started in 1914- and who was responsible?
We have been told that the culprits behind World War One were in Germany and Austria- and were on the thrones. I think we are finally realizing the culprits were in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Washington and St. Petersburg- and they were not on any thrones.