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Forces War Records Blog


Blogger: GemSen

As the World War One Centenary grows ever closer a snowball of debate surrounding the conflict is gathering pace as more and more people broadcast their opinion…

And latest to comment in the media is historian, Niall Ferguson, who believes that Britain could have lived with German victory and should have stayed out of the 1914 war. 

The global conflict was centred in Europe and began on 28 July 1914, and lasted until 11 November 1918. The world's economic great powers got drawn in and were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Although, a resurgence of imperialism was an underlying cause, the initial trigger for war was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo.

This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. It didn’t take long for the major powers to be at war. But did this crisis in the Balkans really have to turn into a global and bloody conflict?

Ferguson believes that there was no immediate threat to Britain, which could have faced a Germany dominated Europe at a later date on its own terms, instead of rushing in unprepared, which led to catastrophic costs. Ferguson described the intervention as “the biggest error in modern history” in an interview for BBC History Magazine. Quite a dramatic statement really. What do you think? 

"Britain could indeed have lived with a German victory. What's more, it would have been in Britain's interests to stay out in 1914," he said before a documentary based on his book The Pity of War, which will be screened by BBC2 as part of the broadcaster's centenary season.”

"Creating an army more or less from scratch and then sending it into combat against the Germans was a recipe for disastrous losses. And if one asks whether this was the best way for Britain to deal with the challenge posed by imperial Germany, my answer is no.

"Even if Germany had defeated France and Russia, it would have had a pretty massive challenge on its hands trying to run the new German-dominated Europe and would have remained significantly weaker than the British empire in naval and financial terms. Given the resources that Britain had available in 1914, a better strategy would have been to wait and deal with the German challenge later when Britain could respond on its own terms, taking advantage of its much greater naval and financial capability."

He continued: "The cost, let me emphasise, of the First World War to Britain was catastrophic, and it left the British empire at the end of it all in a much weakened state … It had accumulated a vast debt, the cost of which really limited Britain's military capability throughout the interwar period. Then there was the manpower loss – not just all those aristocratic officers, but the many, many, many skilled workers who died or were permanently incapacitated in the war.

"We need of course to feel sympathy for the men like my grandfather who fought in the first world war, because their sufferings were scarcely imaginable. The death toll, which was greater than the second world war, was the most painful thing that Britain has ever experienced in war."

Really we need to think about what is at the heart of this important commemoration and that is remembering those who sacrificed their lives for their country. It’s about time we stop arguing and start remembering...How will you commemorate the important anniversary?

The Guardian & Wiki

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