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slothinator

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Three whole years on making peace promises some damn interesting negotiations.
Looking forward to the carnage!

I need to take another stab at actually finishing The Iliad...
You certainly should! If you're looking to talk about war, there is little more evocative than that old master
 

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Oh dear. Yes it would probably be one of the lot Murdoch has on retainer.

Or maybe John Harris. I’m going to go with John Harris.

Considering how much of 20th century art came out of the horror of the First World War, directly or otherwise, I really don’t think training the guns on the Cabaret Voltaire is really going to do all that much.
So we need the Hercules solution of cleansing and searing fire. I'm perfectly happy with that.

Well it would take out the Cabaret Voltaire, which is a worthwhile achievement in and of itself.

We've also established we need to burn the site down after, in order to prevent anything sprouting on the location. Fire and lots of it, who could object?

To Hell with the geopolitical nightmares unleashed! What about the art!? How do we stop that!?

It is worth mentioning that Kipling's son John died in 1915 at Loos. He had been repeatedly turned down for service because of his bad eyesight and was only accepted after Kipling personally appealed to Lord Roberts.

Yes, it somewhat dulled Kipling's enthusiasm.

Three whole years on making peace promises some damn interesting negotiations.
Looking forward to the carnage!

You certainly should! If you're looking to talk about war, there is little more evocative than that old master

To Amazon!

On a housekeeping note; it looks like I'm now going into the office on Fridays (the silver lining - apart from more time to write - of 2 Lock 2 Down is that I have not been robbed of that), so may adopt a Saturday-centred schedule. Anyhoo, Time to Begin...
 
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For All We Have and Are: Britain in the Great War (Stephen Searle-Wilson)

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For all we have and are,
For all our children's fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
Our world has passed away,
In wantonness o'erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone!
Though all we knew depart,
The old Commandments stand:—
"In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand."

Once more we hear the word
That sickened earth of old:—
"No law except the Sword
Unsheathed and uncontrolled."
Once more it knits mankind,
Once more the nations go
To meet and break and bind
A crazed and driven foe.

Comfort, content, delight,
The ages' slow-bought gain,
They shrivelled in a night.
Only ourselves remain
To face the naked days
In silent fortitude,
Through perils and dismays
Renewed and re-renewed.
Though all we made depart,
The old Commandments stand:—
"In patience keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand."

No easy hope or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul.
There is but one task for all—
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?


-

Rudyard Kipling, 1911

all we have and are cover - Copy.jpg


CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
The Great War and National Experience


PROLOGUE
GOING TO WAR

September - October 1911


1. For Whom the Bell Tolls
2. The Decision-Makers
3. Declaring War


ACT ONE
MEETING THE ENEMY

October 1911 - March 1912


PART ONE – WAR AT SEA
4. Spy vs Spy
5. Ships in the Night
6. The Battle of the Forties
7. The Pillars of Hercules

PART TWO – WAR ON LAND
8. Crossing the Channel
9. Let the Foul Scene Proceed
10. The Alps and Pyrenees
11. Imperial Defence

PART THREE – WAR AT HOME
12. Whitehall and Westminster
13. Mobilising Men
14. Mobilising Industry
15. The Long Haul


ACT TWO
ESCALATION

April 1912 - April 1915

PART ONE – SALIENTS

17. Approach
18. Battle
19. Consequence

PART TWO – IBERIA
20. Crossing the Pyrenees
21. Lisbon and London
22. Catalonian Campaign
23. March to Madrid

PART THREE – ITALY
24. The Riviera Campaign
25. Alea Iacta Est
26. The Fall of Rome
27. Italia Irredenta
 
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BigBadBob

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INTRODUCTION
The Great War and National Experience

This is a book on one nation’s experience of the Great War. It is therefore not intended to be a general history of the war, and a reader looking for an overview of every front and development would be better served by finding such a general history. This book is concerned with the war from the British perspective, with how they conducted it, thought about it, experienced it, and responded to it.

This does not, however, mean that the following pages will treat events that did not directly involve Britons as non-existent. Britain entered the war with an empire that was on every continent, and as the de facto leader of the Entente. In one way or another, almost every development on every front of the war had implications for Britain. There must therefore, despite the author’s protestations about this not being a general history, be some background and explanation of the events Britain is responding to.

As for why write such a work? Many will no doubt find the concept too narrow to handle the reality of a globe-spanning war that involved most of the world’s population and nations, and others will find too wide-ranging its ambition to lay out as comprehensively as possible the effects of such an all-encompassing thing as the Great War.

To the first charge, the author would respond that national history is seen as an acceptable, even encouraged, way to tackle almost any other period of history. The nation is an explicable and, relatively, clear unit with which to draw the line and avoid all histories becoming unwieldy surveys of everything under the sun. The Great War is not so uniquely international an event that it obliterates the differing experience of the nations that fought it. This is, as previously stated, a history of a nation at war, not a history of a war.

As for the second charge, the author accepts that specialist work will no doubt do better on each individual aspect tackled herein, but also believes there is a place for work that attempts to draw together all the various threads of the experience. History is not the domain of siloed experts alone, and should not be. Each subject is akin to John Donne’s man, a part of the main.


meeting the enemy - Copy.jpg

Infantrymen of the Welch Regiment at Gerardsbergen, October 13th, 1911

As for why I chose Britain specifically for this book. The obvious answer is that I am a British historian, both in the sense that I study Britain, and in the sense that I am, in fact, British. The less obvious answer is that the war was a singular experience for Britain in a way that it was not for the other combatants. There is, of course, not a single combatant for which the war does not play a great role in its national story. For some, it is the catalyst for fundamental transformation, for others the culmination of long-running struggles – for independence, for unification, for social and political change – and for others yet it is the ur-disaster that opens a series of disasters.

For no nation though, does it seem to play such a central role in the national psyche as for Britain. For Britain, it is a marker that divides the history of the nation in two. There is a BC and an AD, and Year Zero is the maelstrom of 1911-1917. Part of this is the terrible human cost of the war, which fell on a Britain that had been, as far as the general population was concerned, at peace since 1815. The armed forces and the brutal cruelty of warfare, long the domain of the very poor and the aristocracy, suddenly became a fixture in the lives of every single person in the country. Even to the Old Contemptibles, who had been in service before the outbreak of war, the reality of industrial warfare on the scale of the Great War was a shock.

Another part is the aforementioned position of Britain in the world. For Britons, there was no part of it they could ignore, and no part that could ignore them. For Germany, Britain’s counterpart as leader, the Asian-Pacific Theatre was something of an academic concern. It had ambitions for the area in the case of victory in Europe, but ultimately the war in the South Pacific and the collapse of the Qing were not matters that impinged directly on it, or that it had the reach to affect if it wanted to. For Britain, the former threatened Australia and New Zealand, both recently brought to theoretical parity with the Home Islands, and the latter had profound implications for the Indian Raj, the Jewel in the Imperial Crown.

For the United States, which would prove Britain’s by far most powerful and consequential ally later in the war, the European Theatre began as a testing ground for the US Navy. The Western Front, in all its terror and importance, sharpened only slowly in the American mind and contribution into the fullness of its position as the fulcrum in which the war would be won or lost. For Britain, it was the grand obsession from Day One. Only for France would failure there constitute a more existential threat than for Britain. It was British troops who would increasingly bear the brunt of the fighting there as the French Army was bled dry.

It was British force of arms that provided the main opposition to the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, and it was Britain that shouldered the burden of salvaging what could be salvaged of Entente interests on the North and East European Fronts after the collapse of the Russian Empire. It was British troops who marched into Rome and Madrid. If there is a nation for whom the national story of the Great War is the story of the Great War as a whole, it is Britain.


victoryparade - Copy.jpg

British troops at the Victory Parade in Paris, 1917

If it has not yet become clear, this book will not treat the war as an unnecessary accident into which Britain stumbled. Nor will it have much truck with the view that it was a deliberate crime by a cabal of conspirators in high places. The war, once begun, constituted a threat to Britain’s place in the world as Britons in 1911 saw it, and even to Britain as an independent nation. The Kaiser Pact wished to fundamentally alter the balance of power in Europe, and ultimately change the world system from what it was in 1911. As the centre and guarantor of that world system, the institutions and the values underpinning it, which it exported to the world, Britain could not abide a Pact victory in the war, whether Britain was involved or not.

Furthermore, had it truly been an accident with no purpose, the consent and effort of the millions who fought it, and supported the industries that allowed them to fight it, would have been impossible to maintain through six years of bloodshed. Neither does that consent and effort reveal the average Briton as deluded, irrational, or manipulated. British interests were at risk, fundamentally so. The higher-minded goals for which they fought too, such as anti-militarism and liberal parliamentary democracy, were real to them, and if their opponents did not start the war explicitly opposed to them, certainly by the end, it seems the plans of Germany and its allies had little space for them.

The author’s aforementioned position as a British historian must again be brought up here; I will make no claim to total neutrality. As a Briton, I share much of the cultural values and history that animated the Britons of 1911-1917, even if nearly a century more history (and study of history) have altered our understanding of both. I will therefore be, by nature, sympathetic to the British cause on a rather basic level. If there is a defence I can offer for myself, it is this; if we are trying to understand one nation’s experience of the Great War, then a level of sympathy for that nation and its cause, mediated by awareness of one’s sympathies, is perhaps a good thing.

Despite the short argument for British involvement made here, the decision to go to war was not a given as the crisis over Slovakia escalated in September. The first chapter of this book will therefore deal, as must every book on the war, with how a struggle in Central Europe escalated to millions in arms across every quarter of the globe. Specifically, it will deal with the deliberations in the seat of the empire that held dominion over more than a quarter of that globe.
 
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HIMDogson

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Quite a good update. I think this AAR is so unique for the academic tone it takes, so we get the historiography of the events portrayed and not just the events themselves. Looking forwards to that continuing here.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Britain that had been, as far as the general population was concerned, at peace since 1815

An amazing conception, really, seeing as if your century has been anything like our own, Britain was probably in fact at war somewhere or other all the time.

The higher-minded goals for which they fought too, such as anti-militarism

Funny way to go about it…

Glad to see we move swiftly on. And without even stopping to change threads, no less. Good stuff.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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This is a book on one nation’s experience of the Great War.

Ooo. Why do you hurt us with these lies?

This does not, however, mean that the following pages will treat events that did not directly involve Britons as non-existent.

See?

Britain entered the war with an empire that was on every continent

Hmm. How did Antarctica fare with the Entente United and ready to split the world up? One third each or just acceptance of each others claims and nobody else's? Or the strange neutrality that sort of pervades otl to this day?

and Year Zero is the maelstrom of 1911-1917

Much like the biblical calender, year zero is in fact anywhere in a decade.

It was British troops who marched into Rome and Madrid.

Hmm! No armistice for them then. That's probably for the best, avoiding the failure of otl in not making it clear to the central powers they were wholly beaten. Then again, with no Italy to serve as a backdoor until they smash it down, the war will last at least a little bit longer fight wise, to the detriment of everyone on the continent.

Still looking forward to the food and rationing bit. Its going to be grim reading though.
 

slothinator

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Enticing titbits all around, this is going to be a fascinating war and I am curious about what the Empire will look like when it comes out the other end.
That and the peace negotiations: with Rome and Madrid occupied and Russia fallen, what is to be of Berlin and its allies?
 

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The scene is well and truly set, the frames of reference clear.
 

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For Britain, it was the grand obsession from Day One.
That does explain why the war took so long. The more British leaders insist on faffing about on Land and ignoring Britain's actual strength at Sea and in the Littoral, the worse things go. Sadly it appears they have strayed far from wisdom and the Empire will pay the price.
 

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That does explain why the war took so long. The more British leaders insist on faffing about on Land and ignoring Britain's actual strength at Sea and in the Littoral, the worse things go. Sadly it appears they have strayed far from wisdom and the Empire will pay the price.

Well Germany has to be held back in Europe.

Britian can spend most of her time and effort (at least, if they fight intelligently) taking down the oversea empires and then figuring out a way to take out the ottomans without a bloodbath (presumably, several well planned and executed naval landings and a land attack through the middle east).

The french drew the short straw and have to defend their homeland. Hopefully the Amercians show up and help them out. Otherwise the british really will have to throw down on the continent...
 

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The keystone of this arch is France: without France, the Great Entente will have to invade Europe rather than debark there. Large-scale invasions with WW1 technology did not, historically, go well. We have already been told that Russia will go down in Revolution, so it seems likely to me that without French troops and manpower the scales are tilted too far against the Entente for victory. Sooner or later, a war must be won by the poor bloody infantry advancing to take ground, and the Entente is going to need some whopping great armies to do it, armies that can best (perhaps only) be effectively employed in France.

Seapower is valuable for commerce and for mobility in wartime. But it is a soft power - a blockade will take years to have effect, and a sufficiently large land power in WW1 will be able to mitigate the effects by railroad. Germany suffered in WW1 but the blockade effects were amplified by German decisions to pull all available manpower in for service in 1918 without regard to economic consequences. WW1 showed that in modern war economic effects are somewhat like gravity: they can be ignored for a short time but the final impact may be severe.

If Germany in this timeline is able to overrun France and break Russia, a blockade and the loss of overseas possessions may injure but not defeat her, especially so as Victoria pretty much ignores blockade effects. In the Napoleonic Wars and in OTL WW1, large allied armies were required and I think it will be true in this timeline as well.

So: I believe that Britain and the US must raise vast armies and get them into France at the earliest opportunity as the first priority. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "I hope God is on my side, but I must have France.”
 
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Quite a good update. I think this AAR is so unique for the academic tone it takes, so we get the historiography of the events portrayed and not just the events themselves. Looking forwards to that continuing here.

Thanks. The history part of my degree does occasionally come in useful.

An amazing conception, really, seeing as if your century has been anything like our own, Britain was probably in fact at war somewhere or other all the time.

Funny way to go about it…

Glad to see we move swiftly on. And without even stopping to change threads, no less. Good stuff.

The part you bolded is very much doing the heavy lifting. Much like OTL Britain in the 19th Century (and the US in the latter half of the 20th), despite the almost constant campaigns and commitments somewhere or other, were it not for the occasional triumph or reversal abroad dominating news coverage for a moment, the average person could be forgiven for thinking the military had become a purely symbolic insitution for all the effect its operation has on their daily life.

This comes down to the purpose of the powers' respective armies. Are they merely tools of the state, used for the defence of the nation's interests, or are they intrinsic parts of the nation, and their interests are the nation's? The massive hypocrisy of the Entente powers when it comes to use of the military outside of Europe notwithstanding, Britain and the US lean far more towards the former, while Imperial Germany is vey much a proponent of the latter. France, having developed something of a siege mentality ITTL compared to the 'mere' revanchism of OTL is somewhere in the middle.

Yes, I considered switching threads, but the advent of threadmarks and the ability to edit the thread title led me to think that it would be better if people could find it all in one place.

Ooo. Why do you hurt us with these lies?

See?

Hmm. How did Antarctica fare with the Entente United and ready to split the world up? One third each or just acceptance of each others claims and nobody else's? Or the strange neutrality that sort of pervades otl to this day?

Much like the biblical calender, year zero is in fact anywhere in a decade.

Hmm! No armistice for them then. That's probably for the best, avoiding the failure of otl in not making it clear to the central powers they were wholly beaten. Then again, with no Italy to serve as a backdoor until they smash it down, the war will last at least a little bit longer fight wise, to the detriment of everyone on the continent.

Still looking forward to the food and rationing bit. Its going to be grim reading though.

I like to keep you on your toes. That's why.

I hadn't given it much thought, but it would certainly make sense that the Root-Chamberlain Treaty (and some sort of similar accord to bring France in) included a mutual recognition of each other's claims.

Hhehhe.

Well, part of the problem with the peace IOTL was also that the victors would not, or could not, enforce it long-term. Whether they can ITTL remains to be seen.

Grim indeed.

Enticing titbits all around, this is going to be a fascinating war and I am curious about what the Empire will look like when it comes out the other end.
That and the peace negotiations: with Rome and Madrid occupied and Russia fallen, what is to be of Berlin and its allies?

A gentleman never tells (mostly because he hasn't figured it out yet).

The scene is well and truly set, the frames of reference clear.

The board is set. The pieces are moving. We come to it at last; the great battle of our time.

Deep breath before the plunge, everyone.

That does explain why the war took so long. The more British leaders insist on faffing about on Land and ignoring Britain's actual strength at Sea and in the Littoral, the worse things go. Sadly it appears they have strayed far from wisdom and the Empire will pay the price.
Well Germany has to be held back in Europe.

Britian can spend most of her time and effort (at least, if they fight intelligently) taking down the oversea empires and then figuring out a way to take out the ottomans without a bloodbath (presumably, several well planned and executed naval landings and a land attack through the middle east).

The french drew the short straw and have to defend their homeland. Hopefully the Amercians show up and help them out. Otherwise the british really will have to throw down on the continent...
The keystone of this arch is France: without France, the Great Entente will have to invade Europe rather than debark there. Large-scale invasions with WW1 technology did not, historically, go well. We have already been told that Russia will go down in Revolution, so it seems likely to me that without French troops and manpower the scales are tilted too far against the Entente for victory. Sooner or later, a war must be won by the poor bloody infantry advancing to take ground, and the Entente is going to need some whopping great armies to do it, armies that can best (perhaps only) be effectively employed in France.

Seapower is valuable for commerce and for mobility in wartime. But it is a soft power - a blockade will take years to have effect, and a sufficiently large land power in WW1 will be able to mitigate the effects by railroad. Germany suffered in WW1 but the blockade effects were amplified by German decisions to pull all available manpower in for service in 1918 without regard to economic consequences. WW1 showed that in modern war economic effects are somewhat like gravity: they can be ignored for a short time but the final impact may be severe.

If Germany in this timeline is able to overrun France and break Russia, a blockade and the loss of overseas possessions may injure but not defeat her, especially so as Victoria pretty much ignores blockade effects. In the Napoleonic Wars and in OTL WW1, large allied armies were required and I think it will be true in this timeline as well.

So: I believe that Britain and the US must raise vast armies and get them into France at the earliest opportunity as the first priority. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "I hope God is on my side, but I must have France.”

This is the crux of the matter. Unlike in the Napoleonic Wars, Britain cannot wait out a Germany victorious on land. Not only will there be no Russia to the rescue, but those nations Germany defeats are unlikely to be allowed the autonomy or armies to form new coalitions with Britain. Even if a Germany in control of the European coastline is unable to build a navy to challenge the Anglo-American fleets and threaten to starve Britain, the logistics of attempting D-Day some three decades early, with most of Germany's forces concentrated on them instead of bogged down in Russia are... not favourable to the would-be liberators.

And @Director, what perfect timing. When I refreshed the forum in order to start writing this reply post, your's was exactly one minute old.
 

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PROLOGUE
GOING TO WAR
September – October 1911

imperialinsignia - Copy.jpg

Removing the Imperial Insignia from the German Embassy, October 1911





1
For Whom the Bell Tolls


We are part of the community of Europe, and we must do our duty as such.
William E. Gladstone, 1886
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624


In September 1911, it had been nearly a century since British troops had fought a major battle on the European continent. The closest they had come since Waterloo was a small engagement with the Russian garrison at Varna in 1852. In that battle, only 23 Grenadiers had died in action. The 5,272 total deaths of the British Expeditionary Force were practically completely attributable to disease [1]. Why then, did the nation send millions of men to Europe when it had not been really involved in land warfare on the continent in living memory (save, perhaps, for the memory of a barely double-digit number who might have heard the news about Waterloo as small children)?

There are multiple competing explanations for why Britain chose to go to war. This chapter will deal with the long-term, structural arguments for why the British became entangled in Europe before the September Crisis, and why, once war had come, few options were left but join. The next will deal with the men who actually made the decision, and the third with the process that led them to the decision itself in September and the first days of October.

If there is one development in geopolitics that brought Britain out of its 19th Century isolation, it is the unification, between 1868 and 1876, of the disparate German states into the German Empire. In one fell swoop, the balance of power, so important to the UK’s ability to stay afar of European affairs, was shattered. Germany’s population and accelerating industrialisation meant that there was, again, a power that could theoretically take on the continent as France had done in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It confirmed this by crushing the latter in 1887, forcing the cession of Alsace-Lorraine and the creation of a Breton state to draw French forces west in the case of another conflict.

Germany’s conduct with regards to its former rival, Austria, hardly implied the new nation had no interest in becoming a continental hegemon. Having already humiliated Austria in 1868, it encouraged the Hungarian independence movement and, in 1894-98, used the resultant war as a pretence for severing Austria of most of its imperial possessions and making them, de facto, its own. Documents from the Imperial German Foreign Ministry have revealed a long-standing desire before 1902 to neutralise Russia, either through alliance or violence. Germany’s actions and aims reveal a desire for continental power before the war. Such a continental power, armed with western ports and unfettered by the need for continental defence, could have challenged Britain on the seas, a mastery that had only become more fundamental to its security since the days of Napoleon.


europe 1911 bw v2 - Copy.jpg

Europe on the eve of the Great War

In the days of Napoleon, losing control of the sea was Britain’s greatest strategic nightmare, for it would have allowed for a cross-Channel invasion. However, in order to force Britain to terms, such an invasion was still required. On their island, the British could fortify and hope to regain naval supremacy. In the intervening century, one of the very things that had undergirded Britain’s power and industrialisation in the early days of Pax Britannica had become its main vulnerability in the event of war.

This vulnerability was the explosive growth in its population over the course of the 19th Century. In 1811, the population of Great Britain and Ireland had stood at 18 million people. In 1911, it stood at 51 million. The resources of the British Isles alone could no longer feed that population. If Britannia now lost control of the waves, there was no need to invade; she could be starved to surrender. To lose supremacy was no longer to have to fall back and prepare for invasion, it was to lose the war.

If Britain were to acquiesce to a continent dominated by Germany, it would acquiesce to a continent whose resources could then be turned to choking the North Sea, and Britain with it, in potentially hostile ships. There would no longer be a dispute in which Britain could go against the continental hegemon. Every wish of Germany’s would come with the implicit promise that to deny it would be to starve. The counterargument, of course, being that Germany did not necessarily harbour dreams of world power that necessitated replacing Britain as ‘Top Dog.’

German ambitions for continental hegemony could have been purely for its own security. Just as Britain’s peace of mind – as an island power on the edge of Europe – required multiple powers cancelling each other out, the peace of mind of the Germans – a nation in the middle of the continent, surrounded by potential enemies – required either the careful diplomatic isolation or military neutering of its neighbours. With the right understanding between the two, German security and British security were not incompatible; Germany could have Europe, Britain the world. With this addressed, we come to the concept of Weltmacht oder Niedergang.

Though the German establishment had publicly justified the 1887 war with France on security terms, its intervention eight years later, in Austria-Hungary, had been justified on the basis of Germany’s rightful place as arbiter of Central Europe. Following the Austrian Intervention, this rightful position expanded from Central Europe to Europe as a whole. The naval build-up that so concerned the Admiralty though, was still justified via security. This changed following the dawn of the new century. Under Wilhelm II, the increasingly bellicose rhetoric moved on from Europe to Weltmacht oder Niedergang, World Power or Downfall.


berlin 1902 bw - Copy.jpg

Kaiser Wilhelm II at the Birthday Parade, the Imperial German equivalent of ‘Trooping the Colour’

Such a bellicose concept seems fundamentally incompatible with the idea of a Germany seeking merely continental security. It also allows for interpretation of the war as fundamentally about imperialism. Having missed the Scramble for Africa, Germany wanted its ‘Place in the Sun,’ and so Britain, as the prime imperial power, went to war to maintain its empire against a German challenge. This interpretation, however, requires the British to truly care about the empire, enough to go to war over it, when the British, despite having the largest empire, were arguably the least attached to their imperial possessions.

Of course, the British were attached to the prestige and the benefits afforded by their vast empire, but they were imperialists on the cheap. The empire had been built on the navy and commerce. Military conquests had come either as part of a wider war, mostly those against France in the 18th Century, or with minimal effort. The Indian Mutiny had come about largely through the neglect of the metropolitan centre towards the East India Company, for as long as it was not costing the exchequer, it was not a matter of concern. It should say something of Britain’s attitude that, faced with the loss of the Jewel in the Crown, there were major political figures who suggested simply withdrawing rather than tightening Britain’s grip, and the concomitant costs of such action.

W. S. Blunt was probably correct when he opined, just before the war, that ‘no country in Europe is less inclined than ours to the sacrifice demanded by the needs of an overgrown Empire… The English nation is already overburdened with dependencies and though everyone talks the language of Imperialism, the will to defend Empire is altogether lacking.’ Rudyard Kipling’s most insightful poem about British Imperialism may very well not be the elegiac Recessional or the arch-imperialist White Man’s Burden, but rather a set of lines from The Jungle Book:


Here we sit in a branchy row,
Thinking of beautiful things we know;
Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,
All complete, in a minute or two --
Something noble and grand and good,
Won by merely wishing we could.

This attitude of neglectful, almost accidental imperialism is intimately linked with the difference between how Britons saw their place in the world and the nature of the German challenge to it, and how the Germans saw them. British commentators in the pre-war years, and since, have often asked why there could not simply be an accommodation. Coming at it from their own mindset of British liberalism, commerce, and fair play, they do not see why such an understanding could not be come to. After all, Britain itself had amassed the power and influence to make its own bid for continental hegemony a century earlier, and had contented itself with the balance of power, rather than driven for the humiliation of other nations and total power. In fact, Britain had made just such an accommodation with the United States in the preceding decades.

rapprochement ii bw - Copy.jpg

Poster commemorating the Root-Chamberlain Treaty of 1910 [2]

This, however, ignores that not all leaders and nations have been satisfied with such accommodations. The Habsburgs in the 16th Century, Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, and now, apparently, Germany had all decided that only total control would satisfy them. Whether large armies lead to a militaristic, dominating view of continental power, or vice versa, it seemed clear to many on the outbreak of war that Germany’s values had led it to start this war, and that these values were incompatible with Britain’s own, of benign liberalism, fair play, and ‘civilisation,’ embodied in the gentle pursuit of mutual advantage while leaving otherwise each other be.

In 1911, it is thus highly unlikely that Britain faced a situation in which choosing not to intervene, and so almost certainly conceding Europe to Germany, would have been followed by gentle accommodation and the continuation of the British ‘world system’ of power and commerce gently flowing through London. In doing so, Britain would have fundamentally compromised its independence as a nation, faced soon after with the Sword of Damocles hanging over its head. Yet, this does not mean Britain had to go to war, for there is the argument that the cost of the conflict outweighed the cost of an unchallenged German victory.

There is an element of hindsight to this argument if one is trying to understand the decisions as they were made in 1911. Though the destructive power of industrial warfare between major powers had been demonstrated to some extent in 1887, and the general efficacy of modern weapons demonstrated again in 1894-98, few could have foreseen the scale, much less the length, of the war that erupted in 1911. The Franco-German War had been devastating, but quick. The Austrian War of Independence long, but relatively poorly funded and supplied until German intervention, which ended it with terrifying speed. Most envisaged a quick, decisive, if bloody, confrontation, followed by the victors rolling over the losing armies en route to dictating peace terms in their capital.

With knowledge of the cost, we can, however, argue that perhaps independence was not worth the cost. Perhaps to maintain liberalism and freedom of action only at the sufferance of Germany was still worth avoiding the terrors of the Western Front. For Europe as well, a quicker German victory would likely have led to less bloodshed. Perhaps her aims, which by all accounts became more draconian for those it sought hegemony over as the death toll mounted, might have remained more moderate after a speedy victory. That said, few of the peace faction, as we will see, argued this outright in September 1911. They pinned their hopes on a German hegemon that would accommodate and, ultimately, leave Britain to its own devices.

That the war was simply not worth it has, naturally, become an argument now that the terrible toll it exacted is clear. We must, however, be careful of projecting this back on those who fought the war. After all, had they truly believed so, they would have sued for peace. Even the War Poets, often seen to be proof that those engaged in the struggle did not believe in it, were more often disillusioned with the conduct of the war and the reality of industrial slaughter than the war itself. Towards the end, during the final German Spring Offensive, The Nation, a paper not known for its uncritical stance on the war, wrote the following editorial:


In the full brunt of the German assault on France, the true character of the war stands revealed. Vain projects of Imperialism obscured it, and vainer diversions of strategy. Both have disappeared… The war emerges from these mists, not as a war of adventure but morally and physically as a war of defence… The war was not for colonies, Imperial ambitions, or a balance of power. It was to teach militarism a lesson of restraint…

Perhaps that is not the view of posterity, but it is the duty of posterity to note that, in the eyes of some of good conscience and independent judgement, this was how it appeared at the time. Having thus looked at the wider picture, we can now move to assess the men, and two women, who played the pivotal roles in the deliberations to go to war. Many of these concerns animated them, but so did many personal histories, strengths, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.


[1] – That such a toll could be exacted without a single battle to show for it, especially as those who died of their wounds long after Varna outnumbered those Killed in Action 10-to-1, was a national scandal. It was Florence Nightingale’s work on the Varna victims that built her reputation and argument for hospitals and nursing reform. John Snow, meanwhile, was able to advance early germ theory by combining his study of the 1854 Broad Street Cholera outbreak with the dramatically lower deaths by disease of the 2nd Lancers (with whom he had been embedded, and to whose Commanding Officer he had successfully argued for a rudimentary hygiene regime as a device of discipline) compared to the rest of the Crimean BEF.

[2] – The Root-Chamberlain Treaty solved the substantial issues that remained between the two nations in the Western Hemisphere, most importantly the ownership of the Panama Canal.
 
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This attitude of neglectful, almost accidental imperialism is intimately linked with the difference between how Britons saw their place in the world and the nature of the German challenge to it

bd5b9b8f-a707-4026-8ba3-ae6eb9f0ed90_text_hi.gif


Our author has quite the tightrope to balance here, pitting the futility of war against the righteousness of the sacrifice. So far he seems to be just about holding steady in his position.
 

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With knowledge of the cost, we can, however, argue that perhaps independence was not worth the cost. Perhaps to maintain liberalism and freedom of action only at the sufferance of Germany was still worth avoiding the terrors of the Western Front.

Giving in to tyranny is always cheaper in the short run. But if you maintain liberalism and freedom of action on sufferance, you will not have them for long.
 

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Kaiser Wilhelm II at the Birthday Parade, the Imperial German equivalent of ‘Trooping the Colour’
Wilhelmite Germany was incredibly tacky and tasteless wasn't it? It's not quite as bad as his entry into Jerusalem in 1898, but it's up there.

Whether large armies lead to a militaristic, dominating view of continental power or vice versa
All the evidence does point at the former, so I'd go with that.

Not in the scope of this work I know, but had it been any other power than Prussia that unified Germany I do think things would have turned out differently.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Not in the scope of this work I know, but had it been any other power than Prussia that unified Germany I do think things would have turned out differently.

I actually have notes on a Bavaria>Germany Vicky save tucked away for a rainy day. I know far too little about the location and the period to do it proper justice as my knowledge stands, but I am of a mind to do at least something with it one day.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Would love for someone to do a Germany and Britain figure out a way to split the world and Europe AAR at some point, as it is indeed constantly teased by history and alt-historians.
 

stnylan

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I too must confess to one day want to explore a Germany/British late-19th/early 20th century alliance.

I mean, not for the "challenge" you understand, but for the fun.
 
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