Sunday, 20 July 2014

Prelude to the Great War

Nice hat Mr B

We are fast approaching the  hundredth  anniversary of the start of the Great War. The war to end all wars. Therefore to mark this momentous event, I have decided to run a series of posts outlining why the war began, why it continued and why it was so costly. This is, of course, my personal viewpoint and therefore may not be correct. But, it seems to me, that anyone’s interpretation of history’s pivotal events is as good as anyone else’s. Or could I be spouting total bollocks?   
On the 28th July 1914, Europe went to war. Some think that war at that time was inevitable. Certainly there were tensions between the Great Powers. But this had always been so. The problem of course was Germany. After unification in 1871, Germany became a great power. Previously it had been a collection of weak states in varying degrees of civilisation. Unification came when Prussia became preeminent in war. Feudal, stupid and brutal Prussia dominated its more civilised brethren.

Until then Europe’s leading powers had been France, Britain, Austria-Hungary and looming on the periphery, Russia. This was the status quo, until Germany arrived. With power came ambition. Germany wanted the trappings that the other Great Powers had. Like the late guest to the party it surveyed an empty table. It wanted an empire and it wanted international respect. It also needed allies. Accord with Germany’s ancient foe, France was out of the question. The annexation of French territory after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 ruled out any compact with the proud French. Austria-Hungary seemed a natural ally. Germany shared borders and a language with the ramshackle empire. A military pact with Austria meant that an accommodation with Russia was impossible. Austria had quarrels with the Great Bear and many of Austria’s subjects were Slavs who despised the Teuton and looked east for their salvation.

Great Britain was a distinct possibility. Britain and Prussia had been allies in the past against Napoleon. The British had no love for the French. The problem was that the Kaiser had his heart set upon building a great navy. He was not content with the world’s greatest army. His vanity wanted a large fleet and he set about achieving his goal with astonishing energy. Britain, rightly saw this as threat. Britain’s predominance at sea had been unchallenged for three centuries. The appearance of this vigorous upstart building large warships caused alarm. Britain’s suggested limitations on Germany’s navy seemed to the Germans unfair, especially as Britain could continue building its ships. Germany had a large army, industry, and now wanted its navy. However, this was short sighted international policy. Germany was a land power and did not require a large navy to protect colonies it did not have. A large navy was an exercise in shear naked power and prestige. But the outcome was a potential and powerful ally, lost.       

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