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09 April 2013


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By coincidence today I started reading Christopher Clarks "The Sleepwalkers - how Europe went to war in 1914". I think Clark would agree with Mr. Sale.

Clark has a great deal of trouble with "why" model of history which focuses on great movements and implies inevitability - the clash of civilisations narrative beloved of the Neocons. The "why" model is also about ascribing blame and it is an entirely unhelpful approach because it doesn't explain HOW the event actually happened.

To paraphrase Clark, the political leaders at the time were rational men capable of a degree of self reflection, pursuing rational objectives, acknowledging a range of options and making the best decisions they could with the information they had to hand.

World War One was not "inevitable" at all, in fact it was highly improbable until it happened. It was instead the product of a myriad of events and responsible decisions that rapidly self assembled into a World War. I wish those conceited Washington Beltway denizens with their Korean "playbook" understood this.


Er Moscow as the capital of Tsarist Russia? I think you should have exercised an attention to detail on the same level as Max's before publishing this one

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Mr. Sale,

My personal thanks for enlightening me on the conditions which led to this sheer waste of the flower of European youth.

But sir, the text seems to end without a Concluding Paragraph of sorts...

Babak Makkinejad

World War I was a disaster for Europe, no doubt but it also helped liberate the non-Europeans from their yoke.


Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph was not assassinated in Sarajevo- it was his brother, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It was he, and not his brother, the Austrian Kaiser, who said he wanted to use political reform to satisfy the national ambitions the Empire's subjects.
Another irony is that Franz Ferdinand had intially escaped assassination by Gavrilo Princep and his co-actors- a bomb attack on Franz Ferdinand's car. After he and his wife, Duchess Sophie, made a stop at the city hall, they went to visit those wounded in the attck..their driver took a wrong turn and purely by accident, drove right into the path of Princip who shot and killed both Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

William R. Cumming

The post prompts too many thoughts to encompass my interest and understanding of WWI in any comment of some brevity.

And nice timing Max with the century mark next summer for this cataclysmic event in human history. I label it as nothing short of the commission of suicide by Western Civilization but perhaps arguments exist to the contraire!

Sir John Keegan once wrote that WWII was the largest event in human history so far and probably would remain so for the next 10,000 years. If so then WWI was the kickoff event.

At least 10 major historical efforts on WWI are underway BTW to meet the Centennial anniversary.

William R. Cumming

And IMO the dismissal of Bismarck and the defeat of Teddy Roosevelt in the Presidential election of 1912 should be a focus for any WWI history.


I dunno...

Has India really improved its [general] lot after being "liberated" from the British Raj?

Hank Foresman

One minor point to oofda post; Franz Ferdinand was not the son of Emperor Franz Joseph; he was his nephew; Franz Ferdinand father was the youngest brother of Franz Joseph. Franz Ferdinand Archduke when Franz Joseph son committed suicide; and when his father renounced the throne.

In understanding what led to World War I, I still believe the best one volume is Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. As a friend in graduate school remarked Europe, stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled its way to World War I.

If one is interested in a detailed history of how World War I came about I would recommend Gerhart Ritter's The Sword and Scepter, Volume 1.


Indians governing themselves is at every turn better than being governed by a foreign power. Their fate is their own. How is your White Man's Burden playing out on the ol back?


Mankind evolved in constant gang warfare; one tribe against another. There never was a Rousseauian Eden in our past. The TV show “Vikings” is a excellent depiction of the eternal conflict between squads and the hierarchy. We naturally relate to and understand the dynamics of 12 men units.

Once armies were organized, professional officers were required. The Army was the first and the ultimate bureaucracy and has all the problems associated with denial, senility and ambition. WWI was the first industrial war and the leaders at the time did not expect the mass slaughter. WWII was the culmination of WWI. WWIII was inevitable except for nuclear weapons and MAD. The leaders of China, Japan, Russia and the USA understand the consequences of the detonation of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

War drums do divert the masses attention from unemployment, incompetency and corruption. But, the propaganda serves no purpose since even a conventional war would destroy Seoul. A second Korean Police Action would make Japan’s Tsunami destruction and exclusionary zone minuscule by comparison.

There is one comparison between the Middle East and East Asia. Both regions have nuclear nations, Israel and North Korea, that need to be restrained from starting a War that could spread across the World.


Babak, at least one writer (Clark) quotes Hungarians pining for what they lost when the Austro Hungarian empire broke up.

Then of course their was the treatment of Gerany which set the stage for round 2.

Many of our middle Eastern troubles today still stem from the arbitrary decisions of the "great powers" as they cut up the Ottomoan empire into pieces that suited their interests but not those of the inhabitants.

Yes I know, "democracy is hard".


As a youth, I was terrified by the prospect of nuclear war. As an academic interested in security matters, I immersed myself in the strategic literature of nuclear MAD vs Counterforce and survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now, as a jaded observor, my greatest worry is that Dennis Rodman might provode a devastating nuclear war by dunking 'in the face' of Kim Jong Un.

Who says that there is no real progress

Babak Makkinejad

Once the Ottoman Empire was gone, any division of her former Arab territories would have been as good as any other.

[May be one could fault the English and the French for creating Lebeanon.]

The reason I say that is because of the extreme heterogeniety of those areas in terms of the composition of their populations.

I just do not think there ever was a possibility of any equitable or clean divisions.

If California were to be divided up into independent states, how could one do that?

Babak Makkinejad

It has improved, in my opinion, in marching towards some sort of representative democracy - decades from now.

It has regressed, without doubt, in the Rule of Law.

And the Indian bureaucracy is now its greatest impediment to progress in that country.

So, the English are out, the Hindu are on top, and the Muslims are down yet the country is still wallowing in poverty and in deep, deep insecurity (after dark no woman goes out.)

David Habakkuk

Vietnam Vet,

“WWII was the culmination of WWI. WWIII was inevitable except for nuclear weapons and MAD.”

I think inevitability may actually be questionable, in both cases. At the end of How War Came, his very detailed survey of the diplomacy of the months leading up to the Second World War, Donald Cameron Watt commented that:

“What is so extraordinary about the events which led up to the outbreak of the Second World War is that Hitler’s will for war was able to overcome the existence with which virtually everybody else approached it.”

As to the Cold War, hindsight of course has twenty-twenty vision. But I was very struck when I started delving into the arguments of the late Forties to come across a memorandum written in October 1951 by the most experienced of the State Department’s Soviet experts, Charles ‘Chip’ Bohlen, on the key NSC 68 strategy paper of April 1950. Frequently, Bohlen couched disagreements in diplomatic language. But on this occasion, he was blunt about what he saw as the wildly alarmist view of Soviet readiness deliberately to go to war set out in that paper and its successors:

“No attempt whatsoever is made to analyze the great body of Soviet thought in regard to war between states or the even more elementary fact that any war, whether the prospect of victory be dim or bright, carries with it major risks to the Soviet system in Russia. The fact of war alone, its attendant mobilization, added strain on an already strained economy, exposure of Soviet soldiers to external influences, the entire problem of defection, the relationship of party to Army, the question of the peasantry and many other factors, which I am convinced are preponderantly present in Soviet thinking on any question of war, are either ignored or treated as insignificant. In short, it would appear that this series, designed merely to justify the need for military buildup, strays in a rather superficial and unnecessary way from incontestable truths which afford ample justification for military buildup.”

What this suggests is what I think to be true – that the political problems involved in securing support for the new global role into which the United States was effectively pushed by the outcome of the Second World War led to pressures towards ignoring the differences between the dynamics of the Nazi and Soviet tyrannies.

Moreover, as NSC 68, read carefully, brings out, it is only the appearance of nuclear – and even more thermonuclear – weapons, which makes it possible to conceive of a rapid and decisive victory for either the Soviet Union or the United States in a war between them. Absent these, both sides would be facing a long drawn out war of attrition, which both had good reasons to avoid. From the Soviet point of view, even if they succeeded in eliminating the bridgeheads on which American power could be deployed in Eurasia, they would still be left confronting an adversary with a massively superiority in military-industrial potential and technological competence.

These facts, together with the proven capability of American and British forces for large-scale amphibious operations and strategic air offensives, would have been likely to have given the Soviets powerful incentives for caution, even had nuclear weapons never been invented.


Interesting Walrus...I'm reading the same book,and my lesson from it, among many other sources, and reflections, is WWI was "inevitable", the moment Germany united. I just finished reading The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan. His thesis is 'geography' is everything....and the central battlefield, is, and has always been, the flat lands between today's Germany and Russia. Back and forth...back and forth, the struggle for control goes on. Not saying I buy anything, entirely, but I do buy that Germany uniting changed the 'ballgame' in Europe. In any event...Sleepwalkers is a hell of a book. As is the Kaplan book.


One could fault the British & French for one-too-many-things: Israel & Palestine, India & Pakistan, the Vietnam War(?), the Events prior to the khmer rouge, etc.

Perfidious Albion?

Is there an equivalent term for the French, Messieurs?


My personal thanks, Mr. Foresman.

Babak Makkinejad

I think the partition of the Levant – after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – could not have been accomplished in a clean way because of the interpenetration of these ethno-religious groups in the areas that they occupied.

I think the English were a minor cause of the Partition.

The major cause was that Indian lawyers - with his head full of mush - who decamped from South Africa to India in pursuit of his fantasy life.

Instead of shutting up and following Muhammad Ali Jinah, Sardar Patel, and Abul Kalam Azad, he went on his merry way; causing the deaths of millions.

In the Levant, I think that Lebanon was created by the French for the Christians, just like Israel was created by the Americans for Jews.

Both countries are unviable states, suffering from the same internal dynamics of ethno-religious mistrust and conflict - the reality is that there is, as been, and will be civil war in both countries.

In the Levant, only a distant power center - like the one that used to be Istanbul - could maintain the peace among all these various clannish ethno-religious groups with their tiresome claims to exclusive religious truth.

I think, however, that the confessional system of Lebanon, a parliamentary system of proportionate representation for ethno-religious groups is the best way forward, in Syria, in Lebanon, and in Israel.

William Fitzgerald

On the Great War, the key point of Mr. Sales's article, that miscalculation precipitated the war is correct. Those miscalculations were the province of the diplomats and government ministers of the great powers and I find some irony there. As individuals they had much in common, many were acquainted with each other, some were actually related, they were men of experience and most felt that a general war would be a disaster. Nevertheless it came to pass. The main villains of the piece would seem to be the Austrian Chancellor and Paleologue, the French ambassador to Russia. The accidents of history were the wrong turn taken by Franz Ferdinand's driver, Kaiser Wilhelm's cruise to Norway, the Premier and Minister of War of France at sea at the crucial time, and the attention of the entire French public and government concentrated on a scandal. The Russian mobilization, a huge miscalculation intended as a warning to Austria, was the trigger that set the Schlieffen plan and France's Plan XVIII into motion. Miscalculations, accidents, and personalities all played a part. I would have to add that the Serbian Black Hand was part of, or sponsored by, the Serbian Secret Service. Serbia was not innocent in the matter of the assasination. An analogy would be an assasination of the President of India by the Pakistani ISI or a sponsored group. Also there was no Pogrom or massacre of Serbs during June and July of 1914.


Babak Makkinejad

I think the US Civil War was the first industrial war. In fact, the tactics of Longstreet for trench warfare were re-discovered during WWI.

I do not think World War II was inevitable. The Soviet Government was very much interested in a tripartiate alliance (with UK and France) against Germany.

The french were very much interested, the English were not and did their best to prevent it; scuttling numerous overtures by the Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov (who was a Jew).

When the Soviet government concluded that the English were not interested in an alliance against Germany, Litvinov was replaced by Molotov and the German-Soviet Pact was negogiated and ratified. That pact bought sometime for the Soviet Union.

I have come to the conclusion that both Germany and UK were desirous of a war with the Soviet Union. That is, UK leaders wished to have a war in Central Europe that would bleed both USSR and the Third Reich.

[I think until late in August of 1939, the Imperial General Staff's war plans were for a war with USSR.]

Of course the English leaders got their war, but not exactly on the terms that they expected.


RE: "the confessional system of Lebanon, a parliamentary system of proportionate representation for ethno-religious groups is the best way forward, in Syria, in Lebanon, and in Israel."


Let us pray for the manifestation of such a reality [in the not-far-off future]...

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