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Some Things Don’t Change

September 7, 2014

Since this is the centennial of the Great War–or, the First World War, since it proved not to be so great–the magazine History Today has several articles in it about the conflict for the month of August 2014.  The bias of it is probably glossed over to the point we don’t even notice it in English-speaking countries and I think this should be addressed.


This issue of the magazine in question reminds me of how, early in the war, Germany was said to complain to the United States about how the United Kingdom refused to honor all the aspects of American neutrality.  Namely, the U. K. would not let us trade with the Central Powers as we wished, or communicate with them without interference.  It made sense for the British to interfere with such things because that would help their enemy.  I get that.  And, sure, the Central Powers carried more blame for the war because of their nationalistic issues and avoidance of peace accords, and given Germany’s behavior in 1914 and 1915, we were likely to side with the Allied Powers anyway; but the Central Powers, especially Germany, marched into war with these diplomatic shortcomings because they were honoring their contracts of alliance with other nations.  We can’t fault Germany, Austria-Hungary, or Turkey for that alone.

That part of the cause for World War I seems to be overlooked.  We simply were denied fair access to German trade and diplomacy by the Allies.  We never heard Germany’s side or discussed the conflict with them directly.  That was wrong, no matter why the British and their allies obstructed us.

I mention all this because the magazine History Today has an issue only reinforcing this bias.  The cover is a great, timely style of artwork and the title “Why Britain Fought in 1914.”  There are several articles relating to the war–geopolitical events leading to it, how the British were not all zealous about fighting it, its causes, what have you–but there is no effort to speak to the German perspective except in how it failed to tolerate or pursue peace.  One page has an enlarged line from an article saying “In rejecting the conference proposal, Germany and Austria-Hungary consciously accepted the risk of a Continental War.”  Another part of the article “The Shadows Lengthen” says “The growth of German power posed a challenge to an international system based on the Concert of Europe.”

How, exactly?  The article drops the thought and discusses at some length how British leaders were beleaguered by their own parties and poor responses from the as-yet unrealized Central Powers.  Here are some ways it could have easily been considered by History Today, if done objectively.

1.  Did the U. K. massing an unprecedented fleet not threaten peaceful international talks too, as far as colonial security for Germany was concerned?  They had colonies and interests the British navy may threaten.  We don’t like to remember Germany even had colonies.  They were torn away from Germany rather rudely, thanks to the Treaty of Versailles.   That was one unfair bit of work on the part of the victors.  Remind me, who were they?

2.  What did unified Italy promise to do if the French or British had closer ties to it than Austria-Hungary?  Potential enemies would increase, thereby increasing Austria-Hungary’s perceived need for buffer states, populations for potential enlistment, or resources for whatever may be necessary in the nation’s defense.  Typical of British or American foreign relations, there was no thought to the consequences of potential interference on other Powers (or perceived manipulation), and any such activity is never wrong.  It is wrong if done to us, though…  Hm…

3. Speaking of poor choices, that reminds me of Lord Kitchener again… and Balfour and Zionism… which leads to the next possible angle this magazine neglected to take, since it would rather let Central Powers be the bad guys all unto themselves.  What would have been the long-term consequences of English or French meddling in the Middle East with the Ottoman Empire’s presence being driven out of Continental Europe, when the Turks themselves were ripe for rebellion or dissolution?  The current map of the Middle East is a direct consequence of English and French meddling of the region, by the way.  How has that worked out in the last century?


The future Central Powers were not doing anything more destabilizing than the future Allies.  But, if you want more, here’s a question: if the British were so keen on peace talks, why not invite a neutral of similar commercial potential to mediate it?  Gee… who could have done that…  Let’s see, the U. S. negotiated the Russo-Japanese War less than ten years before this.  I wonder who may have been able to help if they weren’t bullied and blocked by the world’s largest contemporaneous navy…

Clearly the Allies weren’t that great at avoiding war, either, or fixing the situation after it was fought.  The whole presentation of this magazine is biased, and it is a preclusion so ingrained in understanding of World War I, any English-speaking nation doesn’t even realize it crafts the lens through which we see the Great War.  Now, a century later, we face crises with world Powers again in the Ukraine and the South China Sea.  We ought to avoid another global war, and in order to approach our current problems wisely, slanting our awareness of history is not helping anyone.  This (what, white-out journalism?) should stop.

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