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    It is interesting but perhaps not surprising that, as this conflict-torn century nears its end, the
    shadows cast over it by the Great War of 1914-1918 seem in some ways longer, darker, and more
    daunting than ever before. For what that struggle meant and did changed the course of history more
    than any other in modern times, including its great successor war of 1939-1945. Consider only a
    few of the consequences of the Great War, offered here in no particular order. It brought the end of
    the Romanovs, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the emergence of a Communist system that blighted
    so much of humanity for the rest of the century. The war also made possible the growth of Fascism
    and its peculiar German variant, anti-Semitic National Socialism. This ghastly and expensive
    struggle shattered a Eurocentric world order, shifted the financial center of gravity to New York,
    nurtured Japanese expansionism in East Asia, and, at the same time, stimulated anticolonial
    movements from West Africa to Indonesia.

    The aerial bomber, the U-boat, and poison gas brought mechanization to the art of killing, making
    the latter less personal and yet also more far-reaching in its effects. Industrialized labor, trade
    unions, and socialist parties gained in power, while the landed interest declined.  The social and
    political position of women was transformed in various aspects, despite predictable resistance.  The
    war produced a cultural crisis, in the arts, in ideas, religion, literature, and life styles. It also
    exacerbated ethnic and religious hatreds, in Ireland, the Balkans, and Armenia, that scar the
    European landscape today. The Great War is therefore not some distant problem about dead white
    males on and off the battlefields. Its origins, course, and consequences are central to an
    understanding of the twentieth century.
        -Paul Kennedy, from his review in the New York Review of Books

Nothing has so warped our understanding of the 20th Century as the unfortunate fact that America's wars were, in Bob Dole's felicitous phrase, "Democrat Wars."  The combination of historical circumstances which put Wilson, FDR, Truman, and JFK in power to lead the United States into WWI, WWII, The Cold War, Korea, and Vietnam has made it very difficult emotionally for the institutional Left to criticize those conflicts.  It is this which explains the Left's strange silence as regards what we might otherwise expect to hear them attack as a savage and unnatural product of military-industrial capitalism.  Fortunately for the Left, the accession of Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968 has allowed them to disown Vietnam, turning it into the one conflict that has truly been diminished in the public eye.  Meanwhile, patriotism, even nativism, is such a powerful force on the Right that conservatives have been reluctant to question these righteous and glorious causes.    These factors have combined to create an artificial national consensus about American involvement in a series of bloody and quite senseless wars.

At last though, in the past few years--not coincidentally following the Cold War and the end of its dissent stifling effects--conservative historians have finally begun to produce a coherent and fairly unified critique of the century's great wars and of American (and British) participation in them.  The liberating winds of  these new circumstances have allowed folks to take a fresh look at a myriad of issues, allowed for A. Scott Berg's rehabilitation of Charles Lindbergh,  permitted even standard issue histories like David Kennedy's Freedom from Fear to at long last acknowledge the utter failure of the New Deal, allowed the nation to finally accept responsibility for the incarceration of Japanese-Americans, and so forth. But most importantly, it has led to  a series of books on the threshold issue of whether fighting the wars was in our national interest to begin with.  For instance, Pat Buchanan's A Republic not an Empire, though it was rather harshly denounced, raised important questions about whether it made sense for the U. S. to get involved in WWII.   Niall Ferguson's Pity of War performs much the some service for British participation in the First World War, and was, not surprisingly, greeted with nearly equal vitriol.

Really more of an extended analytical essay than a history of the War, Ferguson sets out to answer a series of ten questions :

    (1)    Was the war inevitable, whether because of militarism, imperialism, secret diplomacy or the
            arms race?

    (2)    Why did Germanyís leaders gamble on war in 1914?

    (3)    Why did Britainís leaders choose to intervene when war broke out on the Continent?

    (4)    Was the war, as is often asserted, really greeted with popular enthusiasm?

    (5)    Did propaganda, and especially the press, keep the war going...?

    (6)    Why did the huge economic superiority of the British Empire not suffice to inflict defeat on
            the Central Powers more quickly and without American intervention?

    (7)    Why did the military superiority of the German Army fail to deliver victory over the British
            and French armies on the Western Front, as it delivered victory over Serbia, Rumania and Russia?

    (8)    Why did men keep fighting when, as the war poets tell us, conditions on the battlefield were
            so wretched?

    (9)    Why did men stop fighting?

    (10)    Who won the peace--to be precise, who ended up paying for the war?

Because his answers to these questions are so uniformly at variance with the accepted version of history, Ferguson concludes that Britain's entry into the War was "nothing less than the greatest error of modern history."  He argues that Germany had no global war aims, that she would have certainly won the war, but would have done little more than establish the same type of European trade union that modern Germany is rapidly creating.  And given what Britain gave up, in terms of Empire, lives, and economic retardation, the war must therefore be seen as a complete waste.

I agree with those conclusions, but think he may actually be too timid in his argument.  One of the criticisms of his analysis has been that Germany had wider aims and would have eventually confronted Britain.  This seems almost absurd.  Unless the other nations of Europe had truly collaborated with their conqueror it is hard to imagine how Germany could have even effectively held onto them, never mind turn and attack Britain while also subjugating the entire population of Europe.

There's also one strain that runs through the questions he asks, that I would have liked to see him address--the effect of democracy.  It has long been assumed that democracy would tend to be more pacific than other forms of government : how then explain the nearly continuous state of war that the two great democracies, Britain and America, found themselves involved in during the 20th Century ?  There would seem to be a series of interlocking causes, all functions of democracy, which contributed to this unlikely state of affairs.  First, democracies are more unlikely to get involved in warfare in the first place.  Opposing systems well understand this fact and are able to exploit it, so that they arm and strengthen themselves while democracies stand idly by and do nothing.  If Britain really did have something to fear from German naval, colonial, and continental ambitions, the time to deal with Germany was twenty or more years earlier, when she was still weak.  Similarly, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Red China, etc., were all allowed to build themselves into serious military powers because Britain and America, their leaders beholden to the will of the people, did not stop them.

Second, when war finally does come, it is precisely because it is a democratic decision that our soldiers are likely to go right on fighting even in squalid and lethal conditions.  It is the totalitarian powers which tend to have their armed forces quit on them, because, in some sense, it simply isn't their fight.

Finally, the political and cultural dynamics of democracy require that every war the nation enters into be glorified and sanctified, because it was the will of the people.  This means that democracies are nearly incapable of learning any lessons from these conflicts.  To acknowledge that the war was a mistake would perhaps be too traumatic to the polity for such apostasy to stand.  Thus, for all the cheap talk of "no more Munichs" the West does nothing even today as China tries to turn itself into a superpower, despite the obvious fact that their power will be aimed directly at us.

The only remaining question, raised by books like this one and Pat Buchanan's and the ones that will eventually be written about the futility of the Cold War and the Gulf War, is whether when the next war comes, the democracies (by which we really only mean Britain and America) will have sense enough to stay out of it.  If enough people read and comprehend The Pity of War, we just might.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Niall Ferguson (4 books reviewed)
Niall Ferguson Links:
    -Dr. Niall Ferguson (Oxford)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of The Pity of War : The Myths of Militarism
    -EXCERPT : Tommy's Revenge from Pity of War
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Ferguson, Niall: The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of House of Rothschild
    -ESSAY: The Empire Slinks Back (NIALL FERGUSON, April 27, 2003, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: The True Cost of Hegemony: Huge Debt (NIALL FERGUSON, April 20, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Europe's Response to Iraq Reflects an Old Rift (NIALL FERGUSON, February 23, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : 2011 (Niall Ferguson, December 2, 2001, NY Times Magazine)
    -VIDEO LECTURE : Why the World Wars were Won (Niall Ferguson, Boxmind)
    -RESPONSE : Niall Ferguson responds to a review of Pity of War by Jay Winter in Reviews in History
    -ESSAY : War - what is it good for? (Niall Ferguson, Financial Times)
    -ESSAY : Millennium Reputations : Which are the most overrated authors, or books, of the past 1,000 years? Continuing our series, the historian Niall Ferguson nominates Max Weber  (booksonline uk)
    -ESSAY : The anarchists are wrong, but they ask the right questions (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : The Birthday Boys (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : Scotland the Disunited   (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : Has Cash Had Its Chips ?  (Management Today, February 01 2001 by Niall Ferguson)
   -REVIEW : of  Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis by Ian Kershaw  A magisterial biography which lays bare Hitlerís morbid psyche  (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW: of The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order by Michael Howard Peace in our time, almost: Democracy is the best form of defence against global conflict (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW : Troublemaker: The Life and History of A. J. P. Taylor by Kathleen Burk (Niall Ferguson, Books Online UK)
    -REVIEW : of Frozen Desire: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Money by James Buchan and  The Real Meaning of Money by Dorothy Rowe (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Kitchener by John Pollock (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order by Michael Howard  (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of  A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Battle by Richard Overy (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Faustian Bargain: The Art World In Nazi Germany by Jonathan Petropoulos (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Nazi Terror: Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans by Eric Johnson (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of  Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps by Tzvetan Todorov (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-1945 (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Airwaves by Horst J. P. Bergmeier (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Ethics and Extermination: Reflections on Nazi Genocide by Michael Burleigh (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett
 Fischer (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History by John Lewis Gaddis (Niall Ferguson, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW : Audio Special: Niall Ferguson interviewed by Bill Goldstein  (NY Times)
    -PROFILE : The History Man (Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE : Dial-a-don : Niall Ferguson is prolific, well-paid and a snappy dresser. Stephen Moss hated him - at least until he spent an hour being charmed in the historian's Oxford study (Guardian Unlimited, March 1, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Robert Fulford's series about Niall Ferguson (The National Post, March 14, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Pop Historians : Since 1945 Britain has bred a disproportionate number of readable historians.  Following AJP Taylor, the line between historian and journalist has blurred.  But has the new post-cold war generation, led by Niall Ferguson, taken too literally the claim that history is good "box office"? (Daniel Johnson, Prospect)
    -ESSAY : A History of the 20th Century (Jude Wanniski, Polyconomics)
    -PROFILE : Fighting Blackadder (Desmond Christy, October 30, 1999, The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Mag Portal)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (Guardian Unlimited)
    -ARCHIVES : "niall ferguson" (booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Jay Winter, Review in History)
    -RESPONSE : to Jay Winter (Niall Ferguson, Reviews in History)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (V. R. Berghahn, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Chris Patsilelis, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : Aug 12, 1999 Paul Kennedy: In the Shadow of the Great War, NY Review of Books
               The First World War by John Keegan
               The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Donald Kagan, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan : Was World War I Necessary (Keith Windschuttle, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and The First World War by John Keegan (National Review,  David Gress, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (The New Leader,  Roger Draper)
    -REVIEW : of THE PITY OF WAR: Explaining World War I, by Niall Ferguson. (Andrew J. Bacevich, Wilson Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War, by Niall Ferguson (Christopher Hartwell, Intellectual Capital)
    -REVIEW: Was the Great War Necessary?: The Pity of War, by Niall Ferguson (Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Andrew Cockburn, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: Robert Jervis reviews The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (Political Science Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Todd R. Laughman , History Net)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Tamara Vishkina)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Lieutenant-Colonel Bernd Horn, Canadian Military Journal)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (RJQ Adams, History Cooperative)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (John J. Reilly , Alternative History)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War (Marc B. Haefele, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Contemporary Review,  James Munson)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (The Historian, Paul W. Schroeder)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (The English Historical Review,  Brian Bond)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (John H. Maurer, American Diplomacy)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity Of War: Explaining World War I (Bill Steigerwald., Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (RICK HARMON , Oregon Live)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson (Jwnnifer Mediano, Mindjack)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Tim Travers, Parameters : US Army War College Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of Pity of War (Bridge Colby , Harvard Salient)
    -REVIEW : Nov 4, 1999 Jason Epstein: Always Time to Kill, NY Review of Books
               Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor
               Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in
               Poland by Christopher R. Browning
               Zhukovís Greatest Defeat: The Red Armyís Epic Disaster in Operation
               Mars, 1942 by David M. Glantz and with German translations by
               Mary E. Glantz
               An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in
               Twentieth-Century Warfare by Joanna Bourke
               The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh
               Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris by Ian Kershaw
               Hitlerís Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich by Omer
               The Iliad by Homer and translated by Robert Fagles
               The First World War by John Keegan
               The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW: of The Pity of War (Chris Patsilelis, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : Dec 16, 1999 Robert Skidelsky: Family Values , NY Review of Books
               The House of Rothschild: The Worldís Banker, 1849-1999 by Niall Ferguson
               The House of Rothschild: Moneyís Prophets, 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD Money's Prophets, 1798-1848. By Niall Ferguson (Geoffrey Wheatcroft , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The House of Rothschild The World's Banker, 1849-1999. By Niall Ferguson (Sylvia Nasar, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD: Money's Prophets, 1798-1848 By Niall Ferguson (JOSEPH MANDEL, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of  THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD: The World's Banker, 1849-1999 (Business Week)
    -REVIEW : of Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals ed by Niall Ferguson (Blair Worden, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of THE CASH NEXUS Money and Power in the Modern World,1700-2000. By Niall Ferguson. (David P. Calleo, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson (Jennifer M. Welsh, National Post)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson (Frank McLynn, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of Cash Nexus (Christopher Fildes, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of THE CASH NEXUS: MONEY AND POWER IN THE MODERN WORLD 1700-2000. By Niall Ferguson (The Economist)
    -REVIEW : of The Cash Nexus (New Statesman, John Gray)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Max Hastings, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Empire by Niall Ferguson (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Empire (Farhad Manjoo, Salon)

Book-related and General Links:

    -The Great War  (pbs)
    -World War I Document Archive
    -Trenches on the Web: An Internet History of The Great War
    -Major Battles of WWI
    -Charles Fair's Battlefield Guide
    -Encyclopaedia of the First World War
    -The major museums of Europe, commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918
    -LINKS: WAR, PEACE and SECURITY GUIDE: Military history: World War I (1914-1918)
    -The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (PBS)
    -The War Times Journal: The Great War Series
    -The Great War Society
    -Uttermost ends: New Zealand and the Great War 1914-1918
    -REVIEW : of THE FIRST WORLD WAR  By John Keegan ( Tim Belknap, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: Tools for Destruction, but None for Turning Back (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  (Paul Kennedy: In the Shadow of the Great War, NY Review of Books)
        The First World War by John Keegan
        The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and The First World War by John Keegan (National Review,  David Gress, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson and First World War by John Keegan (The New Leader,  Roger Draper)
    -REVIEW : of The First World War , By John Keegan ( Robert A. Pois, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: Noel Annan: Grand Disillusions, NY Review of Books
       The Generation of 1914 by Robert Wohl
    -REVIEW:   James Joll: No Man's Land, NY Review of Books
       Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins
       The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights
       Passion and Rebellion: The Expressionist Heritage
       Frieden für Europa: Die Politik der Deutschen Reichstagsmehrheit 1917-18 by Wilhelm Ribhegge
       German Liberalism and the Dissolution of the Weimar Party System, 1918-1933 by Larry Eugene Jones
    -REVIEW : of 1918: WAR AND PEACE By Gregor Dallas (Jane Ridley, Spectator uk)
    -REVIEW : of THE FIRST WORLD WAR:  Vol. 1, To Arms By Hew Strachan and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT WAR By John Mosier : Yet more men to die  Was victory over Germany in the First World War a figment of the Allies? imagination? Allan Mallinson takes issue with a controversial view (Times of London)
    -REVIEW : of The First World War. Volume I: To Arms.  By Hew Strachan. (The Economist)