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A few years ago I read Andrew Roberts’ biography of Lord Salisbury, reviewed by me on this site. Salisbury had been Disraeli’s foreign secretary before he became PM himself. When he did he continued to act as foreign secretary, combining the roles. He was a consummate diplomat, and for a number of years ran Europe like a train in partnership with Bismarck.
In his last few years, things went awry a little, notably in the Boer war which was at best mismanaged. The official histories I had read talked about the difficulties of governing via the new device of telegraph, and headstrong behaviour by our people in Cape Town, but there was something odd to me particularly about the behaviour of Joe Chamberlain which seemed to bring a new element, a brashness into politics which had not been there before.
Salisbury retired and Balfour took over and a lot of changes in the style of politics occurred and some to me puzzling incidents occurred in the lead up to the First World War. I felt that I did not understand what was going on and none of the books I read seemed to speak to this new politics that led us into dangerous negotiations over crises that sprang out of nothing.
The someone recommended ‘Hidden History’ to me.
Docherty and McGregor tell a story about the lead-up to the war which is utterly different to the narratives in any other book on the period that I have read. I have some issues with the way they tell their story, which I’ll go into later, but their version of history is the only one I have heard which makes sense to me, which explains so many things I had not understood about the war, a war which still puzzles historians and causes endless arguments. Who was responsible?
D&M answer unequivocally that the prime responsibility was with a cosy cabal they call the Secret Elite, (hereafter the SE), who were initially Milner, of Boer War fame, Lord Esher, Haldane, and subsequently Balfour, Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill, and crucially Nathaniel Rothschild. Allied to these were important diplomats in France and Russia, and a number of bankers in the USA as time went on.
D&M argue that these men largely directed the course of history in those years, deliberately manipulating and misinforming not only Parliament but the cabinet as well as the public in Britain and other countries.
Their object was to promote the ongoing hegemony of the British Empire, and to do that by knocking out Germany, then beginning to overtake them economically, from the equation.
The two crises in Morocco were set up by France behaving in a rash imperialist manner and then with Britain putting all the blame on Germany. The SE managed the press – sound familiar? – in both countries to assist with this.
Edward VII, far from being the vacant playboy posterity prefers to remember, was a suave and accomplished diplomat, whose lifestyle was an excellent cover for his diplomatic forays.
Rothschild, who D&M claim controlled many major banks in the US and Europe bankrolled monarchs and governments all over Europe at the request of the SE.
Britain amazed the world by allying itself with Japan in 1902. This was to pressurise Russia and soften them up prior to making an alliance with them against Germany.
Sir Edward Grey, who in his biography claimed to have forgotten to mention to the cabinet his secret alliance with the French a number of years before war broke out, and who lied repeatedly to Parliament and almost everyone else on this matter, acted as a man only wanting peace in public, all the time committing his government without their knowledge to Machiavellian intrigue all with the design of making Germany look bad and crucially engineering France and Russia to force Germany into a position where she had to look the aggressor.
To do this Belgium, who knew exactly what was going on years before war broke out, had to be neutral and refuse to allow German troops to cross their borders, to give Britain the pretext for war of defending them.
According to D&M Germany until the very last minute held out for peace, and at no stage wanted war.
Germany pleaded with Russia to call off their mobilisation, and when the Tsar seemed to relent at the last minute and sent an envoy with conciliatory messages to Berlin, the SE’s man in Moscow had him arrested before he could get on a train.
How has all this been concealed for so long?
Published books have been suppressed, and tons of documents have been shredded, memoirs ruthlessly edited.
The SE operated across parties, and ignored the cabinet and parliament except when they had to face them.
This may all seem pretty unlikely, but I had always thought, well, the war happened because there were some pretty dodgy diplomats around who never got their act together.
The Tsar may not have been the world’s greatest politician, and the Kaiser may have been naïve – although according to D&M not nearly as neurotic and temperamental as public legend has it – but the evidence is here that they were on the case. The war was not an accident.
Now for my reservations.
This book has been well researched, relying heavily on a number of publications written in the several decades after the war by a series of eminent historians, most of which were apparently rubbished or even suppressed by the publishing industry for some time. However these books have now resurfaced and a lot of people are reading them.
However when you read ‘Hidden History’, in many places you see the numbers for notes, but exactly how the referred text backs up the points made you are rarely told. And there are long passages where the authors say ‘The SE did this, and said that…’ with no notes or reference at all. I wondered whether in some of these passages the authors were relying on a crucial work by a man called Quigley, who had supposedly once been part of the SE, but this is not stated.
However the narrative is put together very carefully and frankly is very convincing. Its just that given the controversial nature of the story I would have preferred a book that adopted a more conventionally rigorous academic approach, even if it meant adopting a less certain position on some points.
Almost as a digression, mention is made of Churchill’s escape from prison in South Africa at the time of the Boer War. It is strongly suggested that Churchill lied about his experiences, his escape is referred to as a ‘myth’. The authors present no evidence for this whatsoever except that Churchill has no corroborative witnesses.
In view of the fact that after Churchill’s dismissal form the cabinet in 1915 he went and fought very bravely according to William Manchester in the trenches for six months I don’t find D&M’s criticisms helpful and they detract from the book.
Another criticism is that D&M may be correct in asserting that Germany didn’t want war, but the narrative is very much London centred, and looks quite closely at what was going on in Paris and Moscow, but sheds very little general light on the desires of the Austrian and German governments.
If you had read nothing else you could come away from this book thinking the Germans saints. There is much criticism in this book of British behaviour in South Africa. Germany’s record as colonists in Africa is worse than Britain’s by tenfold – see Pakenham’s ‘The Scramble for Africa’.
Despite these criticisms this is an important book, most of what they say is evidenced, and should be read by anyone who can’t understand exactly why the twentieth century turned into a horror story.
Like heritage, its non-malignant half-sibling, conspiracy theory draws on history but is not constrained by scholarly discipline. Thus one looks in vain for either “Docherty” or “Macgregor” in their own bibliography, which one assuredly would find if “The history of the First World War [truly] is a deliberately concocted lie”, as they claim (p 11); War in History, Past and Present and other journals would have been eager to publish a paper exposing this lie, and the book would have the endorsement of historians. Its authors’ “explanation” for the absence of such endorsement is that the conspiracy to suppress the truth extends to academia. More on this later.
Docherty & Macgregor’s thesis is that Great Britain engineered the Great War in order to destroy Germany. This dead horse has been flogged intermittently for a century now, ever since Roger Casement’s The Crime Against Europe. While no historian would claim that Germany was solely responsible, the notion that Britain was remains risible.
Along with speculation and outright nonsense presented as fact, there’s a good deal of truth in Hidden History, for all conspiracy theory needs this to lend it plausibility. Cecil Rhodes indeed dreamt of a British-dominated world that would “render wars impossible and promote the best interests of humanity”. The immense power of the Milner-Rothschild group was typical of the time—across the Atlantic JP Morgan sorted out the Panic of 1907, if not quite literally out of his own pocket, by his wealth and the power that always goes with that. This was a paternalistic age, that of the great oligarchs but also the great philanthropists, an age that fostered a deep sense of duty in which men like Milner had to “choose between public usefulness and private happiness” (Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p 11). It was also an age of secret diplomacy.
Eric Hobsbawm observes: “The most usual ideological abuse of history is based on anachronism rather than lies.” Docherty & Macgregor bring both ideology and anachronism to their treatment of the past and if they don’t tell lies, they don’t tell the whole truth. They omit to mention that Rhodes was an admirer of Germany and that the Rhodes Scholarship was open to Germans as well as Americans. Rhodes’ belief was that “a good understanding between England, Germany and [the USA would] secure the peace of the world” (Heather Ellis and Ulrike Kirchberger [eds], Anglo-German Scholarly Networks in the Long Nineteenth Century, p 214). The Milner Group’s opposition to the Second Reich was “concerned with upholding against the despotic state” and after the war it worked toward reconciliation and German recovery (Quigley, A-AE, pp 83, 60, 146, 242-45, passim).
Along with selectivity of truth goes shameless bias. The British are presented as the most heinous imperial oppressors; in fact the Germans make them look like altar boys—see David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen, The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide.
Paranoia was rampant across Europe by 1914, something historians ascribe to the secret diplomacy instigated by Bismarck and, far more so, the disastrous policies of Kaiser Wilhelm. Docherty & Macgregor blame the fiendish machinations of a “Secret Elite” of Perfidious Albion. Both they and historians date the change to about 1891 when “the formation of the secret society was agreed” (D&M p. 19). Historians see the change rather in terms of the Reinsurance Treaty being allowed to lapse, and the displacement of Bismarck’s kleindeutschland policy by the Kaiser’s weltpolitik. Through 1891 the Russians appealed for the treaty’s renewal in vain; after issuing the blunt warning that they would not be friendless in Europe, the following year they opened negotiations with France, scuppering Bismarck’s policy of securing the Reich as “one à trois” among the Great Powers, and exposing it to a war on two fronts, the old chancellor’s nightmare.
From the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 stems the division of Europe into two increasingly paranoid camps, which eventually went to war. Was this a consequence of malice or of blundering, bombast and diplomatic failure? Deliberate malice, Docherty & Macgregor claim, drawing on the work of Carroll Quigley in support. They give ostentatiously respectful credit to Quigley, “one of the twentieth century’s most highly respected historians” (ibid, p. 13). Their analysis “goes far deeper than his initial revelations” (ibid, p 16) and they convey the impression that Professor Carroll is nodding benevolently down on their endeavour from whatever heaven good historians go to. This takes some chutzpah, given that the late professor took great umbrage to his work being hijacked to support far-fetched notions with which he definitely would not agree.
According to Quigley, the Milner Group (Docherty & Macgregor’s “Secret Elite”) “had great influence but not control of political life”; while it “directed policy in ways that were sometimes disastrous” its aims were “largely commendable”. Quigley gives credit to Bismarck’s “diplomatic genius” and “masterful grip” and describes his successors as “puppet chancellors” and “incompetents” (A-AE, p 115; Tragedy and Hope, p. 211). It was incompetence and arrogance that destroyed the balance of power that had been sedulously fostered by Bismarck toward European peace and common prosperity, and led to the disaster of the Great War, not the machinations of any “Secret Elite”.
Though he doesn’t seem to have ever used the word, Professor Quigley effectively endorses the sonderweg hypothesis: Germany achieved unification by “repudiating the typical nineteenth century values ... the rationalism, cosmopolitanism and humanitarianism of the Enlightenment”, a repudiation that left Germans “ill at ease with equality, democracy, individualism, freedom and other features of modern life”. Yet their very envy of all this in other countries left them susceptible to totalitarian manipulation toward anything that could be presented as their due (T&H, pp 413-15). In an almost elegiac passage Quigley describes how diplomacy degenerated from Metternich’s dictum that “a diplomat ... never permitted himself the pleasure of a triumph” to “polishing one’s guns in the presence of the enemy” (ibid, p 223). Bismarck maintained that even a declaration of war should be couched in courteous language, and while his “blood and iron” speech undoubtedly marked a watershed between these two positions, it was under Wilhelm II that bombast and bluster displaced negotiation, fear squeezed out wary trust, and the word of a gentleman could no longer be relied upon.
The outcome was “a precarious and dangerous balance of forces which only a genius could manipulate. Bismarck was followed by no genius. The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, was an incapable neurotic.... As a result, the precarious structure left by Bismarck was not managed but was hidden from view by a facade of nationalistic, anti-foreign, anti-Semitic, imperialistic and chauvinistic propaganda of which the emperor was the centre” (ibid, pp 416-17).
With friends like Quigley, what conspiracy theorist needs enemies? These statements are so congruent with historical orthodoxy that Docherty & Macgregor’s invocation of their author to support heretical views seems less like chutzpah than bare-faced robbery.
Given their misrepresentation of the views of a bona fide historian, imagine the damage these fellows can do with the works of, for example, Harry Elmer Barnes, long exposed as having been in the pay of Zentralstelle für Erforschung der Kriegshuldfrage, established by Weimar to exonerate Germany of any responsibility for the Great War?
To support their notion that the “Secret Elite” engineered the Great War Docherty & Macgregor purport that Belgium had made a secret alliance with Britain. This is an extraordinary claim so one looks for extraordinary support for it. What evidence that Belgium abandoned its internationally-guaranteed constitutional neutrality without anyone in the Brussels parliament or indeed across Europe managing to notice? Why, the unassailable testimony of Alexander Fuehr in his majestic tome, The Neutrality of Belgium (D&M, p. 108, f/n 41, e.g.), which he presented to a New York publisher in 1915. Though the other works of this august historian and political analyst seem to have become as lost as the poetry of Sappho—doubtless through the dastardly depredations of the “Secret Elite”—his magnum opus survives and may be admired for its objectivity and a few other things by anyone with access to the internet. How the “Secret Elite” could have let this disastrous giveaway slip by them must baffle anyone so intelligent as to overlook the possibility that, coming up to an American election year, Herr Fuehr might, just might, have been a German stooge.
As historians know, the Conventions Anglo-Belges, on which the Germans, after invading a neutral country, based their claim that Belgium had abandoned its neutrality, were consultative and focused on defence of the 1839 treaty. A letter by General Ducarme to the Belgian Minister of War, cited perhaps to back up the integrity of Herr Fuehr should any suspicious soul doubt this (ibid, p 107, f/n 38), gives the game away when one takes the trouble to check it out: “The entry of the English into Belgium would take place only after the violation of our neutrality by Germany”.
Curses!—another toe shot off. But never mind, we’ve got eighteen left and the reassuring knowledge that most people don’t check footnotes, but take them as evidence of scholarship and good faith. They rather can serve to give “semblance of worth, not substance” (to borrow from Milton). As a professional witness in Irving -v- Lipstadt, Dr Richard Evans exposed how another conspiracy theorist, David Irving, “created” evidence with footnotes, some of his “sources” being entirely fictive. Denis Winter’s creative use of footnotes in Haig’s Command helped expose that book as cheap character assassination and permanently discredited its author. Guess who cites it? Our intrepid duo.
Their neutrality the Belgians rightly had perceived as under threat from the Schlieffen Plan—though until August 1914 it was assumed that invasion would be limited to buttressing of the German armies’ right wing and restricted to east of the Meuse; occupation and rape of almost the entire country had not been foreseen. Since at least 1905 it was known that Belgium lay in the German warpath, hence the Conventions, and hence the “enormous expansion of armed forces in a supposedly neutral nation” (ibid, p. 237). Perhaps Docherty & Macgregor don’t understand that meaningful neutrality must be defended, as the Swiss and Swedes understood. The Belgian field force of 150,000 was pitifully small, not the sinister menace to Germany and its millionenheer armies that Docherty & Macgregor pretend.
The many crises that punctuated the years leading up to 1914 were cunningly engineered by the “Secret Elite”, who made them all appear Germany’s fault and managed to hoodwink historians, Professor Quigley included. “The first Moroccan crisis arose from German opposition to French designs on Morocco.... The Germans insisted on an international conference in the hope that their belligerence would disrupt the Triple Entente and isolate France”. “The danger of ... war [after the 1908 Balkan crisis] was intensified by the eagerness of the military group in Austria ... to settle the Serb irritation once and for all” (Quigley, T&H, pp 219-25).
Many of the claims made in this book are bizarre—at best—and the authors repeatedly go far beyond what evidence supports. Indeed, they come close to endorsing Ché’s dismissal of evidence as “unimportant bourgeois detail”: “Those who consider that the only true history is that which can be evidenced to the last letter necessarily constrain their parameters” (D&M, p 360).
This line chimes with those from one of the most dangerous books of the twentieth century, The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis (still, like Mein Kamf, readily available): “If you think you were abused, and your life shows the symptoms, then you were” (p 22); “demands for proof are unreasonable” (p 137). In the “witch hunt” of the 1990s this book gained sanctity, even in courts of law. Evidence? An unimportant detail. Corroborative testimony? Are you accusing this poor woman of lying? One man was convicted of an historic murder solely on the testimony of his volatile daughter, whose mental instability was presented to the court as evidence of the trauma she had witnessed as a child. This is what happens when we refuse to be constrained by parameters. If you think the Brits started the war, and your mind shows the symptoms, then they did. In a postmodern dystopia of “competing narratives” it’s as good a yarn as any.
Docherty & Macgregor give an example of what “not constraining parameters” presumably means when they point out that the Parliament Act of 1911 did not reduce “the powers of the aristocracy ... at all” (D&M, pp 169-70), a claim that goes against both evidence and commonsense (seldom a conspiracy theorist’s strong suit). There’s grim hilarity in the notion that the Boers’ “moral code ... was far better than that of Rhodes and the British” (ibid, p 34), given that Die Groot Trek was prompted by Britain’s abolition of slavery and the “outrageous” Ordinance 50 of 1828, which gave equal rights to all subjects of the British Empire, regardless of race. In the Boer Republics “kaffirs” faced legal discrimination and the Boer “moral code” eventually gave post-colonial South Africa apartheid.
Queen Victoria, we are told, was “a favourite cousin” of the odious Leopold II (ibid, p 107). In fact, while Leopold I had been Victoria’s favourite uncle, she thought her cousin “‘very odd’ and in the habit of ‘saying disagreeable things’” (Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, p 35). Honest error? Perhaps—but as the Royal Family was among the “Secret Elite”, a little guilt-by-association can do Docherty & Macgregor’s thesis no harm.
The Schlieffen Plan just possibly could be regarded as defensive, as Docherty & Macgregor claim, in that attack is an effective defence; but when we look at the September Programme, and its proposal to dismember Belgium and annex whole provinces of France, and impose a zollverein on most of Western Europe, we perceive a whimsical interpretation of “defensive”. When we look at how a million square miles was annexed at Brest-Litovsk we know that Germany wanted hegemony, not security. When we look at “the Kaiser’s jihad”—the plan to foment Moslem rebellion across the British Empire toward German control from the English Channel to the Bay of Bengal—we know that any presentation of the Reich as hapless victim of British machinations is nonsense.
Given that it more than anything else contradicts their own hypothesis, Docherty & Macgregor pass over the Fischer Hypothesis with suspicious haste, in a bare half page. It was, we are assured, “demolished” by Professor Marc Tractenberg (D&M, p 355).
To dissect what Fischer wrote and take lawyerly issue with semantics is hardly demolition. “Evidence that the Germans were pressing for a war in the Balkans ... cannot be taken as evidence that [they] were really trying to engineer a European war”, says Tractenberg (The Craft of International History: A Guide to Method, p 72). This may be true in a legal sense, but in July 1914 legal considerations had gone by the board. In the face of world opinion after the Sarajevo outrage, Russia could have done little had Austria launched a punitive expedition and “the Serbian problem could be brought to a head without provoking a general war” indeed (ibid, p 71). But the Austrians were not interested in punishing Serbia but in destroying it, dismembering it among its Balkan enemies, thereby getting rid of the troublesome Serbs while buying the allegiance or at least the benevolence of the territorial beneficiaries. This Russia absolutely would not allow and everyone knew that, so in this indisputable light “Evidence that the Germans were pressing for a war in the Balkans” actually can be taken as evidence that they were determined to engineer any Third Balkan War into European war. The Fischer Hypothesis isn’t even dented by this pedantic nit-picking, far less “demolished”.
But hey, let’s not be constrained by parameters!
The collective of anecdote and accusation is not evidence. Scientists, historians and commonsensical people know never to impute to malice or conspiracy what can be accounted for by incompetence, foolishness, stupidity or chance. Conspiracy theorists have a different world view. Rather than use Occam’s Razor to shave assumptions to a minimum, they see this as a weapon deployed against them, concealed by historians under the cloak of reasonableness in order to cut their throats. Will any of them be swayed by this review? Of course not! The reviewer is one of the “Secret Elite”, isn’t he?
Something that looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck is unlikely to be an ostrich in disguise. Something so loaded with overstatement (it’s got feathers: it’s an ostrich), so contradicted by its own sources and so demonstrably wrong cannot be history. Even when on relatively firm ground Docherty & Macgregor undermine their case by overstatement. That Edward Carson “continued to keep Ulster in close check” is doubtful (D&M, p 317); by July 1914 he had lost full control of the UVF he had helped create. Given Cabinet reluctance to accept even invasion of Belgium as a casus belli, the idea that a Liberal government would go to war with Germany over a few smuggled rifles and some provincial outrage is pathetic (ibid, p 318); the Milner Group was supportive of Irish Home Rule, not hostile (Quigley, A-AE, pp 83, 177-78). Yet Henry Wilson was an arch-intriguer, there were others like him and certainly more went on in Ireland, and indeed elsewhere, than has yet come out in the historical wash so here’s a suggestion:
“The Secret Elite controlled the writing and teaching of history [notably through] Oxford University” (D&M, p 353); but Oxford no longer holds the sway that it did, there are far more universities than in Rhodes’ time and history departments are more likely to be dominated by Anglophobic Marxists or PoMo ideologues than by Imperialist conservatives, so why don’t either or both of these gentlemen enrol and get academic imprimatur on their work? Just down the road from them is the University of Dundee, where they will find Dr John Regan, not renowned for his Anglophilia, and he will be happy, I’m rather sure, to get any genuine dirt on Henry Wilson and Perfidious Albion. “History”, he says, “is about challenging the past and historians” (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/history/staff/profile/john-regan), and Docherty and Macgregor certainly do that. They say they look forward to when their work is “perhaps” taught in schools and universities; this is not going to happen unless it gets academic endorsement.
Until it does it’s just conspiracy theory; merely more plausible than the paranoid postings of twitching lunatics holed up in cabins and caves, with enough assault-rifles to defend a small republic and more bullets and beans than brains.
"The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies."
But the release and publication of official diplomatic documents after 1918 - initiated by Austria and Germany - produced two trail-blazing books by two American revisionist historians, Barnes and Fay, that permanently consigned Article 231 to the historical dustbin and no respectable historian dares refer to it today except with contempt. In succeeding decades as the battle for history raged, the war-guilt question (kriegschuldvrage) inhabited a shadowy no-man's-land between allied propaganda and the ever-growing pressure of historical truth. In October, 1961, German historian Fritz Fischer launched an all-out assault on the revisionists with his book "Germany's Aims in the First World War." (German title: "Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914-1918") Fischer claimed that Germany had started the War in order to gain hegemony in Europe and then the world. Referred to as the "Fischer Thesis," it caused a sensation in Germany and was enthusiastically embraced by the blame-Germany-first crowd. Fischer was soon refuted by other German historians - most notably Gerhard Ritter - who pointed out that Germany already had hegemony in Europe, won, not by boots, bullets, and battleships, but by the industry and talent of her people. This was amply underscored by a veritable mountain of economic statistics which prove beyond any doubt that in the summer of 1914, Germany was first among equals by every conceivable measure. Why then would Germany risk a war against a numerically superior opponent in order to gain hegemony - something she already possessed in spades? But the "Fischer Thesis" was the only remaining game in town and historians clung to it like a drowning man to a life preserver.
Nevertheless, the times they were a-changing. In 1998, Oxford historian Niall Ferguson published "The Pity of War" to rave reviews. The back cover of the book states:
"The Pity of War makes a simple and provocative argument: the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England's fault. According to Niall Ferguson, England entered into the war based on naïve assumptions of German aims, thereby transforming a Continental conflict into a world war, which it then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. The war was not inevitable, Ferguson argues, but rather was the mistaken decisions of individuals who would later claim to have been in the grip of impersonal forces."
This was followed by similar volumes which disputed German war-guilt. In 2011 came "The Russian Origins of the First World" War by Sean McMeekin, and in 2012 came "The Sleepwalkers, How Europe Went to War in 1914" by Cristopher Clark. These books contain valuable information and have the virtue of further destroying the stubborn canard that the Central Powers started the War, but they lack in some respects the finality which the published documents fully support.
Comes now "Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War" by Gerry Docherty and James Macgregor. This is the very first volume that states the case straightforward and unapologetically: It was Great Britain - not Germany and Austria - who started the Great War of 1914-18. Why would Great Britain do such a thing? British leaders sensed that Germany, given her growing economic/military hegemony in Europe, might soon be in a position to challenge the world hegemony wielded by the mighty British Empire. Britannia had grown quite used to ruling the waves and waving the rules, and the notion that it was England's destiny to instruct the "lesser races" was common in Elizabethan and Victorian England. Thus the frightening possibility that an upstart Germany could upset the Albion applecart had to forestalled and the sooner the better.
Messrs. Docherty and Macgregor begin by telling us about one fateful wintry day in February 1891: "The three staunch British imperialists who met that day, Cecil Rhodes , William Stead and Lord Esher, drew up a plan for the organisation of a secret society that would take over the control of foreign policy both in Britain and, later by extension, the United States of America: a secret society that aimed to renew the Anglo-Saxon bond between Great Britain and the United States, spread all that they considered good in the English ruling-class traditions, and expand the British Empire's influence in a world they believed they were destined to control."
The "Secret Elite" - the name chosen by the authors to avoid the profusion of names under which the "Group" operated - gave an early and convincing demonstration of their strength and influence by causing two hitherto independent, sovereign nations - Transvaal and the Orange Free State - to be annexed by the British Empire.
On February 8, 1901, Edward VII informed the German representative, Baron Hermann von Eckardstein that "For a long time at least there can be no more any question of Great Britain and Germany working together in any conceivable matter" (Massie, Dreadnought, p. 309). With this, the British ship of state began slowly to steer in the direction of Paris and St. Petersburg and away from Berlin. From this point forward, British foreign policy left little doubt as to its intended goal. First came the 1904 Entente Cordiale in the wake of the British King's diplomacy. Then came a similar understanding with Russia in 1907. This last completed the transformation of the moribund Franco-Russian alliance into the very potent Triple Entente and the Austro-German Press began to mutter darkly about einkreisung (encirclement). Further German objections came in the form of the two Moroccan crises in 1905 and 1911 when German diplomacy attempted to drive a wedge between Britain and France. But the hostile 1911 Mansion House speech by Lloyd George made it clear that there were no prospects for success in this direction.
When the July crisis threatened war and a forthright exposition of the British attitude would have preserved the peace, Sir Edward Grey played his cards close to the vest. Having already given a verbal promise of a 120,000-man expeditionary force to Poincare and Sasonov in 1912, Grey now hinted to a worried Cambon that the concentration of the British fleet should answer his doubts, whilst whispering into the Austro-German ear that England would remain neutral. With the deftness of a carnival huckster, Grey subtly encouraged both sides to interpret the British position according to their own preferences, thereby coaxing the opposing alliance systems onto a collision course.
Governmental and public opposition to the war in England bordered on unanimity but Sir Edward had an ace up his sleeve. He knew that the German plan of campaign called for a lightening thrust at France through Belgium. This enabled him to use the treaty of 1839 to circumvent the opposition and send Tommy Atkins to line up outside the recruiter's office.
But was Great Britain wrong or even unique? After all, some two-thousand years ago the Romans made an analogous decision that resulted in the Punic Wars and the disappearance of Carthage from the world map. Other empires made similar decisions for similar reasons. But however we choose to judge Great Britain, the fact remains that it was she - not Germany - who was responsible for the Great War and this is forcefully presented in this trailblazing, first-of-its-kind volume - highly recommended and indispensable for any student of the First World War. In summary, it may be said that King Edward VII discovered the moribund spear of the Franco-Russian alliance. Sir Edward Grey felt its heft, polished and sharpened it, and used the Sarajevo crisis to hurl it at Germany. The rest, as they say, is history.
Conversely, there would be no opportunity for the authors' conspiracy to work absent the antecedent actions taken by Berlin and Vienna between July 5 and Austro-Hungary's declaration of war of Serbia on July 28. (So perhaps that's what the authors were missing -- that Berlin and Vienna were also in on the plot! Note: I'm being facetious here.) Vienna was not forced to preferentially choose a launch punitive war on Serbia instead of first exhausting diplomatic means of obtaining a redress of grievances. Berlin was not forced to encourage Vienna to launch such war before first exhausting diplomacy. And yet that's what they chose to do. The Kaiser overrules the initial counsel of his own diplomats who urged caution and instead issues the infamous "blank check" on July 5-6. By July 7, the A-H Council of Ministers has reached the determination that a diplomatic settlement of the crisis would be "worthless" to them. On the same day, Germany's military attache in Vienna reports back exactly what the Austrians plan to do -- issue a ultimatum so harsh that the Serbs will be bound to refuse it, thus creating a pretext for war. As such, Berlin knows weeks in advance that Vienna intends to launch a war (which obviously could spread), and yet, instead of restraining them, it repeatedly urges them on. The primary source record of German and Austro-Hungarian diplomatic correspondence, reports, and memoranda, makes it abundantly clear that they know what they're doing and that they have had advanced warning of Russia's likely response. Still they march on.
This is what makes a book like this not just absurd, but in fact an insult to the reader. It's as if the authors have decided that they can safely peddle their silly conspiracy theory because most readers don't know what's actually in the primary source record. They actually seem to think that they can get away passing off the Russian mobilization on July 30 as the singular moment in the crisis timeline that the reader should focus on because the reader will be too stupid to delve into the question of what events led up to the Russian decision to mobilize. The more historically informed readers are also going to be aware that the ploy of trying to shift the blame for the war away from Berlin and towards everybody else, especially the Russians, is consistent with an old pattern that was openly discussed during the crisis itself, and then resurrected by the Kriegschuldreferat during the interwar years.
The great irony is that the strongest case that can be made on the basis of the actual evidence for an actual conspiracy is that of the conspiracy between Berlin and Vienna. Certainly, there was a conspiracy to clear the way for Vienna's punitive war on the Serbs, but there is also a case that can be made that Berlin took the risks that it did because it feared that the balance of power was shifting against it, and that therefore a war in 1914 with A-H committed to the fight was preferable to war at a later date. Historians are divided as to whether there is sufficient evidence to prove the latter contention, but even so, THAT conspiracy theory makes far more sense than the one that the authors of this book are trying to peddle.
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