The government's official planned commemoration of the Great War has been criticised on a number of levels, not least of which is the extent to which the official interpretation avoids any negative mention of Germany's role in igniting the conflict. Robert Hardman in the Mail, a jingoist in full Horatio Bottomley mode, suggests we should upset the Germans by reminding them of their war crimes. This, I think, completely misses the point. No nation has clean hands in war, but only the losers get tried. The truth is rather more complex. Franz Ferdinand's assassination did not cause the Great War, but was 'the gift from Mars' that provided the pretext.
In January 1914 Germany wanted a European war and was militarily ready for one. Russian military expansion in the first decade of the twentieth century had been spectacular and was estimated to reach parity with Germany by 1917; Germany was terrified of trade barriers and tariffs that would restrict her own expansion, particularly if imposed by Britain, France and Russia. Just prior to the war the first version of the EU was proposed, a vast tariff-free area uniting the Hapsburg empire, the Balkans, Germany, Italy and Belgium - and indeed this Mitteleuropa was to feature explicitly in German war aims. Supported by German business, and in particular by Germany's cleverest businessman, Walter Rathenau, Bethmann Hollweg maintained that this would be the outcome of a short, sharp 'preventative' war lasting perhaps only weeks.
The major barrier to war throughout Europe had been seen as the opposition to it by the proletariat and the social democratic parties across the continent. No nation wanted to commit to a war that would cause a domestic revolution. By 1914 this had all changed. Across Europe the working classes clamoured for war; in Britain, far from opposing conscription, the entire working class volunteered for war - and nowhere was more jingoistic than the Rhondda. In every European nation it was the same, with volunteers overwhelming the resources available to clothe, feed and equip them.
These pressures alone - of intense nationalism, of trade war, of colonial supremacy, of the arms race, of fear of falling behind - were dangerous enough, making Europe a powder keg. One nation was pivotal in being in a position to prevent global war - Prussian Germany. I'll save for a subsequent post how she not only failed to do so, but covertly encouraged all the measures to ensure it happened. Including the extraordinary sensitivity inside Germany to this fact, with Norman Stone's account of the subsequent cover-ups.