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The Making of the First World War

The Making of the First World War

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Making of the First World War
    Book Description:

    Nearly a century has passed since the assassination of Austria-Hungary's Archduke Ferdinand, yet the repercussions of the devastating global conflict that followed echo still. In this provocative book, historian Ian Beckett turns the spotlight on twelve particular events of the First World War that continue to shape the world today. Focusing on episodes both well known and scarcely remembered, Beckett tells the story of the Great War from a new perspective, stressing accident as much as strategy, the small as well as the great, the social as well as the military, and the long term as much as the short term.

    The Making of the First World Waris global in scope. The book travels from the deliberately flooded fields of Belgium to the picture palaces of Britain's cinema, from the idealism of Wilson's Washington to the catastrophic German Lys offensive of 1918. While war is itself an agent of change, Beckett shows, the most significant developments occur not only on the battlefields or in the corridors of power, but also in hearts and minds. Nor may the decisive turning points during years of conflict be those that were thought to be so at the time. With its wide reach and unexpected conclusions, this book revises-and expands-our understanding of the legacy of the First World War.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16366-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. x-x)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-11)

    At first sight, Nieuport on the Belgian coast is hardly inspiring. It seems to sum up one French general’s description of Flanders in 1914 as a monotonous countryside with an air of melancholic sadness melting almost imperceptibly into the grey waters of the North Sea.¹ Two shipping channels, three drainage canals and the river Yser merge together at the ‘Goosefoot’. It is hard to imagine that one of the most significant events of the First World War took place here. Two small monuments begin to suggest the importance of this desolate spot: one to a Belgian engineer, the other to...

  8. CHAPTER 1 THE SILENT CONQUEROR The Flooding of the Yser, 21 October 1914
    (pp. 12-30)

    The defining characteristic of the First World War in the popular imagination is the deadlock on the Western Front, that continuous line of trenches from Switzerland to the sea that was never broken from its establishment in the autumn of 1914 until the armistice in November 1918. Mention of the Somme, Verdun or Passchendaele instantly conjures up a featureless moonscape of villages and farms reduced to ruins, woods reduced to mere stumps, men struggling up to their waists in mud, in a theatre of unrelieved terror and disillusionment. Since the 1960s this mythic version of the Western Front has persisted...

  9. CHAPTER 2 THE WIDENING OF THE WAR Turkey’s Entry into the War, 29 October 1914
    (pp. 31-49)

    One of the star attractions of Vienna’s Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum is the motorcar in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a gunman in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. A 1910 open-top Austrian-built Gräf und Stift ‘Double Phaeton’, it is a vehicle that seems suitably grand for the occasion it represents. The only hint of its part in such a dramatic event, however, is a neat hole at the top of the rear offside passenger seat, through which passed the bullet that accounted for Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie. There is another car in the equivalent Turkish Military museum (Askeri...

  10. CHAPTER 3 THE MAKING OF A NATION Australia’s Coming of Age at Gallipoli, 25 April 1915
    (pp. 50-67)

    Planned as Australia’s new capital city in 1908 but only really constructed in the 1920s, it has to be said that Canberra rather lacks character. The buildings seem generally to try too hard to impress. There is one vista, however, that does make an impact. Looking up the broad expanse of Anzac Parade from Old Parliament House, used by the Australian Parliament from 1927 to 1988, the eye is instantly drawn to the towering Byzantine-like dome of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) below the forested slopes of Mount Ainslie. The memorial’s design was conceived in 1926, and it was completed...

  11. CHAPTER 4 THE MAN AND THE HOUR Lloyd George’s Appointment as Minister of Munitions, 26 May 1915
    (pp. 68-86)

    On the morning of Friday, 21 May 1915, there were shocking headlines in theDaily Mail: ‘The Shells Scandal. Lord Kitchener’s Tragic Blunder. Our Terrible Casualty Lists.’ The accompanying story proclaimed that soldiers’ lives were being sacrificed because the British army did not have enough artillery shells to fight the war effectively. Such was the iconic status of Kitchener as Secretary of State for War that a copy of the newspaper was promptly burned outside the Stock Exchange, subscriptions were cancelled, and sales nose-dived. As the newspaper’s owner, Lord Northcliffe, confided to his fellow press baron Max Aitken, later Lord...

  12. CHAPTER 5 THE POWER OF IMAGE The First Public Screening of The Battle of the Somme, 21 August 1916
    (pp. 87-105)

    In the public mind, the memory of modern war is now largely encapsulated in a series of visual references. A campaign, even an entire war, can be summed up in a single image. For Dunkirk, it is one of long lines of men snaking across the sand towards the sea; for the Battle of Britain, one of pilots scrambling for their Spitfires; for Iwo Jima, a handful of American marines raising the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi. In the case of the Vietnam War, it is perhaps either the South Vietnamese police chief executing a Vietcong suspect with a...

  13. CHAPTER 6 THE DEATH OF KINGS The Passing of Emperor Franz Joseph, 21 November 1916
    (pp. 106-124)

    On 30 November 1916 a ceremony first supposedly enacted in 1657 on the death of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III, took place at the Kapuzinerkirche (Church of the Capuchins) in Vienna. As the coffin reached the gate of the Kaisergruft crypt, Prince Montenuovo, the Lord Chamberlain, knocked three times with the golden staff of his office. A voice from within enquired, ‘Who Knocks?’, to which Montenuovo replied, ‘His Apostolic Majesty, the Emperor of Austria.’ The response was, ‘Him I know not.’ After another three knocks from Montenuovo, the same question was asked. The reply this time was, ‘The...

  14. CHAPTER 7 THE UNGENTLEMANLY WEAPON The German Declaration of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1 February 1917
    (pp. 125-143)

    On 3 october 1914 theBucks Advertiser and Aylesbury Newsreported the ‘thrilling experience’ of an Aylesbury man, Alfred Brown, from the armoured cruiser, HMSAboukir. On 22 September, in company with HMSCressyand HMSHogue, theAboukirhad been cruising the ‘Broad Fourteens’ off the Dutch coast. At about 0615 hours ‘there was an explosion like a terrific clap of thunder, accompanied with a flash like lightning’ as theAboukirwas hit by a torpedo on the port beam and quickly began to list.¹ Only one of the larger lifeboats could be lowered as the explosion had affected...

  15. CHAPTER 8 THE PATH TO REVOLUTION The Abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, 15 March 1917
    (pp. 144-161)

    One popular perception of the Great War remains the image of enthusiastic crowds welcoming the outbreak of war in Europe’s belligerent capitals. To be sure there were such crowds, but it is now apparent that the European public had relatively little time to react to events. Enthusiasm for war was more an urban than a rural phenomenon. The crowds that did gather were more likely to be of younger and more middle-class composition. Often the national mood was subdued. One clear illustration is a photograph taken on Dvortsovaya Square behind the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum) in St Petersburg,...

  16. CHAPTER 9 THE SHADOW OF THE BOMBER The First Gotha Air Raid on London, 13 June 1917
    (pp. 162-180)

    There is a number of ceramic plaques commemorating the heroism of ordinary Londoners in ‘Postman’s Park’ off Aldersgate Street in the City, named for the nearby headquarters of the old General Post Office. Originally conceived by the artist and sculptor G. F. Watts in 1900, the ‘memorial to heroic self-sacrifice’ has 120 spaces for plaques. A total of forty-eight spaces had been filled by 1908. One more was added in June 1919, three in 1930, one in 1931, and the fifty-fourth only in 2009. That added in 1919 remembers Police Constable Alfred Smith ‘who was killed in an air raid...

  17. CHAPTER 10 THE PROMISED LAND The Balfour Declaration, 2 November 1917
    (pp. 181-199)

    People at war need to know that the sacrifices they are making are worthwhile, and that there will be a suitable payoff in the future for the country, and for themselves. Making promises that may not be fulfilled is a danger for politicians in the midst of conflict. Vagueness in making ‘war aims’ public is sensible, but it may become counter-productive because the failure to achieve them may appear akin to defeat. Agreements made with different allies, and promises made to potential allies in order to draw them into the war, may be equally problematic. As the Chief of the...

  18. CHAPTER 11 THE MORAL IMPERATIVE Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 8 January 1918
    (pp. 200-218)

    The eventual peace settlement imposed upon Germany and her allies was to be an uneasy compromise between British pragmatism, French concerns for security and US President Woodrow Wilson’s ‘progressive internationalism’. The United States was not technically an ally of Britain and France after April 1917, but an ‘associated power’. Thus, Wilson’s unilateral announcement of his peace principles on 8 January 1918 posed a significant challenge to his allies when he spoke of freedom of the seas, restriction on armaments, economic cooperation and self-determination. Subsequently, the Germans were to request an armistice on the basis of an ‘American peace’ that was...

  19. CHAPTER 12 THE LAST THROW The Opening of the German Lys Offensive, 9 April 1918
    (pp. 219-237)

    In explaining why Germany lost the First World War, historians have made much of the allied military victories in the ‘Hundred Days’, starting at Amiens on 8 August 1918. The allies had endured a painful ‘learning curve’ on the Western Front. The British in particular had improved immeasurably in operational techniques by 1918, although the degree to which improvement had occurred uniformly is hotly debated. Yet, how much was due to German strategic failures in their five successive offensives in the spring of 1918, a ‘covert military strike’ on the part of German soldiers, the allied blockade, or the collapse...

    (pp. 238-240)

    It was the seventeenth-century French mathematician, scientist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who mused that had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed. As outlined in the introduction, the intention behind this volume was to identify seminal events during the First World War that could be characterised as meaningful turning points in military, political, socio-economic or cultural terms, which had significant consequences in the longer term. Some would be familiar but others had gone generally unrecognised. It was not intended to speculate on counter-factual ‘what ifs’.

    Yet, by way of conclusion, it is appropriate...

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 241-249)
    (pp. 250-256)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 257-264)