Monday, December 05, 2011

The old WW1 whodunit

Richard J. Evans (whose Third Reich trilogy is very good) reviews the McMeekin book on The Russian Origins of the First World War that we noted a while back. Evans is not persuaded that any anxiety over the Straits led Russian to push for war in 1914, which undercuts the thesis of the book.

Russian "war guilt" more generally is an interesting question. Evans underplays the Russian general mobilization (vs. Germany as well as Austria-Hungary); I don't think it suffices to say that Russia just didn't have a plan for mobilizing vs. the latter, as gross negligence pretty much substitutes for malice. Unless my memory has completely funked it, the fact is that the first great power to mobilize vs. another was Russia vs. the German-speaking powers. That is too serious for Russia to be exonerated.

Evans does however note the shady French involvement:
any historian who writes on Russia and the origins of World War I surely needs to give the French alliance more careful consideration than it is accorded here. In January 1914, the French Prime Minister told Maurice Paléologue, about to depart for St. Petersburg to take up the post of French ambassador there, that “war can break out from one day to the next … Our [Russian] allies must rush to our aid. The safety of France will depend on the energy and promptness with which we shall know how to push them into the fight.” In the Russian capital in mid-July 1914, a top-level French delegation was enthused by displays of Russian military strength. “There’s going to be a war,” the wife of the man who would shortly be appointed Russian commander-in-chief told Paléologue: “There’ll be nothing left of Austria. You’re going to get back Alsace and Lorraine. Our armies will meet in Berlin. Germany will be destroyed!”
Paléologue's exact conversations with the Russians in July 1914 have long been suspected of helping push Russia into war.

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