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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Tuesday January 24 2017

Why did Britain (and her allies) fight WW1?  Was Britain (were they) right to fight WW1?

Recently I had an email exchange with Patrick Crozier concerning World War 1, about which he knows a great deal.

Patrick to me:

The other day you suggested I write something on why Britain fought the First World War but I can’t quite remember what precisely the question was.

I suppose what I am asking is what question would you like to see addressed?

Me to Patrick:

I suppose there are two big questions.  And quite a few smaller ones.

(1) What did the Allies think they were fighting WW1 for?  What did they think the world would turn into, that was bad, that fighting the war and winning it would prevent?

This question divides into two parts: officialdom, and public opinion.  Officialdom clearly thought WW1 worth fighting, and they at least persuaded public opinion for the duration.  Did officialdom tell the truth about its real motives?  If so, was this persuasive?  If they told a different story for public consumption, ditto?

It is my understanding that the Blackadder Version of things, that it was all a futile waste of blood and treasure and that it achieved bugger all for anyone, only caught on in Britain the thirties, when the Communists got into their public stride following the Great Crash.  Before that, British public opinion both stayed steady during the war, and afterwards was glad it had won.  So, I guess there’s also a question about whether that’s right, and about the timing of the change, if and when it happened.

(2) What do YOU think the Allies actually accomplished?  In other words, were they right to fight the war, given their objectives? And were they right, given YOUR objectives?  Did winning WW1 actually make the world, in your judgement, a less bad place than it would have been if not fought, or, if fought, lost?

I note a confusion on my part between Britain and Britain plus all its allies.  I’m not sure which I am asking about.  Britain a lot, but actually all of them.

Underneath everything is a judgement, by the protagonists and by you, about what the Kaiser’s Germany was trying to do and would have tried to do in the event of victory, whether and to what extent it could have done it, and how bad that would have been.

Rather a lot of questions, I fear.  I suggest you start by answering the one of them that you feel you now can already answer with the most confidence.

Blackadder link added.  ("The poor old ostrich died for nothing.")

Patrick to me:

Wow, that’s a lot to be getting on with and it may require some research.

I promise to try to produce a decent answer to all that. Whether I succeed or not is another matter.

Me to Patrick:

PS Would you have any objection to me putting this exchange up at my personal blog?

Patrick to me:

Not at all.

My thanks to Patrick, both for the rather flattering exchange and for the permission to recycle it here.  I do not regard Patrick as in any way obligated to me or to anyone to answer these questions, and I put them here partly for that reason.  They strike me as interesting questions, whether he answers them or not.

No doubt others have answered such questions already, over the years.  Another way of putting my questions would simply be to say: and what did these answers, over the years, consist of?

It seems to be believed by almost all Europeans now that WW1 was a disaster, that it did no good whatever.  (WW2, in contrast, was a good war.  Germany by then had gone totally bad, and WW2 put a stop to that bad Germany, albeit at further huge cost.) But what if one of the alternatives to the WW1 that actually happened might have been even worse?  What if the disaster that was WW1 did actually accomplish something quite valuable?  I’m not arguing that this is actually the case.  I don’t know, and am simply asking.

Comments about these questions, or for that matter any proper comments, would be most welcome.

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