Starting World War I

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Margaret MacMillan, professor of international history at Oxford and the author of The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (Random House, 2013), looks at the avoidable run-up to World War I and the misjudgments of European leaders who thought the war could be resolved quickly. The "Great War" lasted over four years and killed 16 million combatants and civilians.


Margaret MacMillan

Comments [26]

Can't we all agree that WW I, and its progeny, came as the first wave of the "progressive" world view gained ascendency?

Hopefully, this time will be different.

(End Snark)

Jan. 23 2014 11:33 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretenious Hudson Heights

Poison gas, mustard gas, was used in WW1.

Poison gas, a WMD, was used by Sadaaam Hussein on the Kurds of Halabja Iraq.

Poison gas, a WMD, was used in Syria by either the Assad family dictatorship or the "rebels".

History repeats.

Jan. 23 2014 12:09 PM

The dismantling of the antiquated belief in the divine right of kings, the primacy of the church in Europe and the aristocracy. The last vestiges of feudalism. Not surprising that around that time, starting in the 19th c, the church was promoting the belief that Mary had appeared to impoverished "serfs" basically.[la Salette, Lourdes then Fatima, in the 20th c warning the world that we should stick to the Church and that modernism was evil].The old order was being challenged and world war 1 was the last attempt to keep it in place!

Jan. 23 2014 12:04 PM
Jim Hanley from Washington, DC

My mother, who was born in 1918, often repeated a mnemonic device (and, perhaps, a religio-political dogma from her teachers) about the cause of World War I. It was: "Austria got Hungary, tool a piece of Turkey, and slid onto Greece." I can't say what the source was, other than one of her teachers in NYC Catholic schools in the 1920s. I subsequent years, I've wondered about how widespread this teaching may have been, to say nothing of its source.

Jan. 23 2014 11:59 AM
Jim Hanley from Washington, DC

My mother, who was born in 1918, often repeated a mnemonic device (and, perhaps, a religio-political dogma from her teachers) about the cause of World War I. It was: "Austria got Hungary, tool a piece of Turkey, and slid onto Greece." I can't say what the source was, other than one of her teachers in NYC Catholic schools in the 1920s. I subsequent years, I've wondered about how widespread this teaching may have been, to say nothing of its source.

Jan. 23 2014 11:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Taher

The Versailles was falsely BLAMED by some for WWII and for the ME situation later on, but in fact it created 11 Arab states out of the defeated Ottoman empire, and there are 21 of them today since Britain pulled out of the Middle East.
The anti-democratic forces in Germany blamed Versailles and Jews for the economic morass in Germany, but many have show that this argument was false.

Jan. 23 2014 11:55 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Your guest has West/Centered view of history. My sense is that history is slowly moving from the West to Asia. That is where a conflagration may occur in the future. Also the Versailles treat, Which President Wilson also played a large role, laid the ground work for WWII and many of conflicts in the Middle East and Asia as a fall out of reaffirmation of Western colonialism

Jan. 23 2014 11:47 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Joe Mirsky

The Walther Rathenau story was well known to me and others decades ago. Many German Jews believed that they were Germans first, and Jews only by "the Mosaic Persuasion." The problem was, most real Germans didn't buy into that for an instant.

Jan. 23 2014 11:43 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Dan Carlin provides an interesting detailed account of the lead up to the war in a podcast, here:

On another note, Mandela, as we know, was labeled a terrorist...A good follow up segment would be to examine options for resistance available to the oppressed.

Jan. 23 2014 11:39 AM
Joe Mirsky from Popmpton Lakes NJ

Here's an ironic example of German nationalism and jingoism, from my book Ornamentally Incorrect (In The Way We Were section).

"We began the war a year too soon. When we have secured a German peace we must begin at once a reorganization upon a broader and firmer basis than ever before. Establishments that produce raw materials essential to the Army must not only continue their work, but enter into it upon lines of increased energy, forming thus the kernel of economic Germany in preparing in the economic sense for the next war.”
— Walther Rathenau, in the Berlin Lokal Anzeiger as quoted in The Literary Digest, January 13, 1917.

Walther Rathenau was a German industrialist, son of the founder of a large electrical engineering company. Although Jewish, he was an ardent German nationalist. He became Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated in 1922 by members of an extreme right-wing anti-semitic secret organization, Organization Consul.

“Konsul” was called “the most sinister of all the German secret societies”, in a Literary Digest article May 5, 1923 titled Secret Orders and Murders in Germany.

The article features a photo of uniformed men carrying a swastika flag captioned A "Hitler-Guard" on the March. This German organization is said to be one of forty or fifty similar secret "bunds" who are the greatest present danger to Germany, Europe, and the peace of the world.

The Rathenau assassination was commemorated annually by the Weimar Republic. Schools and streets were named for him. When the Nazis took power, they systematically erased all public traces of him while carrying out his Deutschland über alles policies. A monument was erected on the graves of his assassins.

Copyright © 2013 Joseph Mirsky Jewelry Inc.

Jan. 23 2014 11:39 AM
michelle from Long Island City

On terrorism and inequality: There was a bombing on Wall Street at the turn of the century, one of the first spectacular acts of terroristic violence aimed a symbol of capitalism. Parallels with 9/11 and the subsequent conflict and paranoia?

Jan. 23 2014 11:38 AM

I would suggest, especially have just completed McBride's novel, "The Good Lord Bird" that John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a classic act of terrorism, an act that was important in precipitating the Civil WAr.

Jan. 23 2014 11:38 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

"Times may change, but people don't." - by My Mom.

Jan. 23 2014 11:38 AM
pliny from soho

"history doesn't repeat itself
but it rhymes"

Jan. 23 2014 11:37 AM

I just finished a course at Sarah Lawrence College called 1919 and MacMillian's "Paris 1919" was part of the reading. She is extraordinary! Thanks Brian and show!!!

Jan. 23 2014 11:37 AM

@MC - Since you insist on being an ass...Here's a lesson for you. The part between the quotation marks needs to be verbatim, i.e. "Oliver Stone's Untold History..."

See the documentary. Then your bomb-throwing might be on point.

Jan. 23 2014 11:36 AM
ms from brooklyn

any parallels with end of ottoman empire and arab nationalism? fisk makes some points about that dynamic that feel familiar now.

Jan. 23 2014 11:35 AM
John A

Absolute love of new technology (practical machines, starting 1880 or so) and tiredness with that old empire that isn't helping the world as it claims to.

Jan. 23 2014 11:34 AM

Totalizing;"good vs. evil" hysteria.

Jan. 23 2014 11:32 AM
tom from Astoria

Is there a threat of hostility between the US and China, or between China and other countries? I feel a growing resentment among ordinary people against the rapid (and cheating, stealing) rise of China.

Jan. 23 2014 11:32 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

What about Beijing's current belligerence, nationalism and territory claims in Asia and the South China Sea?

Jan. 23 2014 11:32 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Henry Ford once quipped that "history is bunk." The simple truth is that people today are no more intelligent than they were 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago. The only thing that has changed is technology and the spread of "education" due to publishing and increased literacy.

The fact that today, nearly 70 years after WWII, that Japan and China could be at the brink of war over a few uninhabited rocks in the middle of the ocean proves that nothing has fundamentally changed. Except nuclear technology that has created massive bombs that can wipe out entire cities or even entire countries.
Otherwise, everything is the same.

Jan. 23 2014 11:31 AM

MacMillan's book is brilliant, with a revelation on every page.

Jan. 23 2014 11:30 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

I stumbled across this very interesting World War I history article on the Der Spiegel website (apparently from this month's issue):

Fascinating, and more than a little frightening, to see the unexpected (at least to me) parallels to current events. May we learn from history, not repeat it.

Jan. 23 2014 11:10 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

LOL ... adults beware of anything that begins with the phrase "Oliver Stone's history of ......."


And MacMillan tarnished the objectivity of this book by comparing Kaiser Wilhelm with George W Bush .....seriously. (Ask her, Brian.)
She diminished the seriousness of her work by injecting this gratuitous, left wing academy-pleasing political pot-shot.
("Paris 1919" was a fascinating book .... no W bashing necessary.)

Jan. 23 2014 11:05 AM

Only a madman would even begin a war that they did not think would end quickly. Our own Civil War was thought to last only for weeks. Look at how the Bush Administration sold us the Invasion of Iraq and we bought it.

It is strange to think that Europe created so much havoc over how to divide the exploitative colonial 'pie'. And that so much of the fodder who had no real stake in the outcome participated in the gore. There is an excellent film from the 70's called "Black and White in Colour" about French colonials fighting German colonials in Africa with African native soldiers!

I have little wonder that once drawn in to the war, Americans felt used (we lost close to 10,000 per month) and wanted no part of the events that led up to WWII. As exploitative as American capital can be it can't hold a torch to European imperialism! (which, IMO, is just a notch above chattel slavery.)

[if you have access to Showtime, I recommend you watch Oliver Stone's 10 part 'Untold History of the United States'! Watch it with your teenage kids if you can, it will give you lots to talk about.]

Jan. 23 2014 10:26 AM

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