Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

In his revisionist history of World War I, Niall Ferguson urges the reader to reconsider many of the received wisdoms about this unprecedented global conflict. Apparently assuming that his primary audience consists of British readers, the author—who is Scottish—concentrates on analyses that he and others of his generation were taught. Primary among these is that Britain played a crucial war in winning, and thereby ending, the war. While Britain had acknowledged the contribution of the U.S. effort, it also had promoted the idea that the Americans’ entry, by virtue of its lateness, was not as important. Ferguson urges a major reevaluation of the British contribution: rather than shorten the war by assuring allied victory, he suggests, Britain added fuel to the fire, not only expanding but prolonging the war. Because of the developments on different fronts, he believes, Germany would have lost the war anyway.

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Rather than reviewing all the details of the European conflicts leading up to the war, Ferguson concentrates on a few items that he sees as key. In addition, he goes over the stated British rationale of the time. The post-war refrain was that Britain had no choice but to intervene; Ferguson suggests this constituted rationalizing after the fact. The extent of debate within Britain, he reveals, included considerable anti-war sentiment and less concern for the continental countries’ well-being. Instead, patriotic causes emphasized the danger to Britain if Germany were to invade. Not only the military but civilian, political forces revved up this fear or paranoia.

Delving into the relationships among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, Ferguson stresses the importance of the eastern fronts in weakening Germany’s position. Although Germany had ample military strength, both in equipment and men, poor strategies combined with fear of Russia caused leaders to deploy those resources poorly. Although the Western Front allied victories were important, but they did not play decisive roles. Rather, the decision to commit men and materiel in the west sapped the Germans strength to the point of state implosion.

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