Author examines month that shaped war
IT has been a landmark summer for commemorating the history of war in the 20th century. In early June, Canada took part in ceremonies on the beaches of Normandy, marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion that marked a turning of the tide in the European phase of the Second World War. The invasion came almost exactly 30 years after a frantic summer of failed diplomacy that ended with the beginning of The War to End All Wars. There are several new books out to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, including this volume by Canadian war historian Gordon Martel. Martel argues that the conflict may well have been avoided, and millions of lives need not have been lost, between 1914 and 1918. For decades after the conflict, most historians accepted the notion that the war was inevitable because of the forces of nationalism, particularly in Germany. The spark that ignited the powder keg was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28 in Sarajevo. In his book The Month That Changed the World, Martel makes a compelling case that had things gone differently in July 1914, there might have been a very different outcome. Martel says far too much investigation of the root causes of the war have taken place over the years “under a dark cloud of predetermination, of profound forces having produced a situation in which war was inevitable.” His book takes an exhaustive and painstaking look at primary and secondary sources, and he puts together a dayby-day summary of the decisions that were made by the European powers. Martel puts a living face on the rulers and diplomats whose personalities and choices led to “the collapse of empires” and the unleashing of “the revolutionary forces of communism and fascism.” In his concluding section, he explores factors such as “alliances, mass conscript armies, huge navies, unprecedented armaments,” and national discontent that had existed for the decades. He even offers some comfort to the descendants of Neville Chamberlain, the former British prime minister who was blamed for much of the buildup to the Second World War by “appeasing” Hitler. When he met with the then-German chancellor and other leaders at Munich in September 1938, Chamberlain was determined to avoid the tragic mistakes of July 1914. Unfortunately it was an effort that was doomed to fail. From our vantage point in 2014, in the age of Twitter and LinkedIn, it might be interesting if Martel or one of the other historians writing about these momentous events were to examine the evolution of how changing technology played a role, and might have increased the chances of war in the summer of 1914. There were still cavalry charges in the First World War, but at least Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm and the others involved could message each other by cable and telegram. They did not have to wait for dispatch riders on horseback to carry messages back and forth. Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster. He is heard regularly on
CJNU 93.7 FM.
The Month that Changed the World: