Au­thor ex­am­ines month that shaped war

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Roger Cur­rie

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:

July 1914

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.