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The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol Christopher Clark s choice of the first bit of the title The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 may indeed be considered slightly awkward in that it suggests that those who were in charge in European governments at that time are not really to blame for the decisions they took, but nevertheless Clark s book itself The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol Christopher Clark s choice of the first bit of the title The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 may indeed be considered slightly awkward in that it suggests that those who were in charge in European governments at that time are not really to blame for the decisions they took, but nevertheless Clark s book itself is groundbreaking in its capacity of putting a big question mark behind any attempt at, for whatever reasons, playing the blame game I have some friends who derive the bulk of their knowledge from the feature pages of newspapers and who are, further, endowed with the remarkable and enviable shall I say skill , or is not power the better word of knowing everything that is said in a book by having a glance at its title, and naturally these friends are indignant at Clark, whom they consider an apologist trying to make World War I pass as something like a quasi natural catastrophe for which nobody can be held accountable.Had they read the book itself, and not merely its title, they would know that Clark is far from using scholarly prestidigitation in order to make questions of responsibility vanish into thin air Quite on the contrary, he casts a very careful look at the agents in that crisis of July 1914, first of all doing away with abstractions like Germany , Russia , Serbia and showing instead that the policy of each of these countries depended on interactions and wrestles for power and influence within the political system of the respective states, which not only made the system of alliances basically the Triple Entente vs the Triple Alliance potentially volatile but also rendered it extremely difficult for any of the major powers to gather reliable information on how the other powers were going to act It is this atmosphere of mutual distrust and a bellum omnia contra omnes view of foreign affairs, e.g with regard to geopolitical ambitions such as the Russian interests in the Dardanelles, or the British fear of being pressured in India, that made statesmen of all five powers take unwise decisions which eventually lead towards war It is at this point, not in the form of picking out one state that is to blame above all others, that questions of accountability come into play.Clark s investigation into the outbreak of WWI is structured into three major parts At the outset, the author has a closer look at the two countries Serbia and Austria Hungary, since it was, after all, the assassination of Austria Hungary s heir apparent and his wife that triggered the July Crisis and led into war Clark elaborates the problematic role of Serbia as a state whose government was infiltrated by regicide terrorists who championed an extremely aggressive variant of nationalism that not only posed a threat to Austria Hungary but also to other neighbouring states It also becomes clear that the young men who set out to Sarajewo with the intention of killing Franz Ferdinand did so with the knowledge to at least some of Serbia s leading militaries and politicians and that later on these politicians would obstruct any investigations into the backgrounds of the killers Clark s decision to work out the connection of Gavrilo Princip and the Black Hand with Serbian government officials caused some dismay with those who argue that this is mere Serbia bashing and exaggerates Serbia s contribution to the war, but when witnessing the erection of a statue to honour the memory of Princip in Sarajewo in June 2014, we might well ask ourselves if word of the background of this vile act of terror has really gotten around everywhere yet.In the second part of his book Clark concentrates on the changing system of alliances in Europe with its many antagonisms He shows that England did not regard the Triple Entente as an alliance directed against the German Empire as France did but predominantly as a way of containing Russia and of avoiding conflicts with Russia in the Middle East and India He also points out how Russia and Austria Hungary were vying for the sympathies of certain Balkan states, the former with a view to destabilizing the Balkan situation and Austria Hungary s position , the latter with the contrary intention.Against the background of these preceding events and vying interests Clark finally analyzes the July Crisis itself, which he sees in the light of the so called Balkan inception scenario, i.e Poincar s motivation to lead the Entente into war if Vienna attacked Serbia because such a scenario would offer France the best starting position in an armed conflict with Austria Hungary s ally Germany This Balkan inception scenario likewise made it necessary for Russia to mobilize not only against Austria Hungary but also against Germany, a decision that would further fuel the crisis However, Clark does not say that any of the major powers had been planning war well in advance Instead he sees a mixture of shortsightedness and wishful thinking at work, e.g in Germany infamous blank cheque for Austria Hungary, which is often regarded as proof of Germany s intention of fuelling the danger of a European war, Clark sees the inapt attempt at limiting Austria s actions to Serbia only a calculation that would only work if Russia abstained from backing Serbia, but unfortunately Russia had also given a kind of blank cheque to Serbia by assuring the Serbs of her unconditional support.Clark surely interprets the July Crisis in a new way, which he does very convincingly by consulting a variety of sources and by conscientiously reconstructing the decision processes of those statesmen involved One of the greatest advantages of The Sleepwalkers is that it is not only carefully executed but also, if that can be said of a book with so serious a topic, a page turner Clark does not narrate on the level of personal decisions but elaborate the structures in which these decisions could be taken and carried out and yet he uses a style that does not make it easy to put this book aside List of IllustrationsList of MapsAcknowledgementsIntroduction The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 ConclusionNotesIndex The Moments That It Took Gavrilo Princip To Step Forward To The Stalled Car And Shoot Dead Franz Ferdinand And His Wife Were Perhaps The Most Fateful Of The Modern Era An Act Of Terrorism Of Staggering Efficiency, It Fulfilled Its Every Aim It Would Liberate Bosnia From Habsburg Rule And It Created A Powerful New Serbia, But It Also Brought Down Four Great Empires, Killed Millions Of Men And Destroyed A Civilization What Made A Seemingly Prosperous And Complacent Europe So Vulnerable To The Impact Of This Assassination In The Sleepwalkers , Christopher Clark Retells The Story Of The Outbreak Of The First World War And Its Causes Above All, It Shows How The Failure To Understand The Seriousness Of The Chaotic, Near Genocidal Fighting In The Balkans Would Drag Europe Into Catastrophe Simply one of the best books on the origins of the Great War Take it from someone who wrote his master thesis on the pre war military strategies of Belgium and along the way devoted too much time to the European dimension Christopher Clark s summary of the transformation of Europe between 1879 and 1907 from non committed alliances into two military blocs in two pages plus maps is a thing of beauty The author clearly belongs to the revisionist camp His identification of the hawks within the Simply one of the best books on the origins of the Great War Take it from someone who wrote his master thesis on the pre war military strategies of Belgium and along the way devoted too much time to the European dimension Christopher Clark s summary of the transformation of Europe between 1879 and 1907 from non committed alliances into two military blocs in two pages plus maps is a thing of beauty The author clearly belongs to the revisionist camp His identification of the hawks within the governments of the Great Powers correponds largely with the portraits in J.H.J Andriessen sThe Other TruthSir Edward Grey, Conrad von H tzendorf, Raymond Poincar etc.His treatment of the German Empire is the best example The dogmatic elevation of the Schlieffen plan goes hand in hand with a curiously passive attitude that is a far cry from the Teutonic bombast in the magistral writing of Barbara Tuchman Enkreisung is not a mere diplomatic cover for ambitions towards world domination in the controversial vein of Fritz Fischer Rather, Germany sincerely experienced events as dictated by Russia and its allies The balance of power slowly but irrevocably swung in their favour, fueled by the French construction of the Entente and the post 1905 Russian rearmament program Better war sooner than later was an attitude found among all Powers, but most prevalent in Berlin This is well shown in the discussion of the infamous military counsil of december 1912.The familiar story of the clash of interests on the Balkan is set within the long term Russian desire for domination of the Straits at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, dating back to the aftermath of the Crimean war Populist Pan slavism disguised a pragmatical support for whichever Balkan state gained prominence Bulgaria at first, Serbia later on It is interesting to note that a minority propagated a Far East policy in order to reverse the losses of the Russo Japanese war as soon as the rearmaments would be completed, but this view never gained prominence.On the Habsburg side, the political friction in the wake of the Compromise of 1867 adds complexity Hungary, in spite of agressive maygarisation, always read developments on the peninsula in the light of a possible revolt in Transsylvania Vienna itself most feared the ascent of a South Slav union, possibly resulting in numerous revolts by minorities within Austria Hungary In retrospect, this fear was overrated and the sympathy of future emperor Franz Ferdinand for a South Slav union as a third segment within the multiethnic empire politically quite astute Many familiar episodes on the road to Ypres situated on the Balkans get the royal treatment the Balkan Wars, the Baghdad Railway and the German mission to Istanbul, to name a few, are elevated from anecdote to sideshows which nonetheless serve as important precedents to 1914 In goes without saying that the story of Sarajevo is explored in depth, with some poignant paralels to the post 9 11 world thrown in for free.France appears in atraditional light, focused on the next clash with the German army, if less on the repossession of Alsace Lorraine Declas and Poincar remain the main characters, with the ambassador twins Carbon in support These men provided a much needed element of continuity for the foreign policy of a republic plagued by instable cabinets It is striking how relentlessly France pressured her Entente partners into military commitment The best example here is her distress at the Russian plan for a Napoleonic defense in depth, with a concentration in the interior while temporarily minimizing the mobilisation at the western frontiers Sometimes she overestimated her success, traditionally exemplified by the last minute reluctance of Great Britain to openly acknowledge joint operations against Germany.Great Britain, lastly, receives compartively little attention Three things stand out First, the civilian sphere, dominated by party politics, exerciced greater control over the military was greater than in any other European power, which explains to a great extent the lack of commitment in spite of assurances by proponents such as Henry Wilson Edward Grey and Winston Churchill had to overcome the majority of the cabinet at the last moment Second, German domination of the Atlantic coast was never a primary concern Rather, the Great Game and the defense of the Raj loomed largest in imperial policy The origins of the Entente with France must be understood in this context, regardless of their naval cooperation between the Channel and the Mediterranean The British Empire was willing to appease its Russian rival at the expense of alienating Germany This also brings me to the third point, which shocks my Belgian sensibilities It is commonly presumed that the Brave Little Belgium attitude during WWI was preceeded by a genuine commitment by Great Britain to the preservation of Belgian neutrality Less commonly known but still within the same attitude is the British preoccupation with the Channel ports and the estuary of the Scheldt, to convenience the assistance of the Royal Navy and an Expeditionary Force to Antwerp, last refuge of the Belgian Army In reality, Germany was quite right to dismiss the 1831 treaty as a scrap of paper Britain was happy to allow a limited intrusion of the German Army through Belgium, preferably south of the Meuse Ironically, many Belgian politicians likewise considered minimal armed resistance to said intrusion as a fullfillment of their neutrality obligations.The Balkan Wars, including the Winter Crisis of 1912 13, provided Austria with trustworthy precedents for july 1914 Serbia seemed to be in the habit of backing down in the face of a military threat and Russia was reluctant to back her up The other Great Powers univoquely helped difuse tensions rather than activating their military alliances In addition, the military shows of force strained the finances of an imperial economy in decline All together, an all out war with Serbia appeared increasingly the sole solution to the next Balkan crisis The July crisis highlights the common deficiencies of the Great Powers It is here that the main theme of Sleepwalkersreasserts itself Minor remarks by biased diplomats or officials were overinterpreted as expressions of official foreign policy, because each country viewed itself in some way as dominated, even overpowered, by its neighbours This attitude introduced long term errors in what appeared to be policies based on reason and precedents Further, most of the political elite was on holiday and few judged the present Balkan crisis to be in need of closer scrutiny than its predecessors In a Europe dominated by monarchies, the in actions of the sovereigns merrit examination De facto the book focuses on Wilhelm II and Nicolas II The Kaiser figures with far less prerogative as traditionally assumed the Tsar as his equal in indecisiveness This is pointingly illustrated by their informal mid river military talk, the implications of which horrified their cabinets back home George V and emperor Franz Joseph remain virtually invisible Unfortunately enough, the story remains equally silent on Italy and the neutral countries, save a brief forray during the July crisis about Swedish neutrality Irregardless of their limited weight within the international alliance system, the secondary points of view could ve attributed to the perceptions of Great Power policy Clark made it as far as occasionally citing Dutch Belgian ambassadors consuls the archives are touched upon but not to full use Paul Kennedy s The Rise of the Anglo German Antagonism, 1860 1914 appears underused in British naval matters such as the 1902 treaty with Japan and the ill fated Haldane mission As it is, the array of sources is impressive, with the inclusion of local studies from Serbia, Bulgaria etc Classics like Albertini s 3 volume diplomatic analysis The Origins of the War of 1914, 1941 are used on their own strengths, such as the use of living witnesses to the events of the Belle Epoque.Read James Joll The Origins of the First World War, 3 editions for the facts Read Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August for the atmosphere Read Christopher Clark for the understanding While the dead are gone, they re not gone While the dead don t speak, they speak St PaulWhich begs the question, what do they say to us Last week saw extensive media coverage of the various commemorations of Britain s declaration of war against Germany on August 4, 1914 Naturally, understandably, inevitably, those dignitaries invited to hold speeches on this occasion turned most of their attention to the human cost The sheer numbers are obscene, beyond anyone s understanding or imagination While the dead are gone, they re not gone While the dead don t speak, they speak St PaulWhich begs the question, what do they say to us Last week saw extensive media coverage of the various commemorations of Britain s declaration of war against Germany on August 4, 1914 Naturally, understandably, inevitably, those dignitaries invited to hold speeches on this occasion turned most of their attention to the human cost The sheer numbers are obscene, beyond anyone s understanding or imagination The bare statistics are mere marks on a page it takes other means to allow us to build a picture of the carnage There is this magnificent and moving installation in the dry moat of the Tower of London, for example Entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red sic it plants a red ceramic poppy to represent each of the service personnel from the UK who died in the 14 18 888,264 poppies.And that is just servicemen and women No civilians.And that does not include the injured, maimed and traumatised Nor the missing in action.And that is just one country.It is natural, understandable, inevitable, that this sacrifice should be ennobled and dignified But how How to render the carnage manageable, assimilable into a noble narrative of high idealism The Duke of Cambridge, speaking at the Inter allied Memorial in Li ge, made a valiant effort We salute those who died to give us our freedom Laughable really For if there is one thing I have taken from Christopher Clark s magisterial opus, it is the sense that this was never a war of ideas or ideology It was not Fascism against Liberalism, Oppression against Freedom The Prince references Stefan Zweig at the beginning of his speech In his memoir The World of Yesterday, Zweig pinpoints the difference between the two World Wars The war of 39 had a reason, it was about freedom and preserving the moral good That of 1914 served only an illusion, a dream, a mania.The idea of a dream is taken up by Clark in his title Sleepwalkers That is a fine image as long as it is not meant to convey that the key players were drifting totally unaware towards war They knew, oh they knew, indeed in some quarters there was a definite attitude that war was not only unavoidable, but maybe even desirable The necessary way to purify the muddy waters of diplomacy To temper the steel of national identity To re calibrate the balance of power in Europe No, what those leaders were blind to was the nature of the armed conflict they were groping their way towards No one could have envisaged industrial warfare The image that crossed my mind when reading this was less one of dreamers,one of a perverse game of Blind Man s Buff, in which not only are ALL of the players blindfold, but also shackled each to the other with a complex system of ropes of differing lengths that at some stage will yank them back ignominiously to a position they never wanted to hold Blindfold, because all those active in the diplomatic service, all those ambassadors and attach s, the correspondents and representatives, the spies and the message boys, all of them could only attempt to guess at the true motives and intents of those in power Indeed, a lot of the time it was hard to assess who was in power at all, and who was whispering in his ear Personal regiments as government, with little sense of making common cause often the military department was at loggerheads with the Foreign Secretary, the Emperor with his Chancellor, the man in charge of the money with everyone And shackled through the complex and constantly shifting system of alliances and power blocs.Clark is a thoroughly modern historian, one who scrupulously avoids the over arching grand narrative which would allot blame to one country or another He takes a multi national approach, with an informative emphasis on Serbia This wide scope of narratives does present a challenge to the reader in the form of the great panoply of names that need to be filed away for future reference I can only advise anyone embarking on this journey to keep a cheat sheet tucked into the back cover in order to be able to tell your Andr ssy from your Clausewitz, your Sazonov from your Aehrenthal and to try to sort out the Kaljevic, the K lnoky and the Karadzic.So, in the end, what do they say, the dead of 14 18 Thirty seven million altogether, who died, in the end, as a result of a diplomatic meltdown Surely all they can say is never again Never again Never again And then it all started again barely twenty years later I don t want to join the armyI don t want to go to warI d rather stay at homeAround the street to roamLiving on the earnings of a lady typist.I don t want a bayonet in my bellyI don t want my bollocks shot awayI d rather stay in EnglandMerry merry EnglandAnd fornicate my bleedin life awayI don t want to be a soldierI don t want to go to warI d rather hang aroundPiccadilly undergroundAnd live off the earningsOf a high born lady.I don t need no Froggy womenLondon s full of girls I ve never had.Dear Oh Gawd almightyI want to stay in BlightyAnd follow in the footsteps of me dad.Soldiers Songs of the Great Warhttp www.westernfrontassociation.co bloodswept makes farsense, surely For Austria Hungary, the Balkan Wars changed everything Above all, they revealed how isolated Vienna was and how little understanding there was at the foreign chancelleries for its view of Balkan events, St Petersburg s hostility to the empire and its utter disregard for Vienna s interest in the region could be taken for granted More worrying was the indifference of the other powers.The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went To War in 1914, by Christopher Clark as its title suggests covers the run u For Austria Hungary, the Balkan Wars changed everything Above all, they revealed how isolated Vienna was and how little understanding there was at the foreign chancelleries for its view of Balkan events, St Petersburg s hostility to the empire and its utter disregard for Vienna s interest in the region could be taken for granted More worrying was the indifference of the other powers.The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went To War in 1914, by Christopher Clark as its title suggests covers the run up to World War 1 This book was published in 2012 so it is a recent addition to World War 1 scholarship At 562 pages, plus some 100 pages of bibliography and references, it is laid out chronologically,or less, in twelve self contained chapters.The book does have an academic feel to it at times It is lengthy and covers a wide berth of nations As a result, my interest level and engagement while reading was varied Some chapters were very interesting and what I consider five star material Others felt academic or were focused too heavily on foreign policy figures such as secretaries of state and chancellors for my liking There was less material presented on those petulant monarchs, who pushed forward with war, than I was hoping for After all isn t Franz Josephinteresting than Count Leopold Berchtold I break down the book into the chapters and give a rating where appropriate The book is lengthy and fragmented, so I think the chapter by chapter approach is warranted 1 Serbian Ghosts This chapter starts with the royal murder in Belgrade in 1903 some eleven years before the events that caused Austria to declare war on Serbia The chapter starts out strong with the drama surrounding the gruesome demise of King Alexander and Queen Draga But after twenty pages, the drama of the regicide ends and the next forty pages are Serbia s next ten years Unknown and sometimes obscure characters come at the reader and leave the scene with dizzying frequency Four stars Recommended.2 The Empire without Qualities This chapter disappointed me Middling marks but only on the strength that there was a fair amount of information I learned about pre war Hungary which is the overlooked half of Austria Hungary However very little on Austria and Franz Joseph Some good history on Franz Ferdinand s Czech wife Sophie and that their scandalous marriage initially displeased Franz Joseph and his chamberlain Prince Montenuovo Sophie was never given the proper title as Archduchess and etiquette that she otherwise deserved Three stars.3 The Polarization of Europe, 1887 1907 This chapter was also so so We learn about the various treaties between Germany and Russia, Germany and Austria and Italy Then later, because of the Balkan mess in the early oughts, the Russians turn against the Germans and enter into a treaty with the British and French I really wanted to seecoverage of the royals in this chapter Three stars 4 The Many Voices of European Foreign Policy This lengthy seventy five page chapter covered the politicians of the major European nations I did not enjoy this chapter One could easily argue it was a necessary chapter Three stars, grudgingly.5 Balkan Entanglements This is one of the best chapters, anywhere, that I ve read on World War One There is a lengthy discussion of the outsized role that Italy played in escalating the tension in the Balkans starting with their own global conquests in North Africa and the Ottoman empire As stated, an excellent chapter along with excellent maps The author details the many nations of the Balkans and emphasizes how the Balkan tension was noabout Muslims vs Christians than the horrors and inequity of imperialism The coverage of Russia s involvement in the Balkans, although thin, was also enlightening The author objectively presents, as elsewhere in the book, the entanglement as a shared sin that had lasted many centuries Five stars Excellent stand alone chapter 6 Last Chance Detente and Danger, 1912 1914 Some of the better highlights including how Russia and Nicolas, whether intentional or not, sent combative like signals over the Balkans causing consternation to the Kaiser and German officials who felt hemmed in between France and Russia As a result Germany felt that to strike early should a war break out would be key to a victory The German s also believed that Britain would not stand with their treaty partner Belgium, and of course this naive assumption was later to prove to be Germany s fatal mistake Too many government officials to keep straight and less coverage of the monarchs than I would have liked in this chapter but otherwise an informative one Four stars.7 Murder in Sarajevo Covers the drama of the assassination, the Serbian and Austro Hungarian responses Serbian officials, who clearly did not want war, were too cavalier about how they responded to the assassination Although Sarajevo was not part of Serbia, the assassins were trained in Serbia some claim by members of the Black Hand The author writes Despite official assurances, the Serbian authorities never conducted an investigation proportionate to the gravity of the crime and the crisis to which it had given rise It is possible that war would have happened anyway but diplomatically Serbia could have doneFive stars Excellent chapter.8 The Widening Circle This is essentially the Sleepwalkers chapter In this remarkable chapter we learn how blas many nations were about the events in Sarajevo, especially on the part of countries who were sympathetic to the Serbs Diplomatic spies for Germany and Austria were reporting that the assassination was being cheered in not just the Balkans but in Russia, where pan Slav sympathies were genuine, and elsewhere In some cases the celebrations were exaggerations but clearly diplomacy was failing Five stars.9 The French in St Petersburg I did not really take away much information from this chapter Yes the French and Russians were Allies and both nations felt threatened by Germany Largely a setup for the next chapter Three Stars.10 The Ultimatum Austria gives a ten point ultimatum to Serbia in late July 1914 with a response required in 48 hours The ultimatum essentially covers the need for Serbia to take responsibility for the assassinations, cease anti Austrian sentiment, collaborate with Austria to weed out subversive elements in Serbia s government and take part in a joint investigation of the assassination at all levels Predictably since Serbia was a sovereign state and they mistakenly felt that Germany would hold back Austria from starting war, they rejected the ultimatum by diplomatically stating that as written Serbia could not accept the conditions A few days later Austria mobilized her troops and declared war on Serbia, at the time it was viewed as a local war Five stars 11 Warning Shots This chapter covers the week between the Austrian declaration of war and the time it took the other large nations to understand what it all would mean There was discussion of Russia s mobilization and Germany s formation of plans for quick strikes against their targets Germany did not want to not let too much time pass between the assassination and the start of war with the allies Three to four stars 12 The Last Days Covers the final few days before the rest of the big five enter into war Now Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy s cabinet leaders and monarchs are whipped into a frenzy of activity as they realize the seriousness of the situation Military mobilization is occurring while peace negotiations are happening by telegraph Neutral Belgium, who has an alliance with Britain, is discussed to a large extent Germany s plan is to invade France by first going through Belgium Germany, mistakenly and fatally, believed that Britain would not come to Belgium s aid A German legate is to have said of the Belgians Oh the poor fools Why don t they get out of the way they will be ground into the dirt Oh, the poor fools Five Stars 13 Conclusion This chapter summarizes the sleepwalking nature of Europe s initiation of WW1 The author leaves aobjective persona that we saw in rest of the book and instead offers subjective parallels to later wars in the 20th century and recently in Syria In effect sleepwalking your way to war is still a problem It dovetails nicely with the importance of diplomacy and for nations to listen to one another, most of those things we were taught in kindergarten Excellent chapter Five stars In summary, the author possesses a great deal of knowledge about the causes of World War 1, has conducted a vast amount of research and synthesized the material all in a manner that has clearly added to the canon of important books of this event In the end though, at least for me, the differentiation between four star and five star history books boils down to enjoyment Sometimes the enjoyment can be carried almost exclusively by the novelty of the information and synthesis However the power of the writing itself and composition does matter I simply find WW1 historians like Margaret MacMillan and Barbara Tuchman very difficult to match in this regard.Overall Four stars A forensic study of the lead up to the First World War Meticulously researched, it takes you into a world where, almost by accident, Europe organised itself into two armed camps, with overlapping obligations and fears.What struck me was that each country felt itself slighted, took unto itself the right to wage an industrialised war, but at the same time abdicated responsibility for the war starting look what you made me do Jingoistic media, a newly assertive populace and weak leaders do not A forensic study of the lead up to the First World War Meticulously researched, it takes you into a world where, almost by accident, Europe organised itself into two armed camps, with overlapping obligations and fears.What struck me was that each country felt itself slighted, took unto itself the right to wage an industrialised war, but at the same time abdicated responsibility for the war starting look what you made me do Jingoistic media, a newly assertive populace and weak leaders do not help once started on the path to war it became almost impossible to walk back from the precipice Escalation follows escalation as a fateful it s going to happen soon, it might as well be now mindset kicks in.In a sleepy town in the Balkans an assassin awaits the Hapsburg heir, his few shots would become the spark for a conflagration that somehow brings the world to war Millions die, many millionsare maimed and displaced, three empires fall and a new arc of instability is created in Eastern Europe.Nothing is resolved Expect a re match in a generation as WW1 resentments boil to fever pitch I shall never be able to understand how it happened, the novelist Rebecca West remarked to her husband as they stood on the balcony of Sarajevo Town Hall in 1936 It was not, she reflected, that there were too few facts available, but that there were too many I have a masochistic, puritan streak that tells me a serious book should be long, dry, dense and exhaustively referenced to flagellate learning into my ignorant body and soul Barbara Tuchman s sinfully enjoyable The Guns of August left I shall never be able to understand how it happened, the novelist Rebecca West remarked to her husband as they stood on the balcony of Sarajevo Town Hall in 1936 It was not, she reflected, that there were too few facts available, but that there were too many I have a masochistic, puritan streak that tells me a serious book should be long, dry, dense and exhaustively referenced to flagellate learning into my ignorant body and soul Barbara Tuchman s sinfully enjoyable The Guns of August left me craving punishment Christopher Clark cheerfully provides a whipping The first 100 pages or 200, I may have blacked out contain everything you ever wanted to know about Serbian ethno nationalism The 100 pages of notes and references tell you where to go forI admit not much of this made it past the retina for further processing And it goes on God there must be some happy medium I d like to give the people who gave glittering reviews a multiple choice exam on the contents to see if anyone retained anything Or maybe that s not the point.In lieu of further review, a couplequotations The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol There is no smoking gun in this story or, rather, there is one in the hands of every major character Viewed in this light, the outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime Acknowledging this does not mean that we should minimize the belligerence and imperialist paranoia of the Austrian and German policy makers that rightly absorbed the attention of Fritz Fischer and his historiographical allies But the Germans were not the only imperialists and not the only ones to succumb to paranoia The crisis that brought war in 1914 was the fruit of a shared political culture But it was also multipolar and genuinely interactive that is what makes it the most complex event of modern times and that is why the debate over the origins of the First World War continues, one century after Gavrilo Princip fired those two fatal shots on Franz Joseph Street There were isolated expressions of chauvinist enthusiasm for the coming fight, but these were the exception The myth that European men leapt at the opportunity to defeat a hated enemy has been comprehensively dispelled In most places and for most people, the news of mobilization came as a profound shock, a peal of thunder out of a cloudless sky And the further one moved away from the urban centres, the less sense the news of mobilization seemed to make to the people who were going to fight, die or be maimed or bereaved in the coming war In the villages of the Russian countryside a stunned silence reigned, broken only by the sound of men, women and children weeping In Vatilieu, a small commune in the Rh ne Alpes region of south eastern France, the ringing of the tocsin brought workers and peasants into the village square Some, who had run straight from the fields, were still carrying their pitchforks What can it mean What is going to happen to us asked the women Wives, children, husbands, all were overcome by emotion The wives clung to the arms of their husbands The children, seeing their mothers weeping, started to cry too All around us was alarm and consternation What a disturbing scene An English traveller recalled the reaction in an Altai Semipalatinsk Cossack settlement when the blue flag borne aloft by a rider and the noise of bugles playing the alarm brought news of mobilization The Tsar had spoken, and the Cossacks, with their unique military calling and tradition, burned to fight the enemy But who was that enemy Nobody knew The mobilization telegram provided no details Rumours abounded At first everyone imagined that the war must be with China Russia had pushed too far into Mongolia and China had declared war Then another rumour did the rounds It is with England, with England This view prevailed for some time Only after four days did something like the truth come to us, and then nobody believed it In commemoration of the Centennial of WW1, we have also set up a reading group here in GR Sleepwalkers is one of the suggested books It deals with the period before the war and is consequently centered on the causes that led to, or I should say brought about, the disaster But because it is my first book on the political aspects, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and baffled by the complexity of the considerations My judgment has to be taken therefore withthan a pinch of In commemoration of the Centennial of WW1, we have also set up a reading group here in GR Sleepwalkers is one of the suggested books It deals with the period before the war and is consequently centered on the causes that led to, or I should say brought about, the disaster But because it is my first book on the political aspects, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and baffled by the complexity of the considerations My judgment has to be taken therefore withthan a pinch of salt But I learnt a fair amount and I managed to identify some key issues that I will have to explore further I may also have to come back to Sleepwalkers to understand Clark s opinions better as I becomeversed in the various controversies.There is a huge quantity of published material on the subject On the book category there are already thousands and thousands, and manywill be published this year But even the printed matter has its own history of how the event was interpreted History is made and remade Understanding of they whys, the hows, and the whos, is shaped by its own circumstances and settings and zeitgeist And Clark is very aware of the tradition of WW1 writing that precedes his own He is consciously positing his argument therefore in reference to the past discourses Stemming from Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, early scholarship concentrated on responsibilities and incriminations It was conceived that there had been a specific determination and an ability to carry out that determination Related to this it was also believed that the fateful succession of events had been inescapable Behind these views there is a particular understanding of human volition, human infallibility, and the relative power of the individual Together with these assumptions Clark reminds us that events seem to bring their own sense of inevitability and that their narrative fashions our way of comprehending We live with the conviction that happenings prove themselves They are carriers of their own internal causality.Clark s choice of a title already reveals what his own alternative narrative is He maps complex processes in decision making inside a fragmented network of multiple decision points or agents In his book he reviews the different power enacting mechanisms in the various countries depending on the degree of autocracy they endured the different functioning of the various offices of Foreign Affairs the varying domestic issues and difficulties the reshuffling and interrelation of social classes the relative growth in the role of the press and the power of public opinion the divergent military budgets the interplay between the political and the military arms of any country the relative agility of the governments depending on their political structures, etc Clark presents a splintered setting in which any isolated human act would have to deal with an unpredictable path for reaching its results.In earlier studies there had also been a trend in viewing the Sarajevo assassination not as the cause for the outbreak of the war but as the excuse for starting something that was to happen anyway Clark reverses that and puts Serbia back on the center stage from the very dramatic start of this book He shows that before and behind the murder a very militant and very destabilizing activity had already been going in this newly reborn Kingdom But Serbia had many problems Foremost were the money matters economic and financial , and these were coupled with a rabid and aggressive nationalism They engaged in direct confrontation with the bigger powers Austro Hungary, Russia and the Ottomans and sold their soul to the French financiers And they did all this with the purpose of establishing, aggressively, a pan Serbian state in the region of the Balkans Clark then sees WW1 really as the third Balkan war.He then proceeds with an account of how the balance of power that existed towards the turn of the century was redrawn with a complex dance of shifting allegiances until the outbreak of the war and there Clark lost me with the very many interlocking steps Reading this section felt like watching a magician play tricks with a hat In goes a set of allegiances with Britain as the perennial bachelor, and out come a peculiar couple of creatures that fly out differently Et voil , Europe is now polarized In this wizardry he discusses the Kruger telegram the naval race between Germany and Britain the complementing combination of capital and science of France with the highly populated Russia the partition of Africa in the vertical and horizontal axis between Britain and France the Moroccan crises the role of perceived masculinity, etc.What I found most interesting is that in tracking these developments, Clark pays a good deal attention to the weakening of the Ottoman Empire and its implications He identifies Italy s invasion of Libya in 1911 as the starting signal for a grabbing race Of course there were other such similar races in the Far and Middle East, but Clark concentrates on the European Continent and the Mediterranean coast Incidentally, he also sees this Libyan war, the first to see aerial bombardment, as the seed for modern Arab nationalism with which we live today.After having identified the demise of the Ottomans together with the pan Serbian goals as the detonators and the subsequent recalibration of allegiances, Clark proceeds to review the very rapid succession of events in the few months before the outbreak That means going back to the Balkans and witnessing, slow motion, the assassination on that fatal 28th of June in Sarajevo For the Serbian group were not jut shooting the unfortunate individuals, but hitting directly and with a fatal blow the very heart of the then European stabilizing center, the Austro Hungarian Empire.The book stops then as the curtain falls after he has projected how a whole band of decision makers proceeded blindly over a ground full of obstructions, hurdles, obstacles, and false indications, and all of them walking in an atmosphere of profound mistrust, heading towards a path in which all the possible ways out were being funneled into that single catastrophe For the longest time, I avoided reading about World War I because it seemed too complicated It was fought for convoluted reasons among now dead empires in a Europe and a world that is now vastly reshaped I figured my time would be better spent reading another book about Gettysburg When I finally made a concerted effort to learn about the Great War since the Centennial is fast approaching , I discovered its beginnings were actually deceptively simple The heir to the Austro Hungarian thro For the longest time, I avoided reading about World War I because it seemed too complicated It was fought for convoluted reasons among now dead empires in a Europe and a world that is now vastly reshaped I figured my time would be better spent reading another book about Gettysburg When I finally made a concerted effort to learn about the Great War since the Centennial is fast approaching , I discovered its beginnings were actually deceptively simple The heir to the Austro Hungarian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo The Austro Hungarians blame the Serbs and issue Serbia an ultimatum The Serbs thumb their noses Austria Hungary declares war on Serbia Due to various entangling alliances, a series of national duties and obligations are triggered Russia joins the war on the side of Serbia Germany comes in to help Austria Hungary France fulfills its obligations to Russia Germany attacks France through Belgium Great Britain decides to uphold Belgian neutrality Afterwards, there was trench warfare, poison gas, millions dead, a peace treaty that gutted Germany and reformed the Middle East, the rise of Hitler, and so on and so forth Christopher Clark s The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 is not interested in the mechanistic and simplified description that I provided above Instead, he acknowledges at the outset that my previous instincts were correct that the causes of World War I are almost impossibly byzantine and complex Early on, Clark lays out his purpose This book strives to understand the July Crisis of 1914 as a modern event It is concerned less with why the war happened than with how it came about Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions The question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain outcomes By contrast, the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical causes imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honor, the mechanics of mobilization The why approach brings a certain analytical clarity, but it also has a distorting effect because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events political actors become mere executors of forces long established and beyond their control The story this book tells is, by contrast, saturated with agency The key decision makers walked towards danger in watchful, calculated steps The outbreak of war was the culmination of chains of decisions made by political actors with conscious objectives, who were capable of a degree of self reflection, acknowledged a range of options and formed the best judgments they could on the basis of the best information they had to hand The Sleepwalkers is divided into three parts The first part is focused firmly on the Balkans, and specifically Serbia It struck me as I was reading this that I didn t know anything about Serbia, Serbian history, or the pan Serbian movement in the years before World War I I knew that Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Serb and a member of a nationalist movement known as the Black Hand But that was about all The Sleepwalkers devotes over a hundred pages filling in the context behind the movement Frankly, it isn t the easiest thing to follow Especially if you are like me, and go cross eyed trying to figure out the Balkans The names are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce the historical figures are mostly new and the geography is hard to keep straight It s a testament to Clark that his writing kept me engaged and didn t allow me to become entirely lost Part two of the book coversrecognizable territory It deals with a divided Europe sloughing off old antagonisms and forming new ones Over time, France and Russia became buddies, Germany got wary, and Great Britain tried to stay aloof while forming a wink wink nudge nudge pact with their old enemies the French During this period, Europe also became highly acclimated to ramping up to war In 1904 05, Kaiser Wilhelm touched off the First Moroccan Crisis with an ill advised speech in Tangiers In 1911, there was the Second Moroccan crisis, which saw Germany send a gunboat to Agadir after Britain sided with France, the Germans had to back down The years 1912 and 1913 saw the Balkan Wars, precipitated by the Young Turk Revolution and the resulting political instability of the Ottoman Empire Serbia came out the big winner of the Balkan Wars, which made her evenof a threat to the Austro Hungarian Empire Following the Balkan Wars, Austria Hungary s regional security preparations were in tatters The last part of the book deals with the July Crisis itself Clark does a good job handling well furrowed ground His narrative of Franz Ferdinand s assassination, for instance, is fairly gripping At first it appeared the shooter had missed his mark, because Franz Ferdinand and his wife remained motionless and upright in their seats In reality, they were both already dying The first bullet had passed through the door of the car into the Duchess s abdomen, severing the stomach artery the second had hit the archduke in the neck, tearing the jugular vein As the car roared away across the river towards the Konak, Sophie teetered sideways until her face was between her husband s knees Potiorek initially thought she had fainted with shock only when he saw blood issuing from the archduke s mouth did he realize somethingserious was afoot Still straddling the running board and leaning into the passenger compartment, Count Harrach managed to hold the archduke upright by clutching his collar He heard Franz Ferdinand speaking in a soft voice words that would become famous throughout the monarch Sophie, Sophie, don t die, stay alive for our children The plumed helmet, with the green ostrich feathers, slipped from his head When Harrach asked him if he was in pain, the archduke repeated several times in a whisper It s nothing and then lost consciousness.For obvious reasons, the final third of the book is the most swiftly paced and engrossing With good storytelling ability, combined with keen analysis, Clark takes you through the arrest and trial of Gavrilo Princip and his accomplices the Austro Hungarian ultimatum and the Serbian response As Clark promised at the beginning, he shies away from a mechanical view of the war s outbreak There is not a lot of talk of mobilization timetables, which usually get a lot of play in books about the July Crisis Certainly, the time it took for a country to prepare its army was an important factor But Clark isinterested in why the decision makers felt the need to mobilize at all The various alliances and treaties, after all, were not death pacts Even as events began to unfold, somebody could ve stepped up and said, Hey, should we maybe not go to war over this One thing I ve definitely learned in spending the last year and a half reading about World War I No matter how often you hear the story, it never fails to amaze How an assassination that engendered international sympathy for Austria Hungary could end within a month s time with most of the world save Germany at war with Austria Hungary How a murder of an unloved heir in a Balkan backwater could set the world on fire It is impossible not to try to pin the blame on this bloody mess on a single country Post World War II, it s almost reflexive to fault Germany, who launched an offensive through Belgium Indeed, it often seems like we view World War I era Germany with the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 40s Austria Hungary is also one of the usual suspects, since she handed Serbia an ultimatum that Serbia had to reject However, as Clark notes, there was plenty of blame to go around For instance, France and Russia, two of the world s great powers, oddly decided to bind their fates to that of a violent and turbulent Serbia In hindsight, that s maybe not a great idea In the end, it s hard not to reduce the complexities to a rather simple notion That after years of jockeying for position and forming alliances, the leaders and decision makers of the various countries wanted to go to war, to settle things for once and all

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