Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sleepwalking into war

The New York Times has a very interesting review of two books that are indispensable to our understanding of why war broke out in 1914: Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914 and Sean McKeekin's  July 1914: Countdown to War. I hope both books get the publicity they deserve in the run-up to the commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Towards 1914: 2 (1905-14)

The first Moroccan crisis
The Entente had not been aimed at Germany, but it created problems for German policy makers. In March 1905 Wilhelm II made a deliberate attempt to break it. He paid a state visit to Tangier in which he made a speech emphasizing Germany’s commercial interests in Morocco and the importance of maintaining the independence of its Sultan. This was diplomatic bluster on Wilhelm’s part. Germany had no economic interests in Morocco and certainly did not want war. But it caused French and British diplomats to discuss the military possibilities of the Entente in the event of a war with Germany. The immediate outcome was the resignation of the French Foreign Minister, Delcassé, in June, 1905.

Germany succeeded in having an international conference called at Algeciras in 1906.
The conference confirmed the integrity of the sultan's domains but sanctioned French and Spanish policing of Moroccan ports and collection of the customs dues. There was now no hope of a Franco-German rapprochement and the Anglo-French entente was solidified. The crisis revealed to British statesmen the importance of France and was the effectual end of the policy of isolation. It also revealed Germany’s isolation, with only Austria-Hungary supporting its position.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The history of the telegraph

The European telegraph network, 1856
Having been forced to reveal a rather embarrassing ignorance about the history of the electric telegraph and the technology behind it, I'm delighted to have received information about this blog, which provides a very comprehensive history. Thanks, Jeremy.

The British telegraph network, 1852

Thursday, 7 March 2013

French commemorative coins

I've been shown a couple of very interesting coins commemorating the storming of the Bastille and Napoleon's victory over the Austrians at Marengo on 14 June 1800. Thanks, Alistair!
The standard, highly stylized, representation
 of the storming of the Bastille

Napoleon's victory at Marengo, showing his office
 of First Consul and the date in the revolutionary
 calendar 925 Prairial, Year VIII), then still in force

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Towards 1914: 1 (1894-1904)

'The All-Highest'; Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)

The Dual Entente
The idea of a Franco-Russian alliance was not new as it had been advocated by panslavists and French nationalists, but it remained insignificant so long as Bismarck nursed Russia and encouraged French expansion overseas. As Russo-German relations cooled, the Reinsurance Treaty was allowed to lapse.

This did not mean an alliance was inevitable as there was considerable dislike in Russia of France’s republican constitution. However, the two powers were becoming increasingly close economically and hostile to what they saw as Britain’s expansionism.

In July 1891 the French fleet paid a symbolic visit to Kronstadt and diplomatic notes were exchanged. In August 1892 Russia promised to go to war if France were attacked by Germany alone and in return France promised to come to Russia’s help if she were attached by Germany (but not if she were attacked by Austria-Hungary). This agreement was full of significance for the future: Europe was now on the way to being organized into two armed camps. At the end of 1893 a diplomatic convention was signed (and ratified in 1894) to reinforce the military one. In 1894 Nicholas II paid a state visit to Paris. So secret was this alliance that the public did not become aware of it until 1897 and most French ministers did not know its precise terms until war broke out.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Towards 1914: Bismarck's Europe

For the complicated politics of the European alliances before 1914, I have been especially indebted to J. M. Roberts Europe 1880-1945, 2nd edition (Longman, 1989) and to Michael Rapport, Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005).

'In the approach to the outbreak of the First World War, four factors were crucial: first, the ambitions and strategies of the great powers; second, the system of alliances, the danger of which was less to drag allies into the abyss than to make them concerned lest their opposite numbers renege on their commitments at the last moment; third, the balance of power in the decision-making process between military men and civilian politicians; last, the pressure of both nationalist and socialist anti-militaristic opinion, and the opportunity offered by the war to achieve the ultimate in national integration'. Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, 3rd edn. (Oxford, 2003), 429.

Between the Berlin Congress of 1878 and 1900 the Concert of Europe in effect came to an end as new occasions of conflict arose.

The condition of the military
Among the great powers of 1880 only Britain was not a land power. To continental countries armies were more important than navies. Military thinking was still obsessed with the idea of winning a decisive battle soon after the outbreak of war. It was assumed that wars would be short (as they had been in 1866 and 1870) and the five year experience of the American Civil War was discounted.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Feminism, socialism, anarchism

For this post I have used Michael Rapport's Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005) and A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century History, ed. John Belchem and Richard Price (Penguin, 1994). I have found the latter a very useful work of reference though the entry on Bismarck is disappointingly short.

The nineteenth century saw the advancement of political rights for men but the emancipation of women was hampered by the doctrine of separate spheres and by the double standard of sexual morality. This was attacked in John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), the key feminist text of the 19th century.

However, in many parts of Europe women gained more rights in the family. The Custody of Infants Act in Britain (1839) allowed a separated wife to claim custody of a child under seven. From 1857 women in England and Wales were allowed to divorce their husbands, though not for adultery alone. From 1870 a series of Married Women’s Property Acts recognized the independent legal existence of married women. Similar laws were passed in France and Germany. From 1912 French women were able to sue fathers for financial support.