100 years since Britain declared war on Germany Watch

Numberwang
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As we mark the centenary of World War I being declared, should Britain have entered World War I?

Niall Ferguson has long argued that Britain should not have declared war on Germany.

What would the world look like today without the First World War? Was Germany (or Serbia) the root cause or was it one of those 'inevitable' moments in history?

Were any lessons learned, and can we learn lessons from WWI today? Any interesting family stories welcome, too
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SilverAlex
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The War was a catastrophe, and amongst other things was the point at which this country stopped being a creditor and became a debtor. We went from being perhaps the wealthiest country in the world to a power on the decline.
Without British intervention the war would have likely been a very short conflict. France and Russia would have lost some prestige, a few thousand men and the Balkans would have fallen under Austrian/Germanic control.
Our intervention created one of the most violent, bloodiest and most pointless wars the world has ever seen. We funded the French and Italian war machine at great cost which ultimately led to reliance on the USA. It meant the war did not finish quickly and the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsar in Russia, creating a terrifying state that would be at the forefront of world politics for a hundred years.
British intervention and the treaty of Versailles led to World War II (which we also effectively made a hundred times bloodier), millions of deaths and the ultimate demise of the British Empire.

As for what the world would look like today, we will never know. I'm not even going to try and guess.
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ageshallnot
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(Original post by SilverAlex)
The War was a catastrophe, and amongst other things was the point at which this country stopped being a creditor and became a debtor. We went from being perhaps the wealthiest country in the world to a power on the decline.
Without British intervention the war would have likely been a very short conflict. France and Russia would have lost some prestige, a few thousand men and the Balkans would have fallen under Austrian/Germanic control.
Our intervention created one of the most violent, bloodiest and most pointless wars the world has ever seen. We funded the French and Italian war machine at great cost which ultimately led to reliance on the USA. It meant the war did not finish quickly and the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsar in Russia, creating a terrifying state that would be at the forefront of world politics for a hundred years.
British intervention and the treaty of Versailles led to World War II (which we also effectively made a hundred times bloodier), millions of deaths and the ultimate demise of the British Empire.

As for what the world would look like today, we will never know. I'm not even going to try and guess.
On the other hand...

Britain was already in long-term economic decline - from a peak in the 1870s - long before war broke out in 1914. I'm not denying that WWI was a brutal shock to our economic and financial standing, but the future was definitely much darker than the impression given in the glittering Edwardian era.

When you say that without Britain the conflict would have been very short, you are obviously concluding that there would have been a speedy, decisive German victory on both fronts. In general, I concur. However, I disagree with you conclusions about the consequences of such an outcome.

German war aims in the West, as laid down by Bethmann-Hollweg after the war began, included loss of French territory, Belgium becoming a client state, no French trade with Britain and a challenge to British colonial power in Africa. The consequences for Britain would not have been minor. Although this has generally been interpreted as a 'wish list', Germany had a track record of imposing harsh peace terms when victorious.

After defeating France in 1870, Germany took Alsace-Lorraine and imposed a heavy war indemnity. Similarly, after Russia sued for peace Germany again imposed harsh terms in 1918, including massive loss of territory and a large indemnity.

It is therefore hard to accept that the only consequences of a decisive German victory would have been as benign as you state.
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SilverAlex
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(Original post by ageshallnot)
On the other hand...

Britain was already in long-term economic decline - from a peak in the 1870s - long before war broke out in 1914. I'm not denying that WWI was a brutal shock to our economic and financial standing, but the future was definitely much darker than the impression given in the glittering Edwardian era.

When you say that without Britain the conflict would have been very short, you are obviously concluding that there would have been a speedy, decisive German victory on both fronts. In general, I concur. However, I disagree with you conclusions about the consequences of such an outcome.

German war aims in the West, as laid down by Bethmann-Hollweg after the war began, included loss of French territory, Belgium becoming a client state, no French trade with Britain and a challenge to British colonial power in Africa. The consequences for Britain would not have been minor. Although this has generally been interpreted as a 'wish list', Germany had a track record of imposing harsh peace terms when victorious.

After defeating France in 1870, Germany took Alsace-Lorraine and imposed a heavy war indemnity. Similarly, after Russia sued for peace Germany again imposed harsh terms in 1918, including massive loss of territory and a large indemnity.

It is therefore hard to accept that the only consequences of a decisive German victory would have been as benign as you state.
I thing Britain being on the decline is a bit of an overstatement, we had a period of light de-industrialisation but were still the second wealthiest
power even by 1938 in terms of gross GDP and GDP per capita. The problem was after World War I we were massively indebted and stretched too thin after acquiring German territory.

Still, our intervention wasn't worth it. We ensured the collapse of Tsarist Russia, the creation of Nazi Germany and saved a bit of French clay (that would be taken in two weeks during world war II).
We gained nothing from either wars. Our ancestors died brave men, at the behest of fools.
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ageshallnot
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(Original post by SilverAlex)
I thing Britain being on the decline is a bit of an overstatement, we had a period of light de-industrialisation but were still the second wealthiest
power even by 1938 in terms of gross GDP and GDP per capita. The problem was after World War I we were massively indebted and stretched too thin after acquiring German territory.

Still, our intervention wasn't worth it. We ensured the collapse of Tsarist Russia, the creation of Nazi Germany and saved a bit of French clay (that would be taken in two weeks during world war II).
We gained nothing from either wars. Our ancestors died brave men, at the behest of fools.
We acquired very little German territory after the war.

Don't you think that you are being rather too deterministic with your judgement on the fate of Tsarist Russia and Germany? The collapse of the former was due to more factors than becoming embroiled in a long war. Similarly, the creation of Nazi Germany was by no means inevitable after defeat in 1918.

I agree we gained nothing and many men died, though by no means all the generals and other leaders were fools.

I assume you have read Niall Ferguson's works?
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