There was an interesting review by Joe Haines in Tribune of a book by David Owen on the medical and mental state of the political leaders who took Britain to war in 1914. The implication of the book and the review was that Britain could have stayed out of the conflict much as many argue that we can opt out of the EU.
Below a letter published in Tribune 13th June
I enjoyed Joe Haines’ review of what is clearly a important book on how Britain might have stayed out of the First World War written by David Owen and published by the excellent Haus outfit, one of our nimbler, creative independent publishers.(Tribune 16 May)
But are David Owen and Joe Haines seriously arguing that Britain should have stayed neutral and come to an understanding over Germany’s territorial ambitions as Hitler hoped we would do 25 years later? For five centuries Britain has had sadly to send soldiers to fight and die on the continent because to allow a single power, faith or ideology utterly to dominate Europe, as Wilhelmine Germany would have done if Britain had betrayed France and Belgium in 1914, would have crushed protestant, trading, liberal, parliamentarian England.
The Royal Navy did indeed blockade and stop Atlantic trade with Germany but it made little difference.
The idea that better diplomacy would have persuaded Russia not to back Serbia or Germany not to back Austria is silly. Today, our leaders were incapable of stopping a decade long war in the Balkans and thousands have been killed or injured in pointless conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan while David Cameron and William Hague were keen to bomb Syria to help jihadis win control of government there. Our diplomacy has been unable to stop Russian annexing part of an independent UN sovereign state or occupying and create puppet statelets in Georgia.
There is one bright light in this glum story. Joe Haines and David Owen were able to live in peace and become prosperous because the survivors of World War One who came to power after 1945 created Nato and the European Union and so despite similar tensions, hates, territorial disputes, and open violent conflicts the integration and construction of Europe has prevented another 1914 or 1939. It is strange that so many want to destroy that achievement and return to disputatious, egoistical nations as the main organising project for peoples in Europe.
Joe Haines seems to be concerned that Asquith drank too much. So did Churchill and John Smith as George Foulkes gently says in his column on our lost leader. Better a squiffy Asquith and pissed Churchill than a teetotal Hitler or George W Bush. Come to think of it, has anyone seen Putin with a glass of chilled vodka in his hand?