The War That Ended Peace:
A Commentary

MacMillanI try not to review books published recently because I have no wish to compete with professional reviewers, especially reviewers who are established historians in their own right and who can therefore comment on the material much more authoritatively than I ever could.

But Margaret MacMillan's book (See full citation below) was given to me by a good friend, and so I took advantage of a recent two-week vacation to read it through. It is definitely a "tome", but one that is very readable.

I am also conscious that in August 2014 I reviewed another book on roughly the same topic (George Malcolm Thomson: "The Twelve Days"), and I do not want to belabour the subject.

But the two books are different. Thomson focused on the twelve days, 25 July to 04 August 1914, while MacMillan's focus is the roughly twenty years before 1914, and really shows that there was no single event that triggered, or caused, the First World War. As she points out, a lot of people were genuinely caught off guard when, after years of threats and posturing, war finally broke out.

But my reason for bringing this commentary forward now is that, as I read through the book, I could not avoid an uneasy feeling of "déjà vu". The modern day is not a mirror image of those years over a century ago but, as the memories of the wars fought in the first half of the last century start to fade, I sense the same complacency and perhaps selfishness that were prevalent 120 years ago. Then, national "prestige" and "honour" were very important, never mind that the price for such lofty feelings was going to paid with the blood of "common" soldiers.

To her credit, MacMillan is not shy about pointing out some of these parallels.

But what really scares me is that there are apparently people in this world, Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un, for example, who seem quite happy making public threats that could conceivably lead to a catastrophe much worse than WW1. WW1 did not end with the Atomic Bomb; we had to wait for WW2 to get a taste of that horror.

There is a very old well-known proverb: "Those who refuse to learn from history are forced to relive it." That is why this book is, in my view, so important.

“The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914”
Margaret MacMillan
Penguin 2013
ISBN 978-0-14-317360

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