1918: War and Peace

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In 1918, renowned historian Gregor Dallas traces the transition from war to peace across Europe. In Berlin, the cabarets and beer halls are open while there is still shooting in the streets. In Paris, the peacemakers have assembled to draft the Treaty of Versailles and create the League of Nations. Washington is divided between those who want to open America to the world and those who would prefer the world to go away. A new theater season opens in London, where David Lloyd George holds new elections and ...
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Overview

In 1918, renowned historian Gregor Dallas traces the transition from war to peace across Europe. In Berlin, the cabarets and beer halls are open while there is still shooting in the streets. In Paris, the peacemakers have assembled to draft the Treaty of Versailles and create the League of Nations. Washington is divided between those who want to open America to the world and those who would prefer the world to go away. A new theater season opens in London, where David Lloyd George holds new elections and reorganizes the War Cabinet and John Maynard Keynes worries about the debt. Moscow, still reeling from the Revolution of 1917, is a scene of desolation, but Lenin insists on setting up the Third International. The face of Europe was changed forever and the consequences of the peace in that autumn of 1918 would bear fruit twenty years later-when new horrors would await the next generation.

This is a magisterial and compelling study in which Gregor Dallas weaves politics, ideas, social life, fears, and aspirations into a superb reconstruction of one of the great turning points in twentieth-century history.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
On a chilly night in November 1918, French troops, their eyes peeled for surprise attacks, spotted something fluttering in the foggy air of no-man's-land. It was a white flag, signaling the end of the Great War, a four-year conflict that had turned much of Europe into a gaping cemetery. Historian Gregor Dallas, author of the engaging The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo, traces the transition from war to peace from the perspective of five capitals: Berlin, Paris, London, Moscow, and Washington. This ambitious narrative device sets the developing tensions of the postwar world in sharp relief.
National Review
Tells the story of the war’s end in rich anecdotal detail.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dallas (The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo) provides a meticulously detailed and intensive study of the years 1918-1919, when the Great War ended and the victors formulated a peace intended to resolve, once and for all, the underlying causes of the world's conflicts. In this, of course, the Allied leaders failed more completely than even the most pessimistic among them could have imagined. Dallas shows us how this failure arose from the irreconcilable objectives of the prevailing nations, from the mutual incomprehension of Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Wilson and from sheer lack of critical information. Germany had decisively lost the war, yet refused to acknowledge that fact even as it collapsed into political chaos. England and France clashed over reparations and over a military guarantee against future German aggression. For the United States, Wilson focused on vaporous abstractions at the expense of fact-based policy. In the East, Russia's war with itself and with Poland was just hitting stride. Dallas's strengths in his account of these pivotal years include his recognition of how geography influenced both the war's endgame and the fashioning of peace and his adroit sketches of the leading players at the peace conference. In addition to that of the heads of state, the author captures the work of the economists and administrators, such as John Maynard Keynes, Herbert Hoover and, from Germany, Walter Rathenau. These and so many others worked themselves to exhaustion to formulate peace, but, as Dallas demonstrates, chaos, bitterness and contradictory demands from all sides made a lasting peace impossible, and another war inevitable. Illus. (May 24) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Although numerous studies focus on the origins, course, and consequences of World War I, few examine the process of how the war ended. Dallas, an independent scholar living in France and author of 1815: Roads to Waterloo, analyzes how peace broke out in 1918. The strength of Dallas's narration is that he compares events and people in Berlin, Paris, London, Washington, DC, and Moscow. By analyzing how the ceasefire was arranged, who the major participants were, and how the general population learned about the armistice, we gain insight into the lingering bitterness of the peace and interwar years. Unfortunately, the comparative approach sometimes leads to oversimplification. For example, in his discussion of Britain's continental commitment, Dallas does not apparently make use of the work of Michael Howard, preferring instead to focus on the old axioms of naval power. Dallas also makes some factual errors Emperor Karl was not Franz Joseph's grandson, Bryn Mawr College is not in Connecticut that detract from his narrative. Despite this the book is well written and will interest a wide audience. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping, swirling history of the end of WWI and the ensuing struggle for peace—and of the inadvertent and ineluctable construction of the foundation of WWII. Dallas (The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo, 1997, etc.), born in London, educated at Berkeley, and now residing in France, is uniquely fit for this daunting task: He knows the languages, has explored the trenches, and has read the relevant published and archival documents. Consistent with his belief that history is local, he focuses on the geography of the north of western Europe, reminding us that "it is one large open plain. Europe's history is constructed on that fact." He begins his story as the war is ending. The US—despite its peculiar, disobliging insistence on keeping its forces independent—has finally arrived and, despite some initial failures, has provided the decisive boost in manpower and morale. Dallas crisply describes the military maneuvers that forced the German capitulation—and does not neglect the sanguinary details: "Horrors that would have been incredible to anyone before 1914 were the daily dose for soldiers on the front in 1918." He deftly shifts venues—London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Washington—letting us know what is happening and sketching portraits of many of the principal players, pointing his finger to events of significance not just in the geopolitical struggle but in the smaller, human ones as well. Thus, we watch the young poet Wilfred Owen fall during the final days; we see Lincoln Steffens interview Lenin. Still, it's the leaders whose stories grip us. Woodrow Wilson's myopic insistence on placing his League of Nations at the top of the armistice agenda,Lloyd George's physical agitation before he rose to speak, Clemenceau's determination to remain at work after surviving an assassin's bullet. And—most amazing—the Germans' refusal to acknowledge that they had even lost the war. Popular history at its best: a narrative with attitude—thoroughly researched, gracefully written. Possibly a classic. (62 b&w photographs, 4 maps)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585671571
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 4/19/2001
  • Pages: 620
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 2.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregor Dallas was born in London, received his university education at the University of California at Berkley, and now lives in France. He is also the author of 1815: Roads to Waterloo, about the establishment of peace in Europe at the end of the Napeolonic Wars.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Beginnings

* * *


1

Soldiers on the front believed in phantoms. They had been seen in the march up the line — fleeting, jeering spectres, weird sisters, their leathery faces grinning like gargoyles. They had appeared in the wastelands where no man trod — bearded bandits shambling in rags; ghosts who pillaged corpses and stole food and drink. They had been noticed at the quiet of dawn, old comrades who wanted to talk — for they had hardly been dead a year. Visions and shadows like these did not surprise men who had been forced to watch their friends die. Every rank of every nation had witnessed the same thing. Weren't angels seen protecting British forces in their retreat from Mons? Couldn't lucky coins, buttons, dried flowers and hair cuttings deflect the power of bullets and shells? Hadn't it been predicted that, when the leaning gilt Virgin on top of the ruined church tower of Albert eventually tumbled, the Great War would end? She came crashing to the ground — amid an explosion of smoke — in that last year of fighting, 1918.

    Even today in a late autumn evening the road from La Capelle to Rocquigny, some seven or eight miles west of the French-Belgian border, has the look of a haunted corridor. On the night of 7 November 1918 it carried no traffic, and emitted no sound. Clouds of vapour rose from the sodden soil where the men of the French 171st Infantry Regiment lay waiting.

    They had taken La Capelle that morning and had been preparing to pursue the enemy whenCommandant de Bourbon-Busset — a trimly dressed count with a drop of royalty in his blood — had driven in from First Army Headquarters at Homblières with the astonishing order to suspend fire and simply hold their positions. The front line at that moment ran through the hamlet of Haudroy, just east of La Capelle. The pock-marked road had a slight bend in it, and what lay beyond a shadow of distant ruined houses, still in German hands, was unknown. A broken wooden signpost at the crossroads bore French village names in Gothic script; there was a gaping hole at the corner where a mine had exploded a few hours earlier, scattering across the fields the limbs of the poor devils who had stepped on it. Now silence. And a fog that typified the whole war.

    A halo of light arose from one side of the wrecked buildings. There was the blare of a lonely trumpet, intermittent, like a ship's horn in the night. Gradually the air filled with the rumble of engines. The first thing the French soldiers could make out in the night was a flapping sheet of white linen.

    On its approach they could see it flew from a pole fixed to the running-board of a Mercedes open tourer — cream yellow with German imperial eagles emblazoned on its doors. It slowly drew to a halt before Captain Lhuillier, company commander, now standing in the centre of the road. Four other vehicles — one high-backed saloon and the rest tourers also equipped with white flags — pulled up behind.

    The silhouettes of several men could be seen through the beaming headlights as they descended from their cars. One of them — a tall, pale-faced man in a neat grey uniform — clicked his heels, made a short bow and said in perfect French, `General von Winterfeldt, of the parliamentarians' mission.' `Captain Lhuillier, front-line batallion commander,' the twenty-five-year-old French officer responded without as much as a nod. In the artificial glare one could notice, sure enough, that his coat was covered with the white mud of the Thiérache.

    `Please excuse me, Captain, for being so late,' continued the General, who had been expected by First Army Headquarters several hours earlier. `It was because of the bad state of the roads. I wonder if I may make some introductions?'

    `No, General,' the Captain crisply replied, `I am not in a position to receive you officially. Please return to your cars and follow me and I will introduce you to our forward command.' He immediately turned round to face his troops, who had risen like the dragon's teeth of Cadmus from the ground. As the five motors revved up, Captain Lhuillier jumped up on the running-board of the first car to give directions. Progress was slow as inquisitive soldiers crowded around to catch a glimpse of these strange visitors from beyond the line. Corporal Pierre Sellier, who had served throughout the war, was ordered to join the first car and play on his bugle a refrain that had not been heard in over four years — le cessez-le-feu, the ceasefire.

    Commandant de Bourbon-Busset had in the meantime set up temporary headquarters in a red-brick villa on the other side of La Capelle. He had arrived there at nine o'clock that morning to find hot chocolate and buttered rolls which a German division command had generously left behind barely an hour before; the sign `Kommandatur' remained tied to the iron railing above the front porch for the remainder of the day. Bourbon-Busset, surrounded by officers, was standing on the steps as the five German Mercedes rolled into the driveway. The delegates got out and General von Winterfeldt, after presenting himself, introduced Bourbon-Busset to three other men: `Son Excellence Erzberger', Secretary of State and head of the mission, a small frock-coated figure with a stiff black bowler hat; Ambassador Count von Oberndorff, also in civilian dress; and Captain Vanselow, whose uniform with golden braid descending to his cuffs indicated that he was here to represent the German Admiralty and the High Seas Fleet. Bourbon-Busset invited them to enter the villa.

    They walked past a billiard table, requisitioned during the German occupation, to a long brightly lit conference room dominated by a portrait of Emperor Napoleon in his green chasseur uniform. `Now the scene', ran the Army's official report of the events, `really had an air of grandeur.'

    Bourbon-Busset's attitude was cold but correct. `Excellency,' he pronounced the word slowly, `I must first clear up a misunderstanding.' The German delegates were almost certainly already aware of the problem. Earlier that day German troops in this sector had attempted to fraternize with the French. `Kameraden! Kameraden!' they had shouted across the line (though this had, in a few cases, been followed up with the burst of machine-gun fire), `Die guerre ist fini!' A German officer and five soldiers had actually presented themselves at a French outpost claiming that they wanted to say `bon jour' to their French Kamaraden; they were promptly arrested and sent to the rear as prisoners of war.

    `We've received several parliamentarians from a German division', continued Bourbon-Busset, `saying that they believed an armistice had already been signed.' He paused. `It is of course agreed that military operations shall continue.'

    The German delegates nodded. `This is an error on the part of the division,' confirmed Winterfeldt.

    It was agreed that the delegates would leave their own cars where they were parked in the driveway and be driven by the French to an undisclosed destination where a meeting with the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, Marshal Foch, would take place. Bourbon-Busset, disconcerted by the way Erzberger kept on pronouncing the Marshal's name with a hard German `ch', pointed out that the name was `Fosh' and was Breton in origin.

    It was by now around midnight. A crowd of civilians had assembled in the driveway. As the delegates emerged there were cries of `Vive la France!' while a few mockingly cried out `Nach Paris!' None of the delegates thought this very funny.

    The temporary ceasefire had apparently already ended. Not far away rockets were throwing flares into the night sky, creating periodically an eerie red glow. A journalist attempted to take a photograph, but his magnesium lighting failed. Some accounts say it was pouring with rain; Erzberger remembered a gloomy moon. Visibility must have been poor. The small procession of cars had not got far out of La Capelle when brakes were suddenly applied; Bourbon-Busset and Erzberger, in the first of the cars, were both thrown out of their seats. Erzberger's stiff bowler was dented. They had nearly collided with an abandoned German cannon: two dead horses could be seen lying to the side of the road.

    The jagged shape of broken walls could be made out in the headlights as they drove through Guise, which the French had entered only two days before; the cars swerved from left to right to avoid white heaps of rubble or the occasional black pit of a bomb crater. Near Saint-Quentin they stopped at the small vicarage of Homblières where General Debeney, commander of the French First Army, had set up headquarters; it was one of the few houses still standing. In the bare dining room the delegation supped; then, after a brief meeting with the General, they continued their journey into the night.

    At about 4 a.m. they arrived at a railway station. `But there are no buildings here,' said Erzberger, astonished.

    `Yet this was once a busy town,' replied Bourbon-Busset.

    Tergnier was one of those strategic railway junctions for which thousands had given their lives. What had not been destroyed during the fighting had been dynamited by the Germans in their retreat. The delegates clambered across broken brick and stone, past girders and rails curling up into the night's haze like antediluvian reptiles, to a torchlit platform where a French rifle company saluted them and a train with two carriages awaited. The window curtains had been firmly shut.

    For three hours the German `parliamentarians' mission' were rattled across unknown country while they sipped French brandy; no one felt like sleeping. Eventually, at about 7 a.m., their engine shuddered to a halt and let out one last long gasp of steam. Matthias Erzberger daringly lifted the corner of a curtain to discover trees shrouded in mist, a railway wagon on a parallel line about a hundred yards distant and duckboards laid out for the walk.

    `Where are we?' he asked.


2

The first step on Erzberger's long road to that forest clearing had been taken under the sun of August 1914, when seven German armies swept through neutral Belgium and Luxembourg into the northern plains of France. It was the largest armed force yet assembled in the history of the world: one and a half million men equipped with breech-loading rifles and machine-guns, in the company of heavy howitzers, bulbous siege guns, 38 airships and 800 light aircraft.

    France had just elected the most pacific parliament in a generation; the President of the Republic and his Prime Minister were on a state visit to St Petersburg when the crisis broke. Britain's government and parliament were likewise populated by men for whom the whole idea of war was, anathema and who were deeply suspicious of militarism and Continental involvement; the government was still discussing the parish borders of Fermanagh and Tyrone in northern Ireland in late July.

    There can be no doubt about it: Germany had placed herself hopelessly in the wrong and the government of the day admitted it. `Our invasion of Belgium', said the Chancellor, Theobold von Bethmann Hollweg, to the deputies of the Reichstag on 4 August 1914, `is contrary to international law, but the wrong — I speak openly — that we are committing we will make good as soon as our military goal has been reached.'

    Matthias Erzberger, as leader of the Catholic Centre Party and parliamentary reporter of the Military Affairs Committee, had become one of the Chancellor's closest associates and gave the deputies the same message. A month later he was writing to the Minister of War, `Don't worry about undermining the rights of peoples or violating the laws of humanity. Such sentiments are now of secondary importance.' Or, as he put it publicly in an article in Der Tag, `If one could find the means of entirely destroying the town of London it would be more humane than letting the blood of a single German soldier flow on the field of battle. Sentimental weakness during war is the most unforgivable stupidity.' The idea was simple: get the dirty business done as quickly as possible and then worry about human rights and international law.

    One hundred years earlier France's Foreign Minister at the Congress of Vienna, the prince de Talleyrand, had warned of a special kind of revolutionary ferment that could one day reign in Germany. He had called it German Jacobinism. German Jacobinism, he had said, would develop there `not like in France in the middle and lower classes, but among the wealthiest and highest placed nobles'. In fact it followed a long and complicated route, but Talleyrand was basically right. By 1914 the 'German Jacobins' were ready for their 1789, when German ideas, German science, German culture — and German armies — would burst beyond their national limits and radicalize the course of world history. The assumption was that, just as invaded Germany in the 1790s had provided no effective resistance to the French, now France would fall before the Reich's massive, violent, revolutionary waves of field grey. But France fought back.

    Long after the war had ended — over four years later — historians and writers, people with the noblest of intentions, sought to achieve a `balanced' view of the appalling attitudes that had developed in Germany. They ascribed them to `historical conditions' that could be compared with those in any other nation — to racism and nationalism, to Social Darwinism, to capitalism or its opposite, the persistence of a `feudal-value system', to the arms race, to commercial rivalry, to imperialism and, more recently, to masculine sociability — and they produced a picture of something inevitable, fatal, a situation which gave the statesmen and the military leaders in Germany no room for manoeuvre.

    No room for manoeuvre: that sense of Germany being hemmed in actually dominated thought at the time. It was what would lead Max Weber, one of the founders of modern sociology and one of the most humane spirits of the century, to write in 1916, the year of the Somme and of Verdun, `Had we not been prepared to risk this war, then we should never have bothered to found the Reich and should have continued to exist as a nation of small states.' The tiny Central European princedoms, electorates, kingdoms and archbishoprics of Napoleon's day had forged themselves into a nation, and were now marching on the rest of Europe to prove it. It was as if the only way in which Germany could establish the freedom of national expression was by shedding blood.

    Prince Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor, had worried about this in 1815, when `Germany' was still a collection of small states, and it was why he had opposed Prussian plans for a new, centralized Reich. Ironically, a descendant of his, a certain Count Metternich, was the ambassador in London of just such a Reich shortly before the war broke out. In the summer of 1911 he invited to dinner his old friend Winston Churchill, who was then Britain's Home Secretary.

    It was Churchill who started the conversation by saying what a pity it was that in 1871 the Reich's first Chancellor, Bismarck, had allowed himself to be forced by his soldiers into taking Lorraine; Alsace-Lorraine lay at the root of all the rival alliances. Metternich replied that Alsace and Lorraine had been German provinces until Louis XIV had, in the seventeenth century, `pranced over the frontier and seized them'. Perhaps, remarked Churchill, but their `sympathies were French'. Metternich said they were `mixed'. Churchill responded that the Alsatian problem anyhow kept antagonism in Europe alive; `France could never forget her lost provinces, and they never ceased to call her.'

    That led directly to a discussion of the formation of rival alliances in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the problem of Germany's lack of room for manoeuvre. Metternich complained that `people' — he meant the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia — `were trying to ring Germany round and put her in a net, and that she was a strong animal to put in a net'.

    Churchill thought this an odd thing to say about a nation that had two first-class powers as allies, Austria-Hungary and Italy, and added that Britain had for a long time been alone `without getting flustered'. Metternich said it was a very different business for an island. When `you had been marched through and pillaged and oppressed so often' — though the last to do this was Napoleon, a hundred years earlier — and `only the breasts of your soldiers' provided the barrier to invasion, `it ate into your soul'.

    Churchill registered little concern about Germany's `soul', but he did remark that `Germany was frightened of nobody, and that everybody was frightened of her'.

* * *

One can be, as people frequently were at the time, overly abstract about national souls and historical processes. The whole problem was in fact geographical, and could be explained with an atlas.

    Europe is not a continent but a peninsula jutting westward out of mainland Asia. Its south is bordered by a barrier of mountains; but across the entire northern flank there stretches, from the Pyrenees in France to the Urals of Russia, one huge open plain. Europe's history is constructed on that fact.

    The northern plain had been created by an ancient geological struggle between earth and water. Long ago trees had dominated the landscape; then, for a few million years, it had been the turn of swamp; then the sea had swept in, until finally it withdrew. It was a delicate game of nature; the frontier between land and water was never certain. Every age left its deposit.

     In the last twenty thousand years men had marched over the plain; practically every native of Europe could trace his ancestry to the people who crossed its flat surface. They had travelled chiefly in armies, but there were trading routes, too. The cultivation of the plain's soils was based on ideas imported from the East, not Rome. For well over a millennium nature's struggle between land and water provided energy (wind and running streams) for human industry; then man dug beneath the fertile loam to discover the remains of the ancient forest — coal.

    So, Europe's wealth lay on an industrial belt built on an agricultural belt which followed the route of old armies.


French troops marching east of industrial Nancy in August 1914 noticed a stone marker by the side of the road: `Here in the year 362 Jovinus defeated the Teutonic hordes.' Soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force at Mons could recall Marlborough's victory over Louis XIV's Army at nearby Malplaquet. Germans moving out of Aachen into Belgium must have thought of Blücher's advance before and after Waterloo; French-speakers in the area still called rabid dogs `Blüchers'. The Europe that went to war in 1914 was an old world governed by an old system of armed might and diplomacy.

    But how life on the plain had been altered by the energy of coal, the temper of iron and the marriage of agriculture with industry in the century since Blücher's terrifying march on Paris! More goods, more wealth, more people. Growth dominated every aspect of existence, from its most banal, material forms like food and clothing to the most abstract realms of thought in science and philosophy. All were guided by the same recurring theme: progress.

    And yet, in every area, that sense of expansion was accompanied by the opposite: a confinement, a restriction. This place of limitless horizons had, paradoxically, fixed frontiers. Local identity, pride — and hatred — had never been stronger. Henry Cochin, an administrator from one of the French departments under German occupation during the war years, referred to this in a speech he made in Paris in 1917 when he said, `We are a frontier. But what kind of frontier? Nothing really marks it. It is drawn on a map. It is not a creation of nature. This makes it only the stronger and the more real. It is marked in our hearts.' Though he was speaking of northern France in the war, Cochin's words could have pronounced by anyone of his generation about the frontiers that criss-crossed the map of Europe's vast plain. The lines were drawn in men's hearts.

    If there was a single reason why Germany felt like a strong animal put in a net it was that the country, with a rate of economic growth comparable to the island of Japan and the isolated United States, was placed right in the middle of this European plain. `The German race brings it,' the nationalist Friedrich Naumann had propounded before the war. `It brings army, navy, money and power' in a way made possible when `an active people feels the spring-time juices in its organs'. And they brought `it' with all the subtlety of an angry adolescent: Germany lost every friend she had in Europe, besides Austria-Hungary, thanks to her inept diplomacy with the people whose frontiers she shared.


After the creation of the Reich in 1871, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had declared his intention of securing peace to construct a `solid house'; he had assured his neighbours that, as a `saturated power', Germany no longer sought territorial aggrandizement. Germans, like Count Metternich or Matthias Erzberger, would later argue that it was the formation of peacetime military alliances that put a ring round Germany and led, with the mechanical inevitability of a clock, to war in 1914. But it was Bismarck himself who created the first of the peacetime military alliances in Europe. It was formed between Germany and Austria-Hungary with the aim of controlling Vienna's foreign policy. In 1883 Bismarck extended the alliance to include Italy.

    France and Russia were then faced, despite all the professions of peace, with a formidable military coalition led by the most powerful country in Europe. Bismarck even attempted to re-cement relations with Prussia's old ally Russia through a Reinsurance Treaty in 1887. Thus the larger part of Europe — the plain and the mountains from the Urals to the Rhine, and from the Baltic to the Adriatic — fell within Berlin's sphere of influence. The system of a `balance of powers', which had maintained the general peace since the Congress of Vienna of 1815, no longer existed.

    After Bismarck's forced resignation in 1890, Germany, formerly so dependent on the policy of one man, lost her sense of orientation. She threw caution to the wind. One heard no soothing voice now of her `saturated power'. Germany began to seek a `place in the sun', but without method and without a thought as to how her neighbours might react.

    This was due to a breakdown, in Berlin, of collective government responsibility. While the Reichstag (the lower house of Germany's parliament) amused itself with long political debate, each department and every interest group pursued its own private aims unchecked. Nothing closely resembled the British Cabinet or the French Conseil des ministres. The Reich, which remained an agglomeration of petty states that formally paid homage to Prussia, in fact had no centre. But she brought blind `army, navy, money and power'.

    Germany's General Staff was a world unto itself; no politician interfered with its arcane procedures; the Kaiser himself, though saluted as the All-Highest Warlord, always complied with its decisions.

    This formidable military organization had been the brainchild of General Gerhard von Scharnhorst, who had decided, in the early years of the nineteenth century, to emulate Napoleon's staff system. He had been mortally wounded at Lutzen in 1813, during Germany's `War of Liberation', but a generation of soldiers continued his work, among them the military theorist Karl von Clausewitz. Perhaps the influence of Clausewitz on Prussian military thinking has been exaggerated; he left few practical guides on the management of war, and if his ghost walked the corridors of the new Reich's General Staff it would have shivered at what the new men were up to.

    Just as politicians did not interfere with the workings of the General Staff, so the General Staff maintained its distance from the politicians. The chiefs of staff simply turned their backs on politics. For chiefs like Schlieffen and the younger Moltke, the only problems Germany had were military; politics and diplomacy had no place in their plans. Yes, the phantom of Clausewitz shivered in these modern corridors. `When the thinking about war is divorced from political life,' he had warned, `the many links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense.'

    That was the German Reich before the Great War: huge, increasingly wealthy, dominating the centre and east of the peninsula of Europe, but `pointless and devoid of sense'. When republican France entered into an alliance with tsarist Russia in 1894 they were hardly consigning Europe to the war that broke out twenty years later; their odd partnership merely provided them with a degree of security in the face of a giant that lay between them and did not know where it was going. Far from seeking a political or a diplomatic solution to the tension she had herself created in Europe, Germany turned her back on the `foreigners' and started talking in anger to herself. `We cannot allow any foreign power, any foreign Jupiter to tell us "What can be done? The world is already partitioned,"' Chancellor von Bülow exclaimed famously to the Reichstag in 1899. The generals turned their backs on the politicians, and developed military plans that might provide an outlet for Germany's `spring-time juices' — without the slightest concern for their diplomatic consequences. It cannot be said that the gradual build-up of defensive military alliances against Germany was the cause of war; it was the other way round: by the early years of the new century all Europe was reacting to the German General Staff.

    Only one power actively sought war. Only one power believed it was inevitable. With every diplomatic crisis, Germany was testing the ground. Would it be war with France in 1905 while Russia was conveniently out of the way? Or war with Russia in 1909 over the Balkans, which had not yet attracted the attention of the West? Or with France again in 1911, over the crisis in Agadir? On each occasion Germany stepped back from the brink: her problem was in finding someone else to blame.


The Balkans, hidden on the other side of the southern mountains, provided an ideal location for beginning a general war on the northern plain. Germany would not be directly involved, while Russia, linked ethnically and sentimentally to Serbia, had always had suspect motives in the area. So push Austria, which had annexed Bosnia in 1909, ever further down into the hills (the process had been going on ever since Napoleon had marched across Europe), encourage her with arms and a diplomatic pat on the back, and when the Slavic keg of powder finally explodes blame it on Russia. Blame it on Russia and immediately march westward on her ally France: that was the logic of the German General Staff.

    The ideal occasion was unintentionally provided by the heir to the Habsburg Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, on a visit to the recently annexed province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On his arrival in the capital, Sarajevo, on 28 June 1914, young Serb conspirators provided a reception by throwing a bomb at the royal car — for Serbs regarded Bosnia as their territory, and this was the sacred day of Vidovan, a commemoration of their late victory over the Turks, in 1389. Twenty people were injured, but the Archduke and his morganatic Czech wife were untouched. He visited the town hall and then ordered his chauffeur to take him round to see the wounded. The poor driver got lost in the old town's winding streets and pulled up — by pure chance — by a bridge opposite one of the Serb conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, who took not a moment's hesitation to draw his revolver and shoot the Archduke and his wife at short range.

    The beginning of world war? Most Westerners sighed at the prospect of yet another crisis and returned to more interesting matters like Madame Caillaux's trial for murder, the fantastic performance of the Baron de Rothschild's horse at the Grand Prix, or the shape of the parish borders of Fermanagh and Tyrone.

    But the men in Berlin were busy. A major review of Austrian and German policy in the Balkans had taken place only the previous spring: Austria was seeking the occasion for a localized war to get even with Serbia, while Germany was ready for a more general settling of accounts; if a European war became inevitable, noted the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, at the time, `then the present moment would be more favourable than a later one'. Austria was assured of German support in the case of war with Serbia, provided she did not flinch from the consequences. Thus it was Austria that took the initiative in drafting an ultimatum to Serbia on 7 July — an ultimatum with terms so damaging to Serbian sovereignty that it could not possibly be accepted. Delivery to Serbia was delayed because the French President was in St Petersburg and the German authorities did not want the French to co-ordinate activity with Russia; but on 23 July it was handed over to the Serbs, who were given forty-eight hours to reply. There was an uncomfortable moment when Serbia accepted every term save one, which would effectively have led to the abandonment of her sovereignty. Austria eventually found this reason enough to declare war on Serbia on 28 July, and within two days she was bombarding Belgrade. It was after this that Russia mobilized.

    On hearing the news of Russian mobilization, the Bavarian military attaché in Berlin ran into the War Ministry. `Beaming faces everywhere,' he reported in his diary. `Everyone is shaking hands in the corridors: people congratulate one another for being over the hurdle.' Russia guilty! Austria had perhaps been touched by a spot of blood, but Germany's hands were pristine.

    Luxembourg was occupied on 2 August. The invasion of Belgium began on the 4th.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Illustrations xi
Preface xiii
Maps xvii
THE ELEVENTH HOUR
Beginnings 3
Shadows 3
The mountain and the plain 6
Drawing the line 13
Deadlock 18
Underground and above 20
Movements 26
The sage of Princeton 26
In the ark of the Covenant 33
Low politics 37
High command 42
Allies 45
Black and white 49
The eagle's nest 52
Backing off 58
Ends 64
Ping-pong 64
`Der Bademax' 68
Behind closed doors 74
Slow march 77
The approach ofmidnight 81
Wilson's maze 85
Disintegration and the experts 87
The surrender document: military and political 89
Shrinking cells 95
`Open country' 98
The Kaiser's choice 100
All Souls' 104
Parting of the ways 108
An old train 112
Erzberger's journey 113
Ceasefire 119
AUTUMN 1918
Berlin in autumn 125
Robinson Crusoe in Berlin 125
The `masses' 129
The Kaiser's last day 137
A drive to the East 149
Strange alliances 153
Groener's fairy castle 157
Trains 161
Chausseestrasse 164
The soldiers come home 168
Paris and Washington in autumn 169
Madelon 169
The wall across the plain 174
Clemenceau's windmills 178
`Winning the peace' 182
An American tsar 187
Crusaders aboard 194
Flu 197
The song of wheat 201
Wilson's entry 210
The `old system' 213
London in autumn 218
The roar of the Sea Lion 218
Railway stations 223
London's Armistice 229
The `Coupon Election' 233
Keynes 243
Calculating debt 248
Anglos and Americans: a very special relationship 254
The pantomime visit 260
WINTER 1919
Berlin in winter 273
Buildings and fragments 273
The Battle of Christmas Eve 279
Red holiday 282
Borders 287
Parties 291
Raw material 297
Rathenau's revolution of the soul 302
Revolution in the streets 308
Rathenau on death 316
Paris in winter 321
Keynes on gold 321
Hankey on peace 324
Germany marches east 335
Paris inspects Poland 342
Deadlock on debt 352
The devastated regions 355
The great red herring: mandates 357
Russians, in and outside Paris 363
Moscow in winter 370
A Westerner's illusions 370
The `city of the Russian bourgeoisie' 377
Winter in the Year II 381
Bolshevik economics 386
A new kind of war 393
Ruling `Sovdepiya: Lenin, Sverdlov and Trotsky 399
Polish Borders: Lenin's bridge 410
SPRING 1919
Pads in spring 421
The end of ideals, the emergence of facts 421
Berlin's March Days 426
Dr Melchior 435
`Klotzky' 441
Guilt and responsibility 446
A weekend in Fontainebleau 453
Key to the vault: Poland 461
The exchange 470
War of words 475
Attempted defection 480
Scapa'd! 485
EUROPE, EUROPE
Wilson's Europe 489
Lenin's Europe 495
Clemenceau's Europe 499
Lloyd George's Europe 502
Rathenau's Europe 512
Chronology 523
Notes 543
Bibliography 582
Index 591
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