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The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war's beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a "tragedy of miscalculation." Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.
It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near East. Unlike their civilian counterparts in Berlin, who would have preferred to localize the Austro-Serbian conflict, Russian leaders desired a more general war so long as British participation was assured. The war of 1914 was launched at a propitious moment for harnessing the might of Britain and France to neutralize the German threat to Russia's goal: partitioning the Ottoman Empire to ensure control of the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Nearly a century has passed since the guns fell silent on the western front. But in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, World War I smolders still. Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, and other regional antagonists continue fighting over the last scraps of the Ottoman inheritance. As we seek to make sense of these conflicts, McMeekin's powerful exposé of Russia's aims in the First World War will illuminate our understanding of the twentieth century.
Casting a contrarian eye on the first major conflict of the twentieth century, Sean McMeekin finds the roots of WWI inside Russia, whose leaders deliberately sought—for their own ends—to expand a brawl that the Germans wanted to keep local. The author tracks the fallout of these antique plots right down to the present geopolitical landscape.
As Sean McMeekin argues in this bold and brilliant revisionist study, Russia was as much to blame as Germany for the outbreak of the war. Using a wide range of archival sources, including long-neglected tsarist documents, he argues that the Russians had ambitions of their own (the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, no less) and that they were ready for a war once they had secured a favorable alliance with the British and the French.
— Orlando Figes
The book is a refreshing challenge to longstanding assumptions and shifted perspectives are always good.
— Miriam Cosic
An entirely new take on the origins of World War I comes as a surprise. If war guilt is to be assigned, this book argues, it should go not only (or even primarily) to Germany—the long-accepted culprit—but also to Russia...Bold reading between the lines of history.
— Robert Legvold
Author's Note xi
Introduction: History from the Deep Freeze 1
1 The Strategic Imperative in 1914 6
2 It Takes Two to Tango: The July Crisis 41
3 Russia's War: The Opening Round 76
4 Turkey's Turn 98
5 The Russians and Gallipoli 115
6 Russia and the Armenians 141
7 The Russians in Persia 175
8 Partitioning the Ottoman Empire 194
9 1917: The Tsarist Empire at Its Zenith 214
Conclusion: The October Revolution and Historical Amnesia 234
Posted March 16, 2012
A revisionist history of Russian involvement in World War I. The author argues that Russia was much more to blame for the beginning of the war than heretofore acknowledged. Using archives from both Turkish and Soviet files, McMeekin contends that Russia was seeking a war to justify seizing control of the waterways from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea from the crumbling Ottoman Empire. When the assassination at Sarajevo occurred, Russia had the excuse it needed.
The book follows Russian diplomatic manipulations through the war,
citing British and French complicity with Russian goals. The author also contends that Russia was on the verge of defeating the Turks and
obtaining its goal when the Revolution occurred.
A very readable work on a subject not often dealt with, but which had lasting effects to this very day.
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Posted September 16, 2012
Author McMeekin overstates his argument that Russia was not sincerely concerned about the welfare of Serbia but was, rather, motivated almost purely by its goal of seizing Constantinople. McKeekin’s argument is based on a careful cherry-picking of Russian war-planning documents; and the cherry-picking of facts is most flagrant in connection with the Ottoman Turks’ genocidal extermination of the Armenians. I was taken aback by McMeekin’s blatant bias. A surprise naval attack by the Turks that marked the beginning of the war is fantastically overlooked in McMeekin’s account. It is no secret that tsarist Russia coveted Constantinople, which was cherished as the center of the Eastern Orthodox world for a millennium, but McMeekin mysteriously forgets, in this context, that the Germans had dispatched a powerful battle cruiser to Turkey at the very onset of the war, which gave Turkey complete command of the Black Sea. Thus, the Russians could no longer hope to succeed with an amphibious landing in Constantinople. McKeekin never countenanced truthfulness about the deliberate extermination of the Armenians. Perhaps because he lectures at a Turkish university, McMeekin seems to think it obligatory to take the official Turkish denialist posture on the Armenian genocide.
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Posted August 29, 2013
Thiis book makes the following arguments:
1.) Tsarist Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe & Ottoman Turkey were the primary reasons the Sarajevo assasination turned into WW1.
2.) Once in the war Tsarist Russia pursued its own strategic agenda with little thought for its allies, either in the Entente or among the Armenian minorities that received the brunt of Ottoman reprisals.
3.) Tsarist Russia was actually winning the war (at least againt Turkey & Austria, and at least according to their own strategic goals) when the ground was cut out from under them by the February & October Revoltions.
4.) For all the historical attention paid to the western front it is events in the east & in Ottoman lands that make the 1st World War so consequential to modern times.
Note: some reviewers have come close to calling the author a denier of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This is not accurate. Rather, the author argues that Tsarist Russia bears some burden of guilt in that tragedy, largely through its irresponsible encouragement of Armenian rebel groups in Ottoman lands before & during the war. Well worth a look by anyone interested in World War 1, particularly its less discussed aspects. I must also commend this book on its brevity & clarity.
Posted February 4, 2012
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Posted May 13, 2013
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