The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914

The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914

by Douglas Newton
The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914

The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain's Rush to War, 1914

by Douglas Newton


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The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War may be commemorated by some as a great moment of national history. But the standard history of Britain’s choice for war is far from the truth. Using a wide range of sources, including the personal papers of many of the key figures, some for the first time, historian Douglas Newton presents a new, dramatic narrative. He interleaves the story of those pressing for a choice for war with the story of those resisting Britain’s descent into calamity. He shows how the decision to go to war was rushed, in the face of vehement opposition, in the Cabinet and Parliament, in the Liberal and Labour press, and in the streets. There was no democratic decision for war.

The history of this opposition has been largely erased from the record, yet it was crucial to what actually happened in August 1914. Two days before the declaration of war four members of the Cabinet resigned in protest at the war party’s manipulation of the crisis. The government almost disintegrated. Meanwhile large crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square to hear the case for neutrality and peace. Yet this cry was ignored by the government. Meanwhile, elements of the press, the Foreign Office, and the Tory Opposition sought to browbeat the government into a quick decision. Belgium had little to do with it.

The key decision to enter the war was made before Belgium was invaded. Those bellowing for hostilities were eager for Britain to enter any war in solidarity with Russia and France – for the future safety of the British Empire. In particular Newton shows how Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill colluded to pre-empt the decisions of Cabinet, to manipulate the parliament, and to hurry the nation toward intervention by any means necessary.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781781688168
Publisher: Verso Books
Publication date: 03/10/2015
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Douglas Newton was the Associate Professor of History at University of Western Sydney. He is the author of British Policy and the Weimar Republic 1918–19; Germany 1918–45: From Days of Hope to Years of Horror; and British Labour, European Socialism and the Struggle for Peace 1889–1914. He lives in Australia.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi

Introduction xvii

Prelude: Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street, Sunday 2 August 1914 xxvi

1 The Myth of an Irresistible War 1

2 Mixing Signals, Thursday 23 to Sunday 26 July 16

3 'Apparent Indecision, Monday 27 July 31

4 Manoeuvring in the Dark, Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 July 44

5 Facing Both Ways, Wednesday 29 July 55

6 Drum-Taps, Monday 27 to Friday 31 July 67

7 Hope and Dread, Monday 27 to Friday 31 July 75

8 Smearing Neutrality, Thursday 30 and Friday 31 July 83

9 The Internationalists Awake, Tuesday 28 to Friday 31 July 95

10 Doing Diplomacy in a Dressing Gown, Friday 31 July and Saturday 1 August 107

11 The Russian Jolt, Saturday 1 August 115

12 'Pogrom', Friday 31 July and Saturday 1 August 125

13 The High Tide of Neutralist Hope, Saturday 1 August 134

14 Kite-Flying, Saturday 1 August 145

15 Tightening the Screws, Sunday 2 August 156

16 'To the Square!', Sunday 2 August 163

17 'Jockeyed", Sunday 2 August 176

18 Fracture Lines, Sunday 2 and Monday 3 August 194

19 Hidden Schism, Monday 3 August 202

20 Magical Theatre, Monday 3 August 213

21 Inventing 'Unanimity', Monday 3 August 227

22 Dissent, Monday 3 August 236

23 Midnight Seductions, Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 August 249

24 Seizing the Moment, Tuesday 4 August 261

25 Radical Recriminations 283

26 Conclusion 298

Notes 311

Archival Material 371

Index 373

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