Author : Clark Christopher
Title : The sleepwalkers How Europe went to war in 1914
Year : 2013

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Introduction. The European continent was at peace on the morning of Sunday 28 June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek arrived at Sarajevo railway station. Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. The conflict that began that summer mobilized 65 million troops, claimed three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths, and 21 million wounded. The horrors of Europe’s twentieth century were born of this catastrophe; it was, as the American historian Fritz Stern put it, ‘the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang’. The debate over why it happened began before the first shots were fired and has been running ever since. It has spawned an historical literature of unparalleled size, sophistication and moral intensity. For international relations theorists the events of 1914 remain the political crisis par excellence, intricate enough to accommodate any number of hypotheses. The historian who seeks to understand the genesis of the First World War confronts several problems. The first and most obvious is an oversupply of sources. Each of the belligerent states produced official multi-volume editions of diplomatic papers, vast works of collective archival labour. There are treacherous currents in this ocean of sources. Most of the official document editions produced in the interwar period have an apologetic spin. The fifty-seven-volume German publication Die Grosse Politik, comprising 15,889 documents organized in 300 subject areas, was not prepared with purely scholarly objectives in mind; it was hoped that the disclosure of the pre-war record would suffice to refute the ‘war guilt’ thesis enshrined in the terms of the Versailles treaty. For the French government too, the post-war publication of documents was an enterprise of ‘essentially political character’, as Foreign Minister Jean Louis Barthou put it in May 1934. Its purpose was to ‘counterbalance the campaign launched by Germany following the Treaty of Versailles’. In Vienna, as Ludwig Bittner, co-editor of the eight-volume collection Österreich-Ungarns Aussenpolitik, pointed out in 1926, the aim was to produce an authoritative source edition before some international body – the League of Nations perhaps? – forced the Austrian government into publication under less auspicious circumstances. The early Soviet documentary publications were motivated in part by the desire to prove that the war had been initiated by the autocratic Tsar and his alliance partner, the bourgeois Raymond Poincaré, in the hope of de-legitimizing French demands for the repayment of pre-war loans. Even in Britain, where British Documents on the Origins of the War was launched amid high-minded appeals to disinterested scholarship, the resulting documentary record was not without tendentious omissions that produced a somewhat unbalanced picture of Britain’s place in the events preceding the outbreak of war in 1914. In short, the great European documentary editions were, for all their undeniable value to scholars, munitions in a ‘world war of documents’, as the German military historian Bernhard Schwertfeger remarked in a critical study of 1929. ...