or Sir Michael Howard to give him his due, is one of Britain’s best living
military historians. He is also a strategic thinker who writes wittily and in
a concise manner. His latest work, The First World War, due in July,
is an introduction to the Great War–as World War I is known in Europe–designed
for those with no previous knowledge of the subject. At 176 pages it is an easy
and pleasurable read, if one agrees with the premise. Which I certainly don’t.
Keeping in mind that history is written by the victors, I was nevertheless shocked
to see that a double standard where the British Empire is concerned is doing
very well, thank you.
years ago I had the idea to write a "What If" history about that great
disaster, and contacted my friend George Szamuely. I needed a collaborator,
as the high life does at times intrude where hard work is concerned. I also
rang another friend, Lewis Lapham of Harper’s, and asked whether
he was interested in running a segment or two. He told me to go ahead. Well,
you know how these things are. George and I are not known for burning the midnight
oil, and while we kicked the idea around, still another friend, Niall Ferguson,
beat us to it. (Ferguson knocked it off while in the middle of writing a two-volume
history of the Rothschilds; talk about industry.) With the publication of Michael
Howard’s opus, however, I can finally have my say.
Howard, the first great catastrophe of the 20th century was Germany’s international
ambition. "German unification had created a nation that combined the most
dynamic economy in Europe with a regime that in many respects had hardly emerged
from feudalism." Shock, horror! The Kaiser sought for his nation the status
"not only of a Great Power, but of a World Power." Now I ask you:
Isn’t it the most natural of things that a nation with the most dynamic
economy in Europe would seek an equivalent status internationally? England enjoyed
such a status, lording it over half the world through its empire, but what was
good enough for the English bulldog was apparently not good for the German shepherd.
lives later, the Franco-British had prevailed, but only once the American Expeditionary
Force had come to the rescue. The fact that the Germans threw in the towel with
their army intact and in France is still argued by historians. Some insist that
the British blockade on the German people was the turning point. Others attribute
the collapse to military prowess. I am of both minds. The internal moral collapse
of the Kaiser’s society had a lot to do with it. The British, as always,
were propagandists par excellence. The Kaiser’s soldiers did no more barbecue
Belgian babies–as contemporary propaganda claimed–than the Brits,
but it was the German army that got the credit for barbarism. Which brings me
to the point I wish to make.
have happened had Germany won the war? For starters, the most philo-Semitic
nation in Europe, Germany, would have remained so. Six million Jews would not
have disappeared, as Hitler would have remained a failed artist and nothing
more. The dynasties would have survived, which means there would have been no
communism with its 20 to possibly 100 million victims. Hungary would not have
been chopped up by Romania and Slovakia and Yugoslavia would not have become
the unnatural federation it became. The Ottoman Empire would have lumbered along,
Iraq would not have been created, nor would’ve Israel, Lebanon or Jordan.
Russia would have joined the modern world–eventually. The world would have
been led by England, Germany, France and the United States, and Africa would
have never become the slaughterhouse it is today.
its horrors, the Brits insist there was a moral case for fighting WWI, but they
would say that, wouldn’t they? Britannia did not wish Germany to spread
her wings. But that was manifest destiny, pure and simple. So Hitler came to
power because of the Versailles Treaty, and I guess you know the rest. Woodrow
Wilson, a well-meaning man but criminally responsible for Jimmy Carter-like
naivete, has a lot to answer for. Oh yes, I almost forgot, there would never
have been a man called Mussolini lording it over the most pleasant land of Europe.
Finally, socialism, the great cancer that has befallen us, would have remained
a dream among hirsute intellectuals on the Left Bank of Paris. The struggle
between good and evil that was WWII would never have taken place.
Even in the
far Orient, things would have been for the better. Japan was the only combatant
nation that achieved its aims by joining the Entente. It gave her a free hand
to pursue her ambitions in Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese would not
have been slaughtered, and Mao would have remained a chainsmoking peasant, unknown
outside his village. There never would have been a Vietnam War. Sure, Churchill
said the Germans are either at your throat or at your feet, but that was just
war rhetoric. The Kaiser was a civilized man, as were the Germans, and had the
Allies humored him and allowed Germany to pursue her destiny, we would today
be living in a far, far better place.