The first world war, 100 years on

109e3264-f3c9-4738-be3b-c933916dcbf4Peter Clarke at The Financial Times:

One of the most significant wartime speeches was given by David Lloyd George in September 1914. He was then chancellor of the exchequer in the Liberal government that had taken Britain into the war; yet his own image was that of a radical with pacifist leanings – until he gave the speech. He now made the moral case for war, in the tradition of Gladstone, with rhetorical tropes about small nations rightly struggling to be free. Lloyd George identified Belgium and Serbia alongside his native Wales as the “little five-foot-five nations”, now “fighting for their freedom”, thus making it personal. Lloyd George’s own height sealed the argument. What he could not know at this time was that nearly a quarter of all Serbian males aged 15-49 were to die in a war that plainly did not “save” nor “protect” them.

The view from 1914 was thus to be modified by the view from 1918. But what about the view from 2014, now that historians have been so busy in rewriting their accounts of how the whole thing began? Were the Serbs quite so guiltless? Not if we follow the analysis in Christopher Clark’s groundbreaking book The Sleepwalkers (2012). With an impressive command of the relevant sources in many languages, Clark develops the cogent argument that the events in Sarajevo were invested with an altogether more sinister significance, once we appreciate the full force of Serbian irredentist nationalism. For us today, with our own memories of more recent Balkan conflicts, the unspoken name is surely that of Slobodan Milosevic – another ghost at the feast.

more here.