The breakout of WW1 is a haunting occurrence for those of us born in the dying days of WW2, which finally brought an end to the European conflict begun in 1914, leading to the peace of the European Union since then.
How did that prosperous and confident Europe of the late 19C descend to such a self-defeating process?
It seems the answer lies in geography and stupidity.
The Great Powers at the time were split into two alliances, on the one hand Germany and Austria-Hungary and, on the other hand UK, France and Russia.
As explained in Prisoners of Geography, Germany was uniquely positioned at the centre, protected by mountains to the south but vulnerable on the great north European plain to both West and East. In each direction lay the possible attack route for enemies.
This long troubled German strategists, who thought they could not sustain a war on two fronts. So they devised a contingency plan. If war looked like breaking out and mobilisation started, they would attack France through Belgium, with the aim of a quick win before Russia could effectively mobilise. (Schlieffen Plan, 1905.)
This was based on the idea of the militaries at the time that attack was the way to win with modern armour, as defensive wars could not be ‘won’ – which WW1 proved was a stupid idea.
When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, there was a seemingly unstoppable sequence of events that led to Germany executing this contingency plan. As soon as the army entered Belgium, UK declared war and that was that.
So, geography and stupidity.
Which brings us back to Brexit.
My simplistic analysis is based on AJP Taylor’s book ‘The First World War’, an engaging read first published in 1963.
Featured image of Pozieres cemetery, Somme,
courtesy of agracier, via Wikimedia Commons