Lost History of 1914
Date of publication: February 2012
In The Lost History of 1914, Jack Beatty offers a highly original view of World War I, testing against fresh evidence the long-dominant assumption that it was inevitable. Beatty presents the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand not as the catalyst of a war that would have broken out over some other crisis, but rather as "its all-but unique precipitant." Beatty shows how a possible military coup in Germany; an imminent civil war in Britain; or the murder trial of the wife of the likely next premier of France, who sought detente with Germany, might have derailed the war or brought it to a different end. In Beatty's hands, these stories open out into epiphanies of national character, and offer dramatic portraits of the year's major actors--Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas II, Wilson, Churchill, Emperor Francis Joseph, along with forgotten or overlooked characters like Pancho Villa, Rasputin, Sir Edward Carson, and Hoover.
Europe's ruling classes, Beatty shows, were so haunted by fear of those below that they mistook democratization for revolution and were tempted to "escape forward" into war to head it off. Beatty concludes with a powerful rendering of the combat between August 1914 and January 1915 that killed more than a million men, the murderous culmination of the "cult of the offensive" that gripped pre-war general staffs. He restores lost history here as well, revealing how trench warfare, long depicted as death's victory, was actually a life-saving strategy.
Beatty's deeply insightful book lights a lost world about to blow itself up in what George Kennan called "the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century" and arms readers against narratives of historical inevitability in today's world.