What was the Great War and what was responsible for it?
The Great War was a traditional British Balance of Power war infused with a new moral imperative. The Balance of Power was the traditional British policy of disrupting European political stability and economic development used to keep the continent occupied as Britain, the island, grabbed the rest of the world.
It was a British commercial war to see off a fast growing trade rival, a re-run of Rome versus Carthage in the Imperial imagination of the new Rome in which Carthage Delenda est became Germany must be destroyed.
Germany had developed an effective economy that produced higher quality and better value products than Britain was producing. It established a first class system of technical education and organised itself socialistically. This attracted the attention of people in Britain who thought about the significance of such things and they warned that Germany would have to be cut down to size, sooner or later.
The 1887 Merchandise Marks Act aimed to deter the consumer from buying goods with the ‘Made in Germany’ stamp, but it became an advertising brand for Germany products. The German commercial travellers began to eat into Britain’s overseas markets. The great Berlin-Baghdad Railway project threatened to provide a transport infrastructure that would undermine the maritime routes to the east, in speed and cost, and put trade beyond the guns of the Royal Navy. British geopolitics thinkers were worried.
But the major political event that made the Great War was the Revolution in British Foreign policy that occurred between 1904 and 1907, in order to re-orientate it away from its traditional enemies, France and Russia, toward the new kid on the block, Germany.
The Committee of Imperial Defence, which planned the war on Germany, was established by the Unionist Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour. It was something called for by the Imperialist deviation in English Liberalism known as Liberal Imperialism. Balfour made the Committee of Imperial Defence into a regular Department of State with a permanent secretariat composed of Army and Navy representatives, who could enforce conformity to policy.
The idea behind this was to protect it against future Liberal Ministers who might wish to divert it from its work or run it down and assure a continuity of Foreign Policy. But Balfour need not have worried on this score because the Liberal Imperialists, Haldane and Grey, were given the key Ministries of War and Foreign Affairs in the new Liberal Cabinet of 1906 by Campbell-Bannerman as the price for Party unity in defence of Liberal Free Trade.
Although the Committee of Imperial Defence organised the future war on Germany at the time it was established it took it that Britain’s main rival in Europe was France and it had to be redirected to view Germany as the enemy. The CID began to pursue the idea of the employment of the British Army with the French within a year of the 1904 Anglo-French Entente. The French interpreted the agreement as the opening of the door to a military understanding aimed at fighting a war against Germany.
A revolution in British Foreign Policy was conducted between 1904 and 1907 to encircle Germany and arrange the forces necessary for its destruction. Leo Maxse, in conjunction with Sir Edward Grey and other important figures in the Foreign Office mapped this out in a series of articles for the ‘National Review.’ These, written in 1901/2 accurately indicated the direction of future British Foreign policy.
The French were worried that the fall of the Balfour Government and its replacement with the Liberals might mean that the Entente would not be followed through with the military arrangements that they had hoped for. So just before the 1905 General Election, Repington went to see Sir Edward Grey to sound him out about the continued support of a future Liberal Government for the contingency plans that had begun to be made with the French for a war with Germany. These plans, which were at that time under discussion with the French military, included the landing of a British Army of more than 100,000 men in France; simultaneous attacks by British and French forces on Germany’s African colonies; and the division of captured German ships between the two navies.
The view was that the British should command the sea campaign and the French, the land. As a result of this the French concentrated their navy in the Mediterranean so that the Royal Navy could be redeployed in force to the North Sea. This division of labour was made for no other reason than to prepare for war on Germany. Everyone understood this from Admiral Fisher to Maurice Hankey.
The Royal Navy was the chief weapon of Britain’s future Great War on Germany. It was the creator and instrument of the world market and had always utilised European war to expand this market and England’s share in it at the expense of others, engaged in conflict. It was the senior armed service of the British State and it had made its plans to Blockade Germany into submission and put Europe under siege, as it had in the past. AC Bell’s official history of the Blockade, which is over 1000 pages of research, conducted by the Admiralty details the intricate and scientific planning that went into this for a decade prior to the War.
The Entente Cordiale was made with France in 1904 in which the French irredentist desire to regain her lost provinces lost in the 1870/1 war with Germany was utilised in the mutual interest. Secret conversations were had between the British and French General Staffs for a future war on Germany in which the battlefields were surveyed and the depositing of a British Expeditionary Force on the left flank of the French Army arranged in minute detail. Haldane’s continental expeditionary force, and a parallel militarisation of English society produced a military innovation proving Britain’s intent on intervening in a European war on Germany.
In 1907 the revolution in British Foreign Policy was completed with an alliance with Russia. The alliance with Russia reversed the British dictum that ‘the Russians shall not have Constantinople.’ This had been a mainstay of British policy for most of the nineteenth century and had been part of the ‘Great Game’ involving the prevention of Russia gaining a warm water port that would facilitate an enhancement of her commercial and trading potential. In a number of conflicts Britain had blocked Russia in the Balkans, at the Dardanelles, in the Persian Gulf and in the Far East, through alliance with Japan.
Now the Tsar was promised Constantinople and this meant the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, something Britain had supported as a bulwark against Russian expansion for the best part of a century. This had momentous consequences because it meant the break-up of the great Islamic state that had been a force for stability in the region it existed for centuries.
But breaking it up into what? Nations and Nationalism did not exist in the area and the mixtures of religions and ethnicities in the region, which functioned side by side within the loose Ottoman structures, were to be forced into conflict to carve out new territories in a process that could only involve ethnic cleansing on a large scale, as it had in the Balkans after a similar process had been provoked.
The Great War was made in Britain and it remade the former Ottoman territories int today’s killing grounds.