Saturday, October 19, 2013


Likely to be of particular interest to TBA: Hew Strachan had a review in NYT of M. Hastings' 'Catastrophe 1914'. Unfortunately too tired to find and link it (am writing this Fri. night for scheduled posting Sat. a.m.). Was, on the whole, favorable.

Added later: Speaking of books, two substantial new ones on the creation of Bangladesh in '71: one recently published, the other about to be released.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, saw that & meant to post on it. Strachan's imprimatur is pretty hefty.

The book itself is not Hastings' best; passes too lightly over some important things re: the start of the war (like the Germans' declarations of war and the absurdity of conditioning peace with France on the French giving up their border forts), and more detrimentally, focuses way too much on the Brits in combat - not without some apology for doing so and some proper respect for the French who carried the weight of the load, but still, it gets excessive.

But, the usual Hastings eye for detail and good commmon sense. I'm looking forward to Margaret MacMillan's 1914 book at the end of this month.

Ronan said...

I was actually only thinking this the other day
Will one of you let it be known when you read MacMillans book (its out now!)
Im really interested and Itll take me to long

LFC said...

I'm actually much more likely to read the B'desh bk (the 2nd of the 2 I linked) than the MacMillan. (But Anderson will prob. read it.)

Ronan said...

Yeah the second one looks really interesting
Also a lot of stuff on that reading list you linked to recently (on US foreign policy) looked great

LFC said...

Btw, re the Israel/Palestine issue, I think I'm going to refrain, for time and other reasons, from further participation in the current CT thread. I think we agree that a 1-state solution is not in the cards; however, I'm a little bit more hopeful than you that a 2-state solution might be. Though it's hard to be esp. hopeful after so many failed efforts, etc. so I wdn't bet on it if I were a betting person.

For reasons largely of personal history, I'm somewhat conflicted about Zionism (of which, as I've pointed out before, there were more left-wing and more rt-wing versions), so "bog standard Zionist mumfunkinism" is not a phrase I myself would write. However, I think the word "mumfunkinism," which I haven't heard before, is a cool word. I may adopt it.

Ronan said...

: )

I was trying to think of a phrase (which I still ant think of) and just ended up making up mumfunkinism (I think, at least)
Youre more than welome to use it, of course!

Also, that was specifically in response to a comment (I cant remember at the minute) rather than meant to be a general attack on people who identify as Zionist etc
I havent read enough on the intellectual history of Zionism and am not versed in the debate well enough, so I didnt mean it to be dismissive of Zionism in general

Ronan said...

btw, I dont know if Im necessarily pessimisitic about a compromised resolution, I just dont think any Palestinian state is going to be worth much
Whether or not that matters, i dont know

Ronan said...

Last thing, since we're talking about Zionism and South Asia

Faisal Devji's new book about Pakistan (Muslim Zion) might be of interest

LFC said...

Thanks, will check it out.

Anonymous said...

I will certainly be unable to keep my mouth shut when I've read the MacMillan.

LFC said...


Peter T said...

I found V R Berghahn - Germany and the Approach of War in 1914 very illuminating. I had not realised how much the gotterdammerung mentality (better dead than red - or even pink) had a grip on the German elites. And similar thinking permeated the Austro-Hungarian and Russian old orders too. Gave historical weight to Sandra Halperin's thesis that fear of democratic politics was the great driver of change in Europe 1870-1945. Eeerily reminiscent of Tea Party attitudes.

LFC said...

Have seen Sandra Halperin's 'War and Social Change in Modern Europe' mentioned but haven't read it.

Just glancing at its preface on Google Bks, I see Halperin says (bottom, p.xiv) that like "many other influential studies of large-scale change (e.g. Skocpol 1979; Gilpin 1981), Polanyi is unsuccessful in his attempt to theorize the interrelationship of global forces, states, and social structures, and how it produces change."

I think Skocpol 1979, while not w/o some weaknesses, is quite successful at theorizing "the interrelationship of global forces, states, and social structures, and how it produces change." (As for Gilpin 1981, that's not exactly what it sets out to do. Though certainly open to criticism on other grounds.)

LFC said...


Skocpol 1979 = 'States and Social Revolutions'

Gilpin 1981 = 'War and Change in World Politics'

LFC said...

Speaking of origins of WW1, I remember someone (a historian, I think) urging people on CT a while ago to read J.C.G. Rohl on the war's origins.

There is a v. brief excerpt from something by Rohl (bk or article, I forget which) in the student-oriented collection 'Outbreak of World War One: Causes and Responsibilities' (Problems in Eur. Civ. series, 1997), ed. H.H. Herwig. (Which I'm pretty sure, though not positive, that I mentioned on a previous comment thread at some pt.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, Peter T, re: the Germans' fatalism. I'd seen that re: the general staff & Bethmann-Hollweg, but hadn't realized it was a more widespread attitude (makes sense of course, even generals are part of society). I will have to take a look at the Berghahn.

LFC said...

Maybe this is a semantic quibble, but I wouldn't call the attitude "better dead than red - or even pink" one of "fatalism."

Ronan said...


Christopher Clarke (Sleepwalkers) had a recent review of McMillans book in the LRB if you havent seen it (unfor behind a firewall, dont know if you have access)

ps out of curiosity have you read/liked (?) Clarkes book?

LFC said...

He read The Sleepwalkers. I don't want to risk putting words in his mouth so I won't try to answer on his reaction. There was a v. brief discussion of it in comments here a while ago but I can't seem to find it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pointer, Ronan! Not a subscriber alas.

Clark's book, which I read in a library copy, is pretty much a lawyer's brief for Germany & Austria. (I'm a lawyer myself, & I know one when I see one). I made notes for a detailed review, which I then lost, so I'm waiting for the paperback so I can mark up the heck out of it & write said review.

Basically, I accept that Germany didn't think the "blank check" would have to be cashed, but when it became clear a general war was about to go off, I believe that Germany embraced & pursued it rather than doing anything to avert it. Clark's "oh it all just kinda happened unconsciously" is what I'd argue if I were the Kaiser's lawyer ....

Anonymous said...

The letter by Frink & Clark's response at the LRB are telling in excerpt.

Frink: "But Clark’s central failing is to ignore or downplay much of the evidence of German and Austrian blame just as surely as Fritz Fischer distorted and overstated it. One could read Clark and forget that there was one alliance that started military action by shelling Belgrade, and one country, Germany, that declared war against Russia and France before any nation had taken military action against it or declared war on it. The Germans’ flat rejection of the British foreign secretary’s call for an international conference and their failure even to respond to the tsar’s suggestion that the matter be referred to The Hague are not given the attention and importance they deserve."

Like I said, embracing, not seeking to avert.

Clark: "But in presenting his own case for that view, Frink replicates a longstanding optical bias in the narrative of German culpability: namely, a tendency to focus attention on a selection of decontextualised moments that were in fact embedded in a complex sequence of events. Yes, the Germans declared war on Russia before the Russians declared war on Germany. But by the time that happened, the Russian government had been moving troops and equipment to the German front for a week. The Russians were the first great power to issue an order of general mobilisation and the first Russo-German clash took place on German, not on Russian soil, following the Russian invasion of East Prussia."

That is the kind of thing in Clark that drives me nuts. Yes, Russia mobilized 1st - Russia is HUGE, it had to mobilize early or not at all - but mobilization wasn't war. Germany could have counter-mobilized while trying to talk things down. It did not, in part because Germany did not even have a plan for mobilization without immediate invasion of Belgium & France.

And, duh, yes the clash was on German soil, because Germany had declared war!

Certainly if I'm defending a murder suspect at trial, I want to argue context, context, context, and not dwell on the decontextualized moment when he shot the cashier, but a historian - even a historian investigating issues of culpability - has to do better.