Our question this week: How do we like living in the world that the Great War made? Leave us a message. This week we’re talking about the guns of August, fired one hundred years ago this month. And we’re wondering what kind of century we inherited from the First World War. Alongside power politics and industrial killing, there was a revolution in art, in the novel, in music and in antiwar ideas in exhausted Europe and over here.
This week, we’re talking with the historians about the causes and consequences of what you might call the war that poisoned a century. We’re still putting out fires that were set in 1914 — and it’s tempting to imagine that it could have gone differently.
Stephen van Evera, the MIT historian of great powers and author of The Causes of War.
Isabel Hull, historian at Cornell and author most recently of A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law During the Great War.
Adam Tooze, the Yale historian of the political economy of war and author of The Deluge: The Great War, America, and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916 – 1931, available now for preorder.
There’s too much to read and think about this August, but we’re immersing ourselves in Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, the work of Yale historian Adam Tooze, and Paul Fussell’s The Great War in Modern Memory. And thank heavens to the Internet — our best links on the war are below:
• The Economist put forward a version of the “war that poisoned a century” argument here.
• The Wall Street Journal counts one hundred things we pulled out of the trenches: from Pilates to Poland to passports (and 97 more).
• Alan Taylor, of The Atlantic’s “In Focus” photo blog, went long on the first war photography this April — see more here.
• and Tony Barber reviewed three big centenary books on the causes of the war in the Financial Times. It wasn’t ‘inevitable’, is the conclusion of most writing today:
Could the immense tragedy of 1914-18, in which 65m men fought and about 8.5m were killed, have been avoided? By July 1914 most of Europe’s political and military leaders felt the defence of national power and honour was worth the risk of war. Yet as MacMillan concludes, those who were against war could have stood up more firmly against those who denied there were other choices. “There are always choices,” she writes.