The Pity of War is an explosive and argumentative new book that rewrites our most basic assumptions about the causes and consequences of the First World War. It is the most important book on the subject since The Great War and Modern Memory. In ...
The Pity of War, author Niall Ferguson make a very simple and provocative argument: that the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely Englands fault. Britain, according to Ferguson, entered into war based on naive assumptions of German aims, and that Englands entry into the war transformed a continental conflict into a World War, which they then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. It was not an inevitable war, Ferguson argues, but rather the result of the mistaken decisions of individuals who would later claim to have been in the grip of huge impersonal forces.
That the war was wicked, horrible, inhuman, is a belief indelibly inspired in part by the poetry of men like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but also by plain fact. Indeed, more British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam war. The total British fatalities in that single battle--some 420,000--exceeds the entire American fatalities for both World Wars. And yet, as Ferguson writes, while the war itself was a disastrous folly, the great majority of men who fought it did so with little reluctance and with some enthusiasm.
There is no aspect of the modern world that was not profoundly touched by this disaster, although its significance has become increasingly shrouded as the generation of men who fought it die out and are rendered as distant and anonymous as those who fought in the conflicts of the nineteenth century. Ferguson vividly brings back to life a terrifying period, not through dry citation of chronological chapter and verse, but through a brilliant series of chapters focusing on key ways in which we now view the First World War: the very modern role of the press; the frightening way in which the men enjoyed the war; the transformation of the world order.
For anyone wanting to understand why wars are fought, why men are willing to fight them, and why the world is as it is today, there is no sharper nor more stimulating a guide than Niall Fergusons The Pity of War.