Regarding both volumes there is much to like: they are superbly written and, of course, the subject could not be more interesting. However, in answer to the question by a prior reviewer of "what's not to like?," there are some very questionable historical assertions, particularly in volume two.
One example is characteristic of Manchester's sometimes reckless scholarship. He states as fact that had Hitler not entered into the Munich agreement and ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia that Hadler had in place coup plans that he was about to order. This assertion relies for the most part on post-war trial testimony by German generals who were trying to get out from under the charge of agreesive war. It is very questionable. As most historians show (read Evans and Kershaw for example) there was a lot of plotting and talking going on in some elements of the German military but there is no hard evidence that a coup had reached a final organizational stage and would have be successful it it had. In fact, it wasn't until German was partically on its knees and the war was clearly lost in July of 1944 that they finally did something and even then it didn't work.
Another example of many in volume two is the assertion that the offensive plan for the May 1940 was Hitler's original idea. Of course, he later claimed it was and he certainly gets credit for going with a great plan, but most historians agree the idea did not originate with him. I could go on.
It really got so I had to fact check constantly in volume two. Any there was some of it In volume one. For a much for convincing discussion of Churchill's relationship with Fischer, which Manchester presents as inexplicable, see Gallipoli by Robert James. It's kind of like what Manchester did with The Death of a President where he took something that was true (that there was a climate of right wing hate in Dallas) and connected to Kennedy's killing. In fact there was no connection between the two because Kennedy was killed by a left wing activitist who had just tried to kill a leading right wing figure in Texas 8 months before killed Kennedy. Or what Manchester did with what people thought were his Pacific War memiors where he just made things up. Having said all this, they are very enjoyable books. I just hope (particularly in volume one) that there aren't too many errors I didn't caught.
It is encouraging to see that some criticism of the recent revisionist school of First World War responsibility represented by Clark has finally been surfacing after so much effusive glad-handing. Let me submit, however, that it will take a more comprehensive and wide-ranging critique to expose the fallacies of equality of responsibility with which Chris Clark, for all his many merits, has so effectively beguiled the field.
First, let it be said those merits are not thin: in some cases a more evenhanded telling of the crises that preceded the war; the resurrection of under-appreciated events like the Italian invasion of Libya; the focusing on the inner workings of the various European power centers; what should be the nail in the coffin of the assertion that the Serbian response to the Austrian ultimatumtl all but accepted its demands; a fuller appreciation of the desire of significant elements within the French and Russian governments for war under the right circumstances; proof that the July Crisis was not a calculated and long-planned German plot designed to bring about a preventive European war. All this coupled with vivid and adroit writing and some genuinely new and original research are not virtues to be discarded without admiration.
However, measured against that, in Clark's book The Sleepwalkers and his many stump speeches since promoting its thesis, there are essentially misdirecting rhetorical devices, omissions of events, and incomplete presentations of fact that have been used to understate German and Austrian recklessness and responsibility for this malign war and its baleful consequences.
To name a few: his artificial construct of asking how and not why the war came about in order to give a veneer of objectivity to his work and divert focus from factors that indicate greater German responsibility; his insistence that only others play the "blame game" when he does as well; his disdain for presentism while presentism underpins his work; his omission of events in Germany which undercut an understanding of the distinctive features of the German war plan and its determinative role; his use of already discredited assertions by Fritiz Fischer as a foil to highlight the supposed virtues of his thesis; his downplaying of the German-initiated naval race and his incomplete presentation of scholarship on it; his flawed analogies between circa 1914 events and relatively current ones to engender sympathy for German and Austrian actions; his failure to distinguish between affirmative and conclusive actions and responsive and inconclusive actions that led to war and the way the difference appropriately impacts war responsibility.
Yet, about the only thing even some of his cheerleaders have found difficult to swallow is his use of the sleepwalkers metaphor for his title. Even there they seem unaware of why he must have used it: true sleepwalkers are not blamed for their actions.
It would be my hope scholars within the field would start to explore Clark's failings "head-on" as well as his virtues. The signs are not good. The adulation and financial success that has greeted The Sleepwalkers seem to have swept much of the academy. Some who should be his critics seem almost giddy and overcome with envy when they speak of it.
However, perhaps the attractive complexity of the July Crisis and what Clark has rightly called its freshness for today will undermine this trend. We can only trust that what has been called the "long debate" is far from finished. Luigi Albertini wrote some seventy-five years ago, "the final, definite responsibility for the outbreak of the war lies with the German plan of mobilization, while the primary responsibility--and this must never to lost sight of--rests on the actions of the Central Powers who thought they could frighten the other Powers by their strength and thus 'localize the conflict,' but made a thorough miscalculation." It was true then. It was true 100 years ago. It is true today.
The July Crisis makes for an exciting story and this is a well written account. Unfortunately it is also an essentially false account. McMeekin makes a number of assertions to support his Russian guilt thesis that are flat out wrong. Just to give one example, the story about the Kaiser's greeting of Bethmann Holweg on July 27 is based on Bulow's memoirs but has been shown to be an invention by Albertini and others. The sad fact is that readers unfamiliar with the intricate details of the July Crisis will be seriously mislead by this book.
Disappointed that such a seriously flawed book is taken as an accurate account of the July Crisis by so many people.
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