Christmas 1913: In Britain, people are debating a new dance called ‘the tango’. In Germany, they are fascinated by the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter to the Duke of Brunswick. Little did they know that their world was on ‘The Eve of War’, a catastrophe that was to engulf the continent, cost millions of lives, and change the course of the century. And yet behind the scenes, the Great Powers were marching towards what they thought was an inevitable conflict.
In this controversial and concise essay, the military historian Paul Ham argues that the First World War was not an historical mistake, a conflict into which the Great Powers stumbled by accident. Nor was it a justified war, in which uncontained German aggression had to be defeated. Instead the politicians and generals of the day willed the war, and prepared for it - but eventually found themselves caught up in an inferno they could no longer control.
Paul Ham is the author of the forthcoming 1914: The Year the World Ended, to be published by Random House in Britain in 2014. He has previously written the acclaimed Sandakanz, Kokoda, Vietnam: The Australian War and Hiroshima Nagasaki. A former Australia Correspondent of the Sunday Times, he was born in Sydney and educated in Australia and Britain. He now lives in Sydney and Paris.
©2013 Paul Ham (P)2014 Audible Studios
"[A] vivid, comprehensive and quietly furious account...Paul Ham brings new tools to the job, unearthing fresh evidence of a deeply disturbing sort. He has a magpie eye for the telling detail" (Ben Macintyre, The Times)
"Provocative and challenging… A voice that is both vigorous and passionate" (Christopher Sylvester, Daily Express)
"Controversial...Well documented and stringently argued" (Peter Lewis, Daily Mail)"
Paul Ham's writing. He is an exceptionally gifted writer as well as a first rate historian. He knows how to turn a phrase, and I found myself constantly highlighting sentences that were especially well put. It was delightful to come across a prose style that even in a fiction writer would set him apart. Also, he is not afraid to make a judgment now and then, which, when appropriate, is welcome from a historian who does not overdo it. One such judgement is that the leaders of the various countries who fought during the great tragedy known as WW I is that they more or less accepted the inevitability of a war that was not inevitable. For example, none so much as proposed a conference to discuss the issues that preceded and led to the War. As long as a historian is not being overtly tendentious, there is nothing wrong with calling it as you see it, and this author is not afraid to do that when plainly called for.
I am actively seeking out to read or listen to other works by Paul Ham, based on how impressed I was by (a) his writing skills, and (b) his willingness to state plainly what went wrong and why on issues that cry out for someone to do just that.
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