The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914

Ferdinand Mount writes:

The Prince was walking up and down in silence. He caught me by the hands and said: ‘Oh! say there is surely not going to be “warr” (pronouncing it like “far”). Dear, dear Mrs Asquith, can we not stop it?’ (wringing his hands) … ‘I do not understand what has happened. What is it all about?’

Millions of people then and ever since have shared the bafflement and anguish of Prince Lichnowsky and have asked the same questions. If the Kaiser’s ambassador to London, a warm anglophile, felt so impotent and overwhelmed by events, no wonder the lightning onset of the Great War has remained the historical question of the last hundred years. Or rather questions, for following on the heels of ‘How did it start, and why?’ comes ‘Could it have been prevented? – and if so, by whom?’, ‘Who was to blame?’ and, for the British anyway, ‘Could we have kept out of it?’

(LRB 8 January 2015)

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