Debunked British myths of WW1 (Niall Ferguson)

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,447
SoCal
"If more liberal forces will come to power in Germany after the war"
So the British should have stayed out of WW2 as well, because maybe more liberal forces might have come to power in Germany after the war ?
No, because I fear that by that point in time the Overton window in Germany would have shifted so far to the right that it wouldn't have made that much of a difference. Had the Nazis won WWII and been in power for decades or more, then it's entirely possible that any liberal successors to them might also continue policies such as mass deportations and mass expulsions. Seeing the Slavic population of the European part of the USSR be expelled and pushed out of their ancestral homelands would have certainly been extremely tragic. :(

Please keep in mind that liberal forces don't always have a good record. For instance, weren't some--if not many--liberals supporters of colonialism and imperialism back in the day?
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,970
The “myths” of World War I that Ferguson attacked, with his counter-arguments in parentheticals, are:

1)That Germany was a highly militarist country before 1914 (Ferguson claims Germany was Europe’s most anti-militarist country)
This one is just wrong. Imperial Germany was a highly militarized Nation like no other in ww1.

eg.

The Decsion to invade Belgium was made by teh military when the politicians protested the ywere told to stuff off it was pureply a Military matter. In France when the Generals wanted to invade Belgium the Politicans told them they were not going to do that, and that was the end of the metter.

Once the war began, Germany was ruled by Prussian siege law, that placed the amry cops area commanders in the distraics across germany as totall dictators on the state. They turned out to be quite poor at running a complex industrial economy.


2)That naval challenges mounted by Germany drove Britain into informal alliances with France and Russia before 1914 (Ferguson claims the British were driven into alliances with France and Russia as a form of appeasement due to the strength of those nations, and an Anglo-German alliance failed to materialize due to German weakness)
This one is mostly wrong.

The German allaince failed due to really awful German diplomacy. The British made approaches and Germans repsonse was simply unrealistsic.

The Germans Naval chllange did result in the redeployment of Royal Navy forces from around the world. The Days of teh Royal Navy being stringer than everyone , everywhere we over and in part that drove the growing French relationship.


3)That British foreign policy was driven by legitimate fears of Germany (Ferguson claims Germany posed no threat to Britain before 1914, and that all British fears of Germany were due to irrational anti-German prejudices)
A bit wrong.

British foriegn policy was not driven by fears of Germany. The premise of this one is flawed. They was an awful lot of ANti French and Anti Russian prejudice in Britian as well. Clunsy germany moves like teh Kruger telegram and teh Naval Race did fuel anti German sentiment.


4)That the pre-1914 arms race was consuming ever larger portions of national budgets at an unsustainable rate (Ferguson claims that the only limitations on more military spending before 1914 were political, not economic)
flawed premise.

The Arms spending was very expensive but not ruinious. But it was seriously imactting social policy. He's right the main limitations were political (in Britian more economic elesewhere but still with politcal matters being strongly influencital)

But In my reading I have not come across an Historian claiming teh amrs spending was unsustainable,.

5)That World War I was, as Fritz Fischer claimed, a war of aggression on part of Germany that necessitated British involvement to stop Germany from conquering Europe (Ferguson claims that if Germany had been victorious, something like the European Union would have been created in 1914, and that it would have been for the best if Britain had chosen to opt out of war in 1914)
mostly wrong.

The Germans would have created an Empire, bit a free Union. I donlt think it would have lasted. But the Politicians in 1914 were not given cyrstal balls. They opposed a contnitetial power controlling the low countries,or establishing a hegemonic rule over Eruope.


6)That most people were happy with the outbreak of war in 1914 (Ferguson claims that most Europeans were saddened by the coming of war)
There been some debate about this. He's hardly on his own. It's popular history "myth". The populalrity of the war has been overstated in the past but that is generally beeing reaccessed now. But there was soem popular enthusiasm as well.

7)That propaganda was successful in making men wish to fight (Ferguson argues the opposite)
see nuber 11. But I think wrong. Almost everyone conscripted turned up and fought at the Front.

8)That the Allies made the best use of their economic resources (Ferguson argues that the Allies “squandered” their economic resources)

9)That the British and the French had the better armies (Ferguson claims the German Army was superior)
Non one argues this.

Thoughteh issue is more complex than justone or another Army being better.By 1918 the british army was better in some aspects and after the Spring offensives better in many.
In 1914 teh BEF was all professional force and had some claims, the recent war experince had forced the British to modernise and teh British had the better doctrine going in.

10)That the Allies were more efficient at killing Germans (Ferguson argues that the Germans were more efficient at killing the Allies)
Flawed premise/straw man. Almost non one cliamed this.

11)That most soldiers hated fighting in the war (Ferguson argues most soldiers fought more or less willingly)
Well which is it (7) or this one? Also it;s not an either/or situatiuon. Soldiers can hate the war and still fight more or less willingly. Which I would argee was the situtaion.

12)That the British treated German prisoners of war well (Ferguson argues the British routinely killed German POWS)
Have to see the detail.

13)That Germany was faced with reparations after 1921 that could not be paid except at ruinous economic cost (Ferguson argues that Germany could easily have paid reparations had there been the political will)
The question is actually more complex, been reading on this and I agreed with Ferguson becaomes the amount is not that high in temrs of the german budget and geiven they were not spending on the military very much they could actually have been ahead (repaations would be less than tehpre war military spending) But again it;s not the money it's teh foreign exchange, German marks were not paying reparations but foreign currency, which actually was hard to generate at those levels. That said the Germans deliberately made a meal of it.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,809
Australia
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Failing to honour the complex web of alliances may have been the most expedient approach and allowing Germany to dominate the continent may have been in Britain's best interest. However at the time it would not have looked that way. The loss of trust in Britain as an ally alone would have done enormous damage.
 
May 2018
1,019
Michigan
Niall Ferguson is far from a "Britian hating german nationalist." Ferguson is not only pretty pro-British, but he wrote a whole book that makes a good case defending the British Empire.

Ferguson is a neo-con nationalist. That he is heavily critical of his own country in WWI carries more weight than if, say, Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn started claiming Britain bad, Germany good.
 
Aug 2013
190
Finland
The question is actually more complex, been reading on this and I agreed with Ferguson becaomes the amount is not that high in temrs of the german budget and geiven they were not spending on the military very much they could actually have been ahead (repaations would be less than tehpre war military spending) But again it;s not the money it's teh foreign exchange, German marks were not paying reparations but foreign currency, which actually was hard to generate at those levels. That said the Germans deliberately made a meal of it.
Wikipedia says "the German economy was deprived of between one and 2.2 billion Reichsmark (RM) annually, which amounted in the late 1920s to nearly 2.5 per cent of Germany's GDP"
(World War I reparations - Wikipedia)

This is about half in relation to GDP to what Finland paid the USSR after WW2, which was to be paid in 1938 gold value. This was higher than the gold price in 1945 and the Finnish Mark had dropped in value about 50% during the war. In 1945-1949 this amounted to 5-6% of Finnish GDP each year, until the remaining sum was revised (cut). Nevertheless the reparations were paid, the last shipment was delivered in September 1952.

So really if Finland could pay twice that much in comparison to GDP after WW2, it would stand to reason that Germany for sure could have coughed up their reparations after WW1 had there been the will to do so.
 
May 2019
249
Salt Lake City, Utah
1)The Kaiser was highly militarist, yes, and led his country on an imperialist course.
2)Naval challenges mounted by Germany did drive Britain into formal alliances with France and Russia before 1914.
3)It is an error to claim "Germany posed no threat to Britain before 1914, and that all British fears of Germany were due to irrational anti-German prejudices)".
4)Yes, ". . . the pre-1914 arms race was consuming ever larger portions of national budgets at an unsustainable rate"
5)Yes, "That World War I was, as Fritz Fischer claimed, a war of aggression on part of Germany that necessitated British involvement to stop Germany from conquering Europe (Ferguson claims that if Germany had been victorious, something like the European Union would have been created in 1914, and that it would have been for the best if Britain had chosen to opt out of war in 1914)"
6)Yes, the following statement is error: That most people were happy with the outbreak of war in 1914
7)Yes, this is true: That propaganda was successful in making men wish to fight
8)Yes, this is true: That the Allies made the best use of their economic resources
9)That the British and the French had the better armies (Ferguson claims the German Army was superior)
10)This is wrong (the Germans were masters at killing) That the Allies were more efficient at killing Germans (Ferguson argues that the Germans were more efficient at killing the Allies)
11)This is not provable: That most soldiers hated fighting in the war (Ferguson argues most soldiers fought more or less willingly)
12)This suggestion is a statement of a civilian. All soldiers regularly kill those enemies they normally cannot 'reach out and touch": snipers, machine gunners, tankers, and airmen. (That the British treated German prisoners of war well (Ferguson argues the British routinely killed German POWS).
13)This is false: That Germany was faced with reparations after 1921 that could not be paid except at ruinous economic cost (Ferguson argues that Germany could easily have paid reparations had there been the political will)
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,405
Welsh Marches
In fairness the OP seems to stand (or fall) on the research and agenda of Niall Ferguson, rather than that of the poster himself, although the choice of topic and approach to it do seem eerily familiar in this poster’s short time as a contributor. Of course, when a new poster begins posting lots of threads early in their membership, that is often a sign of agenda-mongering.

As for Ferguson I haven’t read his book so can’t comment but the above seems like a fairly representative sample of his, uh, ‘craft’ shall we call it.
He's not a new poster, he's our old friend janossy under a different name!
 
Jun 2017
3,027
Connecticut
The “myths” of World War I that Ferguson attacked, with his counter-arguments in parentheticals, are:

1)That Germany was a highly militarist country before 1914 (Ferguson claims Germany was Europe’s most anti-militarist country)
2)That naval challenges mounted by Germany drove Britain into informal alliances with France and Russia before 1914 (Ferguson claims the British were driven into alliances with France and Russia as a form of appeasement due to the strength of those nations, and an Anglo-German alliance failed to materialize due to German weakness)
3)That British foreign policy was driven by legitimate fears of Germany (Ferguson claims Germany posed no threat to Britain before 1914, and that all British fears of Germany were due to irrational anti-German prejudices)
4)That the pre-1914 arms race was consuming ever larger portions of national budgets at an unsustainable rate (Ferguson claims that the only limitations on more military spending before 1914 were political, not economic)
5)That World War I was, as Fritz Fischer claimed, a war of aggression on part of Germany that necessitated British involvement to stop Germany from conquering Europe (Ferguson claims that if Germany had been victorious, something like the European Union would have been created in 1914, and that it would have been for the best if Britain had chosen to opt out of war in 1914)
6)That most people were happy with the outbreak of war in 1914 (Ferguson claims that most Europeans were saddened by the coming of war)
7)That propaganda was successful in making men wish to fight (Ferguson argues the opposite)
8)That the Allies made the best use of their economic resources (Ferguson argues that the Allies “squandered” their economic resources)
9)That the British and the French had the better armies (Ferguson claims the German Army was superior)
10)That the Allies were more efficient at killing Germans (Ferguson argues that the Germans were more efficient at killing the Allies)
11)That most soldiers hated fighting in the war (Ferguson argues most soldiers fought more or less willingly)
12)That the British treated German prisoners of war well (Ferguson argues the British routinely killed German POWS)
13)That Germany was faced with reparations after 1921 that could not be paid except at ruinous economic cost (Ferguson argues that Germany could easily have paid reparations had there been the political will)

An interesting article: A most surprising peacenik: Historian Niall Ferguson says Britain
You're a breath of fresh air in terms of revealing the false narratives of WWI(though I disagree with a few of these points, generally they are right on).

The people saying you're pro German clearly didn't read to the end of your list.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,729
Las Vegas, NV USA
"If more liberal forces will come to power in Germany after the war"
So the British should have stayed out of WW2 as well, because maybe more liberal forces might have come to power in Germany after the war ?
Like, but somewhat unfair. WWII was largely a result of Germany's defeat in WWI. Once the Germans invaded Belgium, Britain had no choice but to enter the war. However she didn't have to play a such a large role in the ground war. France was able to stop the German advance on her own and the long period of stalemate combined with an effective naval blockade worked against Germany. If British ground forces were needed it would be in 1918 when Russia withdrew. This would have been more like British strategy in the Napoleonic Wars.
 
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