In The Pity of War, Niall Ferguson makes a simple and provocative argument: that the human atrocity known as the Great War was entirely England’s fault. Britain, according to Ferguson, entered into war based on naïve assumptions of German aims—and England’s entry into the war transformed a Continental conflict into a world war, which they then badly mishandled, necessitating American involvement. The war was not inevitable, 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, horrific, inhuman,is memorialized in part by the poetry of men like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but also by cold statistics. More British soldiers were killed in the first day of the Battle of the Somme than Americans in the Vietnam War; indeed, 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 enthusiasm. Ferguson vividly brings back to life this terrifying period, not through dry citation of chronological chapter and verse but through a series of brilliant chapters focusing on key ways in which we now view the First World War.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 guide than Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.
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If someone less distinguished than Jesus College, Oxford, fellow Niall Ferguson had written The Pity of War, you could be forgiven for thinking the book was out for a few cheap headlines by contradicting almost every accepted orthodoxy about the First World War. Ferguson argues that Britain was as much to blame for the start of the war as Germany, and that, had Britain sacrificed Belgium to Germany, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would never have happened. Germany, he continues, would have created a united European state, and Britain could have remained a superpower. He also contends that there was little enthusiasm for the war in Britain in 1914; on the other hand, he claims the war was prolonged not by clever manipulation of the media, but by British soldiers' taking pleasure in combat. If that isn't enough, he further maintains that it wasn't the severity of the conditions imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919 that led inexorably to World War II, and blames instead the comparative leniency and the failure to collect reparations in full.
The Pity of War, with no pretensions to offering a grand narrative of the war, goes over its chosen questions like a polemical tract. As such it is immensely readable, well researched, and controversial. You may not end up agreeing with all of Ferguson's arguments, but that should not deter you from reading it. All of us need our deeply held views challenged from time to time, even if only to remind us why we've got them. --John Crace, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Publisher:
Praise for this title
"I know of no other account of the First World War that does such a convincing job of explaining the war and bringing its grim realities to life." --David Clay Large, author of Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich
"Innovative and imaginative (in the best sense), this bold reassessment of World War I asks questions that are too rarely asked - including what may be most anguishing of all: Did the war have to be a world war? Was it truly the greatest error of modern history?" --Rob Cowley, founding editor, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.
"The Pity of War is lucid, lively, and continually thought-provoking. It gives fresh answers to old questions about World War I, and raises some new questions. It is hard to put down and harder to forget." --Ernest May, Harvard University
"The Pity of War is the most important and controversial book about World War I in many years. In this splendidly researched, well-written, and deeply personal book, Oxford historial Niall Ferguson shatters many long-held beliefs about Britain's role." --Carlo W. D'Este, author of Patton and Bitter Victory
"The Pity of War for the first time brings the carnage of 1914-18 into sharp, unmystified focus. This is analytical history at its mordant best. With all its other merits, The Pity of War is also a work of grace and feeling." --The Economist
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