Published On: Mon, Nov 12th, 2018

The case for Britain as engineer and instigator of World War I; an introduction

Writing in the margins of a communiqué that had made the scales fall from his eyes, Kaiser Wilhelm wrote this:

England, France, and Russia are in league to wage a war of annihilation against us, taking the Austro-Serbian conflict as pretext.

(p310, source named below)

The Russians had been mobilising in secret, and the British had been playing dumb about it, at the same time as giving the Germans an impression that there was an interest in London in instigating last minute mediation between them and the French (who had clandestinely been executing a pre-mobilisation protocol involving a military build up 10km off the German frontier). When Germany had got wind of Russian “pre-mobilisation”, she still hesitated in return for a diplomatic solution. But now it was revealed that the Russians had no intention of halting their mobilisation, and Germany was still on the starting line in a race to come to full war-readiness. Austria too was disadvantaged, having only configured its mobilisation to confront Serbia in retaliation for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Historians appear to argue that those in key positions of the British Government were just inept in such an exactly particular way so as to present an attitude of neutrality. How they generally excuse Winston Churchill is not known (at the moment); at the same time as Britain was mollifying the as yet not mobilised Germany, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the man who would later eat a month’s worth of World War II rations in one sitting and declare (paraphrasing) that he didn’t know what the British people had to complain about†, issued orders to a) maintain a concentration of fleets at Portland instead of dispersing them as per a previous schedule, and b) have naval commanders prepare for war with the Triple Alliance powers (“no unnecessary person is to be informed”), and c) have the First Fleet navigate secretly (without lights through the Dover Straits) to its “war station” at Scapa Flow – obviously to take up a state of war-readiness. The thing about naval mobilisation is that it merely entails sending always-ready ships onto the seas.

Britain, as we shall see, was the only power that didn’t have a good enough reason to go to war, and yet did it anyway. This is cause for suspicion.

If the politicians in the Cabinet, Commons and Lords pretended it was a matter of honour to defend Belgian neutrality and uphold what amounted to a glorified non-aggression pact with the French (the Entente Cordial), then that didn’t make it the case. Indeed, the British people had to be subjected to something entirely less subtle to win it over: propaganda featuring the pointy-hat wearing Hun raping girls and mutilating babies. It is difficult to trust the official figures of Belgian civilian deaths at the hands of German troops that have come down to us, because these figures are used to justify a war rather like the “holocaust” was during and after World War II. It looks very much like while there may well have been isolated atrocities, Belgium actually suffered from a particularly brutal form of warfare that wasn’t new, and wouldn’t be the last time that it would be doled out: the “requisitioning of property”, or looting; deaths by collective punishment by a heavy-handed military administration terrified of civilian partisan activity; murder by long march into slavery or away from the conflict.

Indeed, all of the sneaking around by Russia to beat Germany to war-readiness was for British public opinion: Russia and France could not be seen as the aggressors, so that when Germany declared war on the two – which was protocol as part of the process of German mobilisation (triggered by Russia) – it would be Germany who could be framed as being the starter of the war. Moreover, there was a way for Germany to use Belgian territory – a necessity in German planning in a war against France (due to France being a signatory to an anti-German military treaty with Russia) to extend the German lines to achieve encirclement – so that Britain didn’t have to get involved. The Belgians did not agree to a German request for military access – whether Britain advised this or not is not known by the author at this time. The fact that the Germans had to fight through Belgium – and not at all successfully either – when they felt that it was something that they shouldn’t be doing, might go a little way to explaining the rage that was unleashed.

Additionally, if the British people had known that France had been gearing up for war before the German declaration, then it might have expected the British Government not to feel duty bound to guard France’s northern coast by sea. On that point, incidentally, in another effort to win British neutrality, Germany had given assurances that action would not be taken that would put the Royal Navy in a position whereby it would need to do this.

The plain fact of the matter – whether one likes it or not – is this: the British Government did not have to get involved in the First World War. However, not only did it do this, but it deceived the British people in order to do it (which wouldn’t be the last time that this would happen). All this is something that can be eminently clear to an astute reader of July 1914: the Countdown to War, written by Sean McMeekin, which, in terms of detail of analysis, is pitched at a suitably abstract level for an audience who won’t be familiar with early 20th century history at all. Moreover, one can form this idea without any help from McMeekin, who concludes that “Britain’s role in unleashing the First World War was one born of blindness and blundering, not malice”. McMeekin also likes to call British non-interventionists “Little Englanders”, which is a great clue to a perspicacious reader. Clumsy well-meaning has been the British Government’s alibi for a long time, and Britons never stop buying the same old story whenever it is sold to them.

As for causing the war, this is a detective story that must start in Sarajevo and with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. McMeekin has a very interesting thing to say about this in respect of the scenario it created:

Absent the Sarajevo incident, a great power war might still have broken out at some point in 1914 or shortly thereafter. But there are good reasons to think otherwise… only the unique sequence of events following Sarajevo… produced a European war in which both France and Britain would back Russia.


In simple terms, a world war was the very specific outcome that would come about because of this particular trap. As such, it could be said that whoever set the trap also started the war. Of the culprits, McMeekin reports that many Viennese were what these days would be called “conspiracy theorists”:

Wild rumours were spreading around the city. Some thought the attacks were some kind of inside job, cooked up by German or Austrian intelligence; others fingered the Freemasons… (p28).

Listing Serbia as another possible culprit, as McMeekin does, appears to make it look like Freemasonic activity would be internal to Austria, but this is contrary to the internationalist nature of the beast, which does not owe allegiance to a country. The Black Hand, which is the Serbian organisation that officially perpetrated the assassination, was a secret society: “new members” explains McMeekin, “would be led into a ‘darkened room, lighted only by wax candles,’ where they would swear an oath” (p7). Sounds like a Masonic initiation rite.

Granted, the initiate pledged his life in the cause of Serbian nationalism – but then, Masonic initiates never understand what they are actually signing up to. That the seal of the organisation contained a skull and bones is a sure sign (the skull and bones is related to the Islamic flags of white script on a black field, and possibly originates from when the remnants of Crusader orders – originally created through contact with Islamic assassin sects – took to the seas as pirates). The Black Hand might have been Serbian on the surface, but the assassination could well have been ordered in a foreign capital – meaning it was ultimately the work of Russian, but more likely French or British intelligence. Indeed, although the Austrian Government evidently began to collect substantiation of a plot involving Serbian officials, the whole issue of definitive proof of official Serbian aggression appears to have been overtaken by events.

It is not a surprise that people thought that there was more to the assassination than met the eye. The Archduke’s motorcade literally presented him to the assassin to be shot. It turned into a street that it shouldn’t have, and stopped on the corner where the shootist was stationed. The Austrian military governor of Bosnia was meant to have instructed the motorcade to do something entirely different to affect a speedy getaway. He is supposed to have had forgotten to do this – or something. It’s very hard to understand the incident as coming about as the result of a botch.

If it is certain that the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the only scenario that would achieve a France-Britain-Russia alignment against Germany, then it would have amounted to some pretty bad strategy by any Austrians or Germans pulling off an inside job at the behest of their own intelligence agencies. Granted, there was a movement in Austrian Government to extract punishment from Serbia as swiftly as possible (to solve the problem locally before there was time for the incident to spread geographically), but there was also inertia within the same to prevent this from happening. If all parties to the war (at its outset) thought that Russian reaction to Austria’s response was reasonable, only then would it rule out the assassination being for the engineering of a problem with a local remedy: Austria and Germany didn’t think so, hence the larger conflagration was always intended.

When things dragged on, and the Russians got wind of general Austrian intentions, there was an attempt to placate them. Proposals were made whereby Austria would confront Serbia militarily, but foreswear a long-term occupation. Terms would be come to by which the Austrians could be seen to be dealing with the Serbian nationalist-expansionist tendency: it would be a matter of punishing wrong-doers rather than a whole nation. The Russians never trusted the Austrians not to gobble up Serbia – although this is beside the point, because Russia was evidently set upon wider war from the start – as we will see later. For the time being, the Russian intent is visible when we extrapolate what it would mean for Germany if Russia had agreed to temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade which it then didn’t relinquish: there could be no German defence of Austrian actions, and Russia would have a free go at liberating Serbia. But defending Serbia was not the be-all and end-all of Russian plans.

Germany had wanted Austria to do something lightning quick, and that is why she gave blanket support right from the start; Berlin was under the impression that that there would be a rapid local solution. As mentioned above, in this case, Russian reaction could have been overtaken by facts on the ground.  And so, it becomes important to understand why Austria was impeded from acting swiftly. The main reason is probably this: the Austrians got bogged down in scruples and diplomatic tricks with an eye on delaying Russian reaction – which didn’t stop the Russians finding out. The prime suspect for spreading the news of secret Austrian designs is the British (reasons to be given in a following article).

Even if the assassination was a wholly organic event, this still leaves it open to exploitation, and the question: who would have wanted to exploit it to have a world war. It turns out that Russian war aims extended to the capture of Constantinople in support of domestic agricultural reforms and to guarantee trading routes into the Mediterranean. Obviously, nothing much there has anything to do with defending Serbia – although Russia would presumably like to see the Austrian threat to its ally diminished (which is what happened when Austro-Hungarian territory was ceded to Belgrade in the shape of Yugoslavia). A little bit earlier in the previous century, France had lost Alsace and Lorraine during a sound drubbing by the Germans – an humiliation that the French would be keen to redress, and once again, very little to do with defending Serbia. Obviously, Austria wanted a war – but only locally (the actual result of World War I must have been something akin to the worst Austrian nightmare). As did Germany, a country whose government didn’t want to foul up what it thought was a growing rapprochement with Britain.

As for the United Kingdom, as stated before, it was the only power to go to war for no good reason – except, that is (as we might suppose), to prop up France from an inevitable German victory while Germany also battered Russia. It was the Russians who were London’s actual major rival in the world; recently there had been a problem between the two powers in Persia. If the war meant the bringing about of an impossibly perfect scenario, then it could only apply for the British. Of course, unless we are naïve, we know that impossibly perfect scenarios cannot be left to chance.


† This story was discovered in the course of research for another project – an online source is lost for the moment, and cannot be rediscovered. Needless to say, there are many more reasons as to why a completely revised appreciation of Churchill is long overdue. The author recommends that if Britons are desperate to mark November 11th, then they should move bonfire night to that date, exonerate Guy Fawkes, and burn effigies of Winston Churchill instead.

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