Sunday, 18 October 2015

Britain Goes To War: Structure

A bit confused with how BGTW is going to pan out or what section (indicated with a # symbol) will cover what part of 1897-1914? You've come to the right place! Herein we explain what each of ten sections will bring to you...


#1. Introduction. Self-explanatory really, this section includes 3 parts wherein a prologue, a pitch and a plan explain what is to come. The prologue is more atmospheric, the pitch justifies the project for me and you, and the plan illustrates what way we're going to go about this whole thing.

#2. Background. Setting the stage for the world that existed from 1897-1914 is no small or easy task. Expect this section to constitute the bulk of the project. Since each part is resembled by a letter, you should also expect this section to run from A-Z. It will be quite the alphabetical journey for all of us. It is also here that you should learn and immerse yourself into the era at hand, hopefully the anecdotes, issues, peoples and places within will surprise and enthrall you as much as they did me. There is quite the story here folks, trust me.

An image indicative of the circumstances of the era. A concerned Chinese statesman looks on while the European power of the day carve up the Chinese pie. It stands as one of my favourites for obvious reasons, but I also find it stands as a great example of the kind of world Britain lived in from 1897-1914, where declining nations were fair game and imperialism reigned supreme.

#3. The Distant Crisis. While we've looked at the July Crisis before, we haven't looked at it solely from the perspective of one power. Britain's journey within the Crisis is perhaps the most interesting, since her experience here betrayed no signs of a possible war within the month. Expect a lot of country hopping, ambassador chasing and headline reading as we journey across the world that was wavering before the prospect of war.

#4. 1st August 1914. The first of 4 episodes aimed at examining the in-depth events of the four days of August that led to war in Britain. The 1st of August opened with German mobilisation and Sir Edward Grey and most of his colleagues very much in the dark as to what the Russians and Germans were doing. With war declared on this day between the two, it was imperative that proper news was received, but as we'll see, Britain was nothing if not thoroughly in the dark.

#5. 2nd August 1914. Britain reacts to the news that the Austro-Serb war will soon become a world war, while debate rages over what should happen were France to become involved. Such concerns lead Cabinet members to the shocking discovery that all of this time, Grey had been actively encouraging and plotting alongside the French, and that the so-called Entente had been developed to a far more detailed stage than either the public or politicians had been made aware. Still, Grey made a great efforts to formalise his colleagues' commitment to the French cause, and by the end of the day had a solid policy in place which seemed to spell disaster for the Germans, just as the latter were digging themselves deeper into a Belgian hole.

#6. 3rd August 1914. When Sir Edward Grey stood up to speak to a crowded House of Commons on this day, he did so in the knowledge that he would be speaking against the grain. Once he sat down, he had seemingly changed the public and political mind. Or had he? How important and forceful were his arguments, and to what extent did his colleagues believe or disapprove of his stance? As events on the continent ticked away, British statesmen at the highest level were coming to see the writing on the wall, though some still were determined to oppose the actions of the government that housed them. In the evening a few radicals and those that shared their opinions took to Parliament to debate the Government's course of action. Words were fierce and the conversations heated, but moods were somewhat calmed by the official promise that, of course, the Britain would not go to war without their approval and without the formality of a proper debate. In reality though, events within the country and without would conspire to erase this chance.

Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary tasked with controlling British foreign policy and affairs. It is to him that most account British policy and its various idiosyncrasies from 1906-1916. During this decade Grey perhaps did more to shape British policy than any other man. 

An imagining of the speech Grey gave on the afternoon of 3/8/2014, during which time he supposedly convinced the majority of the House of Commons that war with Germany would be necessary should she threaten the integrity of Belgium or even France. Honour, morality and previously unknown agreements constituted the bulk of his arguments in favour, as pro-war statesmen and stunned colleagues looked on at this defining moment in British history.

#7. 4th August 1914. In less than a few days Britain had gone from a disinterested spectator to a fully involved power, and she was about to become a participant. Now that news of Belgium was fully learned, it became harder and harder to quash the sympathetic elements of British opinion which argued for immediate action. These calls were not, as it turned out, insurmountable, but the issue was not persuading the nation, it was persuading the Cabinet, and with the top officials within it favouring war, such persuasion was not as hard in coming as it perhaps should have been, considering the likely consequences. Debates within the media and private halls will be analysed, as statesmen choose their sides along with the pillars of the media and the masses, before the bell chimes and war between Britain and Germany - that nightmare nobody imagined, became a reality.

#8. Britain at War and Beyond. Now in a war nobody could have anticipated a month ago, how did the seemingly under-prepared nature of the armed forces react? Was there much politicking to be done in order to make the wheels of state turn towards war? The diplomacy was breaking down across the continent, as Britain reinforced itself and withdrew its statesmen from the residences of the hostile powers' capitals. Many speculated that the combined forces of the Central Powers would be no match for the allies, but some feared the worst, and with good reason. In the duration of the war Britain lost more men and money than it had even deemed imaginable, and as the war dragged on and the nations that participated became ever more exhausted, it became less about victory and more about survival. As it limped over the finish line in November 1918, Britain could claim to have done its fair share of fighting and losing in the war, but while it was seen as a proud national victory by those that sought significance in the loss, there was already a segment of thinkers ready to criticise what had just been done and lost in their name. It is from the legacy of these thinkers that this project descends from and owes so much to.

The propaganda of the era is something that I find endlessly entertaining.

The importance of getting the Irish on side was considerable; Ireland had been a consistent thorn in Britain's side for years, and with Home Rule on the horizon and a potentially restless population next door, Britain had to do all in its power to pacify their neighbour and convince them that the war was a worthy one. It was not, as our investigation will reveal, a particularly difficult task.

Caricatures of the map of Europe were legion. Examples such as this demonstrate the stigmas attached to each nations as the war began to loom large  

#9. Alternative Histories. Perhaps the most incredible fact of all is that it could have gone so differently. Had one individual not had his breakfast and been a little more grumpy, had someone been in the wrong place at the wrong time, had a sudden illness swamped a certain VIP, had an election or negotiation not gone a certain way, we would all be living in a different world right now. Herein I try to ascertain the answer to the key question: would it have been a better world, by examining the morass of alternative possibilities that Britain could have pursued other than war in summer 1914. Remember I welcome all constructive scenarios that you are willing to send me!

Alternative histories of WW2 are a dime a dozen, which of course is not a bad thing. But what about WW1? Is there a market for that genre of alternative history too?

Perhaps the most striking image of WW2 alternative history is the notion that Britain became a Nazi satellite like all the others, but would the same thing have happened had the Germans defeated the allies in the First World War? Why or why not? Answering the questions will be my task.

#10. Conclusion. Our epic journey finally reaches its end, and I summarise the major findings as well as answer the questions that set this project in motion in the first place. We've been through a lot together you and I, but now it is time to put this era to rest. You know the story, now it is time to find out, conclusively, how it ends.


So that's the plan. As far as #2 goes, I reckon that providing you with a detailed plan of each episode within that wouldn't be wise at this point, since things chop and change on a fairly regular basis. It is also somewhat nice to have a surprise episode greet you every Monday morning, so keep an eye out for any news on the FB page if you want any clues. Other than that, thanks for reading, and I hope you feel a bit more able now to wrap your head around the whole project. It is gonna be a good one!


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