Book Review: The War That Ended The Peace:The Road to 1914

The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

The War That Ended The Peace:The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan is the history that lead to the first world war and started the twentieth century. MacMillan originally from Toronto, Canada is a historian and professor at Oxford University, where she also earned her PhD. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Fellow at St. Anthony’s College, and Senior Fellow At Massey College. She is the author of several book including: Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the WorldThe Uses and Abuses of History, and Women of the Raj.

World War I is the beginning of the twentieth century. It is the starting point of everything the twentieth century became; all the major events can be traced back to it: WWII, Communism, mechanized warfare, air power, arms races, and a bipolar world. People always ask what started the war? A Serbian radical? Alliances? MacMillan poses a different question: What ended the Peace? Europe was enjoying a time of prosperity, growth, and most importantly peace. Why would war break out?

Two issues of the many brought out in the book struck me as something I never put much thought in to before. First, the issue of defensive alliances. Entangling alliances is often cited as a reason for the war. France had a secret alliance with Russia to respond if either was attacked. Germany and Austria-Hungary had the same type of treaty. England enjoyed Splendid Isolation, playing the role of a balancing power in the alliance game. Alliances did drag all the players into war. Like dominoes knocking dominoes over, they all fell. It was not so much alliances that caused the problem as MacMillan points out. NATO helped keep the peace for for almost half a century. It was the players more so than the alliances. NATO was not worried that Italy would unilaterally act and attack Czechoslovakia and likewise there was no fear in the Warsaw Pact that East Germany would unilaterally attack West Germany. The players were responsible. The West under pressure to keep peace by democratically elected governments and the East from, perhaps, the recognition that war would only hurt. The players were not as responsible in 1914; responsible defensive alliances work.

Secondly, one of the key points of the modern Liberal Theory of international relations is that increased trade creates strong alliances: trading partners do not go to war against each other. Increased trade does seem to create prosperity. Before the start of the war prosperity was growing inside the great powers. Trade between Germany and England more than doubled in the pre-war years. Trade, however, did little to prevent war in Europe.

The War That Ended the Peace is an extremely detailed study of the years leading to the Great War. MacMillan does an excellent job detailing the events and the people. Her work is very well documented. The book will take the reader down the road that started with the promise of the 1900 Paris Exposition and the ends with war and how that seemed impossible. A must read for any WWI historian. MacMillan really examines the important question, not what started the war, but rather what ended the peace.

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