1913: The Eve of War by Paul Ham sets the European stage for the start of WWI. Ham is the author of several books on 20th Century war, politics, and diplomacy. He has written several on the time period including the previously reviewed 1914: The Year the World Ended.
Europe was a happy place. Economic growth, new products and production contributed to an established middle class. There was stability. It has been ninety-eight years since the last continent wide war, and over forty years since any of the powers faced off in a war. Art, music, and leisure time made this a golden time.
Ham looks into the events that caused the war and tells that it is much more complex, and even a bit more absurd than what we came to believe. We all heard the blame placed on alliances and the assassination of the Arch Duke. These are simple answers that do not reflect the complexity of the situation. Alliances do not lead to war. Anyone who has lived through the Cold War recognizes that NATO and the Warsaw Pact kept the war cold. The Archduke was not liked at home or abroad. Emporer Franz Joseph is credited as thanking God for bringing order to his house after the assassination. No leaders from any of the powers attended the funeral. The Emporer, although shaken by the news of the assassination returned to the capital, but quickly resumed his vacation.
Suspicion, distrust, and prestige had more to do than anything else. There more than ample opportunities to stop the war before it started, but no one put forth the effort. Instead everyone planned for war. Railroads made mobilization quicker and also prevented a negotiation period from mobilization to the firing of shots. Once the troops boarded the trains, there was no turning back. Ham makes sense of and explains the complex events that lead to a very preventable war.