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Decisions for War, 1914–1917

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  • Date Published: December 2004
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521836791
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About the Authors
  • Focusing on the choices made by coteries, this study examines the perplexing question of why World War I happened. In each case, the decision to enter the war was made by a handful of individuals--monarchs, ministers, military people, party leaders, ambassadors, and a few others. In each case also, separate and distinct agendas are seen, with considerations differing from one nation to the next. The leadership of Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, the Balkans, and the United States are explored, as well as that of the major powers involved--Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Great Britain,

    • Provides detailed examination of decision-makers and decision-making by rulers in 12 participant nations
    • Critiques various theories and positions on causes of the war
    • Provides maps and offers further reading opportunities
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "The debate on the origins of the First World War remains one of historyas most important and hotly contested topics, and this excellent book does it justice by presenting up-to-the minute research in a refreshingly accessible way. The breadth of its coverage is especially impressive, with Hamilton and Herwig treating the outbreak of the war as a global rather than merely a European event. Quite simply, this is the best introduction to the origins of the 1914-18 war yet published."
    Dr. Gary Sheffield, Senior Lecturer in History, Kingas College London

    "The First World War was it an accident or was it design? Historians have debated this question for 90 years, and this latest contribution, aimed at a general audience, offers comparative conclusions about the major and minor powers' motivations for fighting in World War I. Hamilton and Herwig make a convincing case for the importance of human agency in the decisions for war, ranging from a forced hand, blunder or miscalculation, to decisions calculated to provoke a conflict. This book is a welcome contribution to the continuing debate on the origins of the First World War and will provide readers with a useful guide through the maze of conflicting interpretations on this controversial subject."
    Dr. Annika Mombauer, Senior Lecturer, The Open University, UK

    "This book is an abridged version of the collection of essays edited by the same two authors, The Origins of World War I (Cambridge University Press, 2003). The footnotes have been removed and its text and bibliography skillfully abridged in order to produce a shorter and cheaper edition that can be made more readily accessible to students and the general reader. This wider accessibility is greatly to be welcomed. The book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date account available of the decisions that led first to the outbreak of the First World War and then to intervention by most of the global powers. A strong feature is the authors' comparative approach, which focuses attention on who made the crucial decisions in each country, how they did so (in what institutional context), and why they acted as they did.
    Prof. David Stevenson, Department of International History, London School of Economics and Political Science

    "Make this well-written work required reading for anyone interested in the origins of the First World War."
    John H. Morrow, JR., The International History Review

    "As a book intended for class use, Decisions for War succeeds in introducing students to the major issues and controversies relating to the outbreak of World War I." Canadian Journal of History Frederic Krome, American Jewish Archives

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    Customer reviews

    17th Aug 2014 by Robbo

    The origins of the Great War have long been debated, with an abundant historiography discussing the causes of the great catastrophe. Among this vast literature at least 17 books have the title Origins of the First World War. The major themes include the alliance system, nationalism, social Darwinism, economic imperialism, militarism and the arms race, press agitation, the accidental war - that the initial combatants unintentionally slid into such a catastrophic war, and the domestic cause theme - that conservative elites, faced with serious internal threats, chose war to save their positions. In this thoroughly interesting and revealing study, the authors take a different tack, and get down to the nuts and bolts of how the respective nations actually became embroiled in the war. Eschewing the traditional themes, Hamilton and Herwig argue that a small coterie of no more than eight or ten men made the decision to go to war, and in some cases such as France, one dominant figure played the key role. In doing so, each group was motivated by separate and distinct sets of concerns. The authors make their case well, and remind us that over the course of history, the Great War was actually World War VII Following a review of the above themes, and setting the scene of the international tensions prior to the war with an overview of the European Wars between 1815 and 1914 that undid the Congress of Vienna’s ‘balance of power’, the authors deal chronologically with each of the principal countries that entered the war between 1914 and 1917. Each gets a separate chapter, except Japan and the Ottoman Empire which share one, as do Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. In each study the constitutional framework pertaining to war powers for the country and a resume of the key players is outlined, while the international concerns confronting them, and in the case of the five powers that decided on war in July- August 1914, their reactions during the July Crisis are detailed. This is the real value of the book. The reader gains a clear insight into the thinking and concerns of those in each small coterie, backed by extensive quotes from diaries and documents, and the process by which they considered the emerging crisis. Dominant players emerge, who drove the discussions and decisions to engage in war. This makes informative reading, addressing the reasoning, or lack of, that resulted in the declarations of war, rather than the more esoteric “isms” often served up as causes. Perhaps the most sobering revelation is that rather than accidentally sliding into the catastrophe, several of Europe’s leaders knowingly embarked on a what would be an all consuming struggle - and one wonders at the logic or mindset that would not only contemplate, but actually decide to initiate such a disaster. One is left with the distinct impression that the overriding factor that drove the first four belligerents to declare war was one of fear - primarily a fear of a loss of prestige within Europe, and that their State was seriously threatened, hence Austria-Hungary’s determination to wage war on Serbia, and Germany’s “now or never” attitude with regard to Russia and France. The tensions of the moment ooze from the pages, with some players bordering on panic in the rush to be first. Other nations were driven by different motives. Although not directly threatened British concerns about Germany’s potential hegemony over Europe, and posing a direct challenge to the Empire, swayed them to reluctantly enter the fray. Others had more selfish reasons - territorial gain, and for some the decision on who to support was determined by which of the warring sides offered the best deal, while Germany’s strategic blunders dragged a reluctant United States into the conflict. In the concluding chapter, the authors summarise their views on the reasons each nation decided on war, and suggest the received themes on the origins of the war mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review are inadequate, or invalid. While they make their case convincingly, this reviewer feels the alliance system strongly influenced Russia’s and France’s decisions, while in the Dual Monarchy and Germany the military leadership played a dominant role. An instructive consideration of the various social and commercial elites concludes this fine book, and puts paid to the view that industrial and financial elites had any influence. Hamilton and Herwig have not only made a valuable contribution to our understanding of how the political elites of Europe recklessly plunged their nations into war, but have also provided an insight into their flawed and, in many cases, arrogant thinking. All is clearly told in an easily readable and digestible style, which delivers some surprises - to this reviewer at least. Decisions for War 1914-1917 provides a particularly useful balance to other views on the origins of the Great War.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2004
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521836791
    • length: 284 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.59kg
    • contains: 5 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The Great War: a review of explanations
    2. European wars:
    1815–1914
    3. Austria-Hungary
    4. Germany
    5. Russia
    6. France
    7. Great Britain
    8. Japan
    the Ottoman Empire
    9. Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece
    10. Italy
    11. The United States
    12. On the origins of the catastrophe
    Recommended readings.

  • Authors

    Richard F. Hamilton, Ohio State University
    Richard F. Hamilton is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science and Research Associate of The Mershon Center at Ohio State University. He is co-editor, with Holger Herwig, of The Origins of World War I (Cambridge, 2003). His previous books include Who Voted for Hitler? (1982) and The Bourgeois Epoch (1991).

    Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary
    Holger H. Herwig is Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. Among the many books he has written are Biographical Dictionary of World War I (1982), co-authored with Neil M. Heyman, The First World War (1997), and The Destruction of the Bismarck (2001).

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