tv Prelude to World War I CSPAN December 23, 2014 10:19am-10:49am EST
speeches from presidents john kennedy and ronald reagan. at noon fashion experts on first ladies' fashion choices and how they represented the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at 10:00, former nbc news anchor tom brokaw on his more than 50 years of reporting on world events. that's this christmas day on the c-span networks. for our complete schedule go to c-span.org. american history tv visited the mcarthur memorial in norfolk, virginia, hosting a symposium marking the world war i centennial. coming up next in a previously recorded segment historian sean mcmeekin takes viewer calls on the state of europe just prior to the beginning of world war i. he talks about how the assassination of the austrian arch duke franz ferdinand led to what he calls a countdown to war. this program is about 25 minutes. >> american history tv is live
from the mcarthur memorial in norfolk, virginia, where the world war i centennial symposium is on its lunch break. until they return we're joined by sean mcmeekin, author of "july 1914: countdown to war." mr. mcmeekin appreciate you joining us on american history tv. >> thank you for having me. it's a pleasure to be here. >> a century since world war i, there continues to be a debate about which nation was responsible for the start of the first world war. take us back to america in 1914. 1915, 1916. was that debate about who was responsible taking place in the united states at that time? >> it was not necessarily the most important question in u.s. politics. i think probably for the woodrow wilson administration, the key thing was to keep the united states out of the war. i think certainly if there had been a different president in
the white house, possibly theodore roosevelt, might have taken a different line. he was quite clear about the fact in 1914 that i think he saw the germans as, if not necessarily to blame for the war, then certainly a greater threat for the united states than the entent powers, france, britain and russia. as far as 1916, again once again woodrow wilson was running for office, in part on the pledge of keeping the united states out of the war. i think in the long run, it did become -- once the question came on the table in 1917, what we might call the rendering of the question that is to say the dramatic rendering of the question of war guilt did become a big part of the story and that's when you really got to see a huge ramp-up in kind of the propaganda against the germans and the kaiser and so on. but back in 1914, i think most americans were genuinely bewildered by what was happening in europe. when colonel house went to europe on a somewhat unofficial mission for president wilson in
may of 1914, you know, he said quite famously, it's like militarism run stark mad. what's not always appreciated about this remark is that he actually singled out the entente powers. he said whenever england consents, then france and russia will close in on germany. and so that's how it looked to a u.s. envoy. on the eve of the first world war. a few years later, i think it would look slightly differently. that probably had more to do with german behavior, particularly in the atlantic ocean, behavior of the u-boats sinking merchant vessels and so on. i think it took time for the press to ramp up in the denunciation of the germans. it really wouldn't have flown quite so well back in 1914 when i think most americans were just getting up to speed on what was happening in europe. >> if our viewers have questions for sean mcmeekin our phone lines are open. enelectoral under, 202-585-3880. and if you're in the mountain and pacific regions, 202 --
585-3881. with the benefit of 100 years of history to look back on where do you assign the blame? do you think history has assigned it correctly? >> i think everyone wants pat answers to this question. the ask if the assassin who murdered the arch duke franz ferdinand several years later on his death bed, he was in prison, the war was still raging, they asked him if he had any regrets. he said quit pittly, well if i hadn't done it the germans would have found some other excuse. so he was an early proponent of the german war guilt school. said against this the man who authorized princip, the head of serbian military intelligence, he wrote down a confession that in fact back in 1914 when he had unleashed princip and the other assassins in sarajevo that he had the green light from the russians and that they actually provided the funds for the
assassination. so there's almost the evidence that one could use to marshal a case for one side or another. 9 way i come down in my own blocks is what ambiguous. i do assign far more share of the blame to both france and russia who have gotten off somewhat easily in much of the literature on the war in part because so many of the documents related to french and russian policy from july 1914 were destroyed. far more than actually went missing on the austrian side. i would by no means deny the aust row hungarians the responsibility. they sent an ultimate yum to serbia and then declared war on serbia which to some extent sent the dogs of war hauling. one has to resh by the time austria-hungary dispatched its ultimatum and declared war on serbia particularly in the latter case the declaration of war on serbia, russia had already begun its military
preparations. russia had already been secretly mobilizing for three days before austria-hungary declared war on serbia on july 28th, 1914. so in the end the question of intentions, intent, war guilt, i think one of the great things about this question it's very difficult to resolve it satisfactorily for all parties. in the end that's why historians continue to be fascinated by it. because there are no easy answers to this question. you can find evidence to support just about any case. again my own case is one i like to think of balance, although of course, some people who have read my books say that i actually pin more blame on france and russia. i think that's partly because i'm aiming for a kind of corrective function, that is to say, to get people to think beyond the usual frame of just looking at the germans. because after all, it's not just the germans who brought a war about that initially had six belligerents, and ended up embroiling the entire world including the united states. >> just a few of sean mcmeekin's
books "july 1914: countdown to war and the russian origins of the first world war." he is a professor of history. at bard college. he is joining us for the next 20 minutes or so. taking your calls on american history tv. let's go to david from rochester, new york. david, good morning. >> nice to talk to you. i have read your books on world war i and i enjoyed reading them. the insight into the ottoman front is very interesting. do you know norman stone and his book on the eastern front in world war i? any kind of influence on your work? thank you. >> mr. mcmeekin? >> thank you, david for your question. very interesting you are calling from rochester. that is my hometown and where i grew up. i'm quite fond of the place. it's funny you ask about norman stone. he is actually a good friend of
mine. and yes his work on the eastern front published in the 1970s is something of a touchstone for my own work. i mean norman himself is actually quite fond of saying that by now, four decades later, someone should have come along and made his book obsolete. to date no one has really quite done that. on the eastern front, that is to say primarily the eastern european front, the sector of the war pitting germany and austria-hungary and their allies including bulgaria and the ottoman empire against russia is much less studied in the western front to this day the russians have not actually published an official mill trer history or chronicle. the only ironic thing in retrospect about this book if you look at norman stone and his career is he's actually been in turkey now since the mid 1990s, teaching mostly in ankara where i used to teach. however, turkey doesn't play much of a role in that book. and i think that's just because of the timing of the research and the writing of it. when norman stone was first researching the eastern front, kind of the height of the cold war in the '60s and '70s, turkey
wasn't really registering. that is to say, it was kind of a backwater in the cold war. you know, aside from maybe playing a role as a bit player in the cuban missile crisis, you didn't hear much about turkey. today, of course, things are very different. the 1990s reminded us of the importance of the balkans, wars in the former yugoslavia, levin has brought us face-to-face with the middle east, the ottoman legacy there. i if i if norman had the book to write over again today he would pay more attention to turkey, the caucasian front, the direct front pitting turkish against russian troops, and these are things he knows a great deal about, i've spoken to him about them. but it is interesting they don't factor that much in to that study. and i think part of that is again just the time in which we live. and the time which i'm writing, turkey is more in the news. the middle east is more the news. so it's probably more of a natural thing for me to sort of turn in that direction. but thank you for the question. >> bill is up next from hickson,
tennessee. good morning, bill, you're on with mr. mcmeekin. >> good to see an intellectual on tv. like that. i did have a few questions about woodrow wilson's motivations. they say the zimmerman telegram is what really got the u.s. into the war. but really, the united states really give -- or could mexico really have aligned the germans with a realistic prospect or was it just a pretext? the other two things really quickly are first of all, there was like a $14 billion debt i think that 9 allied countries owed the united states. that the united states would have defaulted on if, you know, if germany had won, that's the equivalent of about $1.4 trillion today. and plus, wilson also had fired william james brown and i think for being too pacifistic didn't he before all of this? i'll hang up and let you talk. >> mr. mcmeekin feel free to
take those questions in any order. >> oh, well sure. well thank you, bill. those are great questions. and you raise some fascinating points about the u.s. position in the war. you're absolutely right that by 1916 and even more so 1917, the united states, and particularly financial interests, did have to some extent a vested interest in at the very least the entente powers winning the war so that they could pay back all of these debts. this was true even of the russians who had begun raising loans in the u.s. bond market beginning in 1916. so that is all entirely true. i think the woodrow wilson administration was on the fence. not entirely like the way fdr would be viewing the european war, and eventually japan in the second world war. that is to say, his own policy, this is in the case of fdr, i think would have been to go in. but he did, of course have to think about both public opinion and congress. in the case of the wilson administration, it was complicated further he by the fact that wilson had essentially run for re-election in 1916
largely on this platform of having kept the u.s. out of the war. so he was hamstrung to some extent by his own political rhetoric. by the fact that there was certainly no groundswell of public support for intervention. the zimmerman telegram played, i think, a final to some extent decisive role but of course this was not alone. we shouldn't vie it in isolation. what prompted the zimmerman telegram sent by arthur zimmerman of the german foreign office to mexico city was essentially this offer that if mexico could help out the germans, if the united states entered the first world war by keeping them tied down. and mexico, of course, was in the middle of its own revolution, a decade-long conflict there. if the u.s. could get embroiled there then mexico would have the chance of regaining some of the territories lost in the 1840s, of course arizona, new mexico, nevada, possibly parts of california, though california was not mentioned in the zimmerman telegram.
what prompted this is the germans themselves unleashed unrestricted submarine warfare, that is to say no more warnings when they were going to fire torpedoes or drop bombs on merchant vessels. no more women and children to the lifeboats. they knew that might enrage american opinion. they knew it might bring the u.s. into the war and so pro-actively and quite foolishly the germans sent this telegram. i think in the end it furnished what might call the final part of the case. there's not alone responsible for the u.s. entry into the war, but it did allow the financial argument wilson was able to present to congress in 1917. >> mr. mcmeekin we're also taking questions from our facebook page, as well. simone writes how could the war have been avoided? was there any way it could have been stopped once it started? >> before it started, i think it could have been stopped. this would have required very different and much defter statesmanship on the part of several statesmen trying to prevent the war.
we shouldn't forget many statesmen were trying to bring it about or at the very least exs aer bait tensions. the simplest way of putting this is absent the assassination of arch duke franz ferdinand in sarajevo i don't think the first world war would have broken out. that is to say a broad conflagration. i think there might have been a third balkan war. two had been previously fought since 1912 breaking out between turkey and greece which need not have embroiled the larger powers because none of them had a direct stake in that fight. you could pick various moments in the course of july 1914, have the germans pulled the reins on the austrians sooner, had the austrians behaved more decisively, thad hey waited four weeks ahowing the coalition against them to develop, had serbia accepted the ultimatum, that's another what-if. there are all kinds of what-ifs in july that would have led to a very different scenario. once the war broke out then you're getting into military history. there we have here professor
helger hole wig talking about the battle of the marne. there are germans who wanted a divisive victory in the fall of 1914. had the coalitions played out differently, had the ottomans not entered the war, many, many scenarios might have led to a different outcome. i don't think however, once the war had begun, that is once hostilities had been unleashed and all the great powers were mobilized by that point, i don't think the war could have been prevented. >> several callers waiting to chat with you in our last 10 or 15 minutes or so. gene is in hyattsville, maryland. hello, gene, you're on with mr. mcmeekin. >> okay, thank you. first of all professor, i'm sorry, i haven't read your book or seen it, so i'm really glad that this c-span is -- having you on their show. what i'm actually curious about, i think, is much of what i know about world war i is really related to things i learned many years ago reading barbara tuchman's various books. and i wondered if you could comment on your feelings about
her take on world war i, and its causes and so on? i would appreciate that. >> sean mcmeekin? >> well, thank you, jean, that's a great question. and i hope maybe i'll have a chance to win you over as a reader. i'm actually quite bond of barbara tuchman's books and i've been heavily influenced by them. the guns of august, it would be remiss of me simply to sit here and bash barbara tuchman because to some extent that book has inspired me to a lot of my own work and to write at least three of my own books. all that said there are some problems with the guns of august. it is a bit dated in part because again at the height of the cold war as i was alluding before when i was talking about norman stone, but this is even more an extreme case with barbara tuchman, she just isn't looking at the balkans at all. she, in fact, says this directly in her forward. that she will not cover austria, hungary, and serbia. or essentially the entire balkan front. now she has her reason for this. she said it would needlessly complicate the story, lead to
tiresome length and so on. it is true it's almost such an inexhaustbly complicated story you can see why she left it out. but she didn't just leave out the balkans. she left out the entire july crisis. if you read the book closely you'll notice she devotes only one line to sarajevo, and one paragraph to the entirety of the july crisis. so her book is not really about the outbreak of the first world war in terms of causation, in terms of the diplomatic narrative, in terms of the drama between the european capitals in july. she picks up only on august 1st, and unfortunately she actually gets one major date wrong. that is the night of 31 july 1914, it's a friday, and she says this is the night when the french government essentially president premier are woken up in the middle of the night by the russians, who have been given this ultimate imby the germans, desperate to see what france will do. unfortunately, she misdated this by two days. this encounter actually took place on wednesday, two days before the germans sent the ultimatum. what prompted it was actually a
message from st. petersburg, from the foreign minister there to his ambassador in paris, saying that owing to our inability, that is russia's inability to accede to germany's desire that we cease mobilizing we must now regard war as imminent. if she had dated this correctly she would have had an entirely different interpretation of the outbreak of the war. complicated to an extreme degree the argument that she's essentially trying to present about german militarism, war guilt and so on and so forth. what is ironic about this, and again i say this with respect because barbara tuchman is someone whose work i admire in the whole, elsewhere she actually wrote very, very, i think, eloquently about the importance of chronology and getting the facts straight. unfortunately in this case, she did not. but in some of her other books i think she did a much better job. it's still a great read, though. but one should read it with caution. the guns of august. >> hood river, oregon is next. jeff is on with professor mcmeekin.
go ahead, jeff. >> professor, thank you for writing your recent book. i look forward to reading it. i've read your past books. very interesting. another what-if scenario to ask you, if the germans would've captured paris in the first big push of the war, do you think france would have sued for peace? or do you think it would have fought on? how do you think that would've affected the other allies? thank you. >> thank you, jeff, for a great question. i have to say that the battle of marne is not -- not necessarily my particular bailiwick. but of course, this is one of the great questions of the war. that is to say, a decisive german victory in 1914. what sort of a different world might that have made. well to begin with we can say that moltke, chief of the german general staff, made several
questionable decisions, both in the lead-up to the war, when he was altering to some extent the original design of the so-called sh leaven balm. initially for diplomatic and strategic regions he weakened the right wing, which is to say he did not want german troops to violate dutch neutrality. that is holland or the netherlands. but rather only belgium. and that forced them into the kind of narrow aperture of liege in belgium which did slow them down. he also famously pulled back two corps from the advancing right wing of the german armies to the eastern front because russia had invaded east prussia. he also peeled off nearly half of the troops on the german left wing who originally designed a kind of tempt the french into al says lorraine in order to make it even easier for the germans to wheel around on the right. apparently he was tempted by some kind of colossal canay,
develop endeveloping the french, instead of circling them from behind. the essence of your question is more about the consequences. there i think you're right to pinpoint real serious consequences. i don't know exactly what they would have been. my own view is that had the french armies been developed, defeated, most of the men taken prisoner with the rest left behind, then yes france would have had to sue for peace. i do not think that britain would necessarily have made peace right away. however. one should remember that the russians were still quite strong on the eastern front. even after losing the famous battle of tenonberg they were able to reinnovate east prussia just about a month after that. they were advancing against the austrian hung arians in galicia. however the germans would have been in a very strong position to wield their own strength around against the russians, possibly the russians would have had to sue for peace themselves in a matter of months.
and then the scenario might have been closer to what military planners had originally envisioned that is to say a reasonably short war, decisive, violent, bloody, but over within several months. i do think that had happened it would have been difficult to arrange i lasting peace settlement but not impossible and the world would almost certainly have been in general a more peaceful and orderly place than the one which, of course, followed another four years of carnage. >> we've got time for one or two more calls. the symposium resumes at 1:00. we can siad jens members start to trickle in behind you. marvin in ann arbor, michigan. good morning, marvin. >> hi. i was wondering why you don't put more blame upon the germans for the war on the western front when the germans were preparing for war for about a dozen years and using a pretext to invade france. you would assume that the
germans would require more blame than the french. >> well thank you for the question, marvin. you're absolutely right the germans had been preparing for war for not simply 12 years but even longer than that. the problem with many accounts of the outbreak of the first world war, however, is they focused only on one power or possibly two. if you look on the other side of the lens you'll see france and russia signed a military alliance in 1894 specifically targeting germany, the terms of which stipulated that france and russia were supposed to invade german territory by mobilization day plus 15. now, the way things actually played out in 1914, were pretty darn close to that. france, in fact, did invade german territory on mobilization day plus 15. which is, in fact, earlier than the germans reached french territory. it is true that the germans marched through belgium on the way and that is in many ways the greatest argument or indictment of the german war plan that it did involve violating belgian neutrality. but as far as claiming that the germans quote/unquote plan to
invade france well of course that's true. the french also planned to invade germany and russia planned to invade germany, as well. that was the very essence of the franco russian war plan was a simultaneous invasion of germany from two directions. it was because of this, of course, that the germans had their own plans, which were to try to circumvent this with a lightning blow against france. as far as the military alliances, in many ways the far closer and more decisive alliance in all of this was the franco russian alliance which is why again when colonel house on behalf of the wilson administration visited europe in may 1914 he said precisely that. that as soon as england consents, france and russia will close in upon germany. and that is, in fact, what did happen in 1914. england consented and france and russia closed in upon germany. germany simultaneously lost the invasion of france by way of belgium which was slower than the french invasion of germany. >> two or three minutes left.
we'll try to get in jimmy who's been waiting in rome, georgia. go ahead, jimmy. >> well, marvin kind of asked the question i was going to ask. but are you familiar with the george cannon's the decline of bismarck, your opinion order? >> mr. mcmeekin in our last two minutes? >> well, do you know, it's funny, i have not read that book. i have read the book on the franco russian alliance, and many other titles. i'm embarrassed to say i have not read that title but i am a great reader and admirer of george cannon so i will take your tip and check it out of the library as soon as i can. >> what's on your bookshelf now? what are you reading about world war i? >> well right now i'm actually finishing up a book called the war of the ottoman succession. so lately i have a whole ream of books on my shelf, many of them pertaining to the turkish war of the early 1920s following the first world war, many of them
pertaining actually to the syrian palestine mesopotamian fronts in the first world war. what i'm actually focusing on is the first world war in the middle east and then particularly the post-war settlement and the consequences of the collapse of the ottoman empire. >> professor sean mcmeekin is author of "july 1914: countdown to war." we appreciate you joining us on american history tv. >> well, thank you very much for having me on, john. i really enjoyed it. you've been watching c-span's american history tv. we want to hear from you. follow us on twitter@cspanhistory. connect with us on facebook at facebook.com/cspan history. or you can left comments, too. or check out our upcoming programs at our website c-span.org/history. we'd like to tell you about some of our other american history tv programs, join us every sunday at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern. for a look at american artifacts.
travel with us to historic sites, museums, and archives, to learn what artifacts reveal about american history. again watch our show american artifacts every sunday at 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv. on c-span3. >> here's a look at some of the programs you'll find christmas day on the c-span networks. holiday festivities start at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span with the lighting of the national christmas tree followed by the white house christmas decorations with first lady michelle obama. and the lighting of the capitol christmas tree. and just after 12:30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. then at 8:00, supreme court justice samuel alito and former florida governor jeb bush on the bill of rights and the founding fathers. on c-span2 at 10:00 a.m. eastern venture into the art of good writing with steve pinker and at 12:30 see the feminist side of a superhero as jill lepore
searches the secret history of wonder woman. at 7:00 p.m., author pamela paul and others talk about their reading habits. and on american history tv on c-span3, at 8:00 a.m. eastern, the fall of the berlin wall with c-span footage of president george bush and bob dole with speeches from presidents john kennedy and ronald reagan. at noon fashion experts on first ladies' fashion choices and how they represented the styles of the times in which they lived. and then at ten o'clock, former nbc news anchor tom brokaw on his more than 50 years of reporting on world events. that's this christmas day on the c-span networks. for our complete schedule go to c-span.org. american history tv visited the macarthur memorial in norfolk, virginia, which was hosting a symposium marking the world war i centennial. coming up next biography lee craig talks about secretary of the navy josephus daniels as a
key member of president wilson's cabinet he built up the fleet for war. the talk is about an hour. >> thank you. our first speaker today is dr. lee a. craig, an alumni distinguished professor and head of the department of economics at north carolina state university in raleigh. dr. craig is a graduate of ball state university and completed his m.a. and ph.d. work at indiana. 1989 he won the allen nervens prize for the best ph.d. dissertation in economic history. since that time, has been ubiquitous in his efforts, publishing essays, supervising dissertations and present being academic papers. he is the author of 24 articles and essays, mostly economic histories, and population studies. his most recent book is josephus daniels, his life and times published by university of north carolina press.