I finished Niall Ferguson's "The Pity of War" today. It's a fascinating read, but also a difficult read - Ferguson packs a lot of statistical evidence into his book. For instance, he makes the case that the Entente Powers fought a far less effective war than the Central Powers did - they had bigger economies, larger armies, and they had invested more money (both in percentage of GDP and in raw cash terms) towards their militaries. And yet - Germany nearly won in 1914, and nearly did so again in 1918. In 1914, it was the arrival of the BEF which stopped them on the Western Front - and in 1918 it was the arrival of the AEF that did it again.
Ferguson argues that it would have been better had Britain stayed out, and at the moment (I intend to read more widely on this), I find it hard to argue. Witness what we have in Europe now - a mostly German led EU. What would we have had if Germany had won? The same thing, only with two crucial differences:
- The emergence of the EU 80 years early
- An unexhausted, still powerful British Empire to check the emerging EU
Ferguson also points out that we likely would have avoided WWII, and may well have avoided the founding of the USSR. It's impossible to tell now, of course. I had an additional thought - regardless of what you think of the current state of affairs in the middle east, the configuration of that region was set into its present form as a result of the Entente victory. What would have become of it instead is hard to say, but I find it difficult to imagine a worse result.
In any case, I highly recommend this book. Whether you end up agreeing with Ferguson or not, this book will make you think.