MARGARET MACMILLAN: Thank you very much indeed, and my thanks to the Carnegie Council, the American University, the Biblioteca, to the Grand Mufti, and to the president of the Carnegie Council, for their very thoughtful remarks, which I think have set a very high standard for our deliberations today.
It is something quite extraordinary and awe-inspiring to be standing here in Sarajevo in a building that has been rebuilt, which symbolizes the persistence of humanistic values, and in a city which has played such a part in the troubled history of the 20th century. Quite overwhelming, really, to reflect that tomorrow it will be 100 years ago that the event took place just a few yards from here, that helped to set in train the series of events which created so much damage, so much misery, and which shaped the worlds of the 20th and 21st centuries.
We still are trying to understand how it happened. We're still trying to understand what that war meant, and I think this is very important. It is a very complex event, but it is an event which has echoes into the present. I think we've all been thinking recently about parallels between that world and our own world, as troubles start in the Crimea, and now, of course, as Iraq looks in danger of falling to pieces. We are wondering if some of the same pressures which led to war, some of the same structural factors, some of the same bad decisions that led to war in 1914 will come to afflict us again, and the parallels are enough, at least, to make us uncomfortable.
I think it is important to try and understand that war, partly because without understanding how wars come, we don't understand how peace can be maintained. I think one of the very important things to look at, at the outbreak of the First World War, is not to start by assuming that it was inevitable. The danger is, that as we look back, we see the pressures building up for war, we see the things that were tending towards war in Europe, and we make then, the very dangerous, illogical assumption, in my view, that the war was bound to come because there were so many reasons it had to happen, it was bound to happen.
I think this is wrong. I will try and persuade you that it is wrong. I think it's also a very dangerous way to think about human affairs. If we throw up our hands and say something is inevitable, then we don't try and prevent it. I think what we also need to do, is look at Europe in another way. Remember that the Europe of 1914 had enjoyed, at least in European terms, a relative century of peace, but quite an extraordinary century in Europe's long and troubled history.
It is true that there had been wars in Europe in the 19th century, but they had tended to be short. They had, for the most part, only been between two powers, and they had settled something. Whether or not people liked what had been settled was another matter. To take one example, the Franco-Prussian War, between the German Confederation and France, led to the creation of Germany and the relative isolation of France in the international system. But it was decisive, and it was short.
So when Europeans looked at that century, the 19th century, they could, with some confidence, look at a century which was, on the whole, peaceful. It was a century of enormous prosperity and progress for all of Europe. Not shared equally in all parts, but you could see a general trend in European history. As Europeans became more prosperous, more Europeans were sharing in the benefits brought by the industrial, technological, and scientific revolutions. Europeans were traveling more, their societies were more integrated, and they were also more aware of each other. For Europeans it was a century in which they could take considerable pride.
What I think is very striking in the period before 1914 is how many Europeans assumed that this would go on—that there would, in fact, continue to be peace and prosperity and progress. Not that many people in 1914 expected a major war—there were certainly some who feared it and some who worked against it—but I think the general feeling in the summer of 1914 was that Europe had come through some rather rough periods. There had been, as you would all know better than me, two wars in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913, which had led many people to talk of the possibility of a general war. But it hadn't happened.
So, at the beginning of 1914, the British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey said, "The international horizon looked calmer than it has been for many years, and we had every reason to think that we were now entering a period of continued calm, and again, continued progress and prosperity."
The pressures in Europe towards both war and peace are things that we need to look at. I think that we have to remember that just as there were pressures towards war, there were also very, very strong pressures towards peace.
Before I do that, I'd like to talk about some of the ways in which changes in European society were affecting the relationships of people, both to their own societies, to other societies; and towards war, and towards peace. You have to remember that this was a period when Europeans moved from being members of relatively isolated and detached communities to being parts of greater units, whether they were nations or empires. This is partly the result of modern communications, the tremendous spread of literacy, and the spread of things like mass media, and people simply, because they were more prosperous, they had more time to notice what was going on in their own societies.
There had also been—and this affected pretty much the whole of Europe—a very significant shift in the relationship between peoples and their own societies, which I think certainly goes back to the French Revolution. That is, that people increasingly no longer saw themselves, or were seen by their rulers, as subjects. In other words, increasingly, they saw themselves as citizens, as members of a polity, as members of an organization to which they had obligations. They had obligations to support that society. That could mean supporting it in peace, but it could also mean supporting it in war.
They also had an expectation—it was an expectation on the part of those in charge—that citizens would see themselves as part of this greater unit, greater society. So you have a sense that citizens both have a stake in their society, increasingly able to vote for their own rulers. There is a very significant spread of the franchise, again, throughout Europe, in the course of the 19th century. More and more people are voting, even in countries such as Russia, which were generally regarded as being slightly behind the development of the rest of Europe. By 1914, there were well-rooted local assemblies, zemstvo, but also a duma, for which the franchise was extending.
So you see in the course of the 19th century a new relationship between people and their rulers. There is a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual obligation. Now, that could lead to a greater involvement of the public in war, and did in some countries. Increasingly, people took an interest in what their countries were doing, felt an obligation to come to its defense.
In 1890, General von Moltke the Elder, the man who had done so much to bring Germany together in the wars of German unification, gave a warning to the Reichstag. He said, "We have moved beyond" what he called 'cabinet wars.' "We have moved beyond wars which governments decide upon, from limited purposes, which they do their best to control, and which they will stop when they have achieved their purpose. " In other words, war is made for very specific purposes, and limited in very specific ways. "We have moved beyond cabinet wars to people's wars," and he said, "Once a people's war starts, it will be very difficult to stop." He said, "It may last for as long as seven years." His concluding remark was, "Woe be to him who sets the first spark that sets Europe alight." Very, very prescient words.
Now, that was a danger, I think—that the greater the involvement of citizens in their own society, the greater the possibility of expanding the nature of war, and we see in the course of the 19th century a move towards total war. A war not just of military versus military, but increasingly, peoples against peoples. You get the passions of peoples becoming involved. What that means is not just that you have tremendous support on one side for war, but you also get an increased hostility to the other side.
In other words, you're not just fighting the army of the other side, you're now fighting the people who produce the soldiers, you're fighting the women, you're fighting the old people, you're fighting the children, because they might be soldiers one day. You're fighting the industry of another society because they supply, increasingly, the means for the armies to remain in the field and the navies to remain at sea. You are fighting, often, a whole set of different moral and ethical values. In other words, war is something that now is seen as a massive struggle between two very different sorts of people. That's a danger. We see what that meant in the 20th century. We're still seeing it today.
On the other hand, that change in the relationship between citizens and their rules, or between peoples and their rulers, could have another outcome, and was having another outcome. As citizens became increasingly involved, they also felt an obligation to prevent their countries from doing things that were stupid or dangerous. So citizens felt, increasingly, that they had a right to criticize what their governments were up to. Often that criticism was that the government was behaving recklessly, that the government was risking war, that the government was threatening to damage both its own society and other societies.
So obligations to your larger community didn't necessarily lead to supporting it at war. It could also lead to supporting it in peace. It was a very interesting development in the course of the 19th century, which was that the sense of being a citizen, of having an obligation to whatever structure you were part of, was increasingly extended beyond national boundaries. Increasingly, in the 19th century, we've got people saying, "We have an obligation not just to our own particular set of rules, we have an obligation to humanity." You begin to get a sense that we were all somehow part of a much wider organism and that we have a responsibility to that.
That fed into what was a very active peace movement. I think what we have to remember, always, about the 19th century, and about the period just before 1914, was that there were many forces at play in Europe, and in the world. Again, I think we have to warn ourselves against looking at war as something that was inevitable, that it was bound to happen, that it was just waiting to happen. Europe was very much a continent in play in 1914, and I think it could have gone in any number of directions.
Let me look at some of the forces for peace before I look at the forces which, alas, turned out to be stronger—the forces for war. Ideas are very important here. Europeans looked back at their century of progress and they thought, "We have progressed not just in material terms." That, of course, was very evident to people. People were living longer, they were eating better, they were living in much better housing, they had access to a range of consumer goods, which they would not have had, most of them, in 1815, but by 1914, did. They look back at that century of progress and they said to themselves, "We have not only progressed in material things, we have progressed in terms of civilization. Part of being civilized is that you don't fight. You don't need to resort to force. We have moved beyond the need to have force. We've also got too much to risk."
A number of people argue that European economies, now so tightly linked—Britain and Germany, for example, were each others' greatest trading partners. Britain was the place where you came for investment. Europeans from all over Europe came to places like London, came to places like Paris, came to places like Berlin, for funds for investment. Increasingly, European markets were being linked, both through trade and investment.
So arguments were made, the most famously, perhaps, by Norman Angell, a British journalist, who wrote a book called The Great Illusion, in which he said, "Governments are literally crazy if they think they can make war, and get any benefit out of it. They won't. They will spend down their own resources, and they will find that if they do conquer another piece of territory, they will conquer a piece of territory that has been so exhausted, and so damaged by war, that it won't pay. Germany, for example," he said, "would be much better off not trying to conquer Belgium, or the Netherlands, two very prosperous countries—much better off if it simply trades with them and gets the benefit of all the hard work of Belgians and the Dutch. They would be foolish. Surely governments and business people must see that it is foolish to think of war. War in the modern age is too expensive, too costly, damages everyone, that none of us are going to win."
So you do get a sense in Europe that the progress of Europe, which Europeans were so proud of, was something that was making war impossible. I think it's fair to say that for many Europeans in the summer of 1914, war was either impossible or improbable. It was just not something that they did anymore. There wasn't any purpose in doing it. I think you also got a sense, which came partly from Darwinian ideas, that the human species was evolving. Darwin's ideas, as applied to human societies, were a mixed blessing because they could trend either towards war or towards peace.
Let me just look at how they could trend towards peace and then I'll come to the other, darker side. The ways in which Darwinian ideas could trend toward peace was in this notion of evolution, that species change to adapt to their environment. So, as the environment of the world was changing, and of course, the Industrial Revolution was not just affecting Europe, it was affecting a much wider world. As the material circumstances of the world were changing, so too was the human species.
Now there was an assumption in this view that the human species was one species, not a whole separate set of species. There was an alternative view in social Darwinist thought. There was, at least in the more progressive thought, an assumption that human beings are all one species. Some are further advanced than others.
Some, in the empires perhaps, aren't yet ready to rule themselves. People like British imperialists found this very comforting. They could both feel they were rightfully ruling over other people, but doing something good—that one day, India would become ready for self-government. In fact, the British government used to put a report before Parliament every year, called The Moral and Material Progress of India, in which it talked about how one day Indians would be ready for self-government. But then it comforted itself—imperialists comforted themselves—by saying, "This will, of course, take centuries because the Indians have a long way to come."
But you did have at least one view, which took over Darwinian ideas, which were very, very powerful, and argued that there was one human species, that it was moving at slightly different rates, perhaps, towards full capacity to govern itself. Therefore, since we were one species, it was unthinkable to think that we should fight with each other. So you did, again, get this idea of feeding in to support for peace. That somehow, even science showed that war was something that the human species shouldn't do. As Joel Rosenthal mentioned, this was something that affected the thinking of people like Andrew Carnegie.
As a result, I think there was the sense that somehow this evolutionary process was going on partly out of a sense of wonderment at what they'd already achieved. There was considerable support for peace, and not just in a general, undifferentiated way. Not just assuming that peace is somehow a good thing, but very active support for peace. You see, very much in the period before 1914, the beginnings of a truly international society; the beginning of international organizations, of international NGOs, such as the Red Cross, which tried to work partially across borders dealing with those who had been damaged or wounded by war.
International crusades, for example: The international crusade against the Belgian abusers in the Congo, which was, in fact, a very successful crusade. International organizations of jurists—lawyers increasingly got together to talk about ways of trying to settle disputes peacefully. International organizations of liberal parliamentarians, who started to meet in this period, and of course, who still meet today. International organizations of churches, which met in international congresses to try and talk about ways in which peace could be promoted.
Among the many ideas that were floating around in this period, was international support for arbitration. Arbitration between nations was seen as a more progressive, more advanced way of settling disputes than going to war. Much less costly, and would benefit everyone who agreed to take part in arbitration. If you agreed as a nation to take part in arbitration, and agreed to be bound by the rules, then this was a way of avoiding conflicts. There were some 300 arbitrations held between 1794 and 1914. More than half of those were held after 1890.
So you can see a very real trend developing. Increasingly, as well, governments began to put their support behind arbitrations. The secretary of state in the United States, before 1914, William Jennings Bryan, signed over 20 arbitration treaties with different countries agreeing that the United States and a particular country would agree to arbitration. The one country, interestingly, which refused to sign such a treaty was Germany. We can make of that what we will.
In addition to a middle class peace movement, there was also a very, very large working class movement, which found expression in the Second International, which was set up in the 1880s to bring together all the left-wing parties of the world. This was not just a powerful organization, it was becoming more powerful. Because as the working classes were growing, as they were becoming organized, as socialist parties were being established, there were more and more members represented by the Second International. In Germany, just to give one example, the socialist party was the single biggest party in the Reichstag by 1912. In France, the socialists were very powerful indeed. In Britain, a labor party had been founded. Union membership was going up.
So the Second International potentially represented a very powerful force. At its international congresses, representatives from the different countries would talk about what they would do if a general European war broke out because there were fears that such a war might break out. They talked about ways in which they might stop such a war. Of course, what they had in their hands was a very powerful weapon to stop war. That was, they could go on strike, and they could call on all their members to go on strike.
This was brought up time and time again at meetings of the Second International—that they should pledge themselves to go on strike, to have a general strike, if a general European war should break out. The argument was that such a general European war would not benefit the workers. They would be, quite literally, the cannon fodder. The men would have to go and fight, many of them. They would be the people who would have to work in the factories to produce the equipment that was needed to keep any war going. What would they get out of it?
So there was a lot of talk about a general strike. No firm commitment was ever made, but I think there was a widespread hope and understanding that should a war break out, workers would go on strike. Had they gone on strike, what it would have meant is that the massive European armies, which were conscript armies, which depended on their reserves to come back, would not have been able to fill out their ranks. This was such a real fear that the French military calculated that in 1914, 20 percent of the soldiers they called back wouldn't come because they would refuse to come. There was a very deep fear among European ruling elites that, in fact, they could not rely on the workers.
Not only could the working class soldiers have refused to come back to the colors, if the factories had gone on strike, it would have been impossible to sustain the First World War. Because the First World War, as people have mentioned, was an industrial war. It was a war that relied on continual re-supply. It mobilized the economies of countries in a way that no economies had even been really mobilized before. Moreover, if the workers had gone on strike, the trains wouldn't have run. In those days, European armies relied on the trains to move these massive armies, to supply these massive armies, to keep them in position once they were at the front. Dock workers could have gone on strike and ships could not have been loaded and unloaded. Mine workers on strike, there wouldn't have been the fuel that was needed, the coal that was needed to make all this happen.
So you had, I think, tremendous potential for peace, tremendous forces for peace before 1914. Unfortunately, and this is true of any society, there were other sorts of forces and other sorts of constraints. Social changes had made a lot of the ruling elites in Europe very uneasy, and they were worried about the reliability of their lower classes. They were worried about the reliability of middle classes. Would people, who were used to living in cities, who were increasingly used to comfort in life, be good soldiers? There was a lot of fear around about the degeneracy of the human race. There was hope that the human race was evolving, but the other side of that coin was that perhaps it wasn't, that perhaps the human race was getting soft, that perhaps too many of the wrong sort of people were being born, and too many of the wrong sort of people survived, were surviving.
It's not by coincidence, I think, that in this period, you get the first international eugenics movement—the idea that you can breed and manage human populations as much as you would manage animals or vegetable, beasts, anything in the natural world. The First International Eugenics Congress was held in London in 1912 at the Royal Albert Hall, which is a very large hall in the center of London. Among its patrons were the president of Harvard University; Winston Churchill, who was the first lord of the admiralty in Britain; and Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, who among other things, invented the telephone. So there was another side to the belief in social Darwinism that, in fact, perhaps the human race wasn't progressing all that much; that it might, in fact, be degenerating.
The other very dangerous side of social Darwinism was the side that did not see the human species as one species, but saw it as divided into separate sets of species, which it called "nations;" it used "nations" in the way that we might use "races" today. But there was a lot of talk before 1914 about how you could actually identify a separate English nation, a separate French nation, a separate German nation, a separate Italian nation. None of it, of course, was scientifically based, none of it taking into account the ways in which peoples moved around the world. You couldn't isolate a particular human species. But this was something that people believed in very strongly.
What fed into this, I think, was the fear that nations, as identified like this, were condemned to fight, that they were condemned to struggle for survival. It was a very pessimistic view of international relationships, which went alongside that view that we're all getting more interlocked and we're all depending more on each other. The other side was that we are somehow condemned to a struggle which goes on and on. That those that don't struggle, in a way—and it becomes certainly a moral thing—deserve to disappear. They're not just condemned to disappear, they deserve to disappear, because they're not prepared to make the necessary struggle in order to survive.
That feeds in, I think, not to an idea that peace is the normal course, or should be the normal and desired situation for human beings. It feeds much more into a sense that war is, in fact, the natural situation for human species and that, in fact, war could be a very good thing. Again, this whole sense of degeneration, this worry that somehow the human species is degenerating helps to feed the arguments of those who think that war is desirable. You get men, I must say to be unkind—often men who are themselves beyond military age—saying that what we need is young people to go off and be prepared to sacrifice themselves; that it is good and healthy to have a society in which every so often there is a war because it somehow "tones up" that society. It makes that society more healthy. It brings out superior sorts of virtues. It makes people ready to sacrifice for a greater good. It encourages nobility. It encourages bravery. It encourages discipline.
So you get a lot of writing at the time, including by a very eminent professor at Oxford, my own university, of which I feel rather ashamed, talking about how it would be desirable and good to have a war every so often because of what it does for society, because it enhances the superior qualities and the nobler virtues in society.
So social Darwinism could lead, as it did with Andrew Carnegie, to thinking that war is no longer something the human species should do, that the human species is one species. Or it could lead in the other way, to saying that, in fact, war is a natural part of human affairs, that it's something we do, and that the human species can be clearly subdivided and that they are condemned to struggle with each other.
Such ideas, of course, fueled nationalism. The period before 1914 is a period of heightened nationalism, intense nationalism, which is fed by the new mass media, by the press, which plays on the virtues of its own people and plays on the vices of people which it chooses to dislike. It's fed by, I'm afraid, people like me. It's fed by historians who teach a very slanted history. Almost all histories being taught in European schools before 1914 are highly nationalistic histories, histories which show the superiorities, the virtues, the great strengths, the triumphs of the German people, or of the French people, or of the English people, or of the Serbian people, or of the Czechoslovak people, or of the Hungarian people; histories which also show the failings and the weaknesses and the vices of other peoples.
So you get historians in Germany—famous von Treitschke gives lectures which are widely popular, attended by the German general staff, by the royal family; these are massively popular in Berlin—in which he argues that the Germans have always been a superior people. He said, "You go back to Roman times, and clearly they were the only people that could really successfully take on the Romans. They were always a nobler people." This feeds into a sort of sense of exceptionalism.
But what von Treitschke and others did was to portray other nations as being base, motivated by the worst possible motives. Von Treitschke tried to avoid ever visiting Britain because he disliked it so much. When he finally went, he was able to find more fuel for his dislike, of course, as you will. He said, "I was appalled by the look of the English, by their pubs, by the ways which they seem to be enjoying themselves. There it was, a summer day, and they were enjoying themselves too much."
This is very dangerous. What you also got are very, very bad histories being written of the other. You got, in France, French historians and ethnographers writing about the German people as though they were somehow lacking all moral sense. One very famous book argued that the Prussians in particular, who live in the north of Germany, lack all moral sense because they live in a very flat landscape. So therefore, you can see for yourselves, they don't see mountains and they don't see valleys. You've got the Germans writing the same sorts of things. A German ethnographer wrote about the French. He said, "They are a viciously immoral and frivolous people." And he said to his readers, "If you want to see examples of their frivolity and immorality, I can tell you exactly where to go in Paris."
So these are dangerous because they help to inculcate a sense of us against the other. Again, ideas, social Darwinism can play out either way. This is a world, as I said, that's in play.
What also, I think, feeds into the situation in Europe is globalization itself. Again, like social Darwinism, this can be a force for peace or for war.
We've tended to assume—and our age is an age of great globalization—that it's a good thing, that the more it brings people together, the better we will all be. But I think what we're beginning to realize, in our period of globalization, is that not everyone benefits, that there are winners and there are losers. And that globalization, the very process, can create real disparities in society; disparities in income, those that feel they've somehow been left behind. I think a very important part of the recent vote for the European Parliament has been a protest vote from people who simply feel that the ruling elites are not paying enough attention to them, don't understand their fears, and don't understand how they're worried about getting jobs for themselves, worried about the futures of their children, and feeling competition from elsewhere. This is an incoherent and inchoate response to what is happening, but it is a very real response, I think, perchance, to be taken seriously. (Editor's note: For more on the European Parliament elections, check out Senior Fellow David Speedie's recent article.)
You have very much the same thing happening before 1914. Globalization produced tremendous benefits, but produced tremendous strains.
Let me just take the example of Germany and Britain, who as I mentioned, were each other's greatest trading partners before the First World War. That did not, in itself, bring them closer together. In fact, what it did was, in some ways, help to fuel a rivalry that was developing between them; a rivalry that was certainly, I think, much enhanced by the, in my view, very wrong and foolish decision of the Germans to build a navy to challenge the British Navy. Because what that did was shake the British out of their isolationism, shake the British out of their complacency, and make them look for allies. It helped to divide Europe up into two camps. The British, most improbably, when the Germans began building a big navy, turned towards two of their most vehement enemies, France and Russia, and settled disputes with them and began to work with them.
But what also fed the growing rivalry between Britain and Germany was a fear in Britain that the Germans were doing it a bit too successfully out of the trade; that they were cutting into British markets around the world, that they were overtaking Britain in all sorts of types of production, which was, in fact, the truth; and the sense on the part of the Germans that the British were being selfish, that they didn't want the Germans to compete with them, they didn't want the Germans in their markets. So globalization did not, in that case, serve to bring two countries closer together. In fact, it helped to drive them further apart.
In 1893, an alarmist pamphlet, which was widely published in Britain, said the British should be very careful of the coming threat from Germany. It said to its readers, who it assumed were men, "Look around your house. Your children are playing with dolls made in Germany, and your son is playing with little soldiers made in Germany. Your wife goes out in the evening, and what does she do? She goes and listens to German music sung by German singers. There is a menace here." And you got very similar pamphlets in Germany of how the British want to undermine Germany, how the British want to somehow prevent Germany from having its place in the sun.
So in the summer of 1914, this is the world I think we have to remember that Europe was like, a world in which there was both a tendency towards war and a tendency towards peace.
One final component in the thinking about whether war or not was desirable, of course, was the assumption that so many of the military planners were making about the war itself. It is the business of the military to plan for war. I don't think military plans in themselves created the First World War, but what they did do was get into common currency a very, very dangerous assumption, and that was that the war would be short. It was assumed that any general war could not last too long, partly because trade and investment would break down, it would be impossible to move money around, governments wouldn't be able to pay for the war without international trade and investment. Governments hadn't quite yet realized how much they could squeeze out of societies when they really set their minds to it.
So, what you have is an assumption that war will have to be short, and the military plans are almost entirely, by 1910, offensive plans, and they all assume it's going to be a short and decisive victory. You all know the stories. People went off in the summer of 1914, saying to their families, "We'll be home by Christmas." Of course, many of them were not home.
So we come to the summer of 1914, and I won't rehearse the way in which the wars broke out because I think you're all familiar with it. But I think there are a number of things we should remember. One of them was, that a lot of European leaders and many of the Europeans themselves were very, very complacent. They had come through a number of crises.The two most recent Balkan crises of 1912 and 1913 had led to talk of war, and they had not had war. So there was a very dangerous assumption, which is very understandable, that we can manage crises. We've done it before, we can get through this one.
So you get a very real sense when you look at those five weeks after the June 28, 1914, that they don't, many of them, leaders and citizens alike, take seriously enough the crisis that is beginning to unfold. They simply assume that they're somehow going to get through it. So a lot of people go off on their summer holidays as usual. One of the leading editors in Berlin takes his family to Ostend in Belgium, on July 27, 1914. Before he goes, he checks with the German foreign secretary, and he said, "It's a bit of a crisis developing. Do you think it's safe to take my family to Belgium?" "Oh yes, sir," said the German foreign secretary, "Don't worry, it will all be over by next week." So there is a dangerous complacency.
Tied up with that, however, is a sense in certain quarters, that last time, in the last crisis, we didn't do very well. So complacency on the one hand, and a sense of, "This time, we're going to show ourselves." In St. Petersburg, as the crisis begins to develop and Russia has to decide whether or not it will come to the defense of Serbia, you get leading people in the government and in the military saying, "This time, we can't back down. We won't have any credibility left as a great power if we back down."
I think a very dangerous thing, and a lesson we might want to take away, is when nations start talking of honor and credibility and prestige, then they will do things that are not rational. They will be pushed by forces that are not rational. I think we have to be very careful not to let matters like honor and credibility get caught up in decision-making because then you're inclined to make very stupid decisions.
What also comes into play in the summer of 1914 is fear; fear both of their own peoples, fear that peoples won't fight, but also a fear of what the other might do. This again, I think, is something we need to remember, that you have to do your best to try and understand the other. You have to do your best to keep in communication with them. You have to make sure that your assumptions are grounded. So often in international relations, we assume the other side is thinking in certain ways, behaving in certain ways. We don't do enough to find out. The real fear in Germany among the military, for example, was that if they didn't fight Russia in 1914, they would not be able to fight it by 1917, that Russia was getting so strong. It didn't, I think, make them deliberately bring about a war, but it made them think that if we've got to have a war, this is the time to do it.
Another thing, I think, which we see very clearly in 1914 is the way in which honor gets off as defending a small alliance partner, that great powers do not always have the freedom to act that we think they might do, that they get themselves caught because they have committed themselves to a smaller power. That often means that they have to support the smaller power, but they don't have control over it.
I think you see this very clearly with Russia and its relationship with Serbia in 1914. The Russian government was concerned by some of what people in the Serbian government were doing. Not necessarily the whole Serbian government, but they were concerned about the activities of the Black Hand. But they didn't want to be seen to be abandoning Serbia. So I think the Serbs were emboldened, particularly the more nationalist elements, to behave in ways which they might not have done if they had not been fairly confident that Russia was behind them. We see the same thing with Israel, for example, and the United States today, or North Korea and China today. Great powers don't always have as much control as they would like over smaller powers.
In the end, I think, the war broke out because people made stupid assumptions, they acted hastily, they acted for reasons which were not particularly rational and they acted without attempting to think about other alternatives. The key moments, were when Austria and Hungary decided this time it had the perfect opportunity to destroy Serbia—or at least bring it under control—and then Germany decided to back Austria and Hungary.
But the situation, the setting for the catastrophe was set much further. I think peace was still possible until very late in July 1914.
If there's one final lesson I'd like to suggest we all try and remember, is that we don't give up. It's not easy to work for peace. It can be a very hard slog. But I think it's very important not to give up, not to throw up our hands and say, "Nothing we can do."
Thank you very much.