Saturday, June 21, 2014

William Mulligan's "The Great War for Peace"

William Mulligan is the author of The Creation of the Modern German Army and lecturer in modern history, University College Dublin.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Great War for Peace, and reported the following:
The test works reasonably well, I think, in this case. On page 99, one section of the chapter on 1915, on the Ottoman participation in the First World War and the Armenian genocide, ends. It is followed by a section considering the decision of Italian leaders to enter the war. The first part concludes with the reaction of the Allied powers to the Armenian genocide and to the Ottoman empire's role in the war. I argue that Allied war aims against the Ottomans, which included extensive territorial claims, were not shaped simply by geopolitical ambitions, but also by moral considerations. Allied statesmen denied that the Ottoman empire had a place in a community of civilized nations. In an era when "civilization" was a marker of international respectability, the Allied charges that the Ottoman empire was a barbaric regime that 'violated the rights of man' justified its very destruction. It reflected historical suspicion about the Ottoman empire's place in Europe and that empire's role as an ally of Germany, itself condemned as barbaric in 1914.

The First World War was more than a conflict centred on territory and security between the great powers. It was a war about political and ethical values, which had consequences for the ways in which territorial dispensations were made, and for the ways in which security was reimagined as more than the balance of power, as Peter Jackson has suggested. Security was also bound up with notions about civilization, international law, commerce, constitutional reform, and labour regulation.

The second part of page 99 begins the story of Italy's entry to the war. Similar issues of geopolitical interest and moral values are evident, as Italians debated the purpose of entering the war - for national territory, for the defence of democracy, to unify the nation through war, or simply to stay out. On page 99, I show how Italian decision-making was influenced by the perception that the Ottoman empire was nearing collapse. This reflects a wider concern of the book, to show how the different theatres and actors interacted with each other.

The war was a messy, complex event, but it was framed as a confrontation of ideas as well as a clash of the great powers. And this explains its duration - it is harder to find a compromise about values than it is to splice and dice territory in a compromise peace.
Learn more about The Great War for Peace at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue