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Counterfactual history: Should Britain have declined to enter World War I?

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Jun 3 in Politics & Government ✌ by Virginia (7,120 points)

In looking at the origins of our present-day social economic systems, especially in the USA, two historical watersheds keep coming up; the Industrial Revolution, and World War I. And on You Tube I came across an interesting debate as to how things might have gone had Britain stayed out of WWI, and then the audience voted...

The video is LONG, but one main argument that things might have gone better if Britain had stayed out of WWI, is that The Great War set up so many of the tinderbox world problems we still find unsolvable now in the 21st century. 

I think the implication is that had Britain not entered, the war would have remained more localized, not gone into a world war? This video seems no doubt that without Britain's participation, Germany would have won.

So, some major arguments for Britain entering the war were: Being a responsible neighbor when neutral Belgium was attacked. Apparently, Belgium refused to allow Germany to enter for convenience in attacking France, and Germany retaliated.The video also suggests Germany was already showing signs of excessive harshness toward conquered peoples. 

The audience voted strongly in favour of Britain entering the war, that Britain made the better choice. Do you have thoughts/comments?

3 Answers

TheOtherTink Jun 4

Well, in hindsight, it's pretty clear that Britain should have stayed out, because it is hard to imagine a worse long-term outcome than what actually happened.

But... given their fear of a rapidly emergent united Germany, they probably thought it was more in their interest to have the war now rather than later, when Germany would be even more powerful. The German violation of Belgian neutrality gave the British the excuse they needed.

That said, it's also clear that the Germans were terribly ham-handed in their diplomatic conduct of the war, first in giving Britain its excuse, and later in giving the US reasons to be drawn in. Without American involvement, the Germans still would have had a good chance of winning the war.

Had Bismarck been alive and in charge, I think he would not have entered the naval arms race with Britain, which was a direct challenge to the latter's empire. But unfortunately for Germany, Bismarck's successors were not nearly as clever as Bismarck.

Remarkable information, Other Tink...and I did learn from the video how much of Britain's security rested with its navy, which got challenged by Germany (who eventually lost that race,but still).

It also came out in this debate how in one emergency, Germany's hawks decided not to call Kaiser W back from his vacation, out of concern he would be too pacifist. 

And that suggestion about Bismarck is new to me, and quite intriguing...in this pursuit of counterfactual history...:)

* * *

I am about to e-mail Marianne, I think, unless you have heard from her lately?

Yes, Virginia, even though the British navy was superior to the German navy, the latter had much the better of the major battle at Jutland.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zykwhv4

Nevertheless, despite the scare this must have caused in Britain, the German High Seas Fleet never ventured out again.  Perhaps Admiral Scheer knew he had been lucky?  Or perhaps he didn't want to risk losing the German fleet, which might have given Britain access to the Baltic Sea, to blockade North German ports?

Yes, Virginia, by all means, try e-mailing Marianne.  I haven't heard anything.

@ Tink, that article is absolutely stunning in its good information...and source is BBC...

"...while Germany may have claimed victory, her ships never dared to challenge the British Grand Fleet again. However the prestige of the Royal Navy was tarnished. But Britain perhaps had cause to be grateful that Jellicoe acted to preserve the British Grand Fleet at all costs.

Thanks to his instinctive caution, Jellicoe ensured Britain's ability to protect its sea lanes and to send troops and supplies to Europe until the end of the war. On paper Jutland may have been a loss for Britain, but in the longer term it represented a strategic victory."

...and I thought the photo of Admiral John Jellico, Commander of the British Fleet, quite poignant...what an agonizing decision, but history bears him out. Oh, and I also learned the word DREADNOUGHT, the class of early 20th century battleships, of which the HMS Dreadnought was the first!

image

Yes, Virginia, I was somewhat amused by Jellicoe's photo.  With his dimpled chin and slightly crossed eyes he doesn't quite look "the very model of a modern major admiral." :)

<3

...and I did send a brief message to Marianne, just now.

Good.  I hope you hear from her soon.  <3

P.S. Jellicoe's cap looks a bit too small too.  :)

Rooster Jun 3

I've seen most of that video before a year or so ago and remembered a couple of articles both pro and against. The first one is against and makes more sense. Britain could have lived with a German victory over France and Russia but could Germany have lived with the results? I don't think so. Britain could and should have stayed out of it. At least in 1914.

 Britain entering first world war was 'biggest error in modern history ...


Virginia Rooster Jun 3

Rooster, my computer was able to open the first link...and it was fascinating. Based on the study of Niall Ferguson, I have read one or two of his books, very helpful. And as you know, I respect your own studies.

Kninjanin Jun 4
Germany would be the most powerful country in the world if she won. Great Britain could not permit that Germany became more powerful. 
Virginia Kninjanin Jun 4

I had no idea this question was still debated, Kninjanin!

Thank you...

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