Sunday, 27 December 2009

It was all so rosy, a hundred years ago...

Christmas nineteen hundred and nine and things were looking pretty good for Britain and her Empire. Edward VII was on the throne, an apparent brainless playboy but actually so effective a diplomat that the Kaiser, in his hysterical paranoia, believed Edward had singled handed ring fenced Germany and the Austrian Empire with France and Russia - while the actuality was that the British still saw the French as the most dangerous enemy; ref the Fashoda incident ten years before - one amongst many.

The truth was that Germany had, in Bismark, a political genius and also a genius of moderation. While rattling a big sword, he never went too far. This was wonderfully illustrated by his refusal to join in the land grab from the dying Ottoman Empire, know then as the Eastern Question.

After Germany's victory against the French in 1870 he intimated to them that if they took on the British in the 'race for Africa', grabbing colonies there, he would not interfere - knowing full well that whilst a colony was usually extremely profitable for the private merchants involved, it was almost invariable ruinously expensive for the mother country (with the possible exception of India for the British). This attitude was perfectly illustrated by his response on being invited by the other European powers to join them in the grab for the Balkans from the Turks. Bismark replied, '...that the Balkans was not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier' and Germany stayed well away.

Of course Kaiser Bill, maybe the stupidest of Queen Victoria's grandsons (but between him, the future George V and Tsar of Russia, there was little in it) took over the war party created and tightly controlled by Bismark - and ran with it, so thick and so paranoid that every half hearted response to his latest belligerence by other European states, he read as further proof of an aggressive conspiracy against him.

Edward VII died in 1910 and by then the long slide into the First World War was beginning to steepen. This ended with a peace so one sided and vicious (mostly at the behest of the French) that another war was almost inevitable - and so on schedule, along came the Second World War.

For most of the next thirty years Europe would be either at war or preparing for war, a period that surely can only be seen as the Second Thirty Years War - and just as bitter and bloody as the first Thirty Years War and surely also destined to survive in folk memory for as long...

We emerged from it in 1945 on our uppers as a country - and have been there ever since.

No comments:

Post a Comment