Historian Niall Ferguson caused controversy this week when he claimed that the one of the biggest errors in modern history. His main claim is that Britain could have lived with a German victory. I respect Mr Ferguson's right to an opinion but I respectfully disagree with him. Now unlike him I am not as well versed in history as he is, he is a professor while I am someone who studied history at A Level and has a degree of interest in history. I won't for one second to be as concise or to have the access to sources that he does but I will lay my reasoning for disagreeing with him.
Ferguson claims that it "would have been in Britain's interest to stay out of World War One." In terms of military strategy and tactics maybe it would have been better for Britain to have had more preparation time but we're not playing a video game here. Britain acted on what it saw as a very real threat, the threat to Belgian neutrality which it had committed itself and the potential for Germany to dominate the continent. Ferguson is under the impression that if Germany had won the Great War that would have been a livable situation for Britain but one can quite easily argue the opposite side.
Now I can quite agree that Germany may not have been able to maintain itself had it needed to control the whole of Europe. However what if the opposite had come to pass and Germany had not only maintained that control but consolidated on its victory? Germany would have had access to the resources of France and other countries in the region. It seems to me that Ferguson is only sorry that the war as it played out damaged Britain's own standing in the world, the death toll was horrific and it certainly did damage Britain's role as an Empire but I would argue that Britain would have faced a far greater threat to its sovereignty had we done nothing. A German dominated Europe at this point would probably have meant World War Two as we know it would not have happened. My argument would be that some large scale war would have happened much sooner than 1939, I can certainly accept that Adolf Hitler may not have happened. But a grand scale war most likely for different reasons would have happened, if Ferguson's scenario were to have played out potentially we would have had an Imperial Germany in the backyard of the British Empire, arguably at the time a stagnating world power.
We must remember that Germany knocked Russia out of the war and did not only have access to the resources of France but Eastern Europe. While Russia would claim they exited the war the truth of the matter is Germany won on that front too. In terms of what actually happened in the war Britain was fortunate that it exploited its Summer Offensive of 1918 and had been able to breach German lines. It was a near run thing; the war was far closer than what took place in World War Two after 1941.
In terms of British standing in the world if we had opted to neglect our obligation and take a route of not just neutrality but isolation I would argue that would be just as damaging if not more so than the tragic blood bath that we saw take place over the fields of France in World War One. Germany was undeniably an expansionist power and sought to dominate world affairs, it seems incredibly unlikely at this point the Kaiser would have been content with the gains of a victory at the end of World War One especially when we consider that just across the Channel is a country with massive resources. Had we not acted I would be surmise we have been without allies and vulnerable to an attack in future. It would be my feeling that perhaps Britain's only option would have been to seek an alliance with the United States.
Would I agree that the war was mismanaged? Yes undoubtedly. The war was as I said a bloodbath with lives on a massive scale lost. Of course the scenario I've played out is only one option but I've only repeated what Mr Ferguson has done with his claim that Britain could have coped with a German victory. When playing the "what if" game with history it is important to remember that we are guessing. It could have been quite possible that Germany would have sought to demilitarise the areas it had gained access to and sought a peaceful integration of the nations that it had annexed. When annexing powers we are talking about forcing undoubtedly hostile nations to become part of the victor. I can quite easily accept that Germany would have to have spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that it did have a stranglehold over the powers it had annexed.
In terms of Mr Ferguson it may be unfair of me to say this but I feel he is aiming to shock rather than provide any great insight on the war. It is not the first time that he has made comments for the sheer purpose of causing offense and controversy.