Given our times, I decided to pull this one off the shelf and put its review at the top of the queue. It’s an account of another time a great power attempted, by “economic derangement”, to win a war.
It didn’t go well either.
Review: Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare in the First World War, Nicholas A. Lambert, 2012.
In one of the great failed predictions of all time, Norman Angell said, in his 1910 bestselling book The Great Illusion, that war between great powers was unthinkable. It would result in, to quote Lambert, “economic Armageddon – a kind of economic mutually assured destruction”.
Ivan Bloch made a more successful prediction in his 1899 work Is War Now Impossible?:
The future of war is not fighting, but famine, not the slaying of men, but the bankruptcy of nations and the break-up of the whole social organization.
The British government, particularly the Royal Navy, didn’t dispute these ideas. It embraced them. Given its dominance in international shipping, central position in a world network of submarine cables, and that London was the world’s financial capitol, maybe England could cut out an enemy nation from international trade and win a war before it, too, economically bled out.
After the 1898 Fashoda Crisis drove up maritime insurance rates for British ships, the Royal Navy reluctantly realized that attacking and defending trade would have to become part of its strategy. A study was commissioned. A six-week month project stretched into years, but, by 1902, the Royal Navy had a dim view, obscured by the lack of good statistics, of the outlines of the problem.Continue reading