The Sleepwalkers

Six down, 24,994 to go.

That, way back in 1991, was the number of articles and books on the origins of World War One. As Christopher Clark says, there is no way even an omnilingual historian can read all the secondary works on the subject.

The primary sources for the war’s origin are very large and not flawless. There are bad memories, destroyed records, post-hoc lies and omissions and rationalizations to contend with. Official records are not always complete. For instance, the Russian records were used as propaganda tools by the Bolsheviks to attack the Czarist regime and capitalist governments or French records edited to justify the Treaty of Versailles.

Clark has written a book intended for serious students of the war. He’s not going to tell you what the German “blank check” said. He assumes you know. Similar, with the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, he covers the main points without repeating it verbatim. He assumes you know the Franz Fischer theory of German war guilt and argues Fischer’s ideas may have as much to do with post-World War II German guilt over the Nazi years as real history.

Review: The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark, 2012.Sleepwalkers

And the whole notion of guilt, which countries get the blame for 15 million war dead, is one he firmly rejects at the book’s conclusion.

The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol. There is no smoking gun in this story; or, rather, there is one in the hands of every major character. Viewed in this light, the outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime.

The arguments about the most complex social disaster in history cannot be summarized in a review, but here are the arguments that Clark brings that seem to run counter to the World War One origin literature I’ve read. Continue reading

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Just Drop the Last Chapter

Since I’m in the middle of reading Christopher Clark’s thick The Sleepwalkers, you again don’t get anything new.

However, rather than give you another retro review, you get somebody else’s look at three new books on the social ills of America — specifically their diagnostic excellence and prescriptive ignorance.