July 1914, Sir Edward Grey and World War I
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  • British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and Whitehall, the seat of British gov't:
"Sir Edward Grey's influence in all matters of foreign policy was almost unlimited. On important occasions he used indeed to say, 'I must first bring it before the Cabinet'; but this always agreed to his views. His authority was undisputed...he joined the left wing of his party and sympathised with Socialists and pacifists."[italics added](10) So said the aristocratic German Foreoign Minister to Britain, Prince Lichnowsky

For his work in resolving the Balkan Crisis of 1912-1913 the British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey received very high marks from the (admittedly anglophile) Prince Lichnowsky:

"Shortly after my arrival in London, at the end of 1912, Sir E. Grey proposed an informal conversation to prevent the Balkan War developing into a European one...The British statesman from the very beginning took up the position that England had no interest in Albania, and had no intention of going to war over this question. He merely wished to mediate between the two groups as an 'honest broker' and smooth over difficulties...

"He therefore by no means took sides with the Entente, and during the eight months or so of the negotiations his goodwill and his authoritative influence contributed in no small degree to the attainment of an agreement. We, instead of adopting an attitude similar to the English one, invariably took up the position which was prescribed for us by Vienna...

Sir E. Grey conducted the negotiations with circumspection; calm, and tact. When a question threatened to become involved, he sketched a formula for agreement which was to the point and was always accepted. His personality inspired equal confidence in all the participants."(10)
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That is certainly a very impressive accomplishment for a foreign secretary who at school was expelled once, learned no foreign languages, and instead focused hard on tennis, becoming the school tennis champion. But there are unexpected and numerous unsettling accounts that Grey really disliked London, and was constantly sneaking off to be out in the country at his Hampshire cottage or at his estate in Northumberland. In the House of Commons at least once the cry went out "Where's Grey?" and received a shout "Gone fishing."(11)

World War I was a colossally destructive event that negatively affected most of the western world, which should authorize the query: What was a man of Grey's seemingly anti-London, anti-paperwork temperament doing holding a post as the British Foreign Secretary in the most important month of the entire 20th Century?

The British have to live on an smallish island next to a huge continent filled with countries constantly at war with for 2,000 years. England was more or less completely dependent upon foreign trade for its survival. Why choose for a foreign secretary a fly-fisherman who knew no European languages? How was an inability to read the writings of French, German and Russian leaders, military commanders and foreign ministers a strategic British asset?

HM Queen Victoria corresponded with French and German heads of state in French and German. The Prime minister of Prussia (1862-73, 1873-90) and founder and first chancellor (1871-90) of the German Empire was Otto von Bismarck:

"In 1859 Bismarck was sent to Russia as Prussian ambassador, and not long thereafter (May 1862) he moved to Paris as ambassador to the court of Napoleon III. Thus he had 11 years of experience in foreign affairs before he became prime minister and foreign minster of Prussia in September 1862. He had come to know personally the architects of French, Russian, and Austrian foreign policy."[italics added](12)

Bismarck's 11 years experience on foreign soil as ambassador to Russia and then to France BEFORE becoming Prussia's Foreign Minister makes the British foreign policy man's physical dislike of the continent seem his education hadn't even started yet.

Exactly what were Whitehall's requirements for the post of foreign secretary? During his long tenure as Foreign Secretary, Grey went abroad only once, reluctantly. He was Britain's longest-running Foreign Secretary - but with one stamp in his passport.

Europe (and America) had created all kinds of comfortable and safe luxury travel infrastructure [detailed below] by the early 1900's. In the midst of such dramatic advances in transportation, to continue to assume no European country is worth visiting seems atavistic. By 1914 Wagon-Lits had first-class teak sleeping and dining cars boarding at Charing Cross, London and arriving in 28 hours to the sunny French Riviera/Nice during the harsh British winter season. Even HM Queen Victoria had often taken her vacation along the French Riveria.

Grey wouldn't budge. If Whitehall had a post for an anti-foreign secretary, every single European foreign minister could suggest an unbeatable candidate.

"He was the most insular of our statesmen, and knew less of foreigners through contact with them than any Minister in the Government. He rarely, if ever, crossed the seas.

"He had no real understanding of foreigners I am not at all sure that for this purpose he would not include Scotland, Ireland and Wales as foreign parts...

"Northumberland was good enough for him, and if he could not get there and needed a change, there was his fishing lodge in Hampshire. This was a weakness and it was a definite weakness in a Foreign Secretary..."(13)

That's putting it mildly. Grey, who by all accounts detested London, perhaps wasn't drawn to modern Britain any more than he was to modern Paris, Berlin, Vienna or St. Petersburg. Grey appears to have been deeply taken by the countryside in Britain, his library (and some British women), and shows no interest whatsoever in the industrial/modern side of it.

"...and you pass through the streets feeling like an unknown alien, who has no part in the bustle and life of London, and cannot in the place of his exile share what seem to others to be pleasures."(14)

Such an attitude would be easy to fly under the Whitehall's radar as the British mandarins seriously believed their country was #1 on earth, and so, like Trump, were very vulnerable to flattery. The old saw, the Sun never sets on the British Empire, etc. This susceptibility to flattery among the British upper classes was reportedly so bad that the iconoclast British PM Disraeli said when it comes to royalty, lay it on with a trowel. So it would only take a few words from Grey. Then the moment the workday ended he could take off from right under their noses to head off to the train station for his countryside estate or his fishing cottage.

Mentioning his love of Nature, Grey wouldn't have to pretend that more than anything else he wanted to hang around after work and "enjoy London." And that could partly explain Grey's unhesitatingly bland attitude towards the June 28th regicide in Sarajevo.

Grey might have not have worshipped London, particularily the industrial side, as fervently as Whitehall may have assumed. On the contrary, industrial/modern life anywhere seems to have deeply repelled him. The choice of Grey as Foreign Secretary seems as careless as Grey's attitude towards industrial London. Actions speak louder than words. It seems Grey was a Rousseau-type, who detested industrial life, and so had a correspondingly weak unconscious/conscious commitment to it's preservation. London was hugely industrial. And that is something Whitehall in July 1914 would not have planned for.

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As for Europe, what if the Foreign Ministers of France, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany all believed their country was the #1 country on Earth and were equally adverse to traveling outside their borders? What agreed-upon plan was in place for how these diplomats were supposed to meet to arbitrate local disputes threatening to expand? And the answer is, they didn't have one.

Or were Grey and the British Foreign Office assuming that no matter how volatile the disputes between the European Great Powers became, their Foreign Ministers would would always have time - and the ability - to pause the dispute, leisurely travel to London and let Grey sort it out?

"[British King] George V was the first monarch since 1714 who was not a fluent German speaker. His French was poor. In consequence, he preferred the English-speaking empire to complicated, multilingual Europe; he mistrusted 'abroad' more than any ruler since medieval times."(15)

By 1914 Britain had already made alliances with Russia and France. And it had a treaty with Belgium. But in 1914 Britain also had a Foreign Secretary, and then a British King, crowned in 1910, both of whom physically distrusted the outside world.

That might not play out well if Europe ever needs Britain's unmatched civil stability to arbitrate a sudden and acute crisis. A somewhat hostile Foreign Secretary and British King might hesitate before reacting properly. How wise would that be? Since by 1914 France, Germany and Russia had stockpiled a vast amount of armaments, waiting only upon the order for mobilization, that could be very dangerous. The order to mobilize, once given, was not easy to stop. Russia, a vast country spanning a number of timezones, took weeks to mobilize, which meant if there was a danger of invasion the order for mobilization may have to go out abruptly.

"In October I used to find myself looking forward to salmon fishing in the next March and beginning to spend my spare time thinking about it. I lay awake in bed fishing in imagination the pools which I was not going to see before March at the earliest, till I felt I was spending too much time, not in actual fishing, but in sheer looking forward to it."(16)

That's not looking forward to French, German and Russian language instruction. Fly-fishing a river in England might be an interesting hobby, but, sorry, that's all it is. There are millions of fly-fishermen world-wide whose skills at fly-fishing wouldn't qualify them for a post as Foreign Minister of Zambia, let alone Britain.

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  • Early 1900's German, French and Americans Imports to Britain:
As Foreign Secretary, a somewhat less fanatically-minded anglophile might be as excited looking forward to representing British interests abroad in Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg and Berlin and elsewhere as much as Grey said he looked forward to fly-fishing.

For example: by 1914 Germany was reportedly producing twice as much steel as Britain. Britain's Foreign Secretary couldn't make the effort to visit German steel production factories? Wasn't Britain always on the lookout for the highest grade steel for it's fleet, guns etc?

A significant factor in causing Britain's huge military defeat on July 1, 1916, at the Battle of the Somme was that over 1.6 million British artillery shells left the German barbed wire mostly intact, as it was made of (surprise, surprise) significantly stronger steel.

On the morning of the battle, there was no way for the British soldiers to know in advance whether the 8-day-long British artillery barrage had succeeded except upon crossing no-man's land and arriving at the German barbed wire. Finding it intact, the British soldiers could not retreat, or take cover.

The German machine guns opened up, annihilating the British front lines, who had been ordered to walk the 750 yards across no man's land, causing over 55,000 casualties the first day, 20,000 the first hour, the largest loss-of-life in British military history.

The point is that none of this was hindered by a foreign secretary who insisted on fly-fishing and chasing British women instead of visiting German steel-production factories in 1908-1914. If the Germans had stronger steel, Grey could have brought it to the attention of the British War Department. Perhaps the artillery shells could be designed to cut a stronger grade of German barbed wire - certainly not wait until after crossing no man's land to discover the 8-day artillery barrage had mostly failed. That would be suicide.

How about the German Carl Zeiss optics factory? How could Britain, as a vast maritime power, have a world naval fleet without telescopes? How important were binoculars on the battlefield in WWI? (One author contends that after WWI started Britain traded rubber for many thousands of binoculars for the British military from Zeiss).

Granted, Britain had their own optics factories, but Zeiss was reported to be #1 worldwide. Even French optics were reportedly ahead of Britain. How could Britain claim to be the #1 country on earth when it famed worldwide maritime fleet had to use 3rd rate optics for navigation?

It defies imagination that Britain wouldn't be phenomenally interested in acquiring the best optics for it's imperial fleet. But, alas, they were saddled with a foreign secretary who apparently preferred sneaking off and fly-fishing instead of seeking the best edge for Britain by visiting the world's leading optics company.

What about Siemens? Hadn't Siemens installed the first AC alternator and dynamo for Britain's first public supply system of electrity? How about Bosch's Feuerbach plant near Stuttgart? What percent of British ball bearings were imported? Magnetos? Advanced medical drugs? Wasn't Germany's Bayer aspirin just introduced to the world market? And what about the new German Mercedes-Benz imports?

"..British laws discouraged the use of the motor car, so the British motor industry as we know it didn’t even exist until Walter Arnold brought over from Germany a 1.5 litre Benz."(17)

Had Germany started the auto industry in Britain?

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  • The Great London Manure Crisis of 1900:
Daily life in London without auto transport was a stinking disaster zone: the British auto industry had been stopped dead in its tracks by the Locomotive Act (also called the Red Flag Act) that made it almost impossible to use a motor vehicle in Britain. And that meant London had to use some 50,000 horses/daily for transportation. And that caused the Great London Manure Crisis of 1894. In 1894, The Times newspaper predicted… “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”

" In 1900, there were over 11,000 [horse-drawn] hansom cabs on the streets of London alone. There were also several thousand horse-drawn buses, each needing 12 horses per day, making a staggering total of over 50,000 horses transporting people around the city each day.

"This huge number of horses created major problems. The main concern was the large amount of manure left behind on the streets. On average a horse will produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day... The manure on London’s streets also attracted huge numbers of flies which then spread typhoid fever and other diseases.

"Each horse also produced around 2 pints of urine per day and to make things worse, the average life expectancy for a working horse was only around 3 years. Horse carcasses therefore also had to be removed from the streets."(18)

50,000 horses outside could have turned London into a part-time livery stable and created a hell of a stench in Whitehall, as there was no air-conditioning in in the early 1900's, which meant windows open. How did Whitehall's gov't officials venture outdoors with so much horse excrement in the streets? Grey describes London in 1899:

"... the brutal hardness of the pavement, the smell of the streets festering in the sun...it is impossible to live in London without great sacrifice...the stuffiness of the heat from which there is no relief at night — for no coolness comes with the evening air, and bedroom windows seem to open into ovens"(19)

That festering smell could be the many, many tons of horse excrement delivered daily on the streets of London. In 1905 Grey would be Foreign Secretary. Grey seemingly had no desire to encourage the importing of foreign French, German and American automobiles to relieve London from it's awful manure problem.

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  • European Auto Racing Immensely Popular in 1914:
Across the channel automobiles were all the rage in Europe:

"From the start Mercedes cars were elegantly designed for high performance and favored by royalty and financiers of the old and the new world. Many others switched allegiance when in 1914 Mercedes placed first, second and third in the French Grand Prix...[Mercedes] were even being used by several European heads of state for official travel. The list of dignitaries included King Leopold of Belgium, England's Edward VII, and Kaiser Wilhelm II."(20)

Britain's King Edward VII had a Mercedes. Germany's apparently well-engineered Mercedes took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the July 1914 French Grand Prix at Lyons:
"Automotive historians generally regard the French Grand Prix of 1914 as one of the greatest races of all time...The [Mercedes] engines were sophisticated and had 4 cylinders with a single overhead cam and a top end potential of 115 mph...The Mercedes were clearly the fastest cars."(21)

Granted, Grey was no engineer, but as Foreign Secretary didn't he also have a responsibility to promote British commercial interests? Rolls Royce wasn't paying it's executives to fly-fish:

"After the French Grand Prix, one of the cars was sent to England to become a showroom display. Just after arriving in England, World War One broke out. Rolls-Royce used the opportunity to carefully study the engine. A short time later, the Rolls-Royce Hawk engine was introduced."(22)

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  • Sir Edward Grey's bird-watching speech at Harvard (1919):
Edward Grey's comments above discussing his excitement about looking forward to salmon fishing were after WWI, when giving an address to the Harvard Union in 1919. From his crucial position directly alongside the greatest catastrophe to strike Britain since the 1066AD Norman Invasion and the 1347AD Black Death, it's reasonable to expect the Foreign Secretary's speech would focus on WWI. It's reasonable to expect Grey's speech would address the complete collapse of the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the Austrian Empire, a catastrophe beyond measure in the entire history of Europe. As quoted above:

"This war would never have come unless, under American and modernizing pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones. No doubt these views are very unfashionable...." Winston Churchill, 8th April 1945.

"If the Allies at the peace table at Versailles had allowed a Hohenzollern, a Wittelsbach and a Habsburg to return to their thrones, there would have been no Hitler. A democratic basis of society might have been preserved by a crowned Weimar in contact with the victorious Allies." Winston Churchill, 26th April 1946.

Winston Churchill states in plain english that WWI's destruction of the aristocratic empires in Europe paved the way for Hitler and the Nazis. Immediately after WWI ended, and sometimes even before it was over, statesmen and officials from the Great Powers rushed to get their version of events into print. This small flotilla of books were to a degree about blaming some other Great Power(s) for the war. It is the position of this website that it's been more or less chaos for the western world ever since.

And speaking of Chamberlain and appeasement, the ominous title, and subject, of Grey's 1919 address was "Recreation." Faced with the colossal destructiveness of WWI, and its future implications for the entire world, the Foreign Secretary veered straight off the reservation:

"Several years ago when I was at the Foreign Office in London, I got a letter from Mr. Bryce, who was then British Ambassador at Washington, saying that President Roosevelt intended to travel as soon as he was out of office. He was going to travel in Africa, to visit Europe, and to come to England, and he was planning his holiday so minutely as to time his visit to England for the spring, when the birds would be in full song and he could hear them. For this purpose he wanted it to be arranged that somebody who knew the songs of the English birds should go for a walk with him in the country, and as the songs were heard tell him what the birds were.

"Time passed, and when the President retired from office he went to Africa and had much big-game shooting and travel there. Then he came by way of the Sudan and Egypt to Europe. The leading countries of Europe were stirred to do him honour, England not less than others. He had a great reception and everywhere a programme of great and dignified character was arranged for him. European newspapers were full of it long before he got to England...

"The day was arranged and at the appointed time we met at Waterloo Station. We had to ask the newspaper reporters not to go with us, not because it made any difference to Colonel Roosevelt, but because birds are not so tame, or perhaps I should say are more self-conscious than public men and do not like to be photographed or even interviewed at close quarters, and it was necessary, not only that Colonel Roosevelt and I should be alone, but that we should make ourselves as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible.

"So we went alone, and for some twenty hours we were lost to the world. ..We went by train to a country station where a motor was awaiting us. Thence we drove to the little village of Titchborne in Hampshire, and got there soon after midday...I was a little apprehensive about this walk. I had had no personal acquaintance with Colonel Roosevelt before he came to England in 1910, and I thought to myself, 'Perhaps, after all, he will not care so very much about birds...'

"I found, not only that he had a remarkable and abiding interest in birds, but a wonderful knowledge of them. Though I know something about British birds I should have been lost and confused among American birds, of which unhappily I know little or nothing. Colonel Roosevelt not only knew more about American birds than I did about British birds, but he knew about British birds also.

"We began our walk, and when a song was heard I told him the name of the bird. I noticed that as soon as I mentioned the name it was unnecessary to tell him more. He knew what the bird was like. It was not necessary for him to see it. He knew the kind of bird it was, its habits and appearance. He just wanted to complete his knowledge by hearing the song. He had, too, a very trained ear for bird songs, which cannot be acquired without having spent much time in listening to them. How he had found time in that busy life to acquire this knowledge so thoroughly it is almost impossible to imagine...He had one of the most perfectly trained ears for bird songs that I have ever known."(23)

Grey's address at Harvard was a badly-veiled attempt to normalize a grossly abnormal situation, as was described above in the Summary. Was Grey a sort of British Nero who fiddled while Europe blew sky-high in July 1914? America had made a major investment in sending it's military to Europe. The tennis champ's evasiveness under immense pressure to account for what happened to cause WWI was the worst possible sign for the future. Instead of discussing the lessons of the First World War, so that maybe another World War might be prevented, Grey says to Harvard: "I will recommend you, at any rate, one good modern novel. Its name is 'The Bent Twig,' the authoress is Dorothy Canfield..."
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  • Europe stockpiling armaments 1900-1914:
If such candidness in the face of impending disaster was typical among the Great Powers in July 1914, then the European/British situation can be turned upside down. Instead of asking how WWI started, the query becomes how exactly did such incredibly well-armed folks--in ridiculously close proximity to each other, practically sitting in each other's laps--expect to avoid a general conflagration?
"The situation is extraordinary. It is militarism run stark mad. Unless someone acting for you can bring about a different understanding, there is some day to be an awful cataclysm. No one in Europe can do it. There is too much hatred, too many jealousies. Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria."(24)

It was not exactly as if the 5 Great European Powers circa 1900-1914, with all their feverish weapons stockpiling, were akin to dousing themselves with gasoline and practicing throwing lit matches at each other. But the inability of some gov't officials to speak with a straight face about the origin of WWI does makes it far easier for everyone else to understand why Europe/Britain have been up to their necks in non-stop wars for a thousand years.

In Europe there was, as mentioned above, a theory floating around that commerce between the Great Powers had lowered the risk of war. With every passing year of peace, the theory gained such currency that in 1910 a British member of Parliment claimed the Great Powers were so interlocked economically that a European War was impossible. But it hardly took World War I to dispatch the self-serving illusion - by 1787 the Americans had identified such anti-historical notions as Grade-A European/British kool-aid.(25)

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  • HM King Edward VII and HM Queen Victoria - Diplomatic Maneuvers:
In his memoirs "Twenty Five Years", Grey admits to having no special training for his position as British Foreign Secretary. Of the 25,000+ books reportedly published on WWI, it is a safe bet none of them challenged him on that. The British Foreign Secretary's ear for mastery of the French, Russian, and German languages had been traded in for the mastery of British bird songs.

However, Britain did have other moments of great diplomatic courage and talent that might have inspired the tennis champ to educate himself. In 1903 an utterly unintimidated British King Edward VII wielded the diplomatic arts with such a flair - from deep inside a notoriously unfriendly country - as to make it look easy:

"Britain need allies. Finding them wasn't going to be easy. The recent war in South Africa against the Boers had made Britain highly unpopular in Europe. But the King had a plan. In May 1903, he set out on a mission of diplomacy to one of the favorite haunts of his youth: Paris.

"Bertie [King Edward VII] didn't tell them his plans. He makes this completely secret agenda. He didn't even tell his [foreign] secretaries. And when the royal train arrives, and Bertie gets out at the station, he's met with incredibly hostile French crowds.

"Bertie turns up in Paris, a place where the British are incredibly unpopular at the time. And when he arrives, he is booed. There are newspaper editorials saying 'Go back to England', and basically listing every English insult since...the burning of Joan of Arc.

"Faced with a French mob, the English King's love of Parisian culture and women was about to pay dividends.

"He goes to the theatre. And the audience in the theatre is incredibly sort of unfriendly and sullen. And to the dismay of the French police, the King insists during the...interval of going into the foyer. And he spots an actress. And he goes up to her. And kisses her hand. And says 'Mademoiselle, when I last saw you in London you were superb.'

"Edward really does have sort of the magic touch. Immediately the kind of rumor mill in Paris puts this out he had been incredibly charming to this famous actress. The next day he walks out into the crowd. He shakes hands. He says he loves Paris. He looks happy. He charms the pants off the French. The mood changes like [snaps fingers] this...it just flips.

"Suddenly, there's an outburst of cheering wherever he goes. There's a sort of a real sense that he's one of them. You need to remember that no English politician spoke French like that. None of them knew Paris like that. And that is critically important in causing a huge change in French opinion.

"The King's weakness for French wine, woman & song had helped pave the way for a crucial strategic alliance with the old enemy."(28)

Grey reportedly also chased women, although discreetly. Besides chasing British women, it's too bad Grey didn't also like chasing French women. Or Austrian ones. Again, the biographer of King Edward VII, Jane Ridley, strikes a key point: "You need to remember that no English politician spoke French like that. None of them knew Paris like that. And that is critically important in causing a huge change in French opinion." That key fact would rise to literally stratospheric importance in July 1914, when what was desperately needed more than anything else was an equally huge change in opinion in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France (and Britain).

Another great example of British diplomacy for the tennis champ, the unusual 1898-1899 Fashoda Crisis:

"Over tea, General Kitchener and Major Marchand cordially and politely insisted that they each had the correct claim while refusing the other's request to vacate. Their behaviors could not be more different from their countrymen back home, where Briton and Frenchman alike were appalled at the affront to national sovereignty."(29)

"The disputes arose from the common desire of each country to link up its disparate colonial possessions in Africa. Great Britain’s aim was to link Uganda to Egypt via a railway from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo, while France, by pushing eastward from the west coast, hoped to extend its dominion across Central Africa and the Sudan." (30)

"Only over the Fashoda confrontation of 1898 did it seem possible that Britain and France, the chief protagonists, would fight. The Fashoda incident had all the qualities of high drama, with the forces of Britain and France, led by two equally charismatic commanders, eyeball to eyeball on the Upper Nile and claiming the same territory...

"But it was Captain Marchand's puny force of a few French officers and a little over one hundred Senegalese soldiers that caught the world's attention. Marchand's long transcontinental march was an intensely Gallic episode. His secret expeditionary force carried lavish supplies of claret and champagne, a mechanical piano, seeds of haricot verts and a portable steam launch. Its progress was doubtless enlivened by the various African girls presented to Marchand and his officers as temporary concubines by placatory local chieftains."(31)

"In the tense confrontation that ensued, neither Marchand nor Kitchener was ready to give up his claims to the fort, but, because both wished to avoid a military engagement, they agreed that Egyptian, British, and French flags should fly over the fort.(32)

"The French Marchand had shown up "[A]ccompanied by porters, often pressed into service along the way, the expedition carried an enormous quantity of supplies including 10 tons of rice, 5 tons of corned beef, 1 ton of coffee, and 1,300 liters of red wine as well as champagne to celebrate its anticipated success..."(33)

Yet another example of British diplomacy for E. Grey, HM Queen Victoria, also known as the grandmother of Europe:

"Imperial needs, imperial ambitions, involved the country in the South African War. There were checks, reverses, bloody disasters; for a moment the nation was shaken... Throwing her self heart and soul into the struggle, she laboured with redoubled vigour, interested herself in every detail of the hostilities, and sought by every means in her power to render service to the national cause.

"In April 1900, when she was in her eighty-first year, she made the extraordinary decision to abandon her annual visit to the South of France, and to go instead to Ireland, which had provided a particularly large number of recruits to the armies in the field. She stayed for three weeks in Dublin, driving through the streets, in spite of the warnings of her advisers, without an armed escort; and the visit was a complete success."(34)

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  • Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf, Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph:

King Edward VII was not the only one who could also speak fluent French & German. Across the channel the supra-militaristic Austrian Army Chief of Staff von Hotzendorf (ignoring school sports) reportedly polished off native German, French, English, Russian, Italian, Polish, Czech, & Serbo-Croatian.


In Austria-Hungary, even the future Emperor Franz Joseph was "...expected to study 18 hours a week when he was six years old. The hours of study per week increased to 36 hours at age eight and 46 hours at age 11. [He] became seriously ill at the age of 13 due to the stress of his studies. However, his rigorous education continued and he was studying 56 hours a week at the 15...he studied not only French, Latin and Greek , but also Hungarian, Czech, Italian, and Polish."(35)


The tennis champ shunned learning foreign languages. To him the other Great Powers were the Alien Great Powers.To the extent foreign language skills are essential to be effective in the foreign service, it's unclear whether von Hotzendorf, Franz Joseph or E. Grey was the one training to be a real diplomat.

As late as July 10, 1914 The Hansard [the official record for the British House of Commons, House of Lords] has this notable entry:

"Sir J. D. REES My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down referred to the desirability of establishing a class for the training of Russian interpreters. I do not know whether I may say so, but I am the only Russian interpreter in the House. My services were paid for, and were never made use of even for five minutes."(36)

Was the British Foreign Office in 1914 assuming that continental crises that might possibly spill over onto British soil could be successfully arbitrated without having to condescend to actually master the other Great Power's languages? King Edward VII's extraordinary 1903 diplomatic turnaround of France would have been an equally extraordinary lesson in diplomacy for the Foreign Office's tennis champ. If he had been willing to cross the channel.

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  • Porthcurno telegraph cable station:
Another post-1900 development that had an extremely negative effect in the Foreign Office was the blinding speed of electronic communications. The speed at which continental crises could develop rose expodentially.(37) The important British Porthcurno telegraph cable station, whose first cable from Carcavelos, Portugal was put down in 1870 was by the end of July 1914 could be said to be overloaded. Instantaneous electronic communications, by overloading data collection centers such as Porthcurno, played no small role in confusing the London Foreign Office as to the relative significance of the rapid development of each of the events from June 28 throughout each day of July 1914.

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  • Initial Austro-Hungarian reaction to the killing of the Archduke and consort:
The consequences of the July 1914 Crisis morphing into WWI were so catastrophic they recoiled with the power of a tsunami that slammed into Great Britain, killing 800,000 British soldiers. The origin of such a worldwide catastrophe can hardly be over-interrogated. A WWI analyst, Michael Neiberg, partly quoting Stefan Zweig, suggests the following:

#1 Before the crisis of July 1914, all the previous crises had several things in common.

#2 Some of those crises took over a year to resolve.

#3 They were all solved at the last minute before they got too serious.

#4 When the archduke was killed on June 28, 1914, everybody thought if there was going to be a crisis, it was going to be another one of these previous long drawn-out crises.(38)

#1, 2 and 3, agreed. But not #4. The killing of the Austrian Archduke, the heir to the throne, thought by some as the peacemaker of Europe, changed everything instantly. In Austria, "The word 'war,' Berchtold [Austrian Foreign Minister] recalled of the Monday [June 29th, the next day] following the assassination, 'was on everyone's lips.'"

"As if to preempt any possible wavering on the part of the foreign minister, Berchtold was besieged all day [Monday, June 29th] by officials hoping to put steel into him for a clash with Serbia. Opinion was nearly unanimous. Austria's minister president, Count Karl Sturgkh, was all in for war, as were General Alexander Krobatin, the war minister, and Leon von Bilinski, the common imperial finance minister."

"Monday evening Conrad [von Hotzendorf] arrived at the Ballplatz [Vienna] to sound out Berchtold...Skipping the usual pleasantries, Conrad proposed straightaway that Austria-Hungary mobilize against Serbia, beginning on Wednesday, 1 July... 'Nothing will have the slightest effect' the chief of staff argued, 'but the use of force.'"(39)

"[Tuesday, June 30th] If Austria let this act of ...aggression go unpunished, Berchtold told the emperor [Franz Joseph I], "our southern and eastern neighbors would be so certain of our powerlessness that they would consequently bring their work of destruction [of the empire] to its conclusion."(40)