July 1914, Sir Edward Grey and World War I
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"No one would have crossed the ocean if he
could have gotten off the ship in the storm."
CF Kettering, DuPont, GM
  • Otto von Bismarck's warning that for peace Russia and Germany must be balanced:

Otto von Bismarck, the first German Chancellor, referring to the two great land powers of Germany and Russia on the Eurasian continent, said that for the peace of Europe it was vitally important to keep them equally balanced. Bismarck implied any attempt to weaken one would only dangerously enbolden the other.

"The form which German unification took was determined by Bismarck, who put great value on political stability, and he tamed German nationalism and kept it within bounds. He was a master of restraint, and he gave Europe a generation of peace which, by 1914, had come to be taken for granted."(15a)

By 1914 Europe had forgotten Bismarck's stern warning. In 1901 the equally stern "Grandmother of Europe", HM Queen Victoria passed away. Europe's two greatest leaders were dead, and with the adults out of the room the continent fell into a kind of schoolyard frivolity, with HM Queen Victoria's often rebellious son, aka Edward-the-Caresser (1901-1910) hedonistically leading the race to the bottom.

Commerce between the Great Powers had dramatically lowered the risk of war, or so said a political theory then sweeping the continent. This bizarre theory, contradicted by all human military history, gained such currency that by 1910 a British member of Parliment reportedly claimed the Great Powers were so interlocked economically that a General European War was impossible.

Commerce was pushed to an extreme point while general European security measures were relaxed. There was no pre-set agreement for promptly arbitrating intractable local crises in Europe. Such near-total foreign policy neglect made it easier for radical political elements to rise up and struggle to push local disputes into more widespread crises before the Great Powers were fully aware of what was happening.

If Bismarck stated that they key to peace in Europe was to "make a good treaty with Russia", it might be said in 1900-1914 that the key to peace for Britain was to "make a good treaty with Germany." This view did not prevail, and, dismally, in only 3 decades, from 1914 to 1945, the greatest, most powerful and most stable maritime empire in the world fell off a cliff.

When it picked itself up off the floor, petite Britain discovered it had become a vassal security state of NATO, a most inglorious end to what even the American Federalist Founding Father Alexander Hamilton had praised as having "the best government in the world."

No doubt Whitehall circa 1914 must have felt that making a treaty with Kaiser Wilhelm and the German military would be exceedingly disagreeable. But for Britain to instead throw itself into the arms of the alien anti-parlimentary state of Russia seems fraught with future peril.

Post-July 1914, much has been made of Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary. But in 1914 neither Germany nor Austria-Hungary were involved in plotting and carrying out a regicide. Serbia was, and it's protector was Russia. Furthermore, risking a war with Germany meant that if Germany lost, it was only a matter of time before the entire European Continent would be exposed to the Russian Steamroller. If Germany won, that is, if the Allied Powers had lost WWI, the entire European Continent and the island kingdom of Britain would be exposed to the German War Machine.

This was Bismarck's point. The two land powers of Russia and Germany had to be militarily balanced. Risking a war with Germany, and winning it, meant that Europe and Britain would sooner or later have to face the Russian Steamroller. And after the Allied Powers fought and "won" two World Wars against Germany, that's exactly what happened. The German-Russian balance of power that Bismarck worked so hard to balance was gone. The allies had unwittingly succeeded in making Russia the single strongest land-power on the Eurasian continent.

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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](20)

So said the aristocratic German Foreign 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) 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."(21)
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  • Edward Grey's Love of the British Countryside:

That is certainly a very impressive accomplishment - outstanding, actually - for a foreign secretary who was expelled from school 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."(22)

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-European, anti-London, anti-paperwork temperament doing holding a post as the British Foreign Secretary during the most important political month in recorded history?

The British have to live on an smallish island next to a huge continent filled with countries who've been 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 unable to speak, read, or write any European languages?

Grey was sufficiently unschooled that the writings and speeches of French, German and Russian leaders, military commanders and foreign ministers were quite beyond him. How could a fly-fisherman with such foreign ignorance be a strategic British advantage? What about the foreign-language telegraphic cables flying into Whitehall from Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and France?

What if Britain's Ambassadors had adopted the same view and refused to cross the channel to their posts in St. Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin and Paris? Britain would be dangerously isolated from Europe.

HM Queen Victoria corresponded with French and German heads of state in the French and German languages. 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](23)

Bismarck's 11 years experience on foreign soil as ambassador to Russia and then to France BEFORE becoming Prussia's Foreign Minister certainly makes it seem the schooling and real-world education of the British choice for Foreign Secretary never even started:

"He was an odd choice, in a way, for Foreign Secretary because he spoke only one foreign language and that was French, and he spoke French very badly. He did not use French in diplomatic conversations."

"French was then the diplomatic language."

He went abroad just once before the War, and that was on an official visit with the King to Paris in April 1914. He never visited Germany, for example, or Russia, or any of the other countries involved."
-Vernon Bogdanor(23a)

Mr. Bogdanor's calling choosing Grey as British Foreign Secretary as "odd" seems a bit shortsighted. The appointee's fanatically anti-European views later proved quite capable of grasping Britain's "Splendid Isolation" and reverse-engineering it, that is, from June 28th through July 1914 Grey single-handedly "Splendidly-Isolated" Britain from events on the Continent, events that quickly expanded into a 300'-tall political tsunami until it was too late for Britain to stop them, and too late to prevent Britain from being dragged in.

(Napoleon said [paraphrase]: "Wake me for the bad news. The good news can wait until morning." British opera stars such as Mr. Bogdanor seem to believe the opposite, that shielding snoozing British leaders from their awful decisions is somehow a good thing. In fact, this is precisely how Britain lost it's priceless Empire, by trusting people who praised their worst imaginable decisions, told good news and mischaracterized the rest).

For Mr. Grey, 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, for Mr. Grey to continue to assume no European city or country is worth visiting seems patently 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. For God's sake, 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 capitol 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..."(24)

That's the understatement of the century. Mr. 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 was not a conventional Foreign Secretary. He disliked travelling – his first official trip abroad was to France in 1914 – preferring instead to conduct relations through ambassadors in London. He also hated being in London, away from his north-country pursuits: bird watching, fly-fishing and hill-walking."
-British Government website(24a)

Secretary 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."(25)

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, blah. 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, Secretary 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 frozen 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 commercial-industrial city life, and so may have had a correspondingly weak unconscious/conscious commitment to it's preservation. London was hugely commercial-industrial. And that is something Whitehall in July 1914 would not have planned for.

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  • 1914: No pre-set Plan for Promptly Arbitrating Intense Political Crises Among the Great Powers:
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."(26)

By 1914 Britain had already made ententes 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? By 1914 France, Germany and Russia had stockpiled a vast amount of armaments, waiting only upon the order for mobilization, always a very dangerous situation.

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 early. In any intense crisis involving the Great Powers, it is impossible to over-estimate the danger of this requirement. Apparently the British Foreign Secretary's real passions were elsewhere:

"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."(27)

Fly-fishing a river in England might be an interesting hobby, but, sorry, that's all it is. There are millions of fly-fishermen whose fly-fishing skills do not qualify them to even stand guard outside the British Foreign Office, much less to stroll inside and take command of it all.

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  • Grey Refuses to Encourage Highly-Important French, American and German Industrial Inventions 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, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Berlin and elsewhere as to fly-fishing.

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.

  • Grey Refuses to Visit Zeiss, Siemens, Bosch, Bayer and Mercedes-Benz Factories:
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."(28)
Had Germany started the auto industry in Britain?
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  • The Great London Manure Crisis of 1900:
To back up a step, at the turn of the century 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."(29)

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"(30)

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. But he refused to budge. The so-called Foreign Secretary refused to cross the channel, inspect the auto factories in Paris, Germany and America and invite them to Britain to swiftly put an end to the awful mess in London. Instead he went fly-fishing (and chased women).
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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."(31)

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."(32)

Edward Grey, true to form, had zero interest in visiting Paris and Berlin auto factories to encourage imports. Maybe Rolls Royce should have been in charge of promoting foreign auto imports:

"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."(33)

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  • Sir Edward Grey's Incomprehensible 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 at the beginning, 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."(34)

It'stoo bad Mr. Grey didn't train his ears for French, German, or Russian languages. It wasn't a birdwatching post he was occupying as Foreign Secretary.

Grey's off-the-reservation address at Harvard was a horrible attempt to normalize July 1914's complete political meltdown. Europe blew sky-high in July 1914. America had made a major investment in sending it's military to Europe. In his speech at Harvard, to America, the tennis champ clearly imploded under the immense pressure to account for what happened to cause 15,000,000 dead from what started as a local crisis in June-July 1914.

It was the worst possible sign for the future. Instead of discussing the lessons of July 1914's political meltdown, so that maybe another major World War might be prevented, Grey says, and this is to Harvard University(with MIT literally across the street), one of the top 3 or 4 schools on Earth:

"I will recommend you, at any rate, one good modern novel. Its name is 'The Bent Twig,' the authoress is Dorothy Canfield..."

Virtually none of Secretary Grey's contemporaries held him to the slightest accounting for his actions/inactions from June 28th through July 31, for they all knew if they did then later everybody would ask why didn't they take him to task about what he was doing. And that would not do at all: Secretary Grey was like a big firewall that almost everybody in Whitehall was silently using as a shield to conceal their own gross inaction.

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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 flipped 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."(35)

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 certainly makes it easy for everyone else to understand how for the last thousand years Europe/Britain have been up to their necks in non-stop wars.

In Europe there was, as mentioned above, a theory floating around that commerce between the Great Powers had lowered the risk of war, such that a European War was impossible. But long before the American Founding Fathers had taken a jack-hammer to the church of commerce-ends-war, so it should not have taken a 4-year-long flotilla of Maxim machine guns and KruppWork heavy artillery to finish it off:

"Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion?

"Has not the spirit of commerce, in many instances, administered new incentives to the appetite, both for the one and for the other? Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries..."[italics added]
Alexander Hamilton, US Founding Father: The Federalist Papers #6 (36)