Winston Churchill on the June 28-July 1914 Crisis
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(l) British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, (c) Winston Churchill, Lord of the
Admiralty, (r) the Marquess of Crewe, leader of the House of Lords 1908-1916.

"Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?

"Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?"
US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist #6

[Aug 14, 2019, page under development]

Home
Page 2: Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Balkans Crisis Arbitration 1903-1914.
1914: A general willingness to believe "war was something that was not going to happen in Europe."
Page 3: "Caught Looking": American Major League Baseball Physical
Working Model of European/British Response to June 28-July 1914 Crisis

June 28-July 1914: The Strategy of Hope
Confusion Between Defensive/Offensive Military Preparations
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey: Delayed Telegrams June-July 1914
Foreign Secretary Edward Grey on the Causes of World War I
Historians on Causes of World War I
June 29th-July 1914, Wagons-Lits to the French Riviera

Post-June 28-July 1914/WWI:
July 16, 1945: Trinity
Effects of Atomic Detonations: Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Japan: Feasibility of Atomic Demonstration-Test in 1945
USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

  • Intro:

Dipping into the Lord of the Admiralty's memoirs, the first point of curiosity is that even though titled "The World Crisis", Mr. Churchill inexplicably more or less pulls the curtain completely shut by blacking out 4 straight weeks of the 5-week-long Balkans Crisis. Would any historian care to provide full details as to what that's about?

On June 28 Mr. Churchill has 1 entry noting the regicide at Sarajevo, and starting that evening, June 28th, in a deft maneuver possibly reminiscent of Harry Houdini, Mr. Churchill promptly blacks out everything related to Sarajevo, including blacking out everything said or done by Vienna, Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Russia, Germany and France until July 25, 1914.

Starting promptly the evening of June 28, 1914, the Lord of the Admiralty installs a month-long total REDACTION (in 2019 parlance) of everything related to the Balkans Crisis.

For a politician with an alleged extreme attention to detail, one who would later become the Prime Minister of Britain and lead Britain's fight in WWII, that rather defies imagination. For a gov't official with such an alleged reputation for forthrightness and detail, it must be stated that attempting to install a total blackout of the first 4 weeks of a 5-week crisis that booted up WWI seems inexplicably - dare it be suggested - witless.

  • Full Chronologies Mandatory to Sort Out Disasters:

Examining the text, the Lord of the Admiralty seems anxious to provide tons of excruciating detail up until June 28, 1914 and tons of excruciating detail after July 25, 1914. This seems, it must be said, quite illogical. Mr. Churchill really should have known by then that full chronologies are always mandatory to sort out disasters.

There are NO exceptions to this rule.

Meticulously detailed investigations of aviation/jetliner crashes deliver overwhelming proof of this point in hundreds of cases, many conducted by the USA's NTSB.

In other words, if instead of a 3.5-5-week political crisis, it had been a 9-minute jetliner crash, Mr.Churchill's weird maneuver seems somewhat anaogous to blacking out ≈ 80% of the flight recorder data, Air Traffic Control data, tower-pilot conversations, altimeter data, weather data, instrument data etc. while still expecting his opinion to contribute to an accurate investigation of the exact causes of the crash.

[(below) Selected FAA Altimeter and Flight Recorder Data: KAL 801 6Ag1977]

For example, Korean Airlines Flight 801 (above) experienced what in the aviation industry is called a CFIT [Controlled-Flight-Into-Terrain] on August 6, 1977. The jetliner inadvertently struck the ground before the runway on Guam w/o the pilots fully aware of what was happening.

Selected FAA altitude and flight recorder data is here.   The NTSB's Aircraft Accident Report's full CVR (cockpit voice recording) of KA 801 is at Appendix B, at 180. Now suppose ≈ 80% of all flight recorder data, ATC data, tower radar data, altitude and weather data, etc. had - for whatever reason - been blacked out.

"'You consider that to be important?' he asked.
'Exceedingly so.'
'Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?'
'To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.'
'The dog did nothing in the night-time."
'That was the curious incident,' remarked Sherlock Holmes." (1)
__________________________

Starting June 28, 1914, highly-motivated radical elements in Austria, Serbia, Germany & Russia quickly saw to it that the Balkans Crisis had spread to Russia, Germany and France long before July 25th:

"...on 30 June, 2 days after the Sarajevo incident, the [Russian] General Staff, under pressure from Tsar Nicholas II, approved the dispatch of 120,000 three-line rifles, with 120 million rounds, to Serbia."[italics added](2)

  • The Lord of the Admiralty on the June 28-July 1914 Balkans Crisis:

The Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915) offers his view of the June 28-July 1914 Crisis:

"At the end of June the simultaneous British naval visits to Kronstadt and Kiel took place...

"Undue curiosity in technical matters was banned by mutual agreement. There were races, there were banquets, there were speeches. There was sunshine, there was the Emperor. Officers and men fraternised and entertained each other afloat and ashore. Together they strolled arm in arm through the hospitable town, or dined with all good will in mess and ward-room.

"In the midst of these festivities, on the 28th June, arrived the news of the murder of the Archduke ... at Sarajevo."(3)

Mr. Churchill then offers his view of the situation starting July 1st:

"Like many others, I often summon up in my memory the impression of those July days. The world on the verge of its catastrophe was very brilliant. Nations and Empires crowned with princes and potentates rose majestically on every side, lapped in the accumulated treasures of the long peace.

"All were fitted and fastened — it seemed securely — into an immense cantilever. The two mighty European systems faced each other glittering and clanking in their panoply, but with a tranquil gaze.

[(right) Salvador Dali - Caravan]

"A polite, discreet, pacific, and on the whole sincere diplomacy spread its web of connections over both.

"A sentence in a dispatch, an observation by an ambassador, a cryptic phrase in a Parliament seemed sufficient to adjust from day to day the balance of the prodigious structure. Words counted, and even whispers. A nod could be made to tell.

"Were we after all to achieve world security and universal peace by a marvellous system of combinations in equipoise and of armaments in equation, of checks and counter-checks on violent action ever more complex and more delicate?

"Would Europe thus marshalled, thus grouped, thus related, unite into one universal and glorious organism capable of receiving and enjoying in undreamed of abundance the bounty which nature and science stood hand in hand to give? The old world in its sunset was fair to see."(4)

If WWI was known as the "Great War," then this period from June 28 through most of July 1914 should be referred to as the "Great Hope," or the "Great Prayer," or, less imprecisely, the "Great Fantasy."

Churchill's weirdly indulgent fantasy of alliances gushing forth "world security and universal peace" was wasted energy, and apparently distracted him from promptly identifying the June 28 Balkan Crisis as potentially quite dangerous to the peace ofEurope due to the patently obvious fact each offended party had a giant industrial-strength military ally with known radical elements.

It is astonishing Mr. Churchill failed to instantly grasp this elementary point. In fact, Mr. Churchill really should have known about the "what if Russia backs Serbia and Germany backs Austrian" problem many years before 1914.

It is astonishing the Lord of the Admiralty did not fully take into account the degree of instability exhibited by German Kaiser Wilhelm and a degree of weakness in Russian Tzar Nicholas II. Even foreign secretary Edward Grey fully admitted - although after WWI was over - that in an intense crisis both leaders might be swayed into taking rash military action (which, a bit unsuprisingly, was exactly what happened).

[(right) German Emperor Wilhelm II, Russian Tzar Nicholas II]

Mr. Churchill had plenty of advance warning. In 1908 the German Kaiser had given a very unusual interview to the Daily Telegraph, in which he called the British mad, mad as "March hares." And what was 10,000x worse, the Kaiser had previously fired none other than the architect of the European peace, von Bismarck. That firing should have gone off like a 140dB air-raid siren in Whitehall.

That firing should have permanently destroyed every adolescent fantasy in the mind of the Lord of the Admiralty on clanking ententes/alliances bringing about "world security and universal peace."

Over a century earlier the American Founding Fathers had acquired the history of Europe/Britain, taken the deceitful fantasies of commercial countries forming alliances that would usher in "world security and universal peace", and remorselessly run them all though a paper shredder:

"Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, weaknesses and evils incident to society in every shape?

"Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?"
US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist #6

Apparently the Lord of the Admiralty, whose world empire had made war on America twice - and lost both times - never thought to pick of a copy of the America's #1 book on government, The Federalist Papers, and see if the Americans, besides knowing how to win wars against the the then-greatest empire on Earth, had possibly anything else worth knowing about Europe/British politics and war.

Sure enough, note that catastrophe after catastrophe after catastrophe immediately followed Churchill's July 1914 utopian vision:

"It is now conventional wisdom that the First World War and its senseless, unimaginable slaughter was the Ur-catastrophe of the last century. The war radicalized Europe; without it, there would have been no Bolshevism and no Fascism."[italics added](5)
Fritz Stern

To this could be added the unravelling of the Middle East, the rise of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Possibly the Lord of the Admiralty's July 1914 fantasy of the possibility of ententes/alliances forming "world security and universal peace" peace was borne of an understandable desire to rid his country and Europe of 1000 years of almost continuous disagreements, fighting and wars. Nevertheless, trying to erase 1,000 years of almost endless fighting and wars by "clanking" alliances was better fit for a British sitcom. Trying to erase 1,000 years of warfare with "clanking" ententes/alliances was - as WWI/WWII proved - a capital mistake.

June 28-July 1914 were the most important political 4 weeks in all European/British history. For the love of God, starting June 28, 1914, where was Mr. Churchill's alleged reputation for practicality & hard-headedness? One might suppose the very last thing - starting June 28, 1914 - that Britain and Europe needed was yet another gov't official veering straight off the reservation and retreating into hopeless private fantasies.

In a way, it is remarkable that the Lord of the Admiralty admitted to entertaining such peachy but wholly mythological fantasies, especially when it would seem through most of July 1914 - the single most important political month in European-British history - the demand for sober and logical rock-steady personas would be essentially unlimited.

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  • German Kaiser Wilhelm vs. Russian President VV Putin:

And by avoiding arbitrating a 1914 agreement with Kaiser Wilhelm, scroll forward a few decades and the British gov't now has to face an opponent a billion times more dangerous than an occasionally unstable, gunpowder-armed, bombastic 1914 German Kaiser: a ballistic-missile atomic-armed VV Putin.

For those who strenously insist it would have been impossible for 1914 Britain to come to the table and settle it's differences with Kaiser Wilhelm and the militant von Moltke, it's incumbent upon those visionary experts to come forward and present their detailed plans for how Britain can instead come to the table today and settle its major policy differences with VV Putin's thermonuclear ballistic-missile-armed Russia.

_______________________

The Lord of the Admiralty:

"But there was a strange temper in the air. Unsatisfied by material prosperity the nations turned restlessly towards strife internal or external. National passions, unduly exalted in the decline of religion, burned beneath the surface of nearly every land with fierce if shrouded fires. Almost one might think the world wished to suffer. Certainly men were everywhere eager to dare. On all sides the military preparations, precautions and counter precautions had reached their height.

"France had her Three Years' military service; Russia her growing strategic Railways. The Ancient Empire of the Hapsburgs, newly smitten by the bombs of Sarajevo, was a prey to intolerable racial stresses and profound processes of decay. Italy faced Turkey; Turkey confronted Greece; Greece, Serbia and Roumania stood against Bulgaria. Britain was rent by faction and seemed almost negligible...Germany, her fifty million capital tax expended on munitions, her army increases completed, the Kiel Canal open for Dreadnought battleships that very month, looked fixedly upon the scene and her gaze became suddenly a glare."(6)

After blocking out for almost a month all European events related to Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France & Russia, the Lord of the Admiralty resumes his narrative on July 25:

"On Saturday [July 25] afternoon the news came in that Serbia had accepted the ultimatum." (7)

Did Churchill receive accurate telegram information? Reportedly Serbia had accepted most of the demands in the ultimatum, but not all of them.

"I went to bed with a feeling things might blow over. We had had, as this account has shown, so many scares before. Time after time the clouds had loomed up vague, menacing, constantly changing; time after time they had dispersed. We were still a long way, as it seemed, from any danger of war.

"Serbia had accepted the ultimatum, could Austria demand more?

"And if war came, could it not be confined to the East of Europe?"

Here Mr. Churchill writes as if peering through the Hubble Telescope struggling to make out the outlines of activity in a galaxy at an ungodly distance away. Here Mr. Churchill, normally a quite sober official, looks like he is indulging in the exact same largely witless strategy of hope that seemed to mysteriously take possession of the psyche of virtually every European/British gov't official starting Day-1 of the Balkans crisis.

"Could not France and Germany, for instance, stand aside and leave Russia and Austria to settle their quarrel?

Here again, Mr. Churchill is indulging in strictly wishful thinking. Mr. Churchill forgets he wasn't getting paid to consider what happens if France and Germany stand aside, he was getting paid to ask what happens if they don't.

"...Clearly there would be a chance of a conference, there would be time for Sir Edward Grey to get to work with conciliatory processes such as had proved so effective in the Balkan difficulties the year before.

"Anyhow, whatever happened, the British Navy had never been in a better condition or in greater strength...

"Reassured by these reflections I slept peacefully, and no summons disturbed the silence of the night.

"At 9 o'clock the next morning I called up the First Sea Lord by telephone. He told me that there was a rumour that Austria was not satisfied with the Serbian acceptance of the ultimatum, but otherwise there were no new developments."

(to be continued...)

Top

References:

(1) Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of Silver Blaze, 1892

(2) Sean McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War: 2013, at 59.

(3) Winston Churchill: The World Crisis, 1923, at 198.

(4) Ibid, at 198-199.

(5) Fritz Stern (quoted in) Still in the grip of the Great War: Economist, March 27, 2014.

(6) Churchill: World Crisis, at 199, 200.

(7) Churchill: World Crisis, at 208.



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May 2019