Historians are not helped when governments refuse to release evidence covering some of the most important events of the last 160 years or so, (see Hidden Archives, Oct 2013) but they still have a lot to answer for. It is good, nevertheless, to see that even right-wing historians like Niall Ferguson can reach obviously sensible conclusions about Britain`s entry into World War One, even if reaching them happened to coincide with the publication of his new book. He is right to state Britain`s participation was unnecessary, and that, of course, dismay should be felt because the "leaders, not just of Britain but of the European states" made such horrendous decisions to rush into war, when precedents, such as the Congress of Berlin and the Algeciras conference, proved that diplomacy of sorts could prevent military conflict in Europe.
Sadly though, Ferguson cannot betray his political leanings for long; "catastrophic" effects for Britain, indeed, but not because the war`s cost limited our "military capability" in the inter-war period, nor because of the loss of "aristocratic officers", nor even the fact that "many, many skilled workers" died. The first world war was an unequivocal disaster, firstly because it devastated the lives of millions of families throughout the world with the loss of loved ones, regardless of their class, colour or skills, and secondly because it gave the politicians another opportunity to illustrate their short-sightedness and greed in the peace negotiations, with more dire consequences, many of which still being witnessed today.
It`s clear that historians have done the world a huge disservice over World War One; had they concentrated on the willingness of rulers and politicians to sacrifice the lives of the common man for the sake of pride and reputation, and on how ordinary people can be enthused for war by an unscrupulous press, perhaps lessons could have been learned?