The Financial Times’ editorial on New Year’s Day: reflections on the 1914-18 war


The world can still draw lessons from the catastrophe of 1914

The editor points out that – while there is no reason to fear that the world in 2014 is on the edge of such an epochal disaster – there are some disquieting similarities:

“It will be incumbent this year on governments and peoples to commemorate the outbreak of the first world war with dignified ceremonies and respect for the dead, but also with sober consideration of the lessons to be drawn from the catastrophe of 1914-18”.

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He asks if the tragedy of 1914-18, in which 65m men fought and about 8.5m were killed, could have been avoided, continuing:

“By July 1914 most of Europe’s political and military leaders felt the defence of national power and honour was worth the risk of war. Yet as Margaret MacMillan concludes, those who were against war could have stood up more firmly against those who denied there were other choices. “There are always choices,” she writes. Tony Barber, the FT’s Europe editor earlier reviewed her book: The War That Ended Peace: How Europe Abandoned Peace for the First World War, Profile Books.

Lessons to be drawn:

The editorial first reflects that the ‘contingent causes of conflict’ should not be confused with more deeply rooted tensions in international relations, or in the internal affairs of nations, that lead to war, adding that “global military, political and economic tensions are matters that statesmen can and should address. It is their responsibility to act within accepted international rules and to ensure that competition among states and peoples remains orderly”.

Recent tensions in the East China Sea between Beijing and its neighbours, which rely on US support, recall Germany’s strained relations with Britain, France and Russia before 1914.

The second lesson: a certain brinkmanship is inevitable in international relations, but appreciation of the other side’s motives and legitimate interests is essential. In this respect the measured progress towards a settlement of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is promising.

The third lesson offered in the editorial: “it is foolish to go to war in the belief that it is bound to be short, inexpensive and with manageable consequences”.

Adam Klein, associate professor of English at the American University at Kabul  – or his student – goes further:


‘War is a madman’s attempt at stability’


Read the FT editorial here (free registration):



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