The First World War was “not worth fighting”, says UEA historian

“It was not in Britain’s interests to fight in World War One”, UEA Professor John Charmley has claimed in a speech given at the National Geographical Society. At an event hosted by Intelligence Squared Professor John Charmley and Dominic Sandbrook faced off against Sir Max Hastings and Professor Margaret MacMillan, debating whether Britain should have gone to war in 1914.


Professor Charmley, Head of History at UEA, argued that German military victory in 1871 did not herald the “skies to fall in” and neither would it have done if it was repeated in 1914. He went on to say that the arguments of Hastings and MacMillan were dependent on constructing an image of Germany as a “bogeyman”.

In opposition to Professor Charmley, Sir Max Hastings said: “to believe that Britain could and should have acquiesced in a German triumph in 1914 requires one to believe in the moderation and generos- ity of Germany’s rulers”.

“Whatever the shortcomings of the peace made at Versailles, if Germany had been dictating the terms there could have been no return to honey for tea at Grantchester or across the British empire, I believe we had to fight”, he added.

The policy of Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, was lamented by UEA’s lecturer in Diplomatic History who thought Grey was “frightened by British isolation”. The rest of the 20th Century following the First World War showed how wrong Grey’s word were, that nothing could be worse than Britain being left out of the war, according to the Professor.

After the debate only 27 per cent of the audience agreed with Charmley’s view, while 62 per cent thought Britain should have entered The Great War in 1914.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 The Tonight Programme, Professor Charmley said: “the suffering was just not worth it”.

He continued: “The fact is after 1918 the big empires collapsed, Europe dis- solved into lots of little difference nation states, all of them fighting for their own rights which created a chaos out of which World War Two emerged, out of which the Cold War emerged. I simply do not believe that any rational politician gifted with any foresight in 1914, in any country, knowing what we now know would have gone to war in 1914”.


About Author


Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/wp_35pmrq/ on line 11
June 2022
Latest Comments
About Us

The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.