A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, World War I was entering its final phase. No one in either Berlin or London had set out to expend so vast a quantity of blood and treasure on four years of industrialized slaughter. As I argued 20 years ago in “The Pity of War,” World War I was perhaps the greatest error of modern history.Historians often look back to the events of the 1890s and 1900s in an effort to trace the origins of the Anglo-German antagonism. The long-established narrative goes something like this: The German economy was overtaking the British economy, a trend summed up in the words “Made in Germany” that were stamped on a rising proportion of imported manufactures.
Germany had imperial ambitions, too, acquiring colonies in Asia and Africa. And it was building a fleet that was obviously intended to rival the Royal Navy....MORE
Increasingly, as their economy boomed, the Germans argued that their political system — in which the parliament (the Reichstag) had much less power than its British equivalent, and the monarch much more power — was intrinsically superior. Their material successes bolstered an already deep-rooted nationalism.
The ultimate result was that Britain and Germany followed the ancient example of Sparta and Athens: the incumbent power and the rising power ended up going to war. The Harvard political scientist Graham Allison calls it the “Thucydides trap,” after the historian of the Peloponnesian War.
Are the United States and China on the way to repeating this classic historical mistake? Having just spent a fascinating week in Beijing and Shanghai, I fear they may be.
China’s economy has already, by at least one measure, overtaken that of the United States. The Chinese have come up with a strategy to catch up in terms of technology, too. It’s called “Made in China 2025.”
President Xi Jinping has his own version of the Germans’ imperial Weltpolitik: the Belt and Road Initiative, which implies a global expansion of Chinese infrastructure and influence.
The People’s Liberation Army is busily building up its forces, with the goal (as one Chinese official told me last week) of having the world’s strongest military by the time the People’s Republic celebrates its centenary, in 2049.
Like the Germans a century ago, the Chinese no longer worry that Anglophone democracy might be superior to their political system. As for nationalism, there is no mistaking its growing importance, especially on social media. “There is also a Chinese populism,” I was warned.
Yet, as the events of 1918 proved, Germany overestimated itself and underestimated Britain. I fear some Chinese are beginning to make this mistake about the United States, with the encouragement of other Asians. My old friend Kishore Mahbubani, formerly Singapore’s representative at the United Nations, has just published a punchy little book entitled “Has the West Lost It?” His answer is a blunt “Yes.”
I suppose it's time to dust off Barbara Tuchman's books on the run-up to World War I.
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 derives its title from a line in the Edgar Allen Poe poem "The City in the Sea":
"While from a proud tower in the town/ Death looks gigantically down."The other, The Guns of August was one of Tuchman's two Pulitzer prize-winners It begins:
So GORGEOUS was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens—four dowager and three regnant—and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
In the center of the front row rode the new king, George V, flanked on his left by the Duke of Connaught, the late king’s only surviving brother, and on his right by a personage to whom, acknowledged The Times, “belongs the first place among all the foreign mourners,” who “even when relations are most strained has never lost his popularity amongst us”—William II, the German Emperor. Mounted on a gray horse, wearing the scarlet uniform of a British Field Marshal, carrying the baton of that rank, the Kaiser had composed his features behind the famous upturned mustache in an expression “grave even to severity.” Of the several emotions churning his susceptible breast, some hints exist in his letters. “I am proud to call this place my home and to be a member of this royal family,” he wrote home after spending the night in Windsor Castle in the former apartments of his mother. Sentiment and nostalgia induced by these melancholy occasions with his English relatives jostled with pride in his supremacy among the assembled potentates and with a fierce relish in the disappearance of his uncle from the European scene. He had come to bury Edward his bane; Edward the arch plotter, as William conceived it, of Germany’s encirclement; Edward his mother’s brother whom he could neither bully nor impress, whose fat figure cast a shadow between Germany and the sun. “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!”
This verdict, announced by the Kaiser before a dinner of three hundred guests in Berlin in 1907, was occasioned by one of Edward’s continental tours undertaken with clearly diabolical designs at encirclement. He had spent a provocative week in Paris, visited for no good reason the King of Spain (who had just married his niece), and finished with a visit to the King of Italy with obvious intent to seduce him from his Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria. The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.
Happily the Encircler was now dead and replaced by George who, the Kaiser told Theodore Roosevelt a few days before the funeral, was “a very nice boy” (of forty-five, six years younger than the Kaiser). “He is a thorough Englishman and hates all foreigners but I do not mind that as long as he does not hate Germans more than other foreigners.” Alongside George, William now rode confidently, saluting as he passed the regimental colors of the 1st Royal Dragoons of which he was honorary colonel. Once he had distributed photographs of himself wearing their uniform with the Delphic inscription written above his signature, “I bide my time.” Today his time had come; he was supreme in Europe.We used that funeral as the introduction to 2011's "Seating Charts are Such a Pain: Soros and the Starlet":
Behind him rode the widowed Queen Alexandra’s two brothers, King Frederick of Denmark and King George of the Hellenes; her nephew, King Haakon of Norway; and three kings who were to lose their thrones: Alfonso of Spain, Manuel of Portugal and, wearing a silk turban, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria who annoyed his fellow sovereigns by calling himself Czar and kept in a chest a Byzantine Emperor’s full regalia, acquired from a theatrical costumer, against the day when he should reassemble the Byzantine dominions beneath his scepter.
Dazzled by these “splendidly mounted princes,” as The Times called them, few observers had eyes for the ninth king, the only one among them who was to achieve greatness as a man. Despite his great height and perfect horsemanship, Albert, King of the Belgians, who disliked the pomp of royal ceremony, contrived in that company to look both embarrassed and absentminded. He was then thirty-five and had been on the throne barely a year. In later years when his face became known to the world as a symbol of heroism and tragedy, it still always wore that abstracted look, as if his mind were on something else.
The future source of tragedy, tall, corpulent, and corseted, with green plumes waving from his helmet, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir of the old Emperor Franz Josef, rode on Albert’s right, and on his left another scion who would never reach his throne, Prince Yussuf, heir of the Sultan of Turkey. After the kings came the royal highnesses: Prince Fushimi, brother of the Emperor of Japan; Grand Duke Michael, brother of the Czar of Russia; the Duke of Aosta in bright blue with green plumes, brother of the King of Italy; Prince Carl, brother of the King of Sweden; Prince Henry, consort of the Queen of Holland; and the Crown Princes of Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro. The last named, Prince Danilo, “an amiable, extremely handsome young man of delightful manners,” resembled the Merry Widow’s lover in more than name, for, to the consternation of British functionaries, he had arrived the night before accompanied by a “charming young lady of great personal attractions” whom he introduced as his wife’s lady in waiting with the explanation that she had come to London to do some shopping.
A regiment of minor German royalty followed: rulers of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Waldeck-Pyrmont, Saxe-Coburg Gotha, of Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria, of whom the last, Crown Prince Rupprecht, was soon to lead a German army in battle. There were a Prince of Siam, a Prince of Persia, five princes of the former French royal house of Orléans, a brother of the Khedive of Egypt wearing a gold-tasseled fez, Prince Tsia-tao of China in an embroidered light-blue gown whose ancient dynasty had two more years to run, and the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, representing the German Navy, of which he was Commander in Chief. Amid all this magnificence were three civilian-coated gentlemen, M. Gaston-Carlin of Switzerland, M. Pichon, Foreign Minister of France, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, special envoy of the United States.
Edward, the object of this unprecedented gathering of nations, was often called the “Uncle of Europe,” a title which, insofar as Europe’s ruling houses were meant, could be taken literally. He was the uncle not only of Kaiser Wilhelm but also, through his wife’s sister, the Dowager Empress Marie of Russia, of Czar Nicolas II. His own niece Alix was the Czarina; his daughter Maud was Queen of Norway; another niece, Ena, was Queen of Spain; a third niece, Marie, was soon to be Queen of Rumania. The Danish family of his wife, besides occupying the throne of Denmark, had mothered the Czar of Russia and supplied kings to Greece and Norway. Other relatives, the progeny at various removes of Queen Victoria’s nine sons and daughters, were scattered in abundance throughout the courts of Europe....
Sometimes it's easy:
You whistle up your Protocol peeps and in three minutes you get
Nine Kings 1910
Sometimes it is more difficult:...
*May 1910: Nine Kings assembled at Buckingham Palace for the funeral of Edward VII, the Father of George V (centre). From left to right, back row: Haakon VII of Norway, Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, Manuel II of Portugal, Wilhelm II of Germany, George I of Greece and Albert I Of Belgium. Front row: Alphonso XIII of Spain, George V and Frederick VIII of Denmark. The funeral on 20th May was the largest gathering of the European royalty–and its last hurrah, too. Also present at the funeral was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose assassination four years later would spark the WWI–which collapsed many royal dynasties of Europe. Manuel of Portugal would be driven from his throne by revolutionaries within months of this picture. George would be assassinated. Alphonso, Wilhelm and Ferdinand lost their thrones.-Source
You've probably noted the absence of Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias.
Very odd considering that he was part o'the fam:
King George V (right) with his
first cousin Tsar Nicholas II,
Berlin, 1913. Note the close
physical resemblance between
the two monarchs.