The Foreign Service Journal - April 2014 - page 67

the Foreign Service journal
April 2014
Perhaps the program, like counterin-
surgency itself, simply fell victim to unre-
alistic expectations. One suspects that
even the most knowledgeable Western
experts on Afghanistan would have been
daunted by this task, and would have
been the first to admit it.
To believe that every problem has a
programmatic solution requires a certain
amount of hubris. In the future, a little
humility could go a long way as we size
up other social systems. Acknowledging
the limits of our understanding will give
us the best chance of operating effectively
in environments like Afghanistan, where
ambiguity reigns.
Jim DeHart, a Foreign Service officer since
1993, is chair of The Foreign Service Journal
Editorial Board. He has served as director of
the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Pan-
jshir and in Istanbul, Melbourne, Brussels
and Washington, D.C., and currently directs
the Office of Afghanistan-Pakistan Programs
in the Bureau of International Narcotics and
Law Enforcement Affairs.
A Grim Centennial
The WarThat Ended Peace:
The Road to 1914
Margaret MacMillan, Random House,
2013, Kindle Edition/$12.99, 784 pages.
Reviewed by Tracy Whittington
In her much-anticipated new book,
War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Margaret MacMillan quotes
a young Austrian in 1900:
“People no more believed in
the possibility of barbaric
relapses, such as wars
between the nations of
Europe, than they believed
in ghosts and witches.”
To make her case that war was not an
inevitable end to Europe’s “long peace,”
MacMillan expertly weaves together biog-
raphies, public opinion surveys and per-
sonal anecdotes. The result will enchant
newcomers to World War I historiography
and challenge those well-versed enough
to debate the merits of the Schlieffen
MacMillan begins with a socio-cul-
tural survey of Europe from the perspec-
tive of the 1900 Paris Exposition. From
there she moves through seven chapters
that paint individual, vivid portraits of the
five great powers—Britain, France, Ger-
many, Austria-Hungary and Russia—and
their overlapping alliances and rivalries.
Next, she devotes dueling chapters to
the battle between the forces for peace
and war, respectively. By the end of the
first, the reader is convinced the interna-
tional peace movement will win out. At
the conclusion of the second, the military
plans of the great powers, all conceived to
defend against real and imagined threats,
appear ominously offensive.
Up to this point, it is almost impossible
to stop turning the pages to find out how
it all ends, even though you know what’s
coming. But when MacMillan switches
from a thematic approach to a chrono-
logical one, the book loses momentum.
Even when she covers pivotal clashes
that could have triggered a European war
sooner than 1914, such as the two crises
in Morocco, Bosnian unrest and the first
Balkan War, she does so ploddingly. She
might have overcome this flaw by linking
the episodes, but instead treats them
separately and adds dry explanations of
political and military machinations that
rely on the book’s first half for context.
The reader who can slog through these
passages, however, will be well-rewarded.
When MacMillan returns to a panorama
of Europe’s last months of peace in early
1914, the story once again feels like a
runaway locomotive that may just right
itself—until the very last minute, well past
the assassination at Sarajevo and Austria’s
ultimatum to Serbia.
As in tragic love stories where the hero
and heroine misinterpret, misunderstand
and sometimes just miss meeting each
other, Europe’s march to doom comes not
from an accretion of bad decisions but
from a random series of them. Had any
single decision changed, the great powers
might have maintained their peace, at
least for a while longer.
It takes a skilled writer to present his-
torical facts as cliffhangers. And it takes
a master historian to lead the reader to a
novel conclusion—that war was not inevi-
table—while remaining agnostic about
whom to blame.
The War That Ended
, though imperfect, proves that Mac-
Millan qualifies on both counts.
Tracy Whittington, a Foreign Service public
diplomacy officer since 2005, works in the
Foreign Service Director General’s Office of
Policy Coordination. She previously served in
Kinshasa, Montreal and La Paz. A member
of The Foreign Service Journal Editorial
Board, she is the author of
Claiming Your
History: How to Incorporate Your Past into
Your Present
and, with her tandem spouse,
A Street Dog’s Story: The Almost 100%
True Adventures of Labi.
When MacMillan returns
to a panorama of Europe’s
last months of peace in
early 1914, the story once
again feels like a runaway
locomotive that may just
right itself—until the very
last minute.
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