Why Empire? – Douglas Porch

Synopsis:

Wars of Empire offers up historian Douglas Porch’s narrative and appraisal of the rise, zenith, as well as decline of the European colonial empires. The growth of the empires was often the outcome of individual devolution of command – owing to substantial geographic dispersion – or merchant adventurism. The empires were most commonly a significant financial burden for their home governments, and usually only offered international prestige as a product.

Excerpts:

“By demanding open markets free of government regulation or monopolistic restriction, traders like Jardine, Mattheson and Dent helped to transform the emerging imperial consciousness into an ideology that equated free trade with the spread of Western civilization and the rule of law. In this way, imperialism was a revival of the Roman concept of dominion as a moral and military ascendancy over inferior peoples.

“And while some individuals profited from colonial expansion, nations seldom did. In the last years of the nineteenth century the British Empire was a revenue drain. The French paid huge subsidies to garrison and develop their unproductive colonies which accounted for less than 10 per cent of French overseas trade by 1900… Colonies devoured metropolitan subsidies and generated large defence and administrative requirements, against a return of prestige and the distant promise of an economic pay-off.

“Benjamin Disraeli… attempted to elevate empire into a province of the national imagination and, in the process, transform the Tories into the party of empire, forging the link between empire and national greatness in the popular mind. Disraeli’s Crystal Palace speech of June 1872 offered the British electorate… a choice between the ‘Little England’ of the Liberals and an empire of liberty, truth and justice that would make Britain the envy of the world.

“The primary concerns of Continental powers were, by definition, European. Imperial conquest was an add-on, a leisure activity to be undertaken only when it did not jeopardize one’s fundamental interests at home. Any politician who thought about it for more than five minutes should have concluded that he would get little credit when imperial expansion succeeded, and all of the blame when an expedition encountered setbacks.

“Russian expansion was of an entirely different nature to that of other imperial nations. In the first place, it was continental not a maritime enterprise. It was a continuation of the defensive expansion of Muscovy, and such strategic concerns supplied the most coherent rationale… The most important support for Russian imperialism came from Pan-Slavism, but this was never a mass movement.

*All excerpts have been taken from Wars of Empire, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

War by Timetable – AJP Taylor

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Synopsis:

One of the decisive components of the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 was the rapidity of mobilization sustained by the Prussian Army. Following the war the mobilization timetables of the great European powers would come to dominate military doctrine. Ultimately, the competitive struggle over mobilization timetables would climax with the outbreak of the First World War.

In his book War by Timetable, A.J.P. Taylor sketches the evolution of the importance of the timetables, and advances the thesis that once the timetables had been initiated there was no reversing them.

Excerpts:

“The essential European balance was between the Franco-Russian or Dual Alliance on the one side and the Triple Alliance, or more realistically the Austro-German Alliance, on the other. Both sets of alliances were strictly defensive if taken literally: they were to operate only in case of attack, and since every great power declared that it was exclusively concerned with defence, war was theoretically impossible.

“It was universal doctrine that speed was essential. Whichever power completed its mobilisation first would strike first and might even win the war before the other side was ready. Hence the time-tables became ever more ingenious and ever more complicated.

“There was little consultation between military planners and civilian statesmen. The statesmen assumed that the general staffs were doing their best to ensure that they would win a war if one came, and there was no speculation on how policy could be seconded by military action. The dogma of the great Clausewitz that ‘war is a continuation of policy by other means’ had lost its hold. War had now become a theoretical operation conducted for its own sake.

“Certainly the Germans did not rely on the Austrians for the defence of German territory in the east. Instead they relied on time – that is to say, the superior speed of their own mobilisation. They assumed that they would have defeated France before the Russians were prepared to move against East Prussia on any great scale at all.

“…there was only one decision which turned the little Balkan conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia into a European war. That was the German decision to start general mobilisation on 31st July, and that was in its turn decisive because of the academic ingenuity with which Schlieffen, now in his grave, had attempted to solve the problem of a two-front war.

*All excerpts have been taken from War by Timetable, Endeavour Press Ltd.