Toy soldiers

Douglas Newton1

Douglas Newton (above) has written two thoroughly researched books about the beginnings of WWI (one published by Scribe, one by Verso), not focussing on the battles but on the politics, and he describes the machinations within the Asquith cabinet of both the warmongers and the peace-activists. Churchill, in particular comes across as a pompous and dangerous hothead, as eager to play with his navy as he had played with his toy soldiers as a child. While publicly speeches were made about defending allies and the like, privately the positive implications of war for Empire were discussed. And while histories of WWI have portrayed the journey to war as somewhat inevitable, Newton shows how contingent on personalities, self-interest, and miscommunication it all was.

Newton also describes (in Hell Bent) how rather than simply follow Britain’s lead, some Australians were pushing for war (in order to prove their manliness and in order to send a message to Asia that they were not to be messed with). The Labor Government was reluctant to be seen as anti-British, even while the colonial secretary in London was madly trying to fend off Australia’s unconditional offers of troops so that pro-war sections of his government would not be encouraged to sabre-rattle.

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