Nigel Biggar reviews 'The Darkest Days' by Douglas Newton

Nigel Biggar reviews 'The Darkest Days' by Douglas Newton

THE DARKEST DAYS: THE TRUTH BEHIND BRITAIN’S RUSH TO WAR, 1914

by by Douglas Newton

Verso, $39.95 pb, 386 pp, 9781781683514

Nigel Biggar

Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford and author of In Defence of War

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Every author has his prejudices and it is usually best to lay them face-up on the table. Then the reader can track their influence, watching how they structure interpretation and noting any gaps that open up between the data and their construal. In this Douglas Newton is exemplary. No one can read the opening pages of his book and be left in any doubt about his mainstream argument or its target. Candidly, he sets himself against the ‘developing consensus’ of the ‘new hawkish school’, whose members ‘lavish praise’ upon Britain’s choice for war in 1914, reckoning Britain’s belligerency a ‘dire necessity’ or a ‘just war’. ‘At the heart of this book,’ he tells us, ‘is the belief that the war was not irresistible.’ Widening his target to include ‘nationalist historians outside Germany who refuse to find any fantasies, follies, or errors in their own countries’ records’, he counters: ‘Disappointing as it is to the convinced moralists, there is no “one true cause” [of the outbreak of war] to be discovered ... [T]he plague is upon all houses.’ In the light of this last remark, it is no surprise that the now famous author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2012), Christopher Clark, gives The Darkest Days a ringing endorsement on its back cover, warmly lauding it as ‘bracingly revisionist’.

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Published in March 2015, no. 369