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Douglas Newton

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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Reading about the ‘khaki election’ of 1914 in Douglas Newton’s Hell-Bent evokes a sense of déjà vu in 2014, as Australia embarks on another war in the Middle East. During the campaign of 1914, Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Labor leader Andrew Fisher jostled to prove their loyalty to Britain and their enthusiasm for the impending war. Fisher’s efforts to match and outdo the conservative leader for patriotism bring to mind Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s willingness to support the government’s military engagement in Syria and Iraq, and its amendments to national security laws. Plus ça change

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