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The Cambridge History of the First World War
  • Cited by 2
  • Volume 2: The State
  • Edited by Jay Winter, Yale University, Connecticut
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Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of the First World War offers a history of the war from a predominantly political angle and concerns itself with the story of the state. It explores the multifaceted history of state power and highlights the ways in which different political systems responded to, and were deformed by, the near-unbearable pressures of war. Every state involved faced issues of military-civilian relations, parliamentary reviews of military policy, and the growth of war economies; and yet their particular form and significance varied in every national case. Written by a global team of historical experts, this volume sets new standards in the political history of the waging of war in an authoritative new narrative which addresses problems of logistics, morale, innovation in tactics and weapons systems, the use and abuse of science; all of which were ubiquitous during the conflict.


'… both scholarly and deftly drafted, a joy to read. It provides broad as well as deep analysis of just about every conceivable facet of this global catastrophe. It deserves close reading and contemplation.'

Len Shurtleff - World War One Historical Association

'The global perspective on the war, represented in these volumes, adds further layers of complexity to our understanding of this foundational moment in modern history. The conjunction of early twentieth-century patterns of globalization and industrialized great power war was singular, distinguishing it from earlier European conflicts fought across the globe and the Second World War, which followed the collapse of globalization in the 1930s.'

William Mulligan Source: European History Quarterly

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Page 1 of 2

  • Part I - Political power
    pp 5-144
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    The Great War was not only about acquiring territories, it was also about political beliefs, juridical norms, economic interests, within but also outside Europe, in a world still largely dominated by the major European powers. This chapter discusses the largely competitive and mutually influenced definition of war aims on both sides, and the secret and complex peace feelers and clandestine diplomacy which took place during the war. The immediate influence of Wilson, through the immediate weight of US economic power and its financial aid to the Allies, and the prospect of a serious military contribution from 1918, forced the warring nations to take Wilsonian principles into account in their definition of war aims. An inter-Allied conference in London at the beginning of December 1918 had settled the location for the Peace Conference and the broad lines of the programme, generally following the proposals of French diplomacy.
  • Part II - Armed forces
    pp 145-290
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    This chapter explores whether neutrality, in a legal or moral sense, declined or transformed during the Great War. It focuses on neutrality as a guideline foreign policy, and explains why some countries could and did remain neutral, while others could or did not. The chapter also explains the reasons why neutrality as a foreign policy option failed some countries at one point or another during the war. Perhaps the fates of Belgium, Luxembourg and Albania helped to inspire Daniel Frey, a Swiss scholar, to posit a novel, three-level analysis of neutrality. The first level concerns the external conditions necessary for a successful neutrality policy. The second level concerns the external credibility of neutrality. The third level deals with the compatibility of neutrality with the other policies of a neutral state. Finally, the chapter shows that the way in which the modus vivendi was negotiated between neutrals and belligerents varied considerably.
  • 8 - Mutiny
    pp 196-217
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    One of the central questions of the history of the First World War is whether autocracies or democracies were better at waging war. This chapter surveys the way in which different political structures responded to the challenge of war. The global character of military conflict was limited, except with respect to Japan and to the United States at a late stage, both with great consequences. When the First World War broke out, five European states were at the centre of events: Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France and the United Kingdom. The first non-European state to enter the war when it had barely begun was, paradoxically, Japan. Woodrow Wilson engaged the United States in the war for the freedom of the seas and the survival of democracy in the world. Georges Clemenceau's government is considered as the first war government. It was the most representative regimes which won the war and that everywhere in Europe, after the war, democracy was predominant.
  • 9 - Logistics
    pp 218-239
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    This chapter deals with the lower houses, which, with the exception of the Russian Duma and the British House of Commons, were elected by universal suffrage. It describes the existing parliamentary institutions, which had different historical traditions. The Progressive Bloc, which emerged from the ranks of the Duma, was an important force in the domestic clashes in wartime and in the revolutionary upheaval of 1917. The chapter examines the parliaments of the United States and Japan by way of comparison. The US Congress was certainly involved in decisions about war aims and wartime policy. In all the victorious countries, with the exception of Italy, parliamentary government was strengthened by the war. In the defeated countries, the post-war parliamentary system remained weak, and proved incapable of mediating the increasingly bitter economic and social conflicts which emerged out of the war.
  • 10 - Technology and armaments
    pp 240-265
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    This chapter focuses on all bodies of literature to retrace the role of diplomats in the war's onset and development. It considers the three sub-periods of pre-1914, 1914-1916 and 1917-1918. A complex of changes in the pre-war period marked the most significant transformation in the system since its origins. The outbreak of hostilities plunged diplomats into a new and disturbing world. In the first big wartime secret treaty, the Straits agreement of March-April 1915, Russia obtained promises that it could annex Constantinople and the Straits. The Quai d'Orsay and Foreign Office were slower to discuss European war aims, as Grey and Theophile Delcasse feared undermining diplomatic unity and domestic consensus. The peace conference offered the foreign ministries an opportunity to reclaim influence, but they largely failed to do so. After the war, major reforms took place in many foreign services and foreign ministries.
  • 11 - Prisoners of war
    pp 266-290
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    Under the strains of war, political leadership developed into an extremely demanding business, which could only succeed with the support of a sophisticated bureaucracy. Civil-military relations comprise certainly more aspects than just the question of leadership in war. This chapter focuses on Civil-military relations in the Great Powers during the Great War. Civil-military relations in Japan had since the Meiji Restoration been problematical, with the army and the navy being in very powerful positions. The turning point in the European theatre came in 1916/17. By then, the means of traditional, almost conservative, warfare had been exhausted. Civil-military relations under the impact of the slide towards total war produced different outcomes. In some cases, the efforts of those in charge of the war ended in collapse and revolution. In others, they resulted in victory, in part by sheer luck.
  • Part III - The sinews of war
    pp 291-490
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    The various varieties of pacifism had little impact on the war itself, though rather more on the politics of the two decades that followed. This chapter covers pacifism in three senses during the Great War: the absolute rejection of military force, the progressive belief that political reforms could ultimately abolish war, and simple war-aversion. It offers cursory treatment of the third, which is a matter of morale. As an ideology that could shape war aims and peace terms in and after 1914, the reformist version of pacifism existed on a broader geographical base than its absolutist counterpart. The anti-war agenda had become even more apparent by the time a major wave of strikes erupted across Germany in January 1918. The anti-war pacifism of material grievance had the greatest short-term impact, especially in countries too illiberal to allow an authentic peace movement to flourish even as a safety valve.
  • 13 - Workers
    pp 325-357
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    This chapter discusses the study of tactics and modes of combat during the Great War. During the first phase of the war, the underestimation of the effects of firepower was particularly significant: it explains the terrible losses of the first weeks of combat. The trench system, the tactical representation of the superiority of defence over attack, formed one of the major features of the Great War. The growth and diversification of armaments and soldiers' equipment explains the immense development of combatant tactics between 1914 and 1918. In the trenches, actual combat was intermittent and even at times unusual. Modes of combat during the Great War were profoundly transformed, reflecting the new technologies which would ultimately transform Western warfare itself. It was, once again, on the Western Front that these new methods were taken to their maximum degree and developed their full range.
  • 14 - Cities
    pp 358-381
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    Early-twentieth-century military professionals often referred to moral rather than morale; a usage reflecting the strong ethical connotations which the term possessed for them. The armies that fought the First World War possessed long and partially shared traditions of motivating soldiers. Armies also possessed the ultimate power to sentence men to death during the First World War. The Germans were most sparing in applying the death penalty because their justice system was staffed by professional legal personnel and influenced more than that of other forces by civilian norms. The citizen-soldiers who were an integral part of industrial war owed their primary loyalties to their families, communities and, through them, the states which they had enlisted to defend. Troops' growing weariness and disgruntlement with the home front, and the greater demands made on morale by tactical innovation, prompted armies to direct new attention to reinforcing these loyalties.
  • 15 - Agrarian society
    pp 382-407
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    During the Great War, mutiny challenged and sometimes overcame state authority. When the state remained strong, mutiny served to articulate and in some cases even affirm it. Mutiny could also demarcate the limits of the wartime state. The best-known mutiny in the armies of the British Empire took place in September 1917 at the training camp at Etaples in France. The French army mutinies of 1917 were more about consenting to the war than about rejecting it. In an agonised way, mutiny in France thus affirmed and articulated the mutineers' accountability to the wartime state, even as they challenged it. In Germany, mutiny both invoked the destruction of the Kaiserreich and seriously undermined the formation of the Weimar Republic. Mutiny became so successfully incorporated into state building in Kemalist Turkey that it ceased to be referred to as mutiny at all.
  • 16 - Finance
    pp 408-433
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    The First World War marks a watershed as the first true, modern war, and the processes developed to resupply the soldiers that fought it laid the groundwork for many of the things, such as fresh mid-winter grapes in northern hemisphere supermarkets. The British Empire's position as the world's paramount maritime power provided the Allied powers with tremendous flexibility and staying power. The scope of the Eastern Front meant that all operations had to deal with the relative dearth of transportation infrastructure. The Great Powers involved in the First World War managed to move vast quantities of materiel efficiently enough and for a long enough period to bring modern, industrialized warfare into being. For good or ill, the logisticians of the Great Powers met the challenges thrown at them with considerable success and laid the groundwork for the logistic changes of the ensuing century.
  • 17 - Scientists
    pp 434-459
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    This chapter discusses four principal types of adaptation of weapons and techniques to a new kind of war: retro-innovation, technological stagnation, the capacity for innovation in wartime, and the invention of completely new weapons. In order to assess the temporal dimension of the relationship between war and technology, with regard to the manufacture of weapons, it is necessary to consider an essential constituent: the human factor. Human intervention appreciably altered the pace of technological adaptation that occurred in response to the demands of the war. It operated on the basis of a threefold temporality including projected future time, real time and confronted time, that intersected with the four forms of adaptation. The use of the steel helmet by the various armies offers a clear example of how the interaction between projected time and retro-innovations functioned, as well as its determining characteristics.

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