A review of ‘Dreadnought’ by Robert K. Massie

Review of  ‘Dreadnought’: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War Massie, Robert K  Kindle Edition.

From colonial disputes, secret treaties with former foes, high-wire diplomacy, and tit-for-tat building of the terrifyingly powerful dreadnought battleships. Dreadnought is a dramatic re-creation of the diplomatic and military brinkmanship that preceded, and made inevitable, the outbreak of the first world war.

This is a really interesting book in many ways, it looks at how the various small disputes over colonies linked in to the desire for prestige, insecurity and status. This all led to a arms race in Dreadnoughts and the need for alliances to protect from being ganged up on.

There are echoes into our current situation in many places. Britain, ‘Grey argued, could not unilaterally drop out of the arms race: “If we, alone among the great powers, gave up the competition and sank into a position of inferiority, what good should we do? None whatever…. We should cease to count for anything amongst the nations of Europe, and we should be fortunate if our liberty was left, and we did not become the conscript appendage of some stronger power.”’ This is the same argument used now about nuclear weapons, it is about prestige more than anything else. Many small nations felt they had to have a Dreadnought even if it was of no practical use as it could not stand against the power of a big nation. In each case as one nation got one it started a arms race with its neighbors. Leading to insecurity and unease.

Then members of a foreign  nation become the point of suspicion, ‘Again, foreigners living in Britain became suspect. “Most of these men,” Le Queux told his readers, “were Germans who, having served in the army, had come over to England and obtained employment as…’  Just as after various terrorist attacks all members of that nation of faith become seen as hostile.

There was a snag in working out the scheme: at that moment there were no German citizens or commercial interests in southern Morocco. Despite the grandiose talk by the Mannesmann Brothers and the Hamburg-Marokko Gesellschaft, no German explorers had yet traveled to see the “exceedingly fertile” 22 valley of the Sus or to test-bore the imagined ore deposits of the southern Atlas Mountains. Dr. Regendanz considered this only a temporary embarrassment. When the warship arrived at Agadir, he promised, endangered Germans would be there to welcome it.  This is again echoed in how Russia has handled its dispute in the Ukraine, and others have at various times. Think of the Falklands and Argentina, Germany and Austria in 1939 ect. Often the wants of a ruler is more important than the truth.

This book shows the intrigue and dishonesty of various politicians over many years as France, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy and the UK  each tried to extend influence and prestige often at the cost of making others afraid or uneasy. It shows how the long term aims of a nation can be carried on through changes in rulers and government.  It also shows how it effected the general populace as funds where used in armaments. Dreadnought cost £ 1,850,000; Queen Elizabeth and her sisters each would cost £ 4 million. The Naval Estimates rose implacably: 1907– 1908, £ 31,250,000; 1908– 1909, £ 32,180,000; 1909– 1910, £ 35,730,000; 1910– 1911, £ 40,420,000; 1911– 1912, £ 44,390,000; 1912– 1913, £ 45,075,000. The total sum was staggering: in six years, the Liberal government had spent or appropriated £ 229 million on the navy. Some felt that half this sum would have abolished most of England’s social imperfections. This echoes the cost of having nuclear weapons and what that money could otherwise be spent on.

A good in depth book well worth reading, I used Kindle for mine.





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