Courtesy Reuters

Historians in a Revolutionary Age

THERE would probably have been a reaction against the Versailles settlement in any event. The hopes placed upon it were too high. But this reaction was converted into doubts about the justice of the war itself and the value of the victory, and by a radical revision of the views held about its causes. This revision was largely assisted by the more or less fortuitous fact that the Germans were first in the field with their diplomatic documents of the period, and that the first diplomatic histories of the years in question were perforce written on the basis of these documents and by more or less Germanophile historians. Repudiating the view in the Peace Treaty that the war was one "imposed upon the Allied and Associated Governments by the aggression of Germany and her allies," these historians, even when they kept clear of the German version of "Allied encirclement," presented the period in terms of an international anarchy: all nations sought selfish ends--Germany no more than others and less than some--and having no means of settling such disputes except by force or the threat of force, they were bound sooner or later to end in general war.

This is not the occasion to reopen that debate except for one observation which has a wider relevance. It is that the theory of equal responsibility is one which is rendered highly plausible by any technique of historical writing that confines itself to diplomatic documents and ignores the internal life and politics of the countries concerned. So long as one talks in the favorite abstractions and personifications of the diplomatic historian about "the Wilhelmstrasse," "the Quai d'Orsay" and so on, it is not difficult to regard all the countries concerned as following policies of the same kind and hence as bearing an equal responsibility for the outcome. It is only when one looks at the internal structure and ethos of the societies concerned that one can differentiate between them, and see the gulf which

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