Courtesy Reuters

Britain and the Continent: the Lessons of History

BRITISH DOCUMENTS ON THE ORIGINS OF THE WAR, 1898-1914. Edited by G. P. Gooch and Harold Temperley. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1927-1938, ten volumes.

"IF there is war between France and Germany it will be very difficult for us to keep out of it. The Entente and still more the constant and emphatic demonstrations of affection . . . have created in France a belief that we should support her in war. . . . If this expectation is disappointed the French will never forgive us . . . we should be left without a friend and without the power of making a friend and Germany would take some pleasure, after what has passed, in exploiting the whole situation to our disadvantage. . . . On the other hand the prospect of a European War and of our being involved in it is horrible" (III, 299). In these words Sir Edward Grey, confiding his innermost thought in a personal note written at the time of the Algeciras crisis in February 1906, summarized the dilemma confronting British policy. And from then until the outbreak of the World War this same dilemma was upon many other occasions to confront English statesmen. The publication of "British Documents on the Origins of the War," just completed after more than ten years of painstaking work, now enables us for the first time to give a true picture of the evolution of British policy toward Europe, to appreciate its nuances, and to understand its motives.


In the second half of the nineteenth century Great Britain clung to the policy of isolation, though not always as strictly as those who guided British policy would have us believe. For, at least during the years from 1887 to 1892, England and the Triple Alliance had been drawn into close collaboration by the Mediterranean Agreement. Nevertheless, in 1898 Joseph Chamberlain was justified in saying, "We have no allies. I fear that we have no friends." From that moment English statesmen gradually became aware of the dangers of this situation. Chamberlain foresaw that Great Britain might "run

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