The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War

In This Review

The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War

By George F. Kennan
Pantheon, 1984
304 pp. $18.95
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The second volume of Kennan's magisterial study of the Franco-Russian Alliance, which he considers a principal cause of the Great War which, in turn, was the catastrophe that ushered in a still-continuing era of violence. Kennan concentrates on who did what when, with what measure of vision or blindness. This is a definitely personal book; it does not see history as the unfolding of broad anonymous forces. Kennan is a superb portraitist and a wise, elegiacal moralist.

His book is a grand history of the making of the alliance, 1891-1894, as reconstructed by a practitioner of diplomacy. It is also a cautionary tale, seeing in the errors of the past, still persisting today, the possibilities of a future and all-destroying disaster: "In the history of the negotiations of the Franco-Russian Alliance one can witness the growth of a whole series of those aberrations, misunderstandings, and bewilderments that have played so tragic and fateful a part in the development of Western civilization over the subsequent decades. One sees how the unjustified assumption of war's likelihood could become the cause of its final inevitability."