1871-1914

February 22 2014

By A.D. 1871 War was not “the sport of kings” any longer. It had become the serious business of peoples who were inspired with all the enthusiasm that Democracy could excite and were armed with all the weapons that Industrialism could forge; and in these circumstances there was a choice between taking active steps to put an end to War altogether, or else seeing it rankle into an enormity without precedent in our Western history.

If the experience of the wars of 1861-71 had evoked an anti-war movement of anything like the same intensity and persistence as the anti-slavery movement which had been set on foot before the end of the eighteenth century, then our position to-day might perhaps have been more favourable than it actually is. It happened, however, that the crop of wars in the seventh decade of the nineteenth century was followed, like the General War of 1792-1815, by half a century of general peace, which was only broken by a few local wars of a semi-colonial character: the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8; the Spanish-American War of 1898; the South African War of 1899-1902; the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. These latter wars at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not afford much new insight into the general tendency of warfare in the Western World in this age, because they were fought between not more than two belligerents in each case, and not in any instance in regions lying near the heart of the Western World.

1871-1914 was called the belle époque. Who, after the First World War, invented that phrase?

Hence the terrible transformation in the character of War which had been brought about by the introduction of the new driving-power of Industrialism and Democracy took our generation by surprise in 1914. This time the shock has been so profound that an eager and active movement for the abolition of War has followed the Armistice of 1918. But this movement is gravely handicapped by its belated birth on the morrow of the World War, when it should have been born in 1871 or, better still, in 1815.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

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