August 1914 - Mycroft Holmes and Pre-War European Diplomacy
Trenches: The War Service of Sherlock Holmes 127 (2018) (Robert Katz & Andrew Solberg eds.)
10 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2018
Date Written: April 1, 2018
What caused World War I? And how was it that the diplomats and their masters failed to avert such an obviously disastrous bloodbath? (Sherlock Holmes once referred to war as a “ridiculous” and “preposterous” “method of settling international questions.”) Scholars cannot agree. Indeed, even among elite European historians (a crowd that specializes in studying the evolution of a complex of complex cultures), the tangled threads that led to the Great War are viewed as an extraordinarily terrible mare’s nest. Nevertheless, there is enough common ground on some main themes to make for a fairly coherent conventional narrative of pre-war European diplomacy. It begins in October 1879 — when Austria-Hungary and Germany formed the Dual Alliance. It ends in August 1914 — when diplomacy failed and the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Germany) and the Entente Powers (France, Russia and Great Britain) declared war on each other. That passage of 35 years also marks, roughly, the span of Mycroft Holmes’s career in the British government. His involvement in the maneuverings of the great powers in those times may be invisible to most modern eyes (as it was to his contemporaries), but there are clues. They will crop up from time to time in this narrative, which reviews, briefly and in sequence, the perspectives of each of the five major players in the onset of World War I — Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain — with some emphasis on Austria-Hungary, because that is where the war to end all wars began.
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