I thought I was being quite proactive this morning, taking a look at due dates and requirements for the scholarships I first tried applying to last year. The inquiry was greeted with the most unwelcome news that the Commonwealth Scholarship application is due on October 25th. Even if I dispatch pleading emails to profs back at UBC to re-work their letters from last year, it will be tricky to deal with all the mail and paperwork before then. Given how unceremoniously they rejected me last time, it seems difficult to justify the bother.
Today was actually exceptionally productive. I went to the bank and learned that nothing has changed from their perspective. The account will open… when it opens. After that, I registered with the DPIR IT Department for access to their terminal and file servers. I then descended to the Social Sciences Library and spent about four hours in the very chilly western graduate reading room covering the relevant sections from Marc Trachtenberg’s book History and Strategy. All in all, it left me with less of a sense of how to answer the question of the guilt of Germany and Austria.
The essay comes down, firstly, to two definitions: those of ‘guilt’ and those of ‘Germany’ and ‘Austria-Hungary.’ The second definition is easier, so I will tackle it first. Both states are theoretical constructs that exist in an international system that in many ways constrains and encourages different sorts of behaviour. Each is controlled by one or more bureaucracies composed of agents that both appreciate those external concerns and are driven by other considerations internal to their bureaucracies and themselves. For my purposes, I shall examine ‘Germany’ in the sense of the central cadre of German political and military leaders – the people who made the decisions that led immediately to war. Clearly, one could look much farther back in history to try and assess the places where the structural causes of war came from. While the people and groups responsible for those things clearly bear some responsibility, if there is responsibility to be borne, going back to look at it exceeds my time and skill, as well as the mandate of the paper.
Moving on, then, to the question of responsibility. What is it that makes a governing elite responsible for starting a war? Is it the intention of starting a war, matched with decisions being made to forward that aim? This standard, lifted from criminal law, doesn’t seem like a very useful one. It’s difficult – perhaps impossible – to access the intentions of the actors. Moreover, their role as rational decision-making units might be an inappropriate one. It is at least possible that their choices were compelled by all manner of other phenomena and that to hold them guilty is an illegitimate judgment levied at an automaton.
Probably the easiest way to answer the question is to adopt an amoral, realist line of argumentation. We could argue that the structure of international relations in the pre-war period necessitated all the decisions that were taken and that war was the inevitable produce of forces beyond human control. Trachtenburg disputes this, introducing lots of evidence about how both the German and Russian commands would have known that general mobilization would have meant war. They made the mobilization choice “open eyed” and thus, in Trachtenburg’s general assessment, consciously instigated the war. Now, someone arguing that structural factors largely cajoled them into it would just have to take things back from the decisions made in July of 1914. By then, it could be argued, all of the makings were already in place.
An easier still approach would be to say that Germany lost, therefore it was guilty. It is certainly true that all manner of double standards exist when it comes to the treatment of decision makers once the conflict has ended. To quote Robert McNamara:
LeMay said, “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?
While the issue of conduct within war can be usefully distinguished from a moral assessment of the reasons for which war was initiated, the danger that ‘responsibility’ is just what the winners are able to assign to the losers is a real one.
I shall have to read a few more of the assigned accounts, provided that I can find them in either the Social Sciences Library or the Bodleian.
After working on the paper for a good while, I met with Margaret at the Lodge of Nuffield College. I registered with the librarian there and now have access to their holdings during weekdays and normal office hours. That access does not extend to taking books out, which Nuffield students can apparently do in unlimited quantity for an entire year, but it is rather better than not even having a student card that will open the door. I should now seek to gain similar (or better) privileges at St. Antony’s: the other big IR college.
Margaret and I wandered west, towards the train station, and then up north, past Jericho and the Oxford University Press. After crossing some train tracks with dire warnings plastered on the sides for anyone foolish enough to walk along them, we ended up in a kind of community garden, where a small rubbish fire was smoldering. Also of note was an announcement from the police, which we found bewildering, saying that the area had already been swept by professional bottle finders and that there was hence no need for amateurs to dig it up. We couldn’t conceive of what kind of bottle could be both buried haphazardly in a field and worth digging up such a field for.
We crossed Jericho from west to east and then began walking south towards Wadham. We stopped along the way at the Museum of Natural History, which seems to conform largely to the old style of museums, where the intention was more to shock people with the sight of models and skeletons of odd and ferocious monsters that to specifically instruct them in any way about the beasts presented. That said, it is definitely an impressive site and very well worth a look.
Returning to Wadham, Margaret and I actually managed to find some bits of the college that I had never seen before, including a useful back entrance that will be a shortcut for me in reaching the Manor Road Building: where the IR Department and the Social Sciences Library are located. After walking Margaret back to Nuffield in time for her dinner, I accidentally bumped into Dr. Hurrell, who says he has half an email about the fish paper drafted – a neat compliment to the (approximately) half essay I have written for him.
Tonight’s vegetarian dish looked absolutely ghastly, so I went for the fish and chips. Cod (or Orange Roughy) aren’t factory-farmed, at least. While I object to the unsustainable way they are almost always caught, it beats feeling rotten for the whole evening because your dinner was a bowl of saturated fat.
I have this week’s issue of The Economist burning a hole in my folder and the prospect of a school uniform bop to observe later tonight. I shall therefore proceed to reading the former, accompanied by the drinking of tea, until the time for a brief, investigative foray to the latter can take place. I’ve also managed to activate my account for the DPIR terminal server. It’s very odd to have an 800×600 window of Windows XP open inside Mac OS X. Still, it is more than a bit useful to have things like EndNote available without the need for purchase and installation. Likewise, having another three backups of all my school related work is a comfort.
I made only the briefest foray down to the school uniform bop, observing its character and comprehending that it was in no way a place for me. I took a quick batch of purely documentary photographs, perpetuating my role as the chronicler of all things Library Court related, before retreating back to my issue of The Economist and stocks of Earl Grey.
PS. Note to self, remember to look up application deadlines for:
- MacKenzie King
Also, email former referees to request that they prepare new letters for said applications.