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Fatal Fortnight: Arthur Ponsonby and the Fight for British Neutrality in 1914

Fatal Fortnight: Arthur Ponsonby and the Fight for British Neutrality in 1914

Duncan Marlor


The story of Parliament during the run-up to the First World War isn't well-known: certainly significantly less has been written about it than about the run-up to the Second. So this book is an interesting addition to the literature.

Marlor presents a view "from the bottom", in the sense that he's concerned with the actions of backbench MPs trying to keep Britain neutral. The book is therefore good to compare against The Guns of August which looks at the same events more from the view of the protagonists. It's driven largely by diaries and letters, and uses them unsparingly as comparisons against the "official" history promulgated by The Times and other newspapers of the fortnight's events.

The overriding impression is one of the impotence of Parliament in the face of pre-existing commitments that had been made but never publicised, as well as an ability to exploit the ambiguities of treaties to justify an already-decided policy. It rapidly becomes clear that the "debates" on Britain's war conduct were simply window-dressing with no potential to influence events – although it has to be admitted that the rebels were unwilling to go all the way to opposing the supply motions that provided funds for the war. Things haven't changed all that much, and there's lots to commend in this book as a filter through which to view more contemporary events.

5/5. Finished 28 February 2015.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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