Our perceptions of the First World War today are dominated by the idea it was a futile conflict, a colossal waste of life, and an immense tragedy for Britain and all of Europe. It is a view that has been fostered by the war poets who wrote vividly about the experience of trench warfare, and by countless novels, films and television programmes in the years since. Many even go as far as suggesting that the First World War led directly to the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of the Second World War.
In a single documentary to mark the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of war, Sir Max Hastings presents the argument that although it was a great tragedy, far from being futile, the First World War was completely unavoidable.
Max presents the case that the rulers of Germany in 1914 were intent on dominating Europe and, after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914, actively encouraged the Austrians to invade Serbia. They were responsible for igniting the spark that turned a local controversy into a full-blown European war.
He also argues that once the Germans decided to invade France through neutral Belgium, it was impossible for Britain, mindful of its own position within Europe and a guarantor of the small state's neutrality, to simply stand by. Not only that, when the conflict was only weeks old, the Germans were already compiling a shopping list of key territories they would seize after victory to secure their complete domination of Europe.
Through conversations with the world's most eminent World War I scholars and military historians, including Sir Michael Howard, Sir Hew Strachan, Professor John Rohl and Professor Margaret MacMillan, Max explores the key questions surrounding the outbreak of the war and the necessity for Britain to step in.
He also explores how and why, once the war was over, the common perception of the conflict as a bungled, unnecessary bloodbath emerged. He examines the misconceptions that surround the Versailles peace agreement, which many unfairly blame for the outbreak of the Second World War, and the sense of disappointment and frustration created by economic and political turmoil of the 20s and 30s.
In conclusion Max argues that, while the centenary of the war is not a cause of jubilation, we should tell our children and grandchildren that their ancestors did not fight for nothing; if Germany had won, Europe would have paid a far more terrible price.