A poll asking whether Britain was right to have gone to war in 1914 has revealed a split in opinion among History Extra readers.
In the poll, which asked ‘Should Britain have gone to war in 1914?’, some 45 per cent voted ‘yes’, and 48 per cent voted ‘no’.
Seven per cent of participants responded ‘don’t know’.
The poll was taken after historian Niall Ferguson suggested in the February issue of BBC History Magazine that Britain made a mistake in taking up arms in 1914.
Speaking to the magazine’s editor, Rob Attar, ahead of his BBC Two documentary The Pity of War, Ferguson said: “The cost of the First World War to Britain was catastrophic, and it left the British empire at the end of it all in a much weakened state… Arguments about honour, of course, resonate today, as they resonated in 1914 but you can pay too high a price for upholding that notion of honour, and I think in the end Britain did.”
Historians, journalists and members of the public took to Twitter to discuss Ferguson’s assertion. Sir Richard Evans, historian of modern Germany and Europe, said: “Niall Ferguson undermines Michael Gove’s charge that leftie historians deny Britain had to fight the Germans in 1914”.
And Traditional Britain Group tweeted: “We should not be doing anything other than remembering our fallen in this tragic centenary year.”
Meanwhile Gary Sheffield, professor of war studies at Wolverhampton University, contested Ferguson’s suggestion. Writing for History Extra, he said Britain entered the war because people “recognised that there was something worse than the war – a German victory”.