David Crane

‘1913: The World Beforethe Great War’, by Charles Emmerson

On the eve of the Great War, the future was anyone’s guess, says <em>David Crane </em>

In May 1913 a British delegation visited the United States to discuss plans for celebrating 100 years of Anglo-American peace. At their final meeting in New York’s Plaza Hotel, the representatives of both sides had just agreed on a five-minute silence to be observed across the English-speaking world on 17 February 1915, when Professor Hugo Munsterberg of Harvard interrupted proceedings. Did the delegates realise, he wanted to know, that there was widespread belief that Britain and America were

getting together to join a war against Germany? Charles Peabody, a member of the New York committee, quietened him down.  Neither country was contemplating war, he said. Indeed, he continued, all nations could be part of a universal bond of brotherhood which would abolish it. Everybody clapped.

There will come a time when commissioning editors, trawling through history for a spare year to hang a book on, will be reduced to a choice between the 1970s and a couple of dodgy years in the 1340s, but if 1913 is anything to go by there is life in the old annual yet. All the really obvious years have long since been taken up, but 1913 has a kind of negative appeal of its own, a year in which so little actually happened that it can equally well be deployed for a final, leisurely stocktaking of the Old World or an irony-laden trailer for the horrors to come.

So 1913 was the year in which the Titanic did not sink or Scott die on the way back from the Pole, in which terrorists did not blow up the Viceroy of India or Young Turks topple the sultan, in which the Meiji Era did not end nor the Manchu empire expire, the year in which a gunshot was not heard around the world.

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