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03 October 2022


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Previous week you announced a date on Oct. 25 in Chicago. Has that been cancelled or …?


Dear Mike,

Saying Russia "proactively started" the Russo-Japanese War and World War I goes a step beyond shoehorning things for the sake of an argument and straight into historical falsehood.

Japan began the 1904 war with a sneak attack hours before formally declaring war. Nicholas II is on record stating he wanted peace with Japan and offered compromises he thought would satisfy Japanese diplomatic demands. This is directly from your own episodes. You can fault him for carelessly provoking Japan or failing at diplomacy, but not "proactively starting war".

With WWI, every Great Power was some degree of eager and apprehensive about starting war, with the outbreak probably happening ultimately because everyone was afraid to upset their allies or be the last to mobilize. Russian diplomats were among those working overtime to diffuse the situation created by Austria-Hungary's ultimatum, one that was purposefully meant to provoke war. Germany was the one to formally declare war on Russia because Russia didn't concede to Germany's ultimatum to stop mobilizing. You can blame the Great Powers collectively for it, but blaming the Russian government solely when its alternative was 'lose all allies and probably trigger a revolution right here and now' seems outright unfair.

What makes this choice of characterization particularly odd is that the Franco-Prussian War, where Napoleon III was the one to declare war, is not your example of "proactively starting war", but only "more similar" to the others. Of course there was Bismarck's plot, but the crux of the plot was for France to pull the trigger - and it only worked because the Second Empire was overconfident and looking for war.

In short: Charles I - ran headfirst into a war; Napoleon III - declared war after being called a chicken; Nicholas II - tripped into diplomatic mazes and had wars declared on him.

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