Great Britain

Great Britain’s economic growth in the prewar period was also unimpressive. Britain, once the world’s premier industrial power, has relinquished that position and slipped to the third place and increasingly found itself under economic pressure from newly ascendant world powers. Its relative decline was particularly precipitous, as its share of world manufacturing output declined from the dominant 22.9 percent in 1880 to mere 13.6 percent in 1913 (Kennedy 1989).

However, in Great Britain, as in France, there existed a similar consensus on the ideas of nation, state, and the essential nature of “Britishness” (Schulze 1998). As a result, the war, rather than becoming a challenge to the legitimacy of the state, led to a series of reforms on such issues as suffrage, franchise, and social benefits through which many of the grievances of lower classes were addressed. This occurred even though the war was a major shock for the British society, unaccustomed as it were to waging land campaigns of such a magnitude, and at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties (Goemans 2000b). That such measures were possible is indicative of a society that did not view politics as a zero-sum game where any concession was perceived as enhancing the position of one’s political enemies rather than addressing grievances and thus resolving the conflict. Redistribution of political power was not equated with a permanent loss of power. Apart from the Irish question, the British government did not fear domestic enemies, and the political rise of the working class was not viewed in the same apocalyptic terms as it was in Germany, for example (Goemans 2000b). Britain’s ability to sustain its war effort is all the more remarkable in that, like France, it sustained a number of significant military failures along the way, including the disastrous amphibious assault on the Dardanelles, failed offensive operations against Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia, the bloody and inconclusive Battle of the Somme, German aerial bombardment of London, and an increasingly effective German submarine blockade (Horne 1997).

Moreover, like France, the British Empire was able to draw on the highly diverse native populations from its many far-flung colonies and rely on them to provide reliable and effective military manpower that bore much of the burden of the fighting on various fronts of the war (Haythornthwaite 1985). Once again, such an ability to construct effective fighting organizations out of highly diverse populations testifies to the strength of the British state and the high level of social trust it was capable of generating.

 
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