World War One — a family affair | Blog post by Rob Crews
Did you know that three of the most important monarchs in power at the start of WWI — King George V (King of the United Kingdom), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Emperor of Germany) and Tsar Nicholas II (Emperor of Russia) — were all related?
George was first cousin to both Nicholas and Wilhelm; Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins. These relationships have been illustrated nicely in this family tree:
Unfortunately these close relationships weren’t sufficient to prevent war between them — George’s United Kingdom and Nicholas’ Russia on the side of the Allied Powers, Wilhelm’s Germany sided with the Central Powers. Two of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren — George and Wilhelm — fought each other in a war that led to 10 million military deaths and countless more civilian deaths.
Learning from the past
The complex relationships and rivalries of George, Nicholas and Wilhelm were just one factor that contributed to the outbreak of war in 1914. By studying the past, we can recognise similarities to the present and learn from previous mistakes — a process executed beautifully (on a huge timescale) by Noah Yuval Harari’s Sapiens.
As Mark Twain is meant to have said (although apparently he didn’t):
Margaret Macmillan’s essay on The Rhyme of History studies the factors leading to World War One and identifies parallels in the modern world — although the essay was published in 2013, the general themes still make sense. It’s supplemented with interesting photos and illustrations (including the family tree above). If you enjoy it, MacMillan’s book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World is also a brilliant read, detailing the peace settlements post-WWI and how they continue to be a factor in conflict today.
Also published on Medium.