This is among the first of what will no doubt be an avalanche of books examining the long-term effects of the First World War as we approach the centenary of the peace settlement in 1919. The ‘guilt’ of the title is the long shadow cast over the post-1919 years by the ‘war guilt’ clause in the Treaty of Versailles – considered a national shame by Germans, but equally troubling for liberal politicians and economists among the Allies, who worried that Germany had been too severely, even unjustly, penalised by the terms imposed. Keynes, perhaps the key figure in The Locomotive of War, made his early reputation as a maverick thorn in the side of British politicians with his indictment of the decision to impose heavy reparation demands on Germany, which would have taken until the 1980s to pay down.
The problem with Peter Clarke’s new book is that it is never entirely clear what he is trying to say. There are many strands of argument but they cohere uncertainly. To the extent that a central theme can be discerned, it seems to be that Britain and the United States