In the first week of August, as events on the Continent were about to explode, many academics who valued their long-standing ties with Germany and German Universities recoiled at the prospect of war with a country which had contributed so much to European civilization. A letter signed by several Cambridge professors and other leading academics was printed in The Times on 1 August. It made the following appeal:

‘We regard Germany as a nation leading the way in the Arts and Sciences and we have all learned and are learning from German scholars.  War against her in the interest of Serbia and Russia will be a sin against civilization. If by reason of honourable obligations we be unhappily involved in a war, patriotism might still our mouths, but at this juncture we consider ourselves justified in protesting against being drawn into a struggle with a nation so near akin to our own, and with whom we have so much in common.’ [1]

The invasion of Belgium altered the parameters of the debate but there was a still a degree of ‘pro-German’ sentiment which persisted even after the outbreak of hostilities, partly in Britain itself and even more so in neutral countries. The potential consequences alarmed the Secret Elite and their Oxford academic division which supported the war. They retaliated immediately.

The First Oxford Pamphlet, 1914 - The Deeper Causes Of The War

The solution was a series of short pamphlets, explaining their version of both the long- and short-term causes of the war. But who was to provide the appropriate material? Oxford historians, like their colleagues in other British universities, should have been ill- prepared for the role of semi-official apologists for the British declaration of war in August 1914. [2] Yet through the conquest of Oxford [ note] the Secret Elite quickly mobilised their All Souls battalion which promptly rose to the challenge of justifying the war and vilifying Germany.

Oxford University was by then the academic bastion of the Secret Elite and its philosophy [note] and many of its inner core membership were chosen from All Souls and Balliol Colleges. [3] Given that, it was hardly surprising that the learned professors and teaching staff stamped their intellectual approval on the declaration of war, pronounced their justifications on the causes of the war, and berated the Germans for their alleged  war aims, in specially commissioned Oxford Pamphlets. [4] In total there were 87 titles, some of which enjoyed a profitable tenth reprint, with translations into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Danish and Swedish. The Oxford Pamphlets often contained authentic information to which the authors willingly gave a patriotic interpretation in the guise of an objective analysis. It was all about smoking mirrors and muddied waters. Make the populace believe. Convince the alien neutrals. These pamphlets stemmed from, what was reckoned to be, the best brains in Britain. It was the gospel according to the University of Oxford, and the pamphlets, published in London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto, Melbourne and Bombay could be purchased individually or in sets, at affordable prices. [5]

Alfred Milner’s Kindergarten group from his Boer War days had formed the ‘Round Table’ [note] a quasi political think-tank of Empire Loyalists dedicated to the ultimate aim of an English-race domination of the world. Funded by the wealthy financiers and inner-core members of the Secret Elite, Sir Abe Bailey and Sir Alfred Beit, [6] they waded into the mire of anti-German propaganda with a special war edition in September 1914  entitled, Germany and the Prussian Spirit,  targeted at the middle  and upper-classes. It dealt in stereotypes, with biased historical background and crudely delineated images of an older idyllic Germany,  now dominated by a new ruthless Prussian steel, whose ‘rapid glacier-torrent’ had carried ice into the heart of the old Rhineland. [7] The irony of their message was completely ignored in the British press, and its hypocrisy plummeted new depths. According to the Round Table it was not the business of the State ‘to mould the general will of its citizens, but to represent it’. The accusation levied against the German State was that its people followed absolutely the ‘paternalism of Prussian Nationalism’. [8]

And this from the direct disciples of Ruskin and the heirs of Rhodes, who sought to mould the world into a British Race power-block dominated by English ruling class elites, the very men who privately despised democracy. [9] It is surely instructive that the Round Table’s conclusion  was that ‘the ultimate aim of German Imperialism is indeed nothing less than the destruction of British power, the humiliation of England and the partition of the British Empire.’ [10] In truth the Secret Elite’s ultimate aim was the destruction of German power, the humiliation of Germany and the partition of their Empire. They were dressing the Prussians in their own obsessive megalomania for global control. Britain declared war on Germany.  France and Russia mobilised first against Germany, but truth has long been acknowledged as the first casualty of war. [11]

The authors of the Oxford Pamphlets read like a roll-call of Balliol and All Souls fellows, supplemented by men of whom they approved, still mainly from Oxford colleges and all known to Milner and the Round Table. Professor Quigley has shown how closely the inter-woven connections between Balliol, All Souls and Oxford and the Secret Elite worked, so it is hardly surprising that they rallied immediately to the bugle-call of war justification, to ‘prove’ the academic, legal, theological, military, naval and national reasons why Britain had to be involved.

The list of pamphleteers included; Spencer Wilkinson, First Chichele Professor of Military History at Oxford; W.G.S. Adam, Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Oxford; C.R.L. Fletcher the conservative, imperialist historian, was in conjunction with Rudyard Kipling in 1911, the author of A School History of England, which libelled the Spanish as vindictive, the West Indians as lazy and vicious, and the Irish as spoilt and ungrateful; [12]  Henry W C Davis, Regius Professor of Modern History, who was called to work in the War Trade Intelligence Department and the Ministry of Blockade, was later editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; C Grant Robertson, the academic historian went on to be Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University. Every one of the above was a Fellow of All Soul’s.

Balliol men included Sir Keith Feiling , later Chichele Professor of Modern History; F F Urquhart, historian, later Dean of Balliol; A D Lindsay, former president of the Oxford Union, taught philosophy at Balliol, and when he reached the pinnacle of his academic career as Master of Balliol College, emerged as Lord  Lindsay of Birker. Arnold J Toynbee, the historian, nephew of the more famous Arnold Toynbee, Milner’s best friend when he attended Balliol, served in the political intelligence department of the Foreign Office ‘undoubtedly’ [13] because of his uncle’s association with the all-powerful Lord Milner. Lesser lights like Ramsay Muir wrote on National Principle and the War. Ernest Barker presented the philosophical argument in Nietzsche and Treitschke. They were all Balliol men.

The Secret Elite inner-core member, H A L Fisher, [14] historian and tutor in modern history at Oxford, had his say on the Value of Small States with an academic reminder of the incalculable debt that civilisation owed to the smaller nations. He was soon to be promoted by Lloyd George to the post of President of the Board of Education. Gilbert Murray, Professor of Greek at Oxford wrote on the moral question, How can war ever be right? He found a suitably acceptable answer.

These myth-makers of history were not restricted to the university. The Oxford Pamphlets were supplemented by journalistic heavies such as Secret Elite member, Sir Valentine Chirol, [15] who from 1897-1912 was foreign editor for the Times. His two pamphlets, Serbia and the Serbs and Germany and the Fear of Russia were basically an indictment of Austrian policy towards Serbia and an accusation that Germany encouraged Austria in order to bring about war. This was typical of the lie that was repeated so often that it became ‘fact’, the more so because it had the stamp of Oxford University’s approval. Another powerful figure, Rear-Admiral Sir James Thursfield, a naval historian and journalist, a man close to Lord Fisher, lectured regularly at the Robert’s Academy at Camberley, and was the first editor of the Times Literary Supplement. His pamphlet, the Navy and the War boasted of the silent pressure maintained on Germany by the Fleet, and warned of the dangers of pacifism. And the pro-British American lawyer, James M Beck, a vehemently anti-German Republican politician, contributed a valuable pamphlet, The Double Alliance versus the Triple Entente, whose partisan, pro-British judgement on the conflicting alliances was both welcomed and praised. It amounted to a complete endorsement of Britain’s actions.

Pamphlet by editor of series H.W.C. Davis - The Battle of Ypres-Armentieres

Although there was no named general editor for the complete series of pamphlets, it is now known that Henry W C Davis played this role. An influential figure in Oxford, he was a member of the General Board of Faculties in 1913 and curator of the Bodleian Library in 1914. The early contributors, who were all based in Oxford, appear to have been approached by word of mouth and many of them had close personal links with Davis. [16] He was a man with a mission and wrote to the former editor of the Times, Sir Valentine Chirol on 14 September 1914 describing his intentions:

‘The series is intended for the intelligent working man and therefore the method of treatment is simple, even elementary…The contributors belong to very different schools of political opinion, but they are all anxious to confirm the ordinary elector in his present admirable attitude towards the war, and to warn him against the dangers of making peace on terms which settle nothing.’  [17]

Put another way, Davis was admitting that he intended the pamphlets to ‘dumb down’ the arguments, encourage the readers to support the war and ensure that the peace-mongers were undermined. Such patronising propaganda is unworthy of any university, far less one that would call itself a world-leader. Henry Davis continued in the same vein throughout the remainder of 1914, sometimes bracketing the intelligent workingman with primary school teachers.  Although some of the Oxford Pamphlets employed rhetorical flourishes inappropriate in the ‘driest’ of scholarly works, they rarely managed to achieve a populist touch. The possible exception to that rule was C.R.L. Fletcher, whose capacity to describe the world in damning stereotypes had been so amply evidenced in his School History of England.  On 14 September, Fletcher wrote, ‘I give Davis carte blanche to alter my tracts, only don’t let him make them too judicial and fair minded.  It’s no time for respecting the enemy’s feelings.’ [18] He need not have worried. Fair-mindedness was never the objective.

By the end of October 1914, approximately 100,000 copies had been sold.

No-one should underestimate the importance of this quasi-intellectual onslaught. Letters were sent to the Oxford University Press from ‘war lecturers’ asking for more detailed material to help them with their talks. These fatuous pamphlets were seen as the new gospels, the ‘evidence’ that the British Empire was fully justified in taking up arms against Germany. Their capacity to influence opinion in neutral countries, especially the United States, was of even greater importance.   Government agencies moved to maximise their impact. At C F Masterman’s secret London propaganda headquarters at Wellington House [19], the section run by Sir C Schuster had special responsibility for manipulating opinion in the neutral countries. A close working relationship developed between Schuster’s office and the Oxford Pamphlets, influenced no doubt by the fact that Schuster was C.R.L. Fletcher’s brother in law. [20] Although he never commissioned any of the Oxford series directly, Schuster willingly distributed them overseas, ordering as many as 35,000 copies of Paul Vinogradoff’s Russia, the Psychology of a Nation. The Secret Elite had great and continued need to justify the alliance with Russia so that the German armies were tied up in the east of Europe.

Propaganda poster - Step Into Your Place - long line of men waiting to enlist

Great care was taken to avoid the impression that the Oxford Pamphlets were part of the propaganda campaign, which is why they were mainly distributed and sold ‘in the ordinary way of trade’. [21] Oxford University Press usually charged between 1 penny and 3 pence per pamphlet and a hardback series could be purchased for one shilling in 1915. Naturally the pamphlets were hailed for their authenticity and the Saturday Review wrote that  ‘these little books are easily the best books of the war accurate, quietly written, full of knowledge and unspoiled by vainglory or bitterness.’ [22] Well, little changes. Oxford histories can still rely on positive reviews from Oxford alumni.

We should remember Professor Quigley’s admonition that no country that values its safety should allow a small secret cabal, by that we mean the Secret Elite, to exercise complete control over the publication of documents, over the avenues of information that create public opinion and then monopolise the writing and teaching of history.[23] This was precisely what was happening. Virtually every British contributor to the Oxford Pamphlets was in some way linked directly or indirectly to the Secret Elite and their grand design. The ‘truth’ was defined by them and for them.

[1] The Times. 1 August 1914, p. 6.
[2] S.J.D. Green and Peregrine Horden All Souls and the Wider World, p 171.
[3] Note on previous blog.
[4] The Oxford Pamphlets, 1914-15
[5] https://archive.org/stream/27to54oxfordpam00londuoft#page/n1/mode/2up
[6] Carroll Quigley,  The Anglo-American Establishment, p.312.
[7] The Round Table, Special War Number, Germany and the Prussian Spirit p.15.
[8] Ibid., p.30.
[9] Quigley, The Anglo American Establishment, p. 85.
[10] The Round Table, Special War Number, Germany and the Prussian Spirit, p.37.
[11] Quotation credited generally to Arthur Ponsonby MP.
[12] The School History was hailed as the chief literary event of the coronation year by the Church Family Times and as a most pernicious influence on the minds of children by the Manchester Guardian. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
[13] Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 7.
[14] Ibid., p. 312.
[15] Ibid., p. 313.
[16] Green and Horden, All Souls and the Wider World p 172.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.,  p, 173.
[19] See blog
[20] Green and Horden, All Souls and the Wider World p 176
[21] Ibid.
[22] https://archive.org/stream/27to54oxfordpam00londuoft#page/n5/mode/2up
[23] Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 197.