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The Pity of War

Professor Niall Ferguson argues that Britain's decision to enter the First World War was a catastrophic error that unleashed an era of totalitarianism and genocide.

Was the Great War a great mistake? In this innovative programme, Harvard historian Professor Niall Ferguson offers a different perspective on the First World War and argues that Britain's decision to enter the war was a tragic mistake.

The First World War was one of the great turning points of modern history. We know where the war started: in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, when a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip murdered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. But how and why did this crisis in the Balkans escalate into a bloody global conflagration? Did Britain really have to fight a war against Germany?

Niall Ferguson links cutting-edge graphics and short illustrative stories to place the First World War into the context of human history. He then argues that much of the responsibility for the scale of the conflict lies with the British and suggests that Britain's decision to enter the war in 1914 was not merely tragic for those who lost their lives, it was also a catastrophic error that unleashed an era of totalitarianism and genocide around the world. At the same time, the war revealed a fundamental truth about humankind's propensity for violence.

At the end of the programme these contentious issues are debated by leading WW1 experts and the studio audience.

1 hour, 30 minutes

Last on

Fri 6 Jun 2014 00:50


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The Necessary War

The Necessary War
Could the First World War have been avoided? Sir Max Hastings presents an alternative argument to the debate in a documentary on BBC Two.

Go to The Necessary War page

Watch the Trail

Watch the Trail
Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson guide us through the opposing sides of this important and controversial debate in two compelling programmes questioning our role in the Great War.

Watch the trail


Role Contributor
Presenter Niall Ferguson
Director of photography Dewald Aukema
Editor Paul Frost
Editor Louise Salkow
Composer Ben Carrigan
Re-recording mixer Olatz Gonzalez
Colourist Enge Gray
Lighting Director Paul Devine
Floor Manager David Gold
Vision mixer Jack Carter
Producer Melanie Fall
Executive Producer Alexandra Henderson
Executive Producer Martin Davidson
Studio Director Claire Bellis
Director Adrian Pennink
Sound Supervisor David Chamberlain
Script Supervisor Lesley Boden
Assistant Producer John Owen
Producer Vivienne Steele
Archive Source Australian War Memorial Library
Archive Source Leo Baeck Institute
Archive Source BBC Motion Gallery
Archive Source Bridgeman Art Library
Archive Source Bridgeman Motion
Archive Source British Pathe
Archive Source Corbis Images
Archive Source Footage Farm
Archive Source National Library of Australia
Archive Source New York Historical Society
Archive Source Studio Canal
Archive Source Topfoto
Archive Source Universal Pictures


  • Fri 28 Feb 2014 21:00
  • Fri 28 Feb 2014 23:05
  • Fri 6 Jun 2014 00:50

World War One at the BBC

World War One at the BBC

New perspectives on the war that changed everything.