Preface to the Japanese Edition of Warfare State (Nagoya UP, 2017)


I am delighted that Warfare State is appearing in Japanese.  Although Japan is barely mentioned in the book, it was a case I had in mind when writing it.  For Britain and Japan were both industrialised islands, reigned over by emperors, just off the coast of mighty continents. Both were major naval powers.   Yet Japan became militaristic on the Prussian model in ways Britain generally did not.  Of course its Navy was influenced by the Royal Navy, and neither British nor Japanese navalism was pacifist.  The comparison thus argues against straightforward economic or geographical determinism. Politics and ideology matter!  This becomes even clearer when we consider changes over time.  After the Second World War Britain and not Japan had a conscript army (at least for a while) and Britain spent vast sums on the military, whereas Japan spent relatively little. 

It is now ten years since the work appeared in English, sufficient time to reflect on how it has been received and how I might now rewrite it.  I must admit to some surprise that some have chosen to interpret my argument as being that Britain was a warfare state rather than a welfare state; indeed some criticise me for implying, in their view, that welfare was not part of warfare.  But it is clear from the text that I argue that it was a warfare as well as a welfare state, and that I am concerned with the relation between the two. What was misleading was the view that Britain became a welfare state and that this was sufficient description of the state and explanation for its expansion.  As I show the relations of welfareness and welfareness changed over time, and that in the period most associated with the rise of welfarism, it was warfarism that in fact advanced.  My study thus reaffirms the importance of the shift to welfarism in the interwar years, and from the 1950s. 

Another disappointment, a related one, is that not much attention has been paid to the last two chapters, where I look in some details into how the warfare state was written out of the history of modern Britain. They are important because they set out the deep reasons the history of Britain came to written from a decidedly civilian perspective, which systematically downplayed the role of the military and military institutions. These historiography chapters are, unusually, at the end rather than at the beginning of the book and perhaps it is for this reason

that they have been overlooked.   There are there because the argument would have seemed forced or irrelevant had the reader started the book there. I first needed to establish that there was a very major set of omissions from the historiography that required explanation.  

The structure of the book is also unusual in that I have a chapter in the middle which deals with the work of two scientific intellectuals – Patrick Blackett and C P Snow. I have been astonished to find that Snow is well known in the East at least in scientific and related communities, as he is in much of the rest of the world, for his deeply misleading concept of the ‘two cultures’.  But Japanese intellectuals have shown great wisdom in ignoring his arguments, for he was significant because of his fame, rather than famous for his significance.  Surprising as it may seem Snow’s work has been hugely influential in Britain, or rather he expressed particularly clearly and memorably, a standard declinist thesis about the place of science and technology in British life.  In criticising Snow so robustly I am criticising not only a series of his works which have been influential, but standard historical arguments, very widely invoked and believed.  Blackett is much more interesting and important figure, though alas much less known.  His connection to Japan is that he was the first, in 1948, to claim, very seriously, that the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 was not necessary to end the war, but was rather the first shot in the Cold War.

I have some regrets about the presentation of the argument.  For example, I foolishly did not mention Harold Perkin’s Rise of Professional Society (1989) for when I first read it I missed the extent to which it illustrates the deep influence of welfarism and declinism. For his account of the ‘professions’ was centred to an extraordinary degree on the welfare professions, and he attributed decline to the lack of technical and industrial professions he didn’t discuss!   I also regret not saying more about the period before 1920 – I assumed that it was well understood that the British state was in the period very obviously a warfare state, with some half of central government spending going to the Navy. Furthermore the role and vision of the navy in this period has been brilliantly discussed, for example in Avner Offer’s The First World War: an Agrarian Interpretation (1989). But the welfarist and approach to Edwardian history has been much more influential than I then realised. Many accounts still claim that Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ of 1909 was needed to finance an emergent welfare state, ignoring that it was equally needed to fund the procurement of dreadnoughts. I also

underestimated the extent to which historians still want to believe that scientists were not concerned with the armed forces before 1914. I should have added some more detail to make clearer how much of the interwar military-scientific complex was in place before the Great War.

While this book stands on its own I had in my mind at least prepared the ground for it with a number of publications which outlined elements of its central theses, notably in book called England and the Aeroplane (London, 1991), and a paper called ‘Liberal Militarism and the British State’ of the same year, which as well as proposing the ideas of the warfare state and liberal militarism, also attacked what I labelled declinist approaches to modern British history, which were then dominant.  I kept the reiteration of these arguments to a minimum in this book, insisting that this was not an anti-declinist or anti-welfarist argument, but rather a post-declinist, and a post-welfarist book.  Of course, this is not how it felt to the many readers of this book unfamiliar with earlier discussions and still used to the dominant welfarist and declinist accounts.  I now regret not saying more about such issues.

Declinism, which I defined as the erroneous conflation of the notion of relative decline with failure, was a very marked feature of writing about many aspects of the history of twentieth century Britain. That is now a cliché, but what is much more rarely understood is that declinism was not simply a matter of a negative evaluation of the performance of Britain – it also led to very particular characterisations of institutions, ideas and people, including the personnel, the nature, and the character of the British state and British industry.   It is those the book challenges, but from a position which takes it as read that the broader declinist position was untenable.

In the decade since Warfare State appeared much new research has complemented its findings.  Particular mention needs to be given to George Peden’s, Arms, Economics and British Strategy: From Dreadnoughts to Hydrogen Bombs (Cambridge, 2007), by an author who did so much to establish the economic history of warfare.   Other work has confirmed, for example, the strength of the interwar arms industry, and much work has insisted on the centrality not only of liberal internationalism in thinking about foreign relations but the importance to such thinking of using the very latest techniques of warfare.  In my own work I have developed points in Warfare State at some length, notably the idea of British strength in 1940-41, and the importance of its being

at the centre of a global trading network.  I have also extended the notions of a new nationalism appearing after 1945 and its impact on historiography in the same work, and in others. 

Finally, I must record my immense gratitude to Dr Takeshi Sakade for taking an interest in my work, for inviting me to a stimulating workshop at the University of Tokyo, and most of all for taking on the task of translating Warfare State


David Edgerton 

London 2014