World War I was a tragic loss of life, much of it due to one man’s vision for British imperialism.This back story was explored by Canadian James Corbett in a three-part documentary called The WWI Conspiracy. The conspiracy of Serbian nationalists to assasinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 wasn’t the only one at work. Corbett says diamond miner Cecil Rhodes did more significant scheming 23 years prior.In an 1891 meeting, Rhodes discussed his concept of a secret society patterned after the Jesuits. Present was newspaper editor William T. Stead, who pioneered tabloid and investigative journalism in his Pall Mall Gazette. The other was Reginald Brett, the Second Viscount of Esher, a Liberal MP who advised Queen Victoria and two successors.Stead published Rhodes’ Last Will and Testament and other writings in 1902, making the society and its goals public. Rhodes said his “idea” of a dominant Anglo-American empire would “ultimately lead to the cessation of all wars and one language throughout the world [English, though],...the gradual absorption of wealth and human minds of the higher order to the object.”Rhodes thought his vision would take a century to fulfill, so peace could wait. Sir Alfred Milner, governor of the British Cape Colony, and part of Rhodes’ inner circle, sparked the Second Boer War in 1899 with his support.“I precipitated the crisis, which was inevitable, before it was too late. It is not very agreeable, and in many eyes, not a very credible piece of business to have been largely instrumental in bringing about a war,” Milner would later write.By 1910 the colonies of South Africa were united under British rule, as Rhodes would have wanted.Milner was put in charge of the Rhodes Trust after his death. It funded Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford, the Round Table quarterly journal and Round Table groups throughout the English Commonwealth to advance Rhodes’ vision.One key goal was to undermine Germany, which was a growing threat to Anglo dominance. The strategy was to endear Britain to France and Russia, leaving Germany isolated in an armed conflict.The Rhodes group gathered acolytes and put them into key positions of power and influence. Ignatius Valentine Chiriot was made director of the foreign department of The Times in 1899. Germans were blamed in the paper, with little integrity, for every international conflict in future years.Sir Charles Hardinge was made ambassador to Russia in 1904, the same year the partially-secret Entente Cordiale was made with France, resolving disputes on colonial matters and strengthening relations. In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Entente worked out similar differences between Britain and Russia. Because the Franco-Russian alliance had already been formed in 1894, the three countries were now united in a Triple Entente.In 1905 Liberal prime minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman took power. He appointed Sir Edward Grey as foreign secretary, Herbert Henry Asquith as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Richard Haldane as the Secretary of State for War, despite admitting all three were guilty of “Milner worship.” After Campbell-Bannerman died in 1908, Asquith became prime minister and ruled until 1916.Behind the scenes, secret diplomacy continued. As Corbett explains, “Details of Britain's military commitments to Russia and France and even the negotiations themselves were deliberately kept hidden from Members of Parliament and even members of the Cabinet who were not part of the secret society. It wasn't until November 1911, a full six years into the negotiations, that the cabinet…started to learn the details of these agreements; agreements that had been repeatedly and officially denied in the press and in Parliament.”When the Asquith government fell, Milner was appointed head of the war cabinet in the Conservative government. He successfully pressed for universal conscription of men.After war began, dishonest anti-German war propaganda galvanized the public. German troops were blamed for the rape of Belgium and sticking bayonets through its babies as it marched through the neutral country on the way to France. The Times story, Torture of a Canadian Officer alleged that Germans had crucified a Canadian solder in Ypres, France.On May, 7, 1915, the liner Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. The media portrayed this event as a brazen attack on an innocent passenger liner. In reality, Lusitania was an armed merchant cruiser and an auxiliary warship of the British admiralty. Its cargo included four million bullets, a detail not publicly acknowledged until 2014 when the government published the ship’s manifest.A British blockade of the North Sea that began in 1914 kept innocuous cargo such as cotton and food from reaching Germany — in defiance of international treaties. By war’s end, the National Health Office in Berlin determined 763,000 Germans had died as a result of the blockade. In 1917, a desperate Germany resumed similar tactics, ones it had abandoned after the sinking of Lusitania. US President Woodrow Wilson used this as a reason to declare war on Germany.The decision was good news to Colonel Edward Mandell House, Wilson’s advisor, who had sought a pretence to get the US into the war for years. American banker J.P. Morgan was also relieved, having funded the allies from the start. Eight days after declaring war on Germany, Congress passed the War Loan Act to help the allies, but the first $300 million ended up at Morgan’s bank.When Germany lost, it was left with its own war loans to repay. The Treaty of Versailles, enacted at the end of WWI, forced Germany to disarm and pay reparations equivalent to USD $442 billion today. The first payment, made in 1921, sent the nation into a hyperinflationary crisis. A US dollar traded for 4.2 German Marks in 1914, but fetched 4,210,500,000,000 Marks by November 1923.WWI left 20 million dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany crippled and England dominant. While allied soldiers manifested courage, honour, and duty, less can be said for the manipulators of the conflict. Such is the nature of war, lest we forget.