Gove and WW1

There will be fewer posts over the next few months as I am trying to write a book (and have a life).  Nevertheless, I shall be diverted now and again, and the current debate is about attitudes to the First World War.  The appalling Michael Gove, confident that he knows more about everything than anyone (is this a natural result of being a newspaper columnist ?) has managed to get into a debate about the First World War, with the usual conclusion that the lefties have got it all wrong.  They have betrayed the gallantry of the UK and allied forces by espousing a “Blackadder”/”Monocled Mutineer” (one might add, war poet) view of history.  He is such an expert that he can rebuke the Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, whose response is kinder than is merited.  And so the media/twitter storm starts, with predicable battalions lined up on each side.  Now, where do you think the Daily Mail will be placed, eh ?  And Owen Jones ?  Hmm, thought so.

I’ve just finished reading Max Hastings’Catastrophe”, which is a long and well regarded treatment of the events of 1914.  His view (here’s me summarising 500 pages) was that WW1 had to be fought, to resist German dominance of Europe.  Given the toll in death, disability and destruction, one might feel that more energy should have been put into peace efforts in 1914, but you can argue that we tried that in 1938 and it didn’t get very far.  Here’s my two-penn’orth.

The problem with the current debate is that it is between those who feel that we fought a just war, and those who assert that the incompetent blundering of generals and politicians caused a dreadful price in human suffering and economic loss.  But these views are not incompatible.  A war can be just and a shambles, or unjust and efficient.  Think of a grid for a moment, and place wars into one of four categories:

Just Unjust





Wars which were justified and efficiently conducted.  With all its faults, I think we could place the US Army’s record in Europe in 1944/5 in that category.



Battles and wars which were unjust but were efficiently conducted – like the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and France and the Low Countries in 1940, or the Japanese conquests of 1941/2.  You can even add Agincourt if you fancy being controversial.









Wars which were justified or unavoidable but were inefficiently conducted – where I think we can place much of the First Word War (Yes, I am aware of the assertion that by 1918 the British were an effective and well-organised force in France, but the 1914-17 record doesn’t look too good, does it ?  And elsewhere – Dardanelles, Salonika, Kut, anyone ?)






Wars which were unnecessary and a cock-up.  Isandlwana ?  How about the Crimea – I mean, what was that about ?

I think part of the British problem with war is that we have not been invaded in recent history.  No one has fought battles over out towns and countryside in the way that happened in the Balkans, in Russia and Germany and the Eastern Front.  So a politician can carry on with the old ‘dulce et decorum’ line, which Wilfred Owen, who should know, described as the ‘old lie’.

p.s. A war memorial has just been erected on the chapel in our village in Brittany.  Out of 20 households, 11 men died.  As I said in my 11 November blog, many of the surnames are familiar.

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