Centenary of the Great War: Let the Spin Begin

Centenary of the Great War: Let the Spin Begin

Chateau Wood, Ypres

Tristram Hunt on the Great War

I didn’t expect to find myself agree­ing with Labour’s Shad­ow Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Tris­tram Hunt. But take a look at his Great War arti­cle “Bash­ing His­to­ry,” and see what you think.

We’re going to be read­ing a lot of sil­ly non­sense about the Great War in the next year or two, and Hunt’s pre­emp­tive strike is a salu­tary warning.

His piece recalls a poet­ic answer to Eric Bogle’s famous poem “Willie McBride,” writ­ten by Stephen Suf­fet in 1997:

Ask the peo­ple of Bel­gium or Alsace-Lorraine,

If my life was wast­ed, if I died in vain.

I think they will tell you when all’s said and done,

They wel­comed this boy with his tin hat and gun.

For the text of both poems, click here.

Churchill’s Great War prediction, 1911

The Ger­man armies in advanc­ing through Bel­gium and onwards into France will be rel­a­tive­ly weak­ened by all or any of the fol­low­ing caus­es: [casu­al­ties, con­tin­u­al­ly extend­ed lines, troops to invest or besiege cap­tured towns, the allied armies, British block­ade and Russ­ian pres­sure in the east]….

All these pres­sures will devel­op simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and pro­gres­sive­ly. By the for­ti­eth day Ger­many should be extend­ed at full strain. [The] strain will become dai­ly more severe and ulti­mate­ly over­whelm­ing, unless it is relieved by deci­sive vic­to­ries in France. If the French army has not been squandered…the bal­ance of forces should be favourable after the for­ti­eth day. For the Ger­man armies will be con­front­ed [by] an ever-grow­ing need for a suc­cess­ful offen­sive…. Oppor­tu­ni­ties for the deci­sive tri­al of strength may then occur. —Churchill, The World Cri­sis, vol. I, 62-63.            

From WSC’s Cab­i­net mem­o­ran­dum, “Mil­i­tary Aspects of the Con­ti­nen­tal Prob­lem.” His pre­dic­tion was almost exact. On 12 Sep­tem­ber, forty-one days into the war, French and British forces stopped the Ger­man advance at the Marne. This pre­vent­ed any chance of an out­right Ger­man victory. 

Great War reflection, 1940

Dur­ing the first four years of the last war the Allies expe­ri­enced noth­ing but dis­as­ter and dis­ap­point­ment. That was our con­stant fear: one blow after anoth­er, ter­ri­ble loss­es, fright­ful dan­gers. Every­thing mis­car­ried. And yet at the end of those four years the morale of the Allies was high­er than that of the Ger­mans, who had moved from one aggres­sive tri­umph to anoth­er, and who stood every­where tri­umphant invaders of the lands into which they had broken.…

Dur­ing that war we repeat­ed­ly asked our­selves the ques­tion: How are we going to win? And no one was able to answer it with much pre­ci­sion, until at the end, quite sud­den­ly, quite unex­pect­ed­ly, our ter­ri­ble foe col­lapsed before us, and we were so glut­ted with vic­to­ry that in our fol­ly we threw it away. —Churchill, House of Com­mons, 18 June 1940

1940, 18 JUNE.

2 thoughts on “Centenary of the Great War: Let the Spin Begin

  1. I actu­al­ly admire Eric Bogle’s “No Man’s Land,” also known as “The Green Fields of France,” and I sym­pa­thize with Bogle’s anti­war mes­sage. Nev­er­the­less, I wrote “Willie McBride’s Reply” to show that there was anoth­er side of the sto­ry, and to give voice to the count­less young men (and some women) who served in the Great War because they hon­est­ly believed the Allied cause was hon­or­able and just. Whether his­to­ry proved them right is entire­ly anoth­er matter.

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