Next year, as if we need reminding, will be the centenary of the beginning of World War 1, the Great War, that war to end all wars – or so it was hoped after the guns fell silent more than four years later. It has been decided by Young Dave and his jolly good chaps that there will be some kind of commemoration. This does not sound controversial. But one pundit is not happy at all.
Floral tribute for Himself Personally Now
Step forward Max “Hitler” Hastings, self-styled liberator of Port Stanley, who is aghast at the thought of Brits engaging in some kind of mutual act of remembrance with the Germans. I mean, this is the Boche, the Hun, Jerry, right? They eat too many sausages and are better at holding their ale than we are. Their mustard isn’t strong enough. They build too many cars. And we won, didn’t we?
One might have hoped for less belligerence and swagger in remembering that war but Hastings is away: “The Government has not uttered, and apparently does not plan to utter, a word about the virtue of Britain’s cause, or the blame that chiefly attaches to Germany for the catastrophe that overtook Europe ... [we] are determined to say and do nothing that might upset Germany”.
Bullshit. Germany, and her allies, ended up on the losing side. Therefore they carried the can. J K Galbraith observed that “Lloyd George once suggested that the powers simply stumbled into the war. A J P Taylor has put almost the same case in fuller and more persuasive form”. Certainly, once alliances were called upon, and mobilisation begun, the momentum was more or less inevitable.
Blaming the Germans brought us the vengeful and myopic behaviour of the victorious Allies at Versailles. This led to the demand upon Germany for reparations, in amounts, as Keynes pointed out in The Economic Consequences Of The Peace, that country could not afford. In turn, that sowed the seeds of victimhood so successfully harvested by the Nazis. It wasn’t a good idea.
Hastings cites one soldier of the Great War in support of his contention that the slaughter was not senseless. I will do likewise: “We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table”.
Those are the words of Harry Patch, the last survivor of World War 1, invalided out of the army after Passchendaele. The idea of using the centenary of that war to brag about who started it, after so many millions were killed or suffered life-changing injuries, I find sickening. But Hastings will no doubt be joined by others of the jingoistic persuasion over the coming months.
For the rest of us, let’s just stick to trying to stop it ever happening again.
Clive Ponting's book The Thirteen Days, about the diplomatic manoeuvres between Sarajevo and the outbreak of war, takes issue with the inevitability thing. It also puts most of the blame for the war on Austria-Hungary, Serbia and Russia, two of which were on the side of the Good Guys.
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