In a move which shows that Michael “Oiky” Gove’s attempt to politicise the First World War last week was neither accident nor one-off, London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has used his regular “chicken feed” generating column for the Maily Telegraph to pile in against Gove’s strawman rogues’ gallery of fantasy rotten lefties who say things he doesn’t agree with.
“Germany started the Great War, but the Left can’t bear to say so” he opines, following it up with “In this centennial year, it’s more important than ever that we treat the truth with respect”, which suggests that the headline is a factual statement, which it is not. “I just can’t stand the intellectual dishonesty of the Left” says Bozza. As opposed to his own kind of dishonesty, no doubt.
That dishonesty is proclaimed at the outset: “the First World War – in all its murderous horror – was overwhelmingly the result of German expansionism and aggression”. Bullshit. It was mostly down to a combination of two things: first and foremost, the alliances which effectively obliged countries to defend others, resulting in two opposing power blocs.
And the second thing was the consequence of decades during which transport networks, mainly railways, had been built up across Europe, facilitating the mobilisation of troops and munitions. Once the trains started to run, and armies were moved as a prelude to action, war became inevitable. And once the systems of trenches were dug, this enabled their virtual permanence.
In order to service the trenches and their occupants, narrow gauge railway networks sprang up behind the lines, making swift reinforcement of men and munitions easy and effective. So when a “softening-up” artillery bombardment was undertaken in advance of an attack – as at the Somme in 1916 – the trenches could be evacuated and re-occupied quickly in order to minimise casualties and greet attackers.
Generals on both sides – Douglas Haig was no less inept than his opposite numbers across no-man’s land – failed to come to terms with this reality. And it was this that brought much of the killing. That is not a leftist proposition: it is a factual statement. Nor is it a leftist proposition that Germany was not alone in causing the whole ghastly business to kick off in the first place, as witness the chain of events.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia joined in as it was allied to Serbia. Germany also joined in, as it was allied to Austria-Hungary. In order to neutralise French intervention, Germany also declared war on France. The French reciprocated and we joined in, being allied to both France and Russia. The Ottoman Empire joined in, being allied to Austria-Hungary. And so it escalated.
This is not difficult to understand. Unless you are Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.