Michael “Oiky” Gove has been given houseroom by the Daily Mail – not that the proud organ of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre supports the Tory Party, you understand – to erect the most magnificent of strawmen, as he thunders “Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes?” on the subject of The Great War. He asserts “history is enjoying a renaissance in Britain”. But what kind of history?
Yes, your strawman
We don’t have to wait long to find out: “The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths”. Really?
So, unthinking people of the UK, you’ve all been looking at World War 1 through just those prisms, yes? Well, no: and no amount of revisionism and excuse-making will change the sad facts. This was the last war where the ruling classes instructed the lower orders to toddle off and do their dirty work for them. And our supposedly greatest commander, Douglas Haig, was appallingly incompetent.
“Douglas Haig, held up as a crude butcher, has been seen in a new light thanks to Professor Gary Sheffield, of Wolverhampton University, who depicts him as a patriotic leader grappling honestly with the new complexities of industrial warfare”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. Haig’s portrayal of warfare as a game of draughts (checkers if you like) is well known.
He advanced this idea to David Lloyd George, telling of trading off draughts one for another, but starting with more of them, and thus winning. The sheer callousness of Haig’s explanation for his tactics led Lloyd George to swear that he could not look again at a checkerboard without wincing at the thought of lives being wasted. And Haig could have learned about “industrial warfare” rather faster than he did.
It should have taken no longer than one cavalry charge, or advance of infantry, against nests of machine guns, to teach Haig the lesson he took so long to grasp. It is also a cheap and crude shot for Gove to bluster “Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage” and then pretend that the films and TV series he cites deride or question that in any way.
Michael Gove wants to portray his own world of binary right and wrong, where the dastardly Boche were to blame and the plucky Allies resisted and overcame them. The reality, a war that need never have happened had all our leaders stopped for a moment and engaged brain beforehand, is lost to him. And it will not be brought back by clinging onto his own convenient version of history.
World War 1 was summed up in four words by Harry Patch: It Wasn’t Worth It.