War and What Follows.

I read in the Telegraph today that there is some dispute concerning the centennial of the start of the Great War next year. The United Kingdom, of Europe but not in Europe, is inclined to mark the event as a memorial to those who died serving their country and their empire. (Lest it be forgotten, Asian Indians, West Indians, Africans, etcetera all fought on the side of Britons from the mother country and from the domains overseas) On the continent, especially in Germany, events will be more muted. The war will rightfully be treated as a tragic and unnecessary event with the horrid addition of the celebration of the EU as the institution that spared Europe another major war since the inception of its first ancestor in 1957. (Never mind that the Conference of Vienna provided something resembling peace in Europe for almost a century. Interestingly enough, some 30 years or so after the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Revolutions of 1848 tore through Europe much like the social upheavals of 1968 tore through the continent/world) Diplomatic pressure is being put on the UK to avoid having too triumphant an approach, particularly by Germany with the veiled threat that co-operation on reforms of the EU might not be so forthcoming. Were one to consider only political concerns this would alone be rancid. In general different views of the same events can be accommodated; the perceptions of the victors, losers and those on the periphery all have a place. Threatening political/diplomatic repercussions for this threatens the very existence of free debate.

Few celebrate the death and destruction of a generation (though I will freely admit to having no shortage of contempt for the European obsession with the death tolls of European wars. Per capita Japan’s civil wars, the Hawai’ian Wars of Unification, the US Civil War, Chinese civil wars/dynastic changes, etcetera killed far more without the ensuing political insanity. The Battle of Dan-no-Ura killed 400,000, for example). However, the British view is more realistic – and healthy. Most understand that Germans were fighting for their country, empire and its interests as much as Britons were for theirs. As an historian, the taking hostage of historical fact for the purpose of politics is frightening. It is certainly not unprecedented, but it is dishonest both intellectually and methodologically. It also seems aimed at obscuring the fact that the continent has not learnt the lessons of the wars of the twentieth centuries. Rather than trying to find something that somehow provides stability, Europe seems intent on returning to the 16th century politically hoping that what failed then will not fail now. (Incidentally, the 17th century Thirty Years War was also highly destructive and resulted in something far saner)

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

5 thoughts on “War and What Follows.”

  1. My parents, like millions of others, lived as civilians through two wars and had their share of grief and hardship. Their reaction as parents was to try to protect us from its effects and its memory, creating a healthier environment as best they could. While I am sure they would understand the need not to forget such appalling events, they would definitely deplore any attempt to exploit them for political ends. RIP.

  2. Why this thing about the EU having provided peace in Europe since the end of WWII? Surely it was NATO that did that.


  3. OZ, yes, with a little help from the Warsaw Pact! The Cold War ensured that East and West didn’t fall out amongst themselves!

  4. Considering the origins of WW1 and the way the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente dragged other nations into the conflict, some might consider that any sort of entanglement – like the EU perhaps – is not such a good idea after all.

    The war cemeteries in the north of France, whether they are British, French, Canadian, Anzac, African, Indian or German are all very moving. So many young lions lead by the assorted donkeys who considered that digging trenches a few yards away from the enemy trenches and condemning soldiers to live in the resulting mud was a good idea.

    I do not think that the British commemorations will be too celebratory for German stomachs, christopher. The loss of life must surely make any ceremonies dignified and respectful. These soldiers gave their lives for their countries – and I hope all the eurocrats will be locked up in cupboards until the ceremonies are finished.

    I remember a group of my pupils who organised a ceremony at lunchtime on 11th November one year to commemorate the Armistice with readings from the war poets. (Am I correct in thinking that there was less war poetry in German than in English, christopher?) It was beautifully done, but when I arrived in the classroom for the first lesson after lunch, it was to find the first stage of WW3 in progress – between those pupils who had taken part in the commemoration and those who had not even turned up to listen. But I suppose that was what the soldiers were fighting for.

  5. Janus: my great-grandparents lived through both wars, my grandparents through the Second World War. They rarely spoke of it, but eagerly supported peace, stability and loathed hyperbole of any sort — especially ultra-nationalistic jingoism.

    Janus/OZ: NATO and the Warsaw Pact both made war too costly for both sides. These pro-EU arguments are spurious. Europe saw a lot of international trade in the 19th century. Many countries were part of a monetary union either de jur or de facto — the Nordic countries had theirs, much of the continent had theirs. A Greek Drachma was accepted as readily in Paris or Barcelona as it was in Athens, a Spanish Peseta was just as usable in Rome as it was in Bilbao. Both ultimately collapsed despite great political will.

    Sheona: I agree with you. The British, at least the non-Chav variety, handle these sorts of memorials tactfully and soberly — tribute without triumphalism, respect without chauvinism. What concerns me is the German government’s attitude and approach to this.

    You are correct — Germany has far less war poetry, but one of the greatest books ever written, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, was written about that war and the senseless slaughter that ensued. Austin Coates wrote a few years before his death that it is a pity that Europe no longer has proper countries, if one country has a dispute all countries are involved with it. His favourite example was France and the CAP with all the diplomatic frustration that caused with the USA.

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