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BUT don't celebrate a futile conflict that blights us

to this day - on the 99th anniversary of the Great War

one brilliant historian's provocative view

Today is the 99th anniversary of the decision by the British

Government to declare war on Germany. A conflict between France

and Russia on one side and Germany and Austria on the other at

once, because of the British Empire, went global. The Great War

had begun.

The countdown to its centenary is under way, with an announcement

due tomorrow from Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, about how

Britain will mark the event. Squadrons of historians**, of varying

degrees of rigour, have been enlisted  to advise her.

Even though the war has virtually passed out of living memory, the

scale of the human losses it caused continues to shock each

generation that learns of them – which partly explains why the acts

of remembrance each November remain so well observed, and so

moving. 

An estimated 1.15 million men from the British Empire died,

887,000 from the United Kingdom alone. About two million

Russians and almost 1.4 million French were killed too. On the

other side, over two million Germans lost their lives, as did 1.1

million from Austria-Hungary and 770,000 from the Ottoman

Empire.

That human devastation alone is ample reason to commemorate the

centenary. But there is no cause for celebration. We should, instead,

consider the terrible consequences of Britain’s decision to defend

Belgian neutrality in August 1914 and to offer  support to France

against a German assault.

 

The result of our intervention was not just all those dead; indeed, not

just all those hundreds of thousands of bereaved parents, widows and

orphaned children. Nor was it just whole communities with the heart

torn out, and the flower of British youth largely destroyed.

Britain’s decision to fight also helped create a massive, four-year

conflict that wrecked the old order in Europe, fomented revolution

and destroyed much of the prosperity that had been the great

achievement of the preceding half-century. And it created the

conditions for Nazism and Stalinism, with all they entailed.

The Second World War was an even more savage extension of the

First. And the Cold War that followed it was an inevitable consequence

of a clash of ideologies that stemmed from decisions taken in 1914.

It is no exaggeration that almost all the rest of the 20th Century

was blighted by the effects of the Great War.

And, worst of all, it need not have happened.



** Some say that there are as many versions of history as there are historians 

does that mean that there are now squadrons of versions of history which this

government is willing to subscribe to in order to placate nay control their voters

Views: 46

Comment by Michael Grove on August 4, 2013 at 16:05

So there is little to celebrate next year. But there is much  to commemorate.

The nobility of sacrifice, with such futility, is foremost among those things. And we should note that,

99 years on, the most powerful nation in Europe, with wide economic hegemony, is Germany.

And another lesson resonates today as in 1918: of ‘war, and  the pity of war’, and

the tragic fallibility of politicians who play God with the lives of brave men.

                                                                                      Simon Heffer

Comment by Michael Grove on November 8, 2013 at 18:34

Within a year the UK will be immersed in the first stage of a centenary commemoration like no

other the world has seen: that of the First World War. But what will that great commemoration of the

Great War be like ?

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