Permalink to World War One Explained (Not)

World War One Explained (Not)

 

The very idea of a culture minister is fundamentally unsound, but if Britain is going to have one, it would be preferable if he or she actually had some culture.

The UK’s Maria Miller may be failing that test.

As the country limbers up to commemorate the start of the Great War, the Daily Telegraph is reporting that the British government will not be putting the blame for starting the conflict on any country or countries, something that has given rise to the suspicion that it is worried about offending the Germans (nobody seems to be worried about hurt feelings in Austria-Hungary).

That’s irritating enough , but Ms. Miller’s stumbling approach to the rather more genuinely difficult question of whether Britain should have gone to war at all (the answer , by the way, is a carefully qualified no), is not much better:

 “The reasons why it was necessary are there for everybody to see,” [Miller] told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme. “I think it’s important that you set out the facts and it’s clear that at that point in Britain’s history, it was important that there was a war that ensured that Europe could continue to be a set of countries which were strong and could be working together rather than in any other way.”

I think I know what she means (that the objective of the war was to stop Europe being dominated by Germany), but it is wrapped up in language of so much EU-friendly sanctimony that it is impossible to avoid the sneaking suspicion that Ms. Miller does not really know what she is talking about.

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Members have made 43 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of with me where I am Inactive

    After reading her comments, I’m afraid Whig history is about to be replaced by EU history.

    • #1
    • June 12, 2013 at 10:47 am
  2. Profile photo of MichaelC19fan Member

    “Don’t mention the war”.

    • #2
    • June 12, 2013 at 10:52 am
  3. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Nice! I predict in 10 years they will be apologizing for the treaty of Versailles and in 20 it will be considered bad form to mention that Nazis were German. 

    On an unrelated note I hope on this 4th of July my fellow Americans will remember to burn the Union Jack and an effigy of King George like I do every year. 

    • #3
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:02 am
  4. Profile photo of Civil Sense Member

    I always thought WWI was just an intrafamilial squabble amongst members of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

    • #4
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:03 am
  5. Profile photo of Fred Cole Member
    Andrew Stuttafordsuspicion that it is worried about offending the Germans (nobody seems to be worried about hurt feelings in Austria-Hungary).

    The Austrians and the Hungarians aren’t bankrolling all of Europe right now. The Germans are. (Not the UK, obviously.) I’m sure that plays into it.

    • #5
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:05 am
  6. Profile photo of Give Me Liberty Inactive

    I think with the growing strength of Germany and the waning power of France war was inevitable. The Brits would likely have had to be involved sooner or later. However, the US should have stayed out of it but Wilson’s desire for war-socialism and love for the British wouldn’t allow him sit on the sidelines and that war begot the next.

    • #6
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:17 am
  7. Profile photo of David Williamson Member

    Fortunately, Germany didn’t take over Europe…. Oh, wait.

    • #7
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:22 am
  8. Profile photo of I. raptus Member

    This is some strange anti-lip service. The Treaty of Versailles was specifically designed to lay the blame for the War at the feet of Germany, who had no choice but to accept or resume hostilities, so being unwilling to say so explicitly now is neither here nor there. Right or wrong, this — along with the false impression that Germany was never defeated on the battlefield — lead, directly or indirectly, to World War II.

    As Niall Ferguson pointed out in The Pity of War, the purpose for Britain’s entry into WWI was to prevent a German-dominated Europe, the primary objective of which was to generate a German-dominated currency zone. And, after two world wars, we have … a German-dominated currency zone. So, well done, Britain, for not even being willing to remember the history that you played a decisive part in.

    • #8
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:27 am
  9. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher
    David Williamson: Fortunately, Germany didn’t take over Europe…. Oh, wait. · 18 minutes ago

    Unfortunately for the Germans, the only part of Europe Inc. they have taken over is the Accounts Payable Department.

    • #9
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:58 am
  10. Profile photo of robberberen Inactive

    I think Ms. Miller is right that the purpose of Britain’s involvement was to preserve Europe as “a set of countries which were strong.” Unfortunately, the purpose of the EU is precisely the opposite — to totally emasculate national governments in favor of a strong federal state run by unelected bureaucrats.

    It’s her use of the phrase “working together” that leaves so much wiggle room for revisionism. “Working together” can mean so many things, and not all of them good. 

    Business partners “work together,” but so do slaves or prisoners in a chain gang. The EU member states are starting to look more like the latter than the former.

    • #10
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:58 am
  11. Profile photo of Group Captain Mandrake Inactive

    Baldrick: The way I see it, these days there’s a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn’t a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is: How did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?

    Edmund: Do you mean “How did the war start?”

    Baldrick: Yeah.

    Edmund: ……the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort *not* to have a war. You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

     Baldrick: But this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

     Edmund: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

     George: What was that, sir?

     Edmund: It was bollocks.

    • #11
    • June 12, 2013 at 11:59 am
  12. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member
    Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.Hacker: May we share the joke, Humphrey?Sir Humphrey: Oh Minister, let’s look at this objectively. It is a game played for national interests, and always was. Why do you suppose we went into it?Hacker: To strengthen the brotherhood of free Western nations.Sir Humphrey: Oh really. We went in to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans.Hacker: So why did the French go into it, then?Sir Humphrey: Well, to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition.Hacker: That certainly doesn’t apply to the Germans.Sir Humphrey: No, no. They went in to cleanse themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.Hacker: I never heard such appalling cynicism! At least the small nations didn’t go into it for selfish reasons.Sir Humphrey: Oh really? Luxembourg is in it for the perks; the capital of the EEC, all that foreign money pouring in.Hacker: Very sensible central location.Sir Humphrey: With the administration in Brussels and the Parliament in Strasbourg? Minister, it’s_like_having_the_House of Commons_in_Swindon_and_the_Civil Service_in_Kettering!
    • #12
    • June 13, 2013 at 1:17 am
  13. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member
    Sir_Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanishwith the Germans against the Frenchwith the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?Hacker: That’s all ancient history, surely?Sir_Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We ‘had’ to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it’s just like old times.Hacker: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?Sir_Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.Hacker: If not, why are we pushing_for_an_increase_in_the_membership?Sir_Humphrey: Well, for_the_same_reason. It’s just_like_the_United_Nations, in_fact; the_more_members_it_has, the_more_arguments_it_can_stir_up, the_more_futile_and_impotent_it_becomes.Hacker: What_appalling_cynicism.Sir_Humphrey: Yes… We_call_it_diplomacy,_Minister.
    • #13
    • June 13, 2013 at 1:21 am
  14. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Thatcher

    Restore the Hapsburgs.

    • #14
    • June 13, 2013 at 2:43 am
  15. Profile photo of ctlaw Thatcher
    Nick Stuart: Restore the Hapsburgs. · 12 minutes ago

    Bite your lip (if you can)!

    • #15
    • June 13, 2013 at 2:56 am
  16. Profile photo of Colin B Lane Inactive

    I was just thinking the other day that the reasons for US Civil War “are there for everybody to see. I think it’s important that you set out the facts and it’s clear that at that point in [the North’s] history, it was important that there was a war that ensured that the [United States] could continue to be a set of [states] which were strong and could be working together rather than in any other way.”

    Yep, her squishy explanation sounds absurd no matter what war you apply it to.

    • #16
    • June 13, 2013 at 2:58 am
  17. Profile photo of Paladin Inactive
    Andrew Stuttaford

    …rather more genuinely difficult question of whether Britain should have gone to war at all (the answer , by the way, is a carefully qualified no)

     

    Care to explain that?

    • #17
    • June 13, 2013 at 2:59 am
  18. Profile photo of Douglas Member
    Valiuth: Nice! I predict in 10 years they will be apologizing for the treaty of Versailles and in 20 it will be considered bad form to mention that Nazis were German. 

     

    They should apologize for the Treaty of Versailles. Without it, there’s a good chance that the Nazis would have been a minor footnote in the history of Germany. It was a political punitive tool to punish rivals, and had nothing to do with justice or the rule of law. WWI was, nothing more and nothing less, an imperial pissing match about who got to rule what in the third world. Germany said “It’s our turn to be join the Empire club”, and Britain and France said “Nope, only we get to do that… too late. Admissions are closed”. Everything else… the Balkans, Gavrilo Princip… was just a sideshow and an excuse to fight. We truly had no business getting into it. We fought not to make “the world safe for democracy”… a silly idea… but to protect Britain and France’s overseas possesions. The isolationists were right all along about that war. And as a result, WWI was a direct cause of WWII.

    • #18
    • June 13, 2013 at 3:03 am
  19. Profile photo of I. raptus Member
    Cagliostro: Are the Germans actually at all concerned about being designated the starters of WWI? Or is this one of those instances of Political Correctness where officialdom is so concerned about potentially upsetting somebody else’s feelings that they self-censor themselves needlessly? · 3 hours ago

    Indeed. I would think even the Germans would agree the ship has sailed on that one. The only folks being prickly about this issue seem to be the British, and for no discernable reason other than a knee-jerk impulse to not offend.

    • #19
    • June 13, 2013 at 3:34 am
  20. Profile photo of Kofola Inactive

    The politics of the First World War were convoluted and complicated, fought due to many different reasons and motivations from each side, and there was plenty of blame to go around. The blame placed on the Germans at the time was simply to make a scapegoat of the loser. I see no reason to continue to club them over the head for this war.

    • #20
    • June 13, 2013 at 3:59 am
  21. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher
    Valiuth

    On an unrelated note I hope on this 4th of July my fellow Americans will remember to burn the Union Jack and an effigy of King George like I do every year. · 17 hours ago

    Aw, I have a soft spot for Ol’ George. At the end of the Revolution he said of Washington:

    If he does that [resign his command of American forces], he will be the greatest man in the world.

    So George III gets partial credit for catching up pretty fast.

    Burn Lord North. What with the wigs and all, they would have been pretty hard to tell apart anyway.

    KingGeorgeIII.jpgLord-Frederick-North.jpg

    • #21
    • June 13, 2013 at 4:17 am
  22. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Oh the poor Germans wrongly accused of starting the First World War. They didn’t have to declare war on anyone when Austria and Russia decided to fight it out over Serbia. 

    • #22
    • June 13, 2013 at 5:42 am
  23. Profile photo of billy Member

    If anyone nation should take the blame for starting WWI (and I don’t think that is necessarily fair), I nominate the Russians.

    • #23
    • June 13, 2013 at 6:48 am
  24. Profile photo of billy Member
    Valiuth: Oh the poor Germans wrongly accused of starting the First World War. They didn’t have to declare war on anyone when Austria and Russia decided to fight it out over Serbia. · 1 hour ago

    But the Austrian Empire was Germany’s only ally on the continent. Coming to the aid of an ally is not usually considered, in itself, discreditable.

    • #24
    • June 13, 2013 at 6:51 am
  25. Profile photo of billy Member
    • #25
    • June 13, 2013 at 7:11 am
  26. Profile photo of Andrew Stuttaford Contributor
    Andrew Stuttaford Post author
    Group Captain Mandrake: …

    Edmund: ……the real reason for the whole thing was that it was too much effort *not* to have a war. You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

     Baldrick: But this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

     Edmund: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

     George: What was that, sir?

     Edmund: It was bollocks. · 7 hours ago

    Marvelous…and here we go on another disaster:

    http://www.theospark.net/2011/12/baldricks-take-on-euro.html

    • #27
    • June 13, 2013 at 7:30 am
  27. Profile photo of Andrew Stuttaford Contributor
    Andrew Stuttaford Post author

    Amy Schley

    Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.

    Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.

    etc., etc., 

    I’d forgotten this….thank you!

    • #28
    • June 13, 2013 at 7:31 am
  28. Profile photo of Andrew Stuttaford Contributor
    Andrew Stuttaford Post author
    Paladin
    Andrew Stuttaford

    …rather more genuinely difficult question of whether Britain should have gone to war at all (the answer , by the way, is a carefully qualified no)

    Care to explain that? · 4 hours ago

    In retrospect, of course, it’s easy (and, on a related subject, it’s interesting to read Churchill’s later comments on why America’s involvement turned out not to be a good thing).

    At the time, I think it was already clear to anyone paying attention (Edward Grey, famously, and, rather surprisingly, Henry Newbolt, among others) that the technology of war and the balance of forces had evolved to such a point that this would *not* be a war that was over by Christmas.

     Throw that fact into the calculation, and it becomes quickly apparent that Britain would have done far better to stand aside, maintaining its “splendid isolation”.

    The Belgian guarantee? A “scrap of paper”, as the Kaiser (dreadful man) correctly observed. Based on the sound principle that a nation has permanent interests, not permanent alliances, Britain should have ‘forgotten’ about it, and sat out the conflict, stirring the pot where necessary.

    *Huge* topic though. My comments don’t do it justice.

    • #29
    • June 13, 2013 at 7:53 am
  29. Profile photo of Andrew Stuttaford Contributor
    Andrew Stuttaford Post author
    Valiuth: Nice! I predict in 10 years they will be apologizing for the treaty of Versailles and in 20 it will be considered bad form to mention that Nazis were German. 

    On an unrelated note I hope on this 4th of July my fellow Americans will remember to burn the Union Jack and an effigy of King George like I do every year. · 8 hours ago

    Ha! Do what you want with a scarecrow of old George, but perhaps you might fly this flag instead. As a British-American (I know, I know) it’s one I rather like. 

    FWIW, I once wrote about that whole 1776 business here

    • #30
    • June 13, 2013 at 8:03 am
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