So why the secret identity or nom-de-plume? Partly it's to keep my working life and hobby life separate. But a large part of it is that I share my real name with another wargamer who is likewise reasonably well known. He's been world ancient champion more than once, I believe, so it is only fair to try to keep us both readily identifiable as unique individuals. Hence the creation of Trebian, who is a lot like me but also holds views that are like mine but possible slightly more extreme.
I have written and published under my real name, and continue to do so. Mostly stuff in Slingshot and for the Society of Ancients, where I used to foot note my name with "The other one, not the one from Pinner" so people could tell us apart should the other chap ever write anything.
My most recent published piece was in "Miniature Wargaming with Battlegames" #369. It was a one pager on how we should think about the Great War. Quite near the back as you can see from the contents list. It's now more than a single side of paper, and it isn't foot noted in proper, historical, fashion, but perhaps in retrospect it should have been.
You never know when you write these things - well anything in a magazine - what people think about what you've said. On this occasion I did get some feedback through blogs.
Firstly it got a response from Big Andy over at Glorious Little Soldiers. This was really favourable (although he can't spell my name) and explained exactly why he liked it. Andy follows this blog, so thanks to him for the kind words.
The other response was less positive and was written by Prof Guy Halsall of York University aka Historian on the Edge. This short, two line piece, name checks me and describes what I wrote as "officer-class right-wing twaddle". Guy has then followed this up with a longer rebuttle posting, which is considerably longer than the piece in MWBG.
Deciding to respond to this hasn't been easy, - some of what is said is personal, and friends have suggested I "rise above it". I think, however, that I need to make a few points as the implication is that I'm otherwise a stooge for a right-wing conspiracy, an ill-informed swallower of other's opinions. And the sort of person that cold-heartedly sent soldiers to their deaths, as well as being a historical ignoramus.
So, let me deal with some of the issues:
Being right wing & political writing: Because I'm a wargamer and have written in defence of the British Army in the Great War does not make me "right wing". It has nothing to do with my voting intentions or my views on the rights of workers or common ownership of the means of production. To leap to that conclusion in ignorance of who I am based on an A4's worth of writing is, to put it mildly, unwise. One of my dearest wargaming friends, Paddy Griffith, was a Great War revisionist. To describe him as being in anyway right wing would certainly mark you out as someone who never knew him. On the other hand, Alan Clark, author of "The Donkeys", the most damning indictment of British Generalship in the Great War, was once considered to be too right wing for the Tory Party. Applying simple labels as insults doesn't help the debate. Whilst everything someone writes is inevitably influenced by their background and upbringing that doesn't make all history political.
Officer class: The previous four generations of my family fought in the British Army as volunteers. The highest rank ever achieved was CSM. We, as a family, are decidedly not officer class. I'm not entirely sure what it tells us anyway. I have my grandfather's memoirs from his service on the Western Front. I can tell you that the anecdotal stuff in them is very interesting, but that there are places where his memory played him false, where he did not understand what had happened, and also where his thinking was influenced by subsequent writing on the subject (a Reader's Digest article based on Clark's "The Donkeys" being prime amongst them).
Being a historian: Guy Halsall is a professional paid historian. He makes the point that he is still seeking truth. The implication is that he understands historical method and I do not. I hold History qualifications at "O", "A" and degree level. I seriously discussed doing a doctorate when I graduated and becoming an academic historian as a career choice. In the end I opted not to (money out in the non-academic world is much, much better), although I continue to read widely across both military and non-military subjects. There is also a very nasty side swipe in the piece where Guy says: "to be frank, there are few decent historians among the ‘revisionists’ and, among that group, proportionately not many writers who qualify as historians of any sort". This I think is potentially libellous. Paddy Griffith was a very fine historian (history degree from Oxford) and Gary Sheffield (history degree from Leeds) most definitely is as well. Steve Badsey, another very good historian of the period, has a history degree is from Cambridge. All of them, of course, have doctorates, and have worked as professional historians at academic institutions as well as writing freelance. I assume Guy is talking about Corrigan and Paxman when referring to ex-soldiers and journalists. I'd like to see Guy debate with Paxo as to whether his book on the Great War is proper history or not.
The Second Reich as Proto-Nazis: I didn't actually say that. I said that their methods pre-figured Nazi methods. They Germans forcibly moved workers from Belgium and France to work in labour camps. That's not revisionist spin. That's fact. They asset stripped the bits of the Russian Empire they held after Brest Litovsk. That's fact. Whilst we cannot know how the Germans would have dealt with Europe if they had won we've got some pretty good clues based on what they did in the areas they occupied.
Me, Michael Gove and Blackadder: I didn't dismiss Blackadder as poppycock, and I am aware it is satire. It is, however, also fiction. As is Birdsong. And Regeneration Road. My point was that you shouldn't form your view on the Great War based on fiction. Go and read some history. You wouldn't want people to understand the Second World War by watching "Allo, Allo" would you? I realise what I wrote sounds like what Michael Gove said. It doesn't mean I share his political agenda (far from it - my daughter is a teacher!) and I've already indicated above that he's wrong. Revisionists are not all "right wing" and "conventionalists" are not all "left wing".
Me right, everyone else wrong: Guy said "(the) article in the last Miniature Wargames, urging wargamers to tell people who don’t share his particular interpretation of the First World War that their reading is ‘wrong’..." . Actually what I said was "when you start to hear someone spouting the same old lines about how futile the whole War was, fuelled by nothing except reading some poems and watching some sitcoms, tell them it isn’t so". I think that's a fair comment. I'm not saying I'm right and you are wrong. What I'm saying is don't take your view on one of the most important events of the 20th century from fiction. At least listen to someone who has read a history book on it.
There's much more in Guy's posting I could take issue with. If he submits it to MWBG, I'll write an full rebuttle if Henry lets me. For now, as someone who has very little spare time to spend on the hobby as I have a new job, I'll leave it.
Just don't take mine or Guy's word for it. Go and read some history.