Thursday, 13 February 2014

Back here again

I wasn't intending to revisit the Great War controversies again, but I thought I'd draw your attention to more good stuff on the BBC website. Catch it whilst it's there.

Firstly there's a  piece with 10 views on who was at fault for the war: Who was at fault? 10 interpretations

This has already created some controversy amongst people I know. It is has been suggested that it is a very British view. Well, it is on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website, but even so....actually, there are a couple of German historians in the group, one Irish and one American. Universities in the UK, Germany and Turkey are all represented. Quite a good cross section really. Shame it includes Max Hastings.

There's some good debate in there. A couple of them go for "it was everyone's fault" (German & Irish), one blames Serbia (British), the rest fix it on Germany or Austria-Hungary in various combinations.

How much people were influenced by national sentiment you'll have to judge for yourself. To my mind blaming Serbia is a cop-out. Such a small state could only be responsible for conflict in a small area. It was the Great Power backers of both sides who turned it into a European wide war.

Next up is Gary Sheffield's piece in the i-Wonder series. Misjudging the Generals? This looks at British military leadership and Haig in particular.

There are no surprises here, but it is a thoughtful piece for those not familiar with the debate.Probably not even handed enough for "proper" historians who don't think much of military historians, but Sheffield has done the research and most of those who disagree with him haven't.

The last piece is by Joan Bakewell, again the in i-Wonder series: Oh What a Lovely War? which  looks at how modern views of the war have been formed, particularly starting in the 1960s.

This is an decent analysis of how we are where we are, and compliments the one by Ian MacMillan on the war poets. I enjoyed it.

I think the BBC is doing us proud on this.


  1. I wonder if this will sink without trace amongst many of todays wargamers. The idea of thought and debate seems to be sorely out of fashion amongst the "Fun brigade" - of which we are all supoosed to be a part like it or not. I'd also agree that the Beeb is doing rather well on WW1 - despite my personal lack of interest in the usual Western Front Somme-centric view of the War.
    It is nevertheless part of who we are now and how we arrived here should be of interesat to that rare and endangered breed the " Intellectual Wargamer "
    Gawd that sounds pretentious but thinking wargmer sounds worse- take your pick dudes- if you can find one !

    1. I think that from a British perspective it is understandable to focus on the Western Front. It is where the emotional resonance is.

      Thinking about the hobby should never be out of favour, - and caring about the history is important. Otherwise its like just watching a diet of cartoons each day, everyday.

      And I don't think you sound pretentious.

    2. -Re- perspective and emotional resonance - very true and my few books on the period- mostly Lyn Macdonald but also some Indian Army stuff and odd bits on the 1914 campaign probably show this. Its not a major interest from a wargaming point of view though. However from a literary point if view rather more so - all the obvious suspects in my "Literature" collection as well as memoirs and regimental histories. Somehow- possibly BECAUSE of the emotional resonace I can't bring myself to game the Western Front .

      As for your second paragraph- we are reading the same songsheet there to be sure.

    3. My Western Front wargaming has been on and off over the years. I was unable to do any (in fact unable to read much on the war) until after my Grandfather died. He was a lovely man, but I think he truly believed that Martin Middlebrooks's book on the Somme was the only book you could decently read. I regret this enormously as there is so much I should have asked him.

  2. The BBC has been quite impressive so far. I liked Dan Snow's description of life in (and out) of the front line in - a useful correction to the 'they were all stuck in the muddy trenches for months/years on end' myth that still seems to be a very widely held view.

    1. Yes, the Dan Snow piece was good as well. Thanks for posting the link.

  3. Great links, thanks. It is a pity William Mulligan and Christopher Clark weren't asked. Mulligan's 'The Origins of the first World War' and Clark's 'the Sleepwalkers' are by far the best accounts I have read regarding the outbreak of the war.
    As for me, the war would never have happened had Russia not interfered in the Austro-Serbian dispute. Why did Russia do this? It was sheer bloody-mindedness at its wounded pride after defeat after defeat in the early years of the Twentieth Century. When you look at the Poincare visit and do the maths, Russia and France were just as (if not more) keen for a general European War as Germany.
    It is hard to break the hold of the simplicity of the Fischer thesis for those who want an easy scapegoat, though.

    1. Maybe they were asked and didn't have the time to help out. I'm focussing on what is good here, as far as I can.

      Austria would never have got stuck into Austria without the German's backing them. They could have stopped it all if they had wanted.

      I think you are unfair on Fischer. His original work still stands up, and the documents he cited exist. There isn't the same evidence for the other Western powers. Can't say about Russia, however.

      I think saying it was every bodies fault is where the simplicity comes in.

  4. This lecture was originally broadcast on the BBC parliament channel, did a good job of arguing that Clark's account is very unfair to Edward Grey.