We shall remember them ? (repost*)

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions of soldiers were killed, and tens of millions of civilians starved and mistreated in a fight over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The War that was supposed to “end war” only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

* I’ve posted versions of this on previous Anzac Days. There is really nothing new to say, except to hope that we will soon be able to celebrate an Anzac Day without the thought that Australians are still fighting and dying in pointless wars.

87 thoughts on “We shall remember them ? (repost*)

  1. @Jack Strocchi

    I prefer not to be your straw man.

    In your hurry to respond perhaps you missed my reference to Germany’s conniving in the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. I believe that the Central Powers were mostly culpable for the outbreak of the Great War. I am guardedly favourable to the Fischer thesis.

    My sole reason for my “palaver” comment is that we don’t need the Fischer thesis or any other thesis to observe that the Entente lied about the evolution of their war aims.

    But if you really need a straw man, then so be it. Attentive readers, however, may question the reasons for this need.

    Certainly, by 1919, when it was all done and dusted, the citizens of the victorious powers proved to be vengeful. This makes one wonder about their attitudes in 1915-1917. Perhaps if their governments had told them about all the lovely loot they’d get, they might have fought harder and not mutinied, etc.

    Why, oh why, didn’t these governments tell their citizens about those splendidly rapacious secret treaties. Their soldiers may have fought harder and got the war over before revolution broke out in Russia.

    A lost opportunity for truth-driven ruthlessness, perhaps?


  2. for xmas reading, I recommend Margaret Mcmillian’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. It was a New York Times Editors’ Choice.

    When German governments were resigning daily after seeing the terms of the treaty, France started to remobilise. Those terms were worse than the German foreign office expected but not whole a lot worse.

    The Greek territorial demands initially included Constantinople as the new Greek capital. That was about the level of self-interest and reasonableness shown by many.

    See http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/27/books/books-of-the-times-guide-to-how-not-to-alter-the-world.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

  3. it is well known that the first generation of anglo-american historians cultivated the “equal responsibility” thesis partly in reaction to the severity of the verseilles treaty & especially its war guilt clause. french historians did not feel similarly constrained. fischer had access in 1961 to material not available to earlier historians & he was meticulous in his use of it. he reviewed material available to earlier historians without their preconceptions of “equal responsibility”.

    nothing fischer discovered in the archives “exculpates the entente” nor was that the aim of his research. i do not dispute that entente war aims changed; i dispute that all powers share equally in the responsibility for the start of the war. i think because ten million died it especially behoves us to sort out responsibility (1) for the start of the war, and (2) for its continuation after stalemate.

    here is how australian historian john a moses (a student of fischer) summarised fischer’s thesis: “that germany in august 1914 not only willingly accepted the risk of a world war emerging from the austro-serbian crisis but that the german government wanted this great war, and therefore prepared it & brought it about.” [moses’ emphasis]. other powers sought to prevent the crisis from escalating into war, germany did not and in fact had prepared its self to take the crisis to war.

    from the wikipedia article on the historiography of ww1:- “fischer was the first historian to draw attention to the war council held by the kaiser wilhelm II and the reich’s top military-naval leadership on december 8, 1912 in which it was declared that germany would start a war of aggression in the summer of 1914”. germany was responsible for the crisis of august 1914 turning into a world war, it was not solely responsible for the war continuing after stalemate.

    for his trouble fischer was excoriated by german nationalists, personally threatened and denounced in the federal republic’s parliament. his thesis is now (50 years later) considered well founded by anglo-american historians who have reviewed the documentation he relied on and found it solid as well as the conclusions he drew from it.
    alfred vension

  4. Alfred Venison is right to point to the culpability of Germany in starting the First World War.

    However, if we were to accept that the French, British, Russians and Italians behaved less cynically towards Germany than Germany did towards them, then what about their conduct in the rest of the world?:

    Most of Africa was brutally conquered by France, Britain and Belgium, with Germany only able to colonise small amounts of leftover territory, the most sizable being South West Africa (which was given to South Africa at the end of WW1 and which only became independent in 1990 after having had to fight a brutal colonial occupation for decades.

    In 1911 Italy started a war with the Ottomon Empire out of which she was able to colonise Libya (which she also helped NATO to re-colonise Libya last year, a century later). Out of the First World War Britain created Iraq from its conquest of the Ottoman territory in which a client state was set up. Another client state was set up in neighbouring Jordan, whilst France colonised Syria, both also conquered from the Ottoman empire.

    So, the claim that virtue and more principled conduct were to be found in the Allied camp of the First World War seems shaky to me.

  5. AV – against whom, exactly, do you think you are arguing here?

    “The first generation of anglo-american historians” of the Great War are long dead, and no one here has invoked their shades except you. Neither the original post, nor any commenter has denied that Germany and Austria started the war. So what?

  6. As regards the view that German militarism was unique, it’s worth noting that Britain and France were on the brink of war in 1898, as were Britain and Russia in 1878. And all three had fought the Crimean War over “the keys to a church in Jerusalem”. The peace-loving Allies were quite prepared to war among themselves, or with anyone else if they saw it as in their national interest

    The eventual line-up, and the fact that the Central Powers were the aggressors in 1914 was, as I said, largely happenstance.

  7. John, tom schelling wrote about the guns of 1914 noting that various sides mobilised, but had no plans in place on how to stop that military mobilisation if they changed their minds.

    with nuclear weapons around, a lot of work was done at rand in the 1950s on controlled escalations and having the ability to back-down with credibility and mutual assurance.

    wars by blunder and miscalculation are common. getting out of a war is not easy because a peace without credibility may only be a short interlude to rearm and fight again.

  8. Jim Rose :
    with nuclear weapons around, a lot of work was done at rand in the 1950s on controlled escalations and having the ability to back-down with credibility and mutual assurance.
    wars by blunder and miscalculation are common. …

    On no less than three occasions, the late President John F Kennedy over-ruled the US Joint Chiefs of Staff’s plans to launch a first strike nuclear war against the USSR. Humanity’s debt to JFK is inestimable.

  9. To return to JQ’s elegant OP:

    From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them.

    Certainly, the last diggers remaining were unanimous in voicing that opinion. I don’t know whether or not these men always had that opinion, or whether they formed that opinion while scrutinising over their long lives the dire consequences of the disaster of the Great War.

    Two possible conclusions:

    1. Left wing opinions promote longevity.

    2. Historical perspective improves judgment. Perhaps, in their heart of hearts, most diggers rejected the notion that their sacrifice produced a positive outcome but were bullied into compliance by the manufactures of consent.

    The Vietnam generation learned from this history, detecting before it was too late the lies of their governments and refusing to knuckle under to the manufacturers of consent.

    It is possible to learn from history but those who do are seldom admired by the conformists who swallow whole government lies.

  10. respectfully, and my last word on the topic:-

    (1) moses, john a., “the politics of illusion: the fischer controversy in german historiography”, university of queensland press, 1975. (148pp)
    -> university of queensland library (fryer research only):- DD86.7.F54 M59 1975A – status:- available
    -> university of queensland library (ssah):- DD86.7.F54 M59 1975 – status:- due 16-5-12

    (2) moses, john a., “the war aims of imperial germany: professor fritz fischer & his critics”, university of queensland press, 1975. (48pp)
    -> university of queensland library (ssah):- DD86.7.F54 M6 1975 – status:- available

    because the ghosts of post-war anglo-american historiography (“that the Central Powers were the aggressors in 1914 was … largely happenstance”) still walk among us.
    yours respectfully
    alfred venison

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