‘As an RAF veteran of the second world war I know that November is a cruel month for both remembering and forgetting the cost of armed conflict. During these past few days when the light grows dim, I have stumbled around London and remembered a time when, as a young man, I witnessed our capital face death from swarms of Nazi bomber planes.
In this day and age we like to impose uniformity on our past conflicts. We see them through a nostalgic lens of wartime propaganda films in which the hero gladly sacrifices his life for a green and pleasant land. But the past is not as simple or as clear-cut as our TV presenters like to suggest during Remembrance Sunday services. For every act of unique heroism we remember, we often forget or ignore all those who, because of post-traumatic stress disorder or moral or religious objections, were unwilling to put their lives on the line for king and country.’
- This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time
- The Tower of London poppies are fake, trite and inward-looking – a Ukip-style memorial
- How our governments use military charities to evade the real cost of their wars
- Does going to see the Tower of London poppies mean anything?
- The untold truth about WWII deserters the US Army tried to hide
- Memorial honours sacrifice of conscientious objectors
- Neville Chamberlain and appeasement
‘Say one thing about the British public, we will fill collecting tins for armed forces personnel. The Charities Directory lists 276 army, 188 Royal Marines and Navy, 70 RAF and 90 ex-services (military) charities in the UK, and those numbers are growing every year. The Royal British Legion is by far the biggest in terms of income, with over £100m in turnover, and shares the biggest profile with ‘Help for Heroes’. Almost all of these charities have come into existence since 1999, the majority in the past decade.
However, is the government avoiding the full cost of going to war by getting these charities to take care of soldiers after their return? If a fire-fighter, nurse or other government employee was killed or seriously injured in an industrial accident at work, the government would assume responsibility, rehabilitation and care would be provided and compensation would be paid. Surely, if a national decision is made to go to war then care for the people thrust into that war must be something that the government takes responsibility for.
Looking into some of the service personnel relief charities, their relationship to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) certainly raise some questions.’
‘[...] The danger is that this ritualised memorial does indeed make war seem a normal, even heroic, response to world events. There is nothing in Remembrance Day that preaches caution or reconciliation, let alone sympathy for the dead in all wars. As the toll of British soldiers continues to rise — last year David Cameron even wanted to fight Syria — it is fair for Jones and others to ask what exactly these lessons are that we are supposed to be learning.
There is four years of this commemorative orgy still to come. Next year we also have the battles of Agincourt and Waterloo to remember. I wonder what we have learned from them. I prefer just to admire the poppies.’
‘Nearly two decades before the onset of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II set his imperialistic sights on the Americas. But to establish a presence there, Germany would have to put the U.S. in its place. To that end, it devised not one, but three plans to attack and invade America. Here’s how history could have unfolded very differently.
The plans for Imperial Germany’s invasion of the United States only came to light after the documents were found in 2002 at the German military archives in Freiburg. It was a remarkable and disturbing discovery, one which demonstrated the extent to which the Kaiser was willing to exert Germany’s presence onto the world — an urge that would continue well into the 20th century with the invasion of France in 1914 and the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich.’
‘Today we take for granted that information warfare — whether the disruption of other nations’ computer systems, the monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls to detect terrorist threats or the use of social media to shape foreign attitudes — is a key tool of national security. These measures, and the debates about their proper limits in a democracy, seem unprecedented because they are driven by new technologies. But virtually all our concerns about such tactics find their roots in the Great War, particularly in its first hours, when the Alert’s hatchet-wielding crew began its work.
The notion of winning the “hearts and minds” of local populations, so common to discussions of war today, played out not only abroad but at home a century ago. The unprecedented scale of World War I required mass domestic mobilization. Governments had to persuade their citizens to serve in the military or, if they stayed at home, to conserve precious resources, pay higher taxes, buy war bonds and patriotically stick with the war as it dragged bloodily along.’
‘Earlier this year, CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out that the Obama administration, after bringing charges against Edward Snowden, “has used the Espionage Act more to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists not just than any previous administration, but then more than all previous administrations combined.” The claim was subsequently endorsed by PolitiFact as “true.” That’s a shocking use of government power to punish those who would call government officials out for their misbehavior, but hardly an unaccustomed role for for a law passed during World War I and quickly used to muzzle critics of official policy.
In fact, the “war to end all wars” left a legacy of government dominance and intrusive power in its wake that officials still exploit, and from which the country continues to suffer.’
‘Mankind has commemorated World War One with armed conflicts around the planet.
From Eastern Europe and the Middle East to regions of Africa, humans marked the 100th anniversary of the first global conflict by shooting at each other.
A spokesman for humanity said: “If there’s one lesson we must take from our past, it’s that war is really good and always ends well. Any veteran will tell you that being in a war is pretty much the best thing they’ve done.
“Some cynics thought that traditional war motivators like religion and nationalism might fall away as we became more ‘evolved’ but I’m proud to say they are as popular as ever. And even better we’ve now got the planet’s dwindling natural resources to fight about.
“Right now it feels like there’s enough enthusiasm for war to keep it going for another hundred years or the end of civilization, whichever comes first.”’
Editor’s Note: In this interview Thom Hartmann talks about World War One with Adam Hochschild, journalist and co-founder of Mother Jones. Hochschild is the author of several books, among them is ‘To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918‘.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written in back January, so obviously before the turn of events involving ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
‘In no other theater of World War I are the results of that epochal conflict still as current as they are in the Middle East. Nowhere else does the early 20th century orgy of violence still determine political conditions to the same degree. The so-called European Civil War, a term used to describe the period of bloody violence that racked Europe from 1914 onwards, came to an end in 1945. The Cold War ceased in 1990. But the tensions unleashed on the Arab world by World War I remain as acute as ever. Essentially, the Middle East finds itself in the same situation now as Europe did following the 1919 Treaty of Versailles: standing before a map that disregards the region’s ethnic and confessional realities.
In Africa, Latin America and — following the bloodletting of World War II — Europe, most peoples have largely come to accept the borders that history has forced upon them. But not in the Middle East. The states that were founded in the region after 1914, and the borders that were drawn then, are still seen as illegitimate by many of their own citizens and by their neighbors. The legitimacy of states in the region, writes US historian David Fromkin in “A Peace to End All Peace” — the definitive work on the emergence of the modern Middle East — comes either from tradition, from the power and roots of its founder or it doesn’t come at all.’
‘[...] The most sensible commemoration of any war is not to repeat it. Hence, presumably, the constant references by this week’s celebrants to “drawing lessons” and “lest we forget”. But this is mere cliche if no lessons are then drawn, or if drawn are then forgotten. The Great War centenary should indeed have been a festival of lessons. Historians have had a field day arguing over its enduring puzzle – not its conduct or its outcome, but its cause. I have come close to changing my mind with each book I have read, veering from Chris Clark’s cobweb of treaties and tripwires to the majority view that firmly blames the Kaiser and Germany. But I have read precious few lessons.
The truth is that Britain is as bad as America at learning from old wars. The American defence secretary during Vietnam, Robert McNamara, remarked that every lesson of Vietnam was ignored by the invasion of Iraq. In the past decade Britain has waged three unprovoked wars – on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – at a vast cost in lives and destruction, and no obvious benefit to anyone. The invasion of Afghanistan ignored the lesson of all previous conflicts in the region and is duly being lost. The truth is that “drawing lessons” has become code for celebrating victory. I doubt if any lessons will be drawn next year from the anniversaries of Agincourt (1415) or Waterloo (1815) – and certainly none from the Battle of New Orleans (1815). We will just ring bells, bake cakes and put on costumes.’
’100 years ago this month, hostilities broke out in the most hellish war the world had seen at the time. Naively, we thought that this was the “War to End All Wars,” as though the memory of atrocity and suffering were the best safeguard against it! Here is some World War I propaganda various nations used to incite people to participate in throwing away lives for no reason. What will the propaganda inciting people to participate in throwing away lives for no reason look like in our next war?
See more propaganda on a previous post here.
Head over to WW1 Propaganda.com for the entire collection.’
‘One hundred years ago, on June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by Serbian terrorists. The murder set off a chain reaction that plunged much of the world into war. The Great War killed 10 million people, redrew the map of Europe, and marked the rise of the United States as a global power. Here are 40 maps that explain the conflict — why it started, how the Allies won, and why the world has never been the same.
1. European alliances in 1914
Immediately prior to the war’s outbreak in 1914, Central Europe was dominated by two powerful states: Germany to the north and its weaker cousin, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the South. The two countries formed the core of the Central Powers, also known as the Quadruple Alliance because they were joined after war began by Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey). The other major pre-war alliance was the Triple Entente, a pact between Russia, Great Britain, and France (called the Allied Powers during the war). These alliances set the stage for a massive war: any dispute between two members of these blocs could pull in all of the others, as the treaties committed these states to defending their allies. And that’s exactly what happened.’
‘“Sykes-Picot is dead,” Walid Jumblatt roared at me last night – and he may well be right. The Lebanese Druze leader – who fought in a 15-year civil war that redrew the map of Lebanon – believes that the new battles for Sunni Muslim jihadi control of northern and eastern Syria and western Iraq have finally destroyed the post-World War Anglo-French conspiracy, hatched by Mark Sykes and François Picot, which divided up the old Ottoman Middle East into Arab statelets controlled by the West.
The Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and Syria has been fought into existence – however temporarily – by al-Qa’ida-affiliated Sunni fighters who pay no attention to the artificial borders of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Jordan, or even mandate Palestine, created by the British and French. Their capture of the city of Mosul only emphasises the collapse of the secret partition plan which the Allies drew up in the First World War – for Mosul was sought after for its oil wealth by both Britain and France.
The entire Middle East has been haunted by the Sykes-Picot agreement, which also allowed Britain to implement Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s 1917 promise to give British support to the creation of a Jewish “homeland” in Palestine. Perhaps only today’s Arabs (and Israelis) fully understand the profound historical changes – and deep political significance – that the extraordinary battles of this past week have wrought on the old colonial map of the Middle East.’
‘Even today, a century after the start of the Great War, the countryside still bears scars. In this image by Irish landscape photographer Michael St. Maur Sheil at the site of the Battle of the Somme, in northern France, you can trace grass-covered trenches and pockmarks from exploded bombshells. More than a million men were wounded or killed in the battle, the first major British offensive of the war. “The Germans had been sitting in a deep dugout excavated into the chalk rock,” Sheil says. “British soldiers advancing across the flat landscape were an easy target.” His exhibition, “Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace,” now on display in Paris along the wrought-iron fence of Luxembourg Gardens and later touring the United Kingdom, includes 79 contemporary photographs of World War I battlefields—the artist’s attempt to document the enduring legacy of the war on the landscape.’
‘A beach shut by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) two weeks ago after World War Two explosives and ammunition were found will now not reopen until June. Disposal teams cleared ordnance from sections of East and West beaches in Shoeburyness, Essex, but the Royal Navy is carrying out a further survey.
The MoD said it recognised the concerns of visitors, residents and businesses. It would take two weeks to analyse the survey before the council could decide to reopen the beach, the MoD said. The beach area is owned by the MoD but has public access and is popular with visitors and residents.’
“It was very interesting to see the rough ‘palliness’ which existed between the different nationalities, including German PoWs, for instance over the exchange of cigarettes, crumpled family pictures etc.” There were times when they carried captured German soldiers. My father’s comments echo many similar sentiments about the underlying common humanity that exists even during a war
It is good that there are always people who will stand up for their moral position against the tide of public opinion and government aims. My father and my uncle were among them when in 1916 they refused to be conscripted into the army. I’ll be remembering them today [May 15th], International Conscientious Objectors Day, at a ceremony in London for the conscientious objectors of the first world war.
Armenia‘s president has accused Turkey of an “utter denial” in failing to recognise the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman empire during the first world war as genocide. On Wednesday the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,offered condolences over the massacres, calling them “our shared pain”. The US hailed the move as historic.
But in a statement on Thursday marking the 99th anniversary of the start of the killings and mass deportations, President Serzh Sarkisian made no acknowledgement of Erdogan’s statement and instead accused Turkey of continuing to ignore the facts.
“The Armenian genocide … is alive as far as the successor of the Ottoman Turkey continues its policy of utter denial,” he said. “The denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime. Only recognition and condemnation can prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future.”
- Armenia rejects Erdogan’s ‘condolences’ over genocide
- Until Erdogan calls it ‘genocide,’ Armenian reconciliation won’t happen
- Erdogan inches forward on Armenia killings
- Armenian genocide during WWI commemorated in Yerevan
- Richard Falk: The US Senate and the Armenian genocide
- Cyprus adds its voice to the condemnation of the Armenian Genocide
- Social Media Marks the 99th Anniversary of Massacres of 1.5 Million Armenians With Bold Messages
President Obama just went to Flanders Field in Belgium to pay homage to those who lost their lives in World War I. But rather than use the occasion to point out the idiotic hideousness of that war, he whitewashed it, praising “the profound sacrifice they made so that we might stand here today.”
He saluted their “willingness to fight, and die, for the freedom that we enjoy as their heirs.” But this was not a war for freedom. It was a triumph of nationalism, pitting one nation’s vanity against another. It was a war between empires for the spoils.
Historian Allen Ruff, who is studying the causes and effects of World War I, was not impressed with Obama’s speech. “With Both NATO and the European Union headquartered in Brussels,” Ruff says, “it would have been a true homage to the dead buried in Belgium a hundred years ago if Obama spoke out against all major power imperial ambition, the true cause of so much slaughter then and since, rather than mouthing some trite euphemisms about the honor of dying for ‘freedom.’ ”
But Obama insisted on repeating the very propaganda that fed that war. Without irony, he quoted the poem from John McRae that was used to encourage soldiers to sign up and civilians to pay for war bonds.
In the New York Times, Ben Macintyre reviews the new book by Richard Overy The Bombers and the Bombed. Macintyre gives a summary of Overy’s myth-busting about the Allied bombing of Germany. Indiscriminate bombing of civilians, instead of sticking to military targets, is usually defended as (1) a response to similarly indiscriminate bombing campaigns by the Germans, like in the Blitz, and (2) the only way to completely bring down the Nazi regime.
“Overy demonstrates, however, that the tactic of bombing urban areas had been put into action by the British before the Blitz,” Macintyre reports. And as for the second justification…
The centenary of the outbreak of World War One has caught Germany off guard, while Britain, France, the United States and others mark it with battlefield tours, television programs, exhibitions and plans for ceremonies on the day, in August. Germans aren’t sure how, or even if, they should commemorate a war that cost them 13 percent of their territory, all their colonies, huge reparations and 2.5 million lives. The government is under fire for its inactivity.
…The reasons for German apathy run deeper than the obvious fact that they lost the war. Modern Germany has no appetite for war and shudders at the memories of Imperial Germany, with its spiked “Pickelhaube” helmets and exuberant militarism. “Germans today are probably the least belligerent and most pacifist-oriented people anywhere in Europe,” said Herfried Muenkler, a Humboldt University historian whose new book “Der Grosse Krieg” is making waves for challenging long-held notions that Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany was to blame for starting it.
…Gavrilo Princip stared down from the outer wall of a museum at the riverside spot in Sarajevo where on a summer’s morning in 1914 he opened fire on the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, lit the fuse for World War One, turning out the lights on an age of European peace and progress. Empires crumbled and more than 10 million soldiers died. The world order was rewritten. Yet 100 years on, in Princip’s native Bosnia, time, in many ways, has stood still.
A hero to some, a harbinger of destruction to others, the assassin is being fought over anew as Sarajevo prepares to mark the June 28 centenary of his act. Two rival sets of events are being planned, and accusations of ‘revisionism’ are flying at a time of renewed Cold War-style tensions between East and West. The row goes to the heart of Bosnia today, a country still affected by big-power divisions and still arguing about the past, divided by the present and uncertain about the future.
The bodies, when they came, were often mummified. The two soldiers interred last September were blond, blue-eyed Austrians aged 17 and 18 years old, who died on the Presena glacier and were buried by their comrades, top-to-toe, in a crevasse. Both had bulletholes in their skulls. One still had a spoon tucked into his puttees — common practice among soldiers who travelled from trench to trench and ate out of communal pots. When Franco Nicolis of the Archaeological Heritage Office in the provincial capital, Trento, saw them, he says, his first thought was for their mothers. ‘They feel contemporary. They come out of the ice just as they went in,’ he says. In all likelihood the soldiers’ mothers never discovered their sons’ fate. One of the oddities of the White War was that both the Alpini and the Kaiserschützen recruited local men who knew the mountains, which meant that they often knew each other too. Sometimes family loyalties were split. ‘There are many stories of people hearing the voice of a brother or a cousin in the thick of battle,’ Nicolis says.
Since the beginning of this terrible conflict in Syria, I have been closely listening to people’s reactions to the violence and devastation occurring there. What is astonishing is how quickly Syria transformed from a place of relative obscurity to a topic of constant discussion among so many. Even more astonishing, the solutions often offered to stem the violence prove that westerners have simply learned nothing from the lessons of history. These “solutions” tend to follow the same, tired formulae of a colonial mindset that helped put the Levant in this mess in the first place.
Some of the most passionate calls for “humanitarian” intervention and instant, western-led regime change have come from people who, ironically, are still disillusioned by the disastrous Bush Administration lies that led the United States into the heinous Iraq invasion of 2003. Nevertheless, of all the “solutions” that I hear bandied about by those who truly believe they are in the know concerning these grave geopolitical issues, the most idiotic and truly outdated is balkanization, or as I like to call it in the context of Syria, Sykes-Picot II.
They were never going to be able to contain themselves. For all the promises of a dignified commemoration, the Tory right’s standard bearers held back for less than 48 hours into the new year before launching a full-throated defence of the “war to end all wars”. The killing fields of Gallipoli and the Somme had been drenched in blood for a “noble cause”, declared Michael Gove. The slaughter unleashed in 1914 had been a “just war” for freedom.
Hostility to the war, the education secretary complained, had been fostered by leftwingers and comedians who denigrated patriotism and painted the conflict as a “misbegotten shambles”. Gove was backed by the prime minister, as talk of international reconciliation was left to junior ministerial ranks.
Boris Johnson went further. The war was the fault of German expansionism and aggression, London’s mayor pronounced, and called for Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt to be sacked forthwith if he doubted it. The Conservative grandees were backed up by a retinue of more-or-less loyal historians. Max Hastings reckoned it had been fought in defence of “international law” and small nations, while Antony Beevor took aim at “anti-militarists”.
This is all preposterous nonsense. Unlike the second world war, the bloodbath of 1914-18 was not a just war. It was a savage industrial slaughter perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers, locked in a deadly struggle to capture and carve up territories, markets and resources.
The education secretary Michael Gove today made an extraordinary attack on the classic comedy series Blackadder for peddling left-wing “myths” about the First World War “designed to belittle Britain and its leaders.”
Gove said the popular series had sought to denigrate British patriotism and had been used by “left wing academics” to portray the British war effort as a “shambles” led by an out-of-touch elite.
“Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage,” he writes in the Daily Mail.
“The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.
“Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.”
Uncomfortable parallels with 1914: The Economist calls for ‘a more active American foreign policy’ to make the world safer
AS NEW YEAR approached a century ago, most people in the West looked forward to 1914 with optimism. The hundred years since the Battle of Waterloo had not been entirely free of disaster—there had been a horrific civil war in America, some regional scraps in Asia, the Franco-Prussian war and the occasional colonial calamity. But continental peace had prevailed. Globalisation and new technology—the telephone, the steamship, the train—had knitted the world together. John Maynard Keynes has a wonderful image of a Londoner of the time, “sipping his morning tea in bed” and ordering “the various products of the whole earth” to his door, much as he might today from Amazon—and regarding this state of affairs as “normal, certain and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement”. The Londoner might well have had by his bedside table a copy of Norman Angell’s “The Great Illusion”, which laid out the argument that Europe’s economies were so integrated that war was futile.
Yet within a year, the world was embroiled in a most horrific war. It cost 9m lives—and many times that number if you take in the various geopolitical tragedies it left in its wake, from the creation of Soviet Russia to the too-casual redrawing of Middle Eastern borders and the rise of Hitler. From being a friend of freedom, technology became an agent of brutality, slaughtering and enslaving people on a terrifying scale. Barriers shot up around the world, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The globalisation that Keynes’s Londoner enjoyed only really began again in 1945—or, some would argue, in the 1990s, when eastern Europe was set free and Deng Xiaoping’s reforms began bearing fruit in China.
The driving force behind the catastrophe that befell the world a century ago was Germany, which was looking for an excuse for a war that would allow it to dominate Europe. Yet complacency was also to blame. Too many people, in London, Paris and elsewhere, believed that because Britain and Germany were each other’s biggest trading partners after America and there was therefore no economic logic behind the conflict, war would not happen. As Keynes put it, “The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of [the Londoner’s]…daily newspaper.”
Premier League to donate new football pitch at Ypres to commemorate ‘Christmas Truce’ match during First World War
The Premier League is to donate a floodlit football pitch to mark the centenary of the Christmas Truce match which saw British and German troops play each other during the First World War.
English football’s top flight announced that it will build a state-of-the-art third- generation artificial pitch in the Belgian city of Ypres by November next year as part of the centenary commemorations of the Great War.
In one of the conflict’s most famous episodes, troops fighting on the Western front halted hostilities to play a game in no-man’s land and later posed for pictures and exchanged gifts on Christmas Day 1914.
A Christmas Truce tournament organised by the Premier League and bringing Under-12 teams from England, Belgium, France and Germany together in Ypres has already been in place since 2011 to remember the spontaneous outbreak of goodwill.
An ITV news presenter who has been subject to racist and sexist abuse for her decision not to wear a Remembrance Day poppy said she made her decision in order to be “neutral and impartial on-screen”.
Charlene White, a presenter on ITV News London, received insults on social media after she appeared on screen without the poppy, with many of the jibes focusing on her race.
In a statement on the ITV website, the journalist said she had made the decision not to wear a poppy a number of years ago but the backlash this year had been the worst so far.