The First Casualty is Truth

This, you may have noticed, is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. I think generally, so far, it has been handled quite well. After fifty years of denigrating those who wanted to celebrate the fallen in two world wars, even the BBC decided to get on message.

I have always had an especial interest in the wars. The day on which the dead and injured are supposed to be remembered happens to be my birthday. From a very early age I was aware of and studied warfare, particularly the Great War. Not from any ghoulishness, but because I felt very strongly, and still do, that it was such an important forge of English and British nationhood.

Britain and France stood alone in the Great War for so long. If it were not for the British Navy preventing the Germans from leaving port, it is quite likely that the two allies would have been starved into submission. In the Second War it was Britain who had to go it alone for many hard months.

Many lies have been advanced about the wars. Many of them were deliberately invented by radical socialists to support their aim of an emasculated Britain tied to the Soviet Union. Whilst it is no doubt true that some officers were complete clots who were unqualified to drive a car, let alone a wedge into the German front line, it is also undoubtedly true that most officers and men lived together, fought together and died together. They knew mutual comradeship, as so many accounts demonstrate. I think it’s likely that troops felt great empathy for their young officers. After all, the casualty rate for officers was greater than that for the common soldiers. They were deliberately picked off by German marksmen.

More recently a horrible slur has been cast over the allies, in particular the French. In the Second World War they were derided for their swift surrender. More recently they were given the ludicrous sobriquet of “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys”, as though France has always, through history, submitted without fighting. This was a ridiculous insult. Since the time of Charlemagne, France has been a beacon of civilisation and power, and has had more than her fair share of courageous leaders and brilliant commanders. It is largely for that reason that, for the last eight hundred years, she has been most commonly Britain’s enemy. Only since Bismarck has Germany attained that special position.

France and the French are as brave as any other nation. However, by the beginning of the Second World War, she had been invaded too often. So many French men died in the war of 1870, so many were slaughtered in the hideous grinding machine that was Verdun, leading to 7,500 deaths per month for ten months. It was largely in order to liberate the French army from that wholesale slaughter that the British began the Somme campaign, leading to 20,000 dead on the first day.

I used to read about the battles of Flanders when I commuted to school on the train at the age of nine and ten. I read Lyn MacDonald’s “They Called It Passchendaele”, Martin Middlebrook’s “The First Day of the Somme”, and many many more. My library today is still populated with the books I purchased as a rather dopey young geek who was interested in wars and warfare.

But the world seems now, one hundred years after the First World War, even more dangerous than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Russia’s Putin is rattling his sabre. A man desperately keen to put his mark on history, is running ever greater risks to impose a tyrannical regime on the Russias, bringing about the bad old imperial days of the Soviet Union once more. At the same time the fiasco of failed war and diplomacy in the Gulf has led to the sudden appearance of the Islamic State, threatening the stability of the entire region. The dangers inherent in these two areas can be explained quite simply because both have knocked North Korea from its previously unopposed position as leading lunatic at large.

So the centenary is upon us. How sad and ironic it is, that all those who died, so many thinking that they were helping to stop the threat of foreign invasion and damage to the nation they served and loved, would see, were they to view the future and perceive these modern days, only a still more heavily armed world – with still more arrogant, aggressive and dangerously belligerent leaders.

7 Responses to “The First Casualty is Truth”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    I couldn’t agree more Michael.

    I have always been bemused over the predominant Western nation’s actions. It reluctantly entered World War One in 1917, barely a year before it finally ended. It stood by doing nothing to help us in World War Two until its own borders (Hawaii) were bombed. Now it insists on invading oil rich countries in the Middle East.

    As for Putin, someone should remind him that the idea of Empire ended with World War One…


  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Thoughts on War and Insanity…


  3. It is good to see, for a change, someone ignoring the common view and concentrating on the incredible personal bravery of soldiers. Thank you for looking THROUGH the war and seeing the men behind it.

    Great article.


  4. Lynnette Jalufka says:

    “…there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV


  5. Reblogged this on Electronic Scrapbook and commented:
    Have been having the same thoughts, as each day the news brings stories of Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Israel. For the war to end all wars, how quickly we forget.


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