The war that did not end all wars

 

The mass slaughter on a new industrial scale in the 1914-18 war has haunted me from my childhood days. From an early  age I was aware of the long shadow of all those deaths. As a young boy I skirted the remaining stark bomb sites of my home city of Canterbury and asked how they came about. I gradually discovered the dreadful truth that twice the UK had been plunged into long and terrible wars, the second in a way following on from the failures of the peace imposed after the first.

All  our families have been scarred by these events. My family was relatively lucky. One grandfather survived army service on the western front unscathed, and the other came home  after a bad wound and recovered.  Many lost sons and brothers in the First World War as the carnage in Belgium went on for four years. All were promised that the First World War would be the war to end all wars. Instead it was the great European war that led inexorably to another.

Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, famously said  100 years ago “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. It was a strange statement from a man participating in a mighty and fateful decision for our country. It was certainly true that Europe entered an era of darkness and mass killing. It was not true that the lamps would remain unlit for  that generation. The advent  of much new technology and private enterprise progress meant that the 1920s did put the lights on again.

Today is a day to remember all those who died in that long and brutal conflict, and to honour their memory. Now all the combatants are dead including all those spared unnatural slaughter, it is also time to ask was it the right thing to do? What can we learn about the conduct of diplomacy and the relationships of nations to nations that means we might benefit from their tragedies?

The UK declared war on Germany. She did so to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Germany responded to the UK’s ultimatum to Germany to leave Belgium alone by saying that Germany would send an army to France through Belgium but would not annex any Belgium territory. The UK government, instead of working on that weasel message, declared war in default of a complete promise not to send troops onto Belgium soil on any pretext.

The UK committed herself to huge land war without in the first instance having the army to fight it. She could bottle up the German surface  fleet, but still had great difficulties at sea dealing with the submarine menace. It is difficult to see how it was in the UK’s national  interest to put so much at risk when the UK could not protect Belgium. It took many months before the UK could recruit, train and develop enough men to have a chance of winning in conjunction with her allies.

I fear that the UK’s decision to go to war in 1914 was another example of the fatal attraction of the continent to UK politicians. That time it cost us so many lives, destroyed so much wealth and peaceful purpose, and left a Europe less capable of withstanding the ideological evils of Nazism and Soviet communism.  The warning to us is surely to be more careful about our European involvements. The UK is a nation of islands, whose destiny lies in free trade, fair exchange and cultural involvement with the wider world, not just Europe. The UK has not in the past usually been able to remodel the map of Europe for the  better.

In the twentieth century the UK did not recruit, train and equip a mighty army to control the borders of Europe and the actions of other European powers. Her decision to fight two wars against German aggression forced her to expand, equip  and train armies once the war had started, and to seek allies with more powerful land forces to enable eventual victory to be won.In 1914 the first battle of Mons was a difficult rearguard action for a small army outnumbered by its foes. In 1940 the British army had to retreat in haste from Dunkirk, as it was overwhelmed by massively stronger forces.

The UK did have the means to defend these islands, by basing her peacetime defence preparations on naval and air power. In 1914-18 these were so large that they were never directly tested. In the battle of Britain in the second world war  the margin was uncomfortably small but just sufficient for victory.

These experiences should remind politicians that we should only expect our armed forces to carry out tasks away from home that they have a good chance of being able to do successfully, because they have the people, the equipment and the training to do so. Our prime defence spending should be on ensuring our home islands are always safe from aggression. One of the many sadnesses about the conduct of the First World War  is why the UK high command, who had been thinking about a war against  Germany for some time, had done so little to prepare and expand our army for the scale and nature of the conflict that lay ahead.

 

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62 Comments

  1. Old Albion
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Even after all of that the (dis) UK has involved itself in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Pointless wars with no end, being fought in countries that did not threaten the (dis)UK directly.
    Massive financial cost and even worse, thousands of human casualties and as our involvement ceases, Iraq is riven with infighting verging on civil war. Afghanistan slowly comes under the control of the Taliban once again. What a waste……….

    • lifelogic
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Indeed and this was clear at the outset. Had the people been asked we would not have had them. Politicians make so many bonkers decisions. Cameron specialises in them but at least they were smaller than Bliar’s.

  2. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood on a day like this, I simply have to bring God into it. Sorry, but there it is.
    I believe it was a correction by the Almighty to our European arrogance and imperialism and love of thinking that we, the Europeans, were the master race.

    All through the Old Testament – a book which every single one of the politicians said they read regularly and which they had, in many cases, explained arrogantly away – we get terrible warnings which were dismissed as primitive ravings. God, I believe, brought some humility into the proceedings as we, the white race, marched arrogantly to our destruction.

    It took a century to learn. Shame about the stupidity of us, the punters.
    (PS I am grateful that the real monsters lost in the end and that the goodies (us) won, aren’t you? I personally give God a lot of the credit for that myself.)

    Reply Yes, of course I am glad we won!

    • alan jutson,
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Mike

      I perhaps understand the points you make, but religious beliefs/miss beliefs, have and continue to be, the cause of so much conflict in the World as well.

      They say power corrupts, and with so much political history and so many past dictatorships, we have certainly had proof of that, but then so does the belief in some different but absolute religious worship.

      In the end every conflict results in having to reach an agreement for peace, such a shame that so many millions of innocent people have to suffer on the way.

      Is it worth it?

      Only those who are maimed or widowed can answer that truthfully.

    • waramess
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      No doubt for all those who lost loved ones and all those who were disfigured and maimed not forgetting the vast civilian loss of life: all will also want to give thanks to your God for such a ‘correction’

    • Richard Hobbs
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Don’t be sorry to bring God into it, Mike. I believe that the two World Wars were instrumental in the return of the Jewish people to their own land. Significant events were the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the holocaust in the second war.
      You are not alone in thinking that God used our stupidity and cruelty to bring about his own intentions. After all, prophesies about the return of the Jews abound.

      • lifelogic
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        What about natural disasters like earthquakes and malaria how do they fit in?

    • Anonymous
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      “God, I believe, brought some humility into the proceedings as we, the white race, marched arrogantly to our destruction.”

      This simply beggars belief. People in our country have never been so arrogant and so well rewarded as they have been from the sixties onwards – if the World Wars were a lesson to us then they didn’t work.

  3. Colin
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    It was the greatest catastrophe in the history of western civilisation. Up until 1914 life was steadily getting better for everyone. There had been no major wars since Waterloo, the economy grew steadily, and education and prosperity were gradually spreading through the social classes. Then we blew it all up and got a century of war, totalitarianism and decline.

    Future historians will mark 1914 as the beginning of the decline and fall of the West – future Chinese and Indian historians, of course.

  4. A.Sedgwick
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    I grew up playing on bomb sites, numerous masters at my schools were war veterans some with visible legacies, others no doubt with hidden ones, our next door neighbour spent four years as a Japanese POW. Two uncles left home in 1940 and came back in 1945 from the N.African and Italian campaigns. Numerous times have I read and heard in recent times war veterans doubting whether the sacrifices were justified. Like many of my generation and those older living feel that Blair and his successors have wrecked our country and the continuing disappointment with your goodself is that whilst you write many fine pieces you continue to support the Conservative Party and its hierarchy.

    Reply I seek to influence the Conservative hierarchy by being part of it.

    • Kenneth R Moore
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Reply I seek to influence the Conservative hierarchy by being part of it.

      JR – ‘Compromise and toleration are also important parts of democracy’.

      The trouble with Professor Redwood’s (and others like him) position is that he has been willing to compromise, tolerate, turn a blind eye and give way too much ground to his opponents. I’m thinking about the Iraq war, Cameron Liberal lunacy, the overspending, coalition with the Liberals to name but a few examples.
      The need for ‘party unity’ has been an unhealthy dictate that has led to a lot of bad policy.
      At some point you have to say ‘not in my name’ and that position was reached a long time ago. Some things (ones principles) should not be negotiable.

      Reply Of course some things are non negotiable. That’s why I often speak out, vote against, take my own line.

      • Kenneth R Moore
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Reply Of course some things are non negotiable. That’s why I often speak out, vote against, take my own line.

        In would be heart warming to think that opposition and cool heads within the Conservative hierarchy had a moderating effect. But no it seems.
        This is what David Cameron told the commons in 2011 :-

        ‘Some people warned, as Gaddafi himself did, that the Libyan people could not be trusted with freedom; that without Gaddafi there would be chaos.

        This is the judgement of the man that you are sustaining by your presence in the party. Libya is now in chaos and far too dangerous for even the Uk embassy staff to remain.

  5. formula57
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    True though it might be that “the UK’s decision to go to war in 1914 was another example of the fatal attraction of the continent to UK politicians” it also exemplified the UK’s insistence, still prevalent in our times, on playing a prominent role in world affairs when we have absolutely no need to do so.

    It might be said too that the UK’s decision to go to war in the Blair era was another example of the fatal attraction of the United States of America to UK politicians. (IDS’s indoctrination by the US whilst he was shadow defence spokesman directly contributed, in my view, to his leading your Party to support some of those follies, to the great detriment of us all. Recently we have enjoyed more luck with William “let’s bomb Syria” Hague constrained, now hopefully for ever.)

    In your recent post about foreign policy, you noted the obligations that fall on the UK from its permanent membership of the UN Security Council. There is a role to relinquish if ever there was one! That would prove lessons have been learned, but not as well as exiting NATO before Putin (or perhaps Obama) miscalculates and we find ourselves at war to defend some far away country’s frontier that we hardly knew existed before.

  6. Mark B
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    And excellent and thoughtful piece, that I cannot add too.

    Thank you.

  7. Cheshire Girl
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t remember the Second World War as I was evacuated from London in 1943. I do remember the years of rationing for many years thereafter. I would never have thought that the world would be in such turmoil 70 years after. It sometimes seems we have learnt nothing despite the terrible price that was paid in the two World Wars. It makes me very sad to hear the details of the first World War and it was brought home to me when I visited Flanders a few years ago. The enormity of the suffering was so hard to take in. I always pray for peace in the world, but sadly it seems farther away than ever. It seems more important than ever not the let the two World Wars fade into history. They have a valuable lesson to teach us.

  8. Richard1
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    This is the Max Hastings rather then the Niall Ferguson line, and a good point in its favour is, had the UK stayed out, there might not have been Soviet Communism and Nazism and all the horrors that went with that. But we still have to ask the question as to what would have happened had the UK allowed German militarism to triumph in Europe in 1914-15. Hastings makes the good point that the German army was more or less as brutal against civil in populations from the first in WW1 as it was in WW2 – it wasnt unfortunately only Nazism which led to to the murder of civilians in war. (Obviously Nazism was far worse by later in WW2.). Could we really have stayed out, repudiated the treaty with Belgium and allowed the conquest of France together with the slaughter of hundreds perhaps thousands of French civilians? I suppose its difficult to see how the outcome could have been worse than it was.

  9. Ian wragg
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Well in any future conflicts we won’t take a prominent role after your party destroyed our military capabilities. CMD strutting on the absurd EU stage like a Peacock minus it’s feathers. Makes you sick to watch. I spent 9 years at sea during the cold war only to see a bunch of second raters waste the advantage.

    • formula57
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      How ironic that whilst protecting our interests you were at sea whereas now the bunch of second raters are all at sea in trying to protect our interests, as much as they are able to recognize them of course.

  10. Ex-expat Colin
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    And then you face the enemy back home…having returned from the Western Desert severely injured from an ME 109 strafing. You had received shrapnel wounding while strapping a spitfire pilot into his seat (Libya). The pilot is killed and so is your mate. The 109 pilot was brought down quickly…18yr old.

    You find yourself rather disabled (arm, hand and leg), so within a few years of war end, government(s) of the day via frequent medicals reduce your pension. Such medicals ignored the head (mental) damage you suffered and had largely kept silent on. Your injuries did not improve.

    Add your brother dying (slowly) of multiple diseases supplied by the Japanese.

    My father returned all his medals ultimately – 33 Sqdn RAF. He was a Spitfire and Hurricane engine fitter/mechanic who had difficulty performing similar work latterly.

    Not satisfied with such outcomes the loonies in government/military repeat it.

  11. Martin Collyer
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The official reason for going to war in 1914 was to honour a treaty to protect Belgium against invasion by any of her neighbours.

    The other reason, which is less well known, is that the prospect of a belligerent country, that was controlled by a leader who was unpredictable and probably mentally unstable, controlling a large stretch of coast on the English Channel was something that the government of the day did not want to happen.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      The current British government policy of actively working to get the whole of Europe united against us is a comparatively recent development; it would have been seen as an insane policy a hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, in fact five hundred years ago. But essentially those leading the Tory party in the late 1950’s decided that we were too weak to fight it any more and so the wisest policy was one of surrender, with those leading the Labour party falling in line with that some time later.

      I see that Boris Johnson is trying to burnish his supposedly eurosceptic, but more accurately pseudosceptic, credentials in the Telegraph today:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/11009429/The-barbaric-events-that-pushed-Poland-into-the-arms-of-the-EU.html

      “It is clear that 25 years ago we made a miscalculation about one of the consequences of EU enlargement. We were right to want to expand the EU, in the sense that we had to make amends for Yalta, and the callous abandonment of the very people and capitals for which – ostensibly – we had fought the Second World War. It was morally imperative to bring them into the club, to create a Europe whole and free.

      But I think many of us naively and vaguely believed that this enormous expansion would have a beneficial effect on the Brussels imperium; in the jargon of the day, we thought a wider Europe would be looser and shallower – more of a confederal free-trade zone. That is emphatically not what has happened, and we need to understand why.”

      However, not to worry, if we elect a Tory government in 2015 then Cameron will sort it all out for us and then we will be happy to vote to stay in his reformed, nay, transformed, EU.

      Of course he will, of course we will.

      • forthurst
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        “But I think many of us naively and vaguely believed that this enormous expansion would have a beneficial effect on the Brussels imperium; in the jargon of the day, we thought a wider Europe would be looser and shallower – more of a confederal free-trade zone. That is emphatically not what has happened, and we need to understand why.”

        …or possibly another big fat lie put about by the Conservative hierarchy to excuse their treachery, of the Party that signed the Treaties of Rome and Maastrich.

  12. Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    ‘They carry back bright to the coiner, the mintage of man.’

  13. David
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    ‘It is difficult to see how it was in the UK’s national interest to put so much at risk when the UK could not protect Belgium.’
    Don’t you think we had to try to keep our word?
    However a very good piece, I wish that more politicians would learn from this.
    I hope David Cameron reads this blog.

  14. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    We are only shown the reality of the first world war from the war poets such as Seigfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen. Before the rapid technological advance of the media, writing was the only way of getting inside the heads of people suffering.What is apparent is the soldiers wanted help.

    I have a small unpublished book given to me by a world war one veteran from 30 years ago .The words not only echo the suffering as written by the poets , but are also used in various ways (which today would be considered as plagiarism) to express the individuality of each single soldier .

    We see numbers and our sympathy is objectified , yet if an individual life was focused on by film makers all would be weeping.

    I agree we should look after ourselves, but we also must decide who we are. We know who we were, but compare 100 years ago to today ; we are a far more mixed bag of people than those days and different aspects of life and religion rule.

  15. lifelogic
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Indeed war should only be entered into with just cause a good chance of victory and will all available resources and equipment. Recent wars have failed on all these counts and predictably so. Ecen entered ito on blatant lies.

  16. Stephen Berry
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    A thoughtful piece by John. In wars, both victors and vanquished lose. Apart from the endless slaughter, the First World War spawned Bolshevism and National Socialism. Far from being ‘the war to end all wars’, it laid the basis for another major war 20 years later.

    From a particularly British point of view, it finished any hopes of fixing the Irish problem. In 1914, John Redmond and the British Government had reached a deal which should have been enough to sideline the revolutionary wing of Irish nationalism. It was never to see the light of day.

    After reading this blog for a few months, I detect that the EU is not exactly the flavour of the day here. Contributors might like to know that one of the war aims of the German chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, was a custom’s union dominated by Germany. Well, it took a while, but Germany finally got there.

    So, who were the guilty men? John mentions Sir Edward Grey and that strange man bears a massive responsibility for redirecting British foreign policy towards more engagement with continental Europe. But we should remember that the Liberal Party, the anti-war party, was in power in 1914. Many of the Liberal cabinet had opposed the Boer war, but could not find it within themselves to oppose a much more serious war. So, with the honourable exceptions of John Burns and John Morley who resigned on the declaration of war, it is the Liberal government which has to carry the can for this disaster. Fitting then, that the war saw the elimination of the Liberal party as a major political force in British politics.

    Reply Yes, I think the death of the Liberal party as an election winning force was hastened by their decision to lead the UK into dreadful war.

  17. Denis Cooper
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Back in February the BBC broadcast a programme called “The Necessary War” written and presented by Sir Max Hastings:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03wtmz6

    “In a single documentary to mark the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of war, Sir Max Hastings presents the argument that although it was a great tragedy, far from being futile, the First World War was completely unavoidable.

    Max presents the case that the rulers of Germany in 1914 were intent on dominating Europe and, after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914, actively encouraged the Austrians to invade Serbia. They were responsible for igniting the spark that turned a local controversy into a full-blown European war.

    He also argues that once the Germans decided to invade France through neutral Belgium, it was impossible for Britain, mindful of its own position within Europe and a guarantor of the small state’s neutrality, to simply stand by. Not only that, when the conflict was only weeks old, the Germans were already compiling a shopping list of key territories they would seize after victory to secure their complete domination of Europe.”

    “In conclusion Max argues that, while the centenary of the war is not a cause of jubilation, we should tell our children and grandchildren that their ancestors did not fight for nothing; if Germany had won, Europe would have paid a far more terrible price.”

    Well, yes, but after not just one but two world wars both of which Germany started and lost, where are we now?

    With Germany dominating Europe, that’s where we are now; and for the past half century our pusillanimous British politicians and civil servants have not just allowed this to happen but have actively connived to help the process along.

    I’ve been wading my way through this previously confidential internal FCO history of the so-called “renegotiation” leading up to the 1975 referendum:

    http://issuu.com/fcohistorians/docs/1_spreckley_report_-_part_1

    and right from the start the FCO officials were determined that the “fundamental renegotiation of the terms of entry” promised in the Labour manifesto would not be so “fundamental” that it needed any changes to the treaties, instead:

    “The renegotiation strategy was to be based on the implementation of the Manifesto commitment, but it was accepted that this needed interpretation in the light of the realities … Treaty amendment would be avoided if possible; changes would be brought about by altering the policies and decisions of the Community.”

    And those leading the Tory party are already looking to see how Cameron could perhaps get away with some tinkering at the margins through secondary legislation and political declarations and misrepresent this to the electorate as “fundamental” reform of the EU which justified the government recommending that we should vote to stay in.

    • Posted August 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Dennis one only has to take an ariel view of the sheer repetitive need of Germany to gain power and the UK’s slowness to realise that “Will to Power” . (Why are the leaders of this Country so obtuse? Is it because they are influenced by reverse thinking?) We don’t need quotations , facts and figures and editors opinions, we just need to observe.

  18. Duyfken
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    It was only in the last decade, when researching my family’s ancestry, that I became aware of an uncle, my mothers’ brother, who had enlisted in Western Australia in 1914, was sent to Gallipoli in May 1915 and who apparently died a week after landing, his body never subsequently being recovered. Poor Tom. An aunt, my mother’s sister, subsequently named one of her children after him. This Tom enlisted in the RAAF and as an air-gunner died in 1943 on his first mission, over Rabaul. His elder brother, in the army, was captured by the Japanese and then died whilst being transported in a PoW vessel which was mistakenly torpedoed by a US warship. My siblings and I were younger and escaped the call-up before WWII ended (at age 10, I was practising rifle shooting on the range locally in Tasmania).

    These recollections are mentioned not to make any particular point, except perhaps that in both wars Britain could rely on substantial support from the Commonwealth and thereby had an added level of responsibility in its conduct of the wars.

  19. Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    It is futile to enter into any sort of conflict unless you have the means and capability to support your position . The 2nd World War cost us our Empire and made us depend on an enduring relationship with the USA ; without this our voice and place is now meaningless . The EU pretends it can act in a powerful way but the reality is Germany rules it through its economic dominance . Our objective for the future should be aimed at re-cementing the relationship with Commonwealth countries and building up ever increasing trade deals with them ; our Armed Forces must have the strength and capability to respond and protect our interests – not those of others . If we are resolute in our independence we will attract the attention and respect we deserve .

  20. Alan Wheatley
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    The issues are many and complex. I doubt anyone has all the answers. It is also necessary to bear in mind that ones enemy may be driven by an ideological belief in what is “right”, and will be unmoved by reason and argument. The only way to stop such people may be to kill them, which may be an unpleasant prospect, but is reality and the reason we have armed forces trained to do exactly that.

    It is right to point out the need to balance treaty undertaking with the forces needed to be able to cary them out. It may be debatable as to whether the treaties should be matched to the forces or the other way round, but once you impose a restriction on ones military might and the determination to use it those who would wish to dominate you can see what they have to do to achieve that objective and can organise so to do.

    And finally, in this brief contribution to an enormous subject, it should be recalled that if Britain and France had declared war on Germany in 1938 in response to their invasion of Czechoslovakia the probability is that the German resistance would have deposed Hitler and there would have been no WW2. A stitch in time …..

    • peter davies
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      An interesting point on Czechoslovakia. From my recollection, Hitler had to grab industrial bases like the Sudetenland as his country was in danger of going bankrupt given the huge cost of militarization.

      The UK and France did not have the stomach for another war but had they found a way of defending countries around Germany’s borders whilst isolating it economically at the same time WW2 may well have been avoided with the later consequence of the USSR expansion.

      • Tom William
        Posted August 4, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        This doesn’t explain the invasion of Poland and the USSR.

        • Ray Veysey
          Posted August 4, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Hitlers target was always Russia. Chamberlains promise of support for Poland was badly written and misunderstood by both Hitler and the idiot Colonel Beck in Poland.Hitler would use the port of Danzig and the corridor to Poland as an excuse to transit Poland and attack Russia which if not for the ridiculous promise made by Chamberlain would have allowed the 2 biggest threats in europe to destroy themselves on themselves giving the rest of Europe time to re arm. As it was we ended up with a war and 50 years of soviet domination for the whole of Eastern Europe.

          • Alan Wheatley
            Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

            “…to destroy themselves on themselves…”

            In more recent times did we not sit back and hope to observe a similar development between Iran and Iraq?

  21. Kenneth R Moore
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Ex Conservative Mp Louise Mensch wrote an article this weekend regretting that the Uk didn’t take stronger action against Assad in Syria. Cameron would seem to agree with her. Libya is now far worse than when Colonel Gadaffi was in power.
    Another arrogant assumption by Cameron’s clique is that anarchy is better than having a strong dictator in place. These brutal parts of the world are not like England but PC think blinds him to this reality. The Libyan is a ‘victim’ and is being ‘oppressed’ so in Cameron’s tiny mind this justifies the means. In a few years they will all be drinking tea and playing cricket.

    It’s this BBC arrogant mindset of theirs that somehow they can divide the world into ‘moderates’ ‘rebels’ or ‘hardliners’ . Do they not see that pick-up trucks with rocket missiles strapped to their rusting bodywork (cheered on and sponsored by Cameron and his un-conservative party are a massive national embarrassment and a deadly mistake?

  22. Tad Davison
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    A good piece John.

    My granddad fought in the trenches in World War One, and my father served aboard the aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious in World War Two that was sunk by the Scharnhorst with an appalling loss of life. Both saw incredible carnage and unlike others elsewhere, I do not use that word lightly nor glibly. Death is not as it is in Hollywood. People are literally blown to pieces.

    Wars are to be avoided, not constructed. They never determine who was right, only those who are left. If we take but one example, the Vietnam War, where there was a pretext created by the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, just so that the US could get into the region and as LBJ called it, ‘Whup some Commies’. Fat lot of good it did them, but a lot of innocent people got caught up in it, and birth defects are being recorded even now because of all the junk the US sprayed the place with, not to mention that Vietnam was hit with more bombs than were dropped during the whole of World War Two. But hey, didn’t the arms manufacturers come out of it well!

    I listened to David Cameron a few nights ago, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the Great War, and I fear we’ve learned nothing. Here then is part of an e-mail I sent to a Tory MP yesterday, that fellow readers and contributors might find interesting:

    “Now, that nice Mr. Cameron is indeed another Blair, so you have been proved right. Had this Blairite interventionist been given his way, we would now be embroiled in a war in Syria, with British servicemen losing their lives at the very time when we will be remembering the 100th anniversary of the beginning of ‘The War to end Wars’. I’m only too glad parliament stopped him!

    He also says he wants a renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU, yet he seems hell-bent on doing their dirty work for them, the dirty work that started with the likes of US Senator John McCain, and Labour’s Kathy Ashton, on the barricades in the Ukraine urging regime change, in direct contravention of international law. And some good it has done the people of Ukraine, who are now up to their fetlocks in IMF debt, unable to pay their army, and not even able to pay their gas bill. Little wonder some of the people of Ukraine want to belong to Russia.

    Mr Cameron is also talking tough on what he calls ‘Russian expansionism’, but he relies heavily on the ignorance of the British voter. The truth however is somewhat different. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and the US agreed that she (Russia) would not be surrounded by NATO countries and offensive missile systems. The Clinton administration violated those agreements, and little wonder Putin said ‘thus far, and no further’ with Crimea. They had a legitimate right to their military bases in the Ukraine, and the western powers have double-crossed Russia at every turn.

    The way to go, would have been to bring Russia into the fold, and it is debatable if the need for NATO even still exists. Yet Cameron wants his war with somebody.”

    I used to say of Labour and the Lib Dems that they were dangerous – especially Labour! I very much regret that I now find myself saying that of David Cameron, and the sooner he goes, the better I will feel for I hope for his sake, none of my kids ever get killed in a conflict of his making.

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

    • The Prangwizard
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      An even better piece, Tad.

  23. waramess
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Politicians cause wars whilst the people are forced to fight and die for them.How many wars would have happened if they had been put to a referendum, I wonder?

    We live in a very dangerous world right now with a whole host of reasons why the politicians might once again visit us with a similar nightmare.

    Deeply indebted countries of both the USA and Europe are unsurprisingly unable to find their way out of their dilemma.

    As has been said elsewhere you can’t taper a ponzi scheme neither will they be able to make their debts more sustainable by constantly growing the size of government nor by constantly increasing taxes and so further reduce the capacity of the private sector to grow.

    Add to this the fact that Germany, an energy poor country that depends on its industrial base to survive, is not a million miles away from an oil and gas rich zone belonging to Russia. It would not take a great sleuth to be concerned about the economic war they are about to wage with them.

    Wars are destructive but the two advantages for politicians are, inter alia, the reconstruction process and the possibility of a mandatory conversion of all debts to perpetual war debts at as close to a zero percent interest rate as possible.

    Maybe our politicians are more trustworthy these days, I hope, but a scary scenario nontheless particularly given the enthusiasm for the UK to join in the sanctions notwithstanding the very flimsy evidence available and the recent lack of probity shown by the ‘ruling class’ of late.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      As to a referendum on war, I think not.

      The aggressor country, by its very nature, is not going to hold a referendum.

      The country resting the aggression will be defeated while it makes up its mind!

  24. Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Anniversaries can be important occasions, so long as what is remembered is the positive. That is not always the case. Birthdays can celebrate past life, but sometimes just draw attention to fewer years remaining. Wedding anniversaries can recall the joy of that day when two became one. They can also draw attention to all the years since, when things have gone wrong. So how are we to treat this 4th of August, 2014?

    Is it to remind us of the folly of war? Is it to think again of decisions badly made, of actions taken for the wrong reasons? Is it to argue about the legacy of World War I? Is it to concentrate on the pain and loss suffered by so many as a result? It will do all these things in some measure, but unless it reminds us most of all that war was declared to keep our promises, that ordinary British men from all walks of life, supported by their womenfolk, stood up to be counted on the side of King and Country no matter what it cost, unless it reminds us that those same people, our people, stuck to it through unimaginable loss and suffering in order to win victory against the forces of evil, this anniversary will degenerate into hand-wringing and a rehearsal of numberless personal tragedies exploited by the heartless media looking to increase viewer numbers.

    It is fitting that today will be marked by many Christian Services of Remembrance. It is to be hoped that they will point to heroism and self-sacrifice as well as loss of life, for it was Jesus the Christ who said that there is no greater love than the love which lays down life for the benefit of others.

    We should be remembering that today, for the war between good and evil continues and the combatants are mostly within this nation. It is not compromise and seeking to change attitudes from within that are now required, but flint-faced opposition. Churchill had the words for it, which the men and women of 1914 would have understood.

    “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

    It is that spirit we commemorate today.

    John Wrake.

  25. peter davies
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Its funny how history repeats itself – we talk about the UK getting involved in conflicts without the Land Forces to do it, given the recent cuts in Army numbers we could well find ourselves in a similar situation in the not to distant future.

    You knock the nail on the head when you say getting involved in European issues never ends well for us, surely our political leaders could do with having “H” added to their PPEs in order to grasp the issues of history better and come to the conclusion that the UK is not a fit and cannot possibly integrate itself into any European political structure and must stick to trade only.

    • Tom William
      Posted August 4, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      And a strong navy and short range aircraft.

      In this discussion many good points have been made but no one has mentioned the perceived and growing threat from the Imperial German navy to Britain’s overseas empire which, unlike the Royal navy, had virtually no overseas territories.

  26. Douglas Carter
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    …’politicians that we should only expect our armed forces to carry out tasks away from home that they have a good chance of being able to do successfully, because they have the people, the equipment and the training to do so.’…

    …and a Government which permits HM Treasury to be the ultimate arbiter of that will invite disaster.

    The stance of the UK around 1910 was arguably fairly sensible specifically in its solely UK-centric stance. The small regular Army plus the additional Royal Marines to draw on were reasonably the best trained\equipped force of its type in any specific limited contemporary point. It had absorbed the lessons of the conflict in South Africa – in particular shaking itself out of the complacency that it could ignore massed rifle fire from reliable repeating rifles, and from even marginally sporadic artillery fire. The idea that these experienced forces would form the kernel around which a larger inexperienced impromptu force level would draw confidence and proficiency from was reasonably sound.

    Sadly it was Government who let them down. The Governments of 1898-1902 period allowed the Foreign Office to administer that conflict in South Africa with far too much complacency and naturally scandal erupted subsequently when it was discovered that the discontinuity in Political attention given to that conflict produced the most expensive conflict (at that time) that the UK had ever committed to. Following on from that, the FO continued its ineptitude in defining UK international interests with the same, predictable expensive and tragic results. A practice frequently followed even to this very day.

    The next mistake was to dogmatically (dressed as ‘pragmatically’) apply UK defence within a carapace of Alliances, without taking into account even worse politico\industrial\military failings in those same allies. It recalls the overused Ludendorff quote with regard to the German alliance with Austria Hungary – for political reasons we shackled ourselves to two veritable corpses (although memory is telling me that the original translation ought to read ‘Fettered to a Corpse’.)

    The French Army was woefully under equipped to deal with the overwhelming weight of German Artillery and the Russian Army was poorly led and outdated, the eventual resilience in longevity solely a tribute to the individual Russian and French soldier and to the lines of communication and landscape than to any Russian, or French strategic or tactical thinking. It led to the commonplace – even surreptitiously accepted – practice of throwing young lives away in preference to admitting the failure of fashionable contemporary political theory.

    Even then, the broad-brush intent of the Schlieffen Plan was already known to the Allies by the autumn of 1910 and inexplicably they failed to come up with a strategic operating plan to preclude its success. It was only the German High Command weakening the assaulting wing to bolster the (intentionally) weak central pivot which put paid to Schlieffen’s deliberations. The miracle was not at The Marne, it was at Tannenberg, which critically slowed the German advance.

    Such paper alliances are manna from heaven for a Government which has little interest in the subject of Defence; or for the more detailed consideration of military preparedness. Or for the proper strategic direction to those forces of the nature of the threat to the UK against which those same forces must prepare and equip. Quite recent years demonstrated how fragile these paper alliances will be – Hollande withdrew French forces from Afghanistan in quick time without regard to the putative permanent links the UK were allegedly seeking at the time.

    Sound and competent observers have compared the situations we face today as being possessed of close similarities with those of one hundred years ago. Only as recently as ten months ago, our Government was intent on involving itself in a conflict with limitless potential for escalation. I don’t believe even now the senior staff of our Armed Forces can unambiguously depend on clear and coherent directions from their Political leaders.

    I read and understand your comments with regard to the UK High Command at the time John, but for political (inappropriately ‘pragmatic’) reasons they would not have been permitted the luxury of preparing for the unreadiness of their Allies (by which measure they would have publically highlighted the inadequacies) and even had they attempted to do so, the Government would not have been inclined to acknowledge their concerns.

    There is still too much convenient ambiguity and wishful thinking over Defence and (as you discussed in recent days) the affairs of Foreign relations and policy. The discontinuities and contradictions are openly more ragged every month that passes. Eventually some luckless patsy is going to have to explain that to our political leaders.

    Hope they can withstand the inevitable counter-briefings to the Press?

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Douglas, your words ring true.

      In the 1930s we at least had Churchill, but today I see no one .

  27. The PrangWizard
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    This war should have been consigned to History long ago. Yet we are to have four or five more years of EU inspired commemorations – along with the singing of the EU anthem, in evidence today – which both sentimentalise it and use it to promote a form of pacifism, if not defeatism, in our children who will not be allowed to learn about it in a dispassionate and studied way. The propaganda will no doubt portray the EU as peacemaker, peacekeeper and saviour of Europe.

    At the very same time as this is going on today, the EU is provoking and goading Russia into actions which it can use to justify more severe sanctions and possibly more, to further its geo-political ambitions in the East. As much as the US has fought against authoritarian regimes, as have we, it, along with the EU is nevertheless, I am certain, determined to achieve ‘regime change’ in Russia, without justification, with all the turmoil and horror that may prevail. The US of course has a long track record of provoking war for its own ends; it has been doing it for over two hundred years.

  28. Robert Taggart
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps WW1 was not the war to end all wars – as it should have been – instead it became the war to remember all wars by !

    One can but hope that come 11/11/2018 – Blighty and perhaps others – could remember it a little less ?
    Though WW2 will remain with us in memory for at least another twenty-seven years – one will hope the same fate befalls that on 02/09/2045.

    Meantime – remember, but, time then to move on.

    Signed, post war born – by twenty years.

  29. forthurst
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Having been brought up with the propaganda version of British history (Britain was always in the right, Churchill was the Greatest Englishman ever, our National Saviour etc), it comes as a shock, after weighing the evidence as far as it’s available, to realise that much of it was jingoistic nonsense. Consequently, those who attempted to keep us out of those major conflagrations to me were the true patriots and the warmongers who took us to war were the traitors, the greatest of all, sad to say, being Churchill. All those warmongers achieved was the loss of the British Empire, the loss of our finest blood and our reduction to the status of a second class power dominated by the American Empire which now encircles the globe with its military bases; that is not to say that the British Empire was anything but an illusion, wholly indefensible against any substantive regional threat or insurgency.

    Unfortunately, ever since, our political leaders have measured themselves against the myth of Churchill, believing that only by acting with rash and unnecessary belligerence, even putting our national survival at risk, can they be accorded their rightful place as ‘great men’ in the history books. I do not believe either Germany or Russia, the Nazis and Bolsheviks having gone, want another world war, although I’m not so certain of the US neocons and their sympathisers in our government who as JR suggests have characteristically not got the wherewithal to fight, or put another way, whose belligerence is inversely proportional to the capacity for delivery.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      There is no shortage of evidence, but I think you have come to totally the wrong conclusion.

      To categorise Churchill as the greatest traitor is appalling. Have you read The Gathering Storm, Part One of his history of WW2? Churchill was not seeking war but trying to avoid it: if you want peace prepare for war.

      You should remember that it takes only one party to make a fight, unless, of course, your policy is to surrender as soon as threaten by the first blow.

      • forthurst
        Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        “Have you read The Gathering Storm, Part One of his history of WW2?”

        “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Churchill.

        There is no evidence that Hitler wished to attack the British Empire and much that he sought peace, to the extent that even after he had routed our Expeditionary force, he allowed them to escape instead of destroying it. On the other hand, Churchill wanted war and he wanted it to the bitter end, ignoring later peace overtures.

        Hitler regarded the Bolshevik Empire and its Comintern which had already set up a Soviet Republic in Bavaria in 1918 and fought the Nazis in bloody street battles, controlling much of the Reichstag, until Hitler became Chancellor, as an existential threat to the survival of Germany as a nation state rather than as a part of the expansionary Bolshevik Empire.

        The activities and ambitions of the Bolsheviks were poorly reported in our Press; nevertheless, the Labour Party was riddled with Bolshevik sympathisers who wanted to fight alongside their ‘brothers’ against Germany. It took a world war and the engulfment of that part of Europe not occupied by American troops for Churchill to wake up to the Bolshevik menace.

      • Ray Veysey
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        If you want the truth about Churchill, don’t read Churchill, read almost anyone else but Churchill. He was not the “greatest traitor” but neither was he our greatest hero, apart from the one year of 1940. He was implicated in the start of both wars, and was also instrumental in giving most of Europe away to Stalin, a man Churchill himself said was “a man I can work with”. I suggest Pat Buchanan’s book “Churchill Hitler and the Unnecessary War”, his views on America become vague after about 1960 but before that, honest.

  30. BobE
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Apparently WW1 was because Germany felt surrounded by Russia, the French and Britain. So It started a war.
    Now Russia feels surrounded by the EU and is flexing its forces.
    Kiev was the original capital of Russia, they will never, ever give that up.
    We are near to another world war. But this time the EU has prodded the sleeping bear. A German controlled EU is a disaster.

  31. BobE
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Sorry.
    P.S. Imagine WW3 if you even dare!!

  32. Bernard Otway
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    My grandfather was a doctor in the RAMC in WW1,one of the senior doctors who insisted
    on actually treating the wounded in the field hospitals. What he saw in those four years
    made him actually stop practicing after he was demobbed ,he took his wife and my father and aunt and bought an apple farm in British columbia,you see what he saw was man,s inhumanity to his fellow man.He stayed apple farming until the great depression [but actually practiced medicine again as the people put pressure on him once they knew he was a doctor and he could not say no],he lost his farm and returned to Londonderry and set up as a GP and only stopped when he had a stroke ,passing away a few days later.
    In WW2 my father who was a Palestine policeman from 1938,served all over the middle east,he was badly wounded by an arab dumdum bullet yet still served as a colonial policeman in Cyprus where I was born in 1945,as Chief superintendant of the police on
    the island. My mother was a Queen Alexandra,s nurse and officer and at Dunkirk commanded a field hospital just behind the evacuation beach,her patients were too badly wounded to evacuate in the small craft ,and she found a french train driver and his train
    terrified of the coming German army.She persuaded him to take her and her wounded I think there were 19 plus her staff,their destination was Cherbourg, on the way they picked up lots of more wounded and it took 2 days,she was actually wounded in the wrist by a straffing ME 109 and was stabbed by a captured German officer {luckily not badly].
    They arrived at the port with over 600 wounded and got on one of the last british warships
    Her heroism was actually written about in the press where she was lauded her nickname was Sweetypie,I still have a cherished copy of The Daily Sketch with her picture on the article.She was never forgotten especially by the people of Dunkirk who spent many years looking for her ,and finally in the 1990,s they found her,struck a special medal and she was presented at the yearly celebration ,by this time wheelchair bound but still the small pocked battleship she always was.Anyone who wants to know look up the QA website.
    My final point is all three of them ended up hating WAR grandfather,father and mother

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Bernard, what a wonderful story.

      I would only comment, looking to the future, that we should not “end up” hating war, we should start by understand that all war is hateful. However, we must balance that hate of war by understanding its necessity, on occasion, and that it is not in our power to choose never to get involved, as, for instance, neutral Belgium found out twice in a generation.

  33. Max Dunbar
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I had the good fortune to be able to attend the centenary events in Glasgow this morning.
    It’s hard to believe that it is a hundred years since my grandfather and two uncles marched off to France with the Cameronians. They all survived, miraculously, despite one of my uncles being a piper. The only casualty was my grandfather who received a bullet wound. On his recovery, he was sent off to Mesopotamia having been commissioned as an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Whilst in Mesopotamia he kept a loaded Webley revolver under his pillow at all times. Plus ca change! Unfortunately, the pistol was handed in by his father-in-law many years later during a gun amnesty.
    The only two things which marred an otherwise dignified and moving ceremony were a small demonstration by the far-left and the two traffic cones which adorn the heads of the Duke of Wellington and his horse, a sad reflection on the city and and shameful of its council.

  34. Ray Veysey
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    The good thing about your column being reprinted by “The Commentator” is you can’t delete the ones it doesn’t suit you to let other people read. So my deleted comment is now available there. I notice you don’t delete all my posts, but I will not reduce my demands for more positive action from those in the so called conservative party to stop worrying about their own personal comfort and get behind Britain in a more positive fashion than you are at present.

  35. acorn
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    You see; I always thought we were supposed to celebrate the END of wars, not the START of wars! Will we be celebrating the start of the beautiful mess NATO (i.e. US – UK) made of Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya, to name but a few of the most recent neo-con adventures?

    It is still all about OIL. Don’t get fooled by this spreading democracy to primitives horlicks. The US still has to import over 9 million barrels a day of crude oil, 4 million barrels a day still comes from OPEC Middle East. A large lump of that comes from Saudi Arabia.

    If Saudi goes down, we will be able to celebrate the START of another NATO neo-con adventure; call it WW3 for short.

    • Cheshire Girl
      Posted August 5, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Just to point out that yesterday we did not ‘celebrate’ the start of the First World War, but we ‘commemorated’ the suffering’ sacrifice, and heroism of those who fought and died in that war. That is a very different thing!

      • acorn
        Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        So will we repeat this commemoration again on the 11th November 2018?

        You can’t use hindsight data to commemorate at the start of an event, “the suffering sacrifice, and heroism of those who fought and died”, which had yet to occur. It’s like making retrospective legislation, to make something illegal that wasn’t illegal at the time the event occurred.

  36. Posted August 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    All this year of 2014, historians have been attempting to say this war of 1914 was not really sheer waste after all, as most tended to hold it as in the 1960s, but their writings and broadcasts seem lame to me.

    Indeed, they even seem to be self refuting, if we read, or hear their broadcasts, carefully for the whole four years from 1914 to 1818 seem to be a sheer perverse waste of young lives and the modern historians do not avoid presenting it as such. The idea that the UK was at risk in 1914, or even in 1939, seems to be clearly false. But this is what the troops who fought mainly imagined.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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