No Glory In War

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No Glory In War

Postby Lianachan » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:44 pm

No Glory In War are an anti-war charity, founded by British military veterans. They publish numerous articles by various authors. Stumbled across this today, and was wondering what people here made of it. Full text quoted below, for ease of access and commenting - link to source in the headline. It's originally from 2014, and written by a Dominic Alexander of whom I've never heard, but who "is a published historian".

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Ten lies we're told to justify the slaughter of 20 million in the First World War

1. The war was fought in defence of democracy

This is contradicted by the basic facts. Germany had universal manhood suffrage while in Britain, including Ireland, some 40% of men still did not qualify for the vote. In Germany also, there were attempts to justify the war on the grounds that it was being fought to defend civilised values against a repressive, militaristic state, in the form of Russian autocracy.

2. Britain went to war due to a treaty obligation to defend the neutrality of Belgium

There was no clear and accepted obligation on Britain to do this, and, in fact, before the Belgian issue appeared, the war party in the cabinet was already pushing for British intervention on the entirely different ground that there were naval obligations to France. These obligations had been developed in secret arrangements between the military of both countries, and were never subject to any kind of democratic accountability. The Germans even offered guarantees over Belgian integrity, which the British government refused to consider at all.

3. German aggression was the driving force for war

However aggressive the German leadership may have been in 1914, the British establishment was at least as determined to take the opportunity to go to war with its imperial rival. At one point the Foreign Office even seized on imaginary German incursions into France to justify a British declaration of war on Germany. The declaration letter had to be retrieved from the German ambassador and rewritten when it was discovered that the stories were false. The enthusiasm of the British ruling class for war undermines any justification for it based on German aggression.

4. Germany had started a naval arms race with Britain

Imperialist competition between the two states over markets and resources preceded the arms race in the fifteen years before the war. Britain’s naval power was the vital element in its ability to restrict German access to markets and resources across the world. Unless Britain was willing to allow Germany to expand economically, the logic of capitalist competition meant that Germany was bound to challenge British naval supremacy. The latent violence of the leading imperial nation is always the context for aggressive challenges to the status quo on the part of rising powers.

5. German imperialism was uniquely vicious and had to be challenged

The atrocities committed against the Herrero people in Namibia were indeed terrible crimes, but were hardly unique compared to the horrors committed by all those involved in the rubber industry in the Belgian Congo, to take but one example. Also, European opinion had only a few years before 1914 been horrified by the brutality of another colonial power when it was engaged in ruthlessly expanding its dominance over independent states in Africa. This was Britain in its wars of aggression against the Boer states in South Africa, during which concentration camps were first used in order to control a civilian population.

6. Public opinion was united in favour of the war, as shown by images of cheering crowds in 1914

It is now usually admitted that the degree of enthusiasm for the war was strictly limited, and the evidence is that the crowds who gathered at the outbreak of war were by no means united in martial enthusiasm. In fact sizeable and widespread anti-war demonstrations occurred in both Britain and Germany. Had the leaderships of Labour and Socialist parties across Europe not caved into demands to support their national ruling classes in going to war, it is quite possible that the conflict could have been stopped in its tracks.

7. The morale of British troops fighting on the Western Front remained intact to the end of the war

While Britain may not have suffered quite the same scale of mutinies as in the German and French armies, at times there were whole stretches of the front where troops became so unreliable that generals did not dare order them into combat. The evidence for widespread cynicism about war strategies, contempt for the military leadership, and grave doubts about the purpose of the war, cannot be wished away by the revisionists. In so far as soldiers carried on willingly fighting the war, the explanation needs to be sought in the habituation to obedience, as well as the threat of court-martial executions. There is no need to invoke either fervid nationalism or any kind of deep psychological blood-lust as explanations.

8. The military leadership, notably General Haig, was not a bunch of incompetent ‘donkeys’

Attempts to rehabilitate the likes of General Haig founder on some of the basic facts about the tactics he relentlessly employed. Repeated infantry attacks on opposing trenches consistently failed to gain any clear advantage, while causing colossal casualties. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, 57,000 troops out of 120,000 were killed or wounded. Despite continuing carnage on an incredible scale, Haig carried on ordering further attacks. When any hope of a breakthrough against the German lines was clearly lost, the purpose of the battle was shifted to attrition pure and simple. The plan now was to kill more German troops than the British lost. Since there was no way of reliably measuring the casualties on the other side, Haig relied on estimating it through the losses of his own side. On this basis he began to be angered when the army suffered too few losses, as when he complained that one division in September had lost under a thousand men. There can be no defence for this kind of disregard of human life.

9. The end of the war saw the triumph of liberal capitalism, against collapsing autocratic Empires

In fact all states involved in the war were deeply destabilised. Even the United States, whose involvement was the most limited, experienced the ‘Red Summer’ of 1919, with unprecedented labour revolts, such as the Seattle general strike, alongside savage repression of socialists and black Americans. Britain saw the beginning of the Irish war of independence, and increasing unrest in India, which marks, in effect, the point at which the Empire began to unravel. Domestically, there was also a wave of radical working-class unrest, particularly in the ‘Red Clydeside’, which culminated in troops being sent into Glasgow to impose martial law.

10. Despite the slaughter and destruction, the war was worthwhile

The war opened up a period of endemic economic dislocation, and outright crisis. In Britain there was a decade of industrial decline and high unemployment even before the Great Depression. In effect, it was only the Second World War which brought the major capitalist powers out of the slump. The First World War saw the point at which capitalism became addicted to war and to a permanent arms economy. The war demonstrated the capacity of capitalism to create industrialised waste, carnage and destruction on a colossal scale. The remembrance of the war is appropriately a time for mourning the horror, the loss and the waste of it all, but it should also provoke a determination to resist our rulers’ insistence on promoting war to further their interests. War can achieve nothing other than to create the conditions for further wars.

Popular opinion has, ever since its ending, remembered the First World War as a time of horrendous and futile misery and slaughter, as epitomising political and military leaders’ incompetence and callous disregard for human life. That popular judgement, which has helped turn common opinion against war in general, was correct, and we must not let the war mongers dismiss this instance of the wisdom of ordinary people

-------------------------------------------------

Thoughts?
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Arneb » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:53 pm

Mr. Alexander may get applause from the wrong side for this. Still. While I am utterly convinced that going to war against Germany in 1939 was the only thing any morally intact human being could do, the story - to me - is far less clear for 1914. From what I learnt at school, everyone was just itching to go in 14, and there was no serious effort to stop the war anywhwere - because all sides had high hopes they stood to gain from it. that Germany was unequivocally and completely at fault for starting WW I was history (and justice) written by the victors.

No glory in war is a good way to describe my own attitude, but I'll make exceptions.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Enzo » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:29 pm

I don't know if this is fair or not, but... Growing up we learned about our Revolutionary war against the British. Observing the British marched their armies in neat rows and fired on command, while the Americans were basically guerrilla fighters. I always got the impression that the British saw war as a sort of gentleman's game. The generals could puff their meerschaums and send troops into carefully planned battles like a chess game. _Perhaps a bit of this attitude was a hold over from those days into the WW1 era? Honour and country and all that, wot?
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Lianachan » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:38 pm

Enzo wrote:I don't know if this is fair or not, but... Growing up we learned about our Revolutionary war against the British. Observing the British marched their armies in neat rows and fired on command, while the Americans were basically guerrilla fighters. I always got the impression that the British saw war as a sort of gentleman's game. The generals could puff their meerschaums and send troops into carefully planned battles like a chess game. _Perhaps a bit of this attitude was a hold over from those days into the WW1 era? Honour and country and all that, wot?

Oh absolutely, and even later than WW1.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Lianachan » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:43 pm

Arneb wrote:Mr. Alexander may get applause from the wrong side for this. Still. While I am utterly convinced that going to war against Germany in 1939 was the only thing any morally intact human being could do, the story - to me - is far less clear for 1914. From what I learnt at school, everyone was just itching to go in 14, and there was no serious effort to stop the war anywhwere - because all sides had high hopes they stood to gain from it. that Germany was unequivocally and completely at fault for starting WW I was history (and justice) written by the victors.

No glory in war is a good way to describe my own attitude, but I'll make exceptions.


I agree precisely, with all of this.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Heid the Ba » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:16 pm

Ok, in order:
1. The war was fought in defence of democracy
----------more Germans were eligible to vote than in Britain, but the Kaiser was more of an absolute monarch than the King. Elected German politicians were regularly ignored or over-ruled by the monarch and generals, so the German electorate did not elect their rulers in the way the British did so I would argue Britain was a parliamentary democracy and Germany wasn't.

2. Britain went to war due to a treaty obligation to defend the neutrality of Belgium
-----------yes it did, 1839 Treaty of London. Even if there was no treaty the Germans were repeatedly warned that if they violated Belgian neutrality Britain would go to war.

The Germans even offered guarantees over Belgian integrity, which the British government refused to consider at all.
------------the Germans offered that once they had passed through Belgium and no longer needed its rail network, they would re-establish Belgian neutrality. The German army needed Liege as a route centre so over-ruled the German government on foreign policy and insisted that Belgium be invaded. Something that could not have happened in a democracy. To guarantee Belgian integrity the Germans simply had to not invade.

3. German aggression was the driving force for war
-----------depends on what you mean. Germany was gearing up for a war, the December 1912(?) meetings are clear on that, Fritz Fischer has been partly contradicted but his theory is basically sound. The trigger for the war was the Balkans but the Germans gave Austro-Hungary the "blank cheque" by backing them rather than talking everyone down.

4. Germany had started a naval arms race with Britain
--------------or Britain had started an arms race with the world. Does anyone think this was a cause of the war? It was a source of tension but it seems like a straw man to me.


5. German imperialism was uniquely vicious and had to be challenged
-----------wartime propaganda, they were no worse than us, the French, better than the Belgians in the Congo, and so on.

6. Public opinion was united in favour of the war, as shown by images of cheering crowds in 1914
-------------again, I'm not sure this is ever used to justify the war. The huge rush of volunteers would suggest the war was initially popular.

7. The morale of British troops fighting on the Western Front remained intact to the end of the war
----------again, I have never heard this used to justify the war.

While Britain may not have suffered quite the same scale of mutinies as in the German and French armies, at times there were whole stretches of the front where troops became so unreliable that generals did not dare order them into combat.
-------------this is simply not true.

The evidence for widespread cynicism about war strategies, contempt for the military leadership, and grave doubts about the purpose of the war, cannot be wished away by the revisionists.
------------I have never seen anyone try to do this.
In so far as soldiers carried on willingly fighting the war, the explanation needs to be sought in the habituation to obedience, as well as the threat of court-martial executions.
------------600 or so executions, all for repeat offenders in an army of 5 million or so. Another straw man.

8. The military leadership, notably General Haig, was not a bunch of incompetent ‘donkeys’
------------they were no worse than anyone else's and no-one since has come up with a better plan. Lloyd George and the other politicians could have sacked Haig at any point but didn't, because Britain was a democracy, again. The politicians kept approving the offensives and kept supplying the army with more men and equipment.

9. The end of the war saw the triumph of liberal capitalism, against collapsing autocratic Empires
-------------it did. Russia, Germany, A-H and Turkey were all autocratic empires which fell. Long term the big winner was the US which was pretty much the definition of liberal capitalism, along with Canada, Australia and NZ.

10. Despite the slaughter and destruction, the war was worthwhile
-----------the war had to be fought, so the losses were justified, because the war had to be fought, and so on.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Heid the Ba » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:18 pm

Lianachan wrote:
Arneb wrote:Mr. Alexander may get applause from the wrong side for this. Still. While I am utterly convinced that going to war against Germany in 1939 was the only thing any morally intact human being could do, the story - to me - is far less clear for 1914. From what I learnt at school, everyone was just itching to go in 14, and there was no serious effort to stop the war anywhwere - because all sides had high hopes they stood to gain from it. that Germany was unequivocally and completely at fault for starting WW I was history (and justice) written by the victors.

No glory in war is a good way to describe my own attitude, but I'll make exceptions.


I agree precisely, with all of this.

Thirded.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Heid the Ba » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:40 pm

I’ve had a look at the site for No Glory in War and it is an odd mix of articles like the above, the usual nonsense about black troops and Walter Tull, women, and an awful lot of stuff about Palestinians. The site seems to have some things they want to bang on about, which is ok, but I’m not impressed with the quality of their work.

Dominic Alexander seems to have written two books, both on religion and magic in the Middle Ages, I haven’t heard of him and he doesn’t crop up under that name on any of the Great War fora I frequent; but to be fair I don’t post under my own name either.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Arneb » Wed Aug 08, 2018 7:56 pm

Re. the question of Democracy in Germany. Germany was pretty auhoritarian, that is true. Also (and I think a professional historian like Alexander should make mention of this): The constitution had to crucial errors built into it that put it out of the circle of Democracies: The largest and most important German State, Prussia, elected its state assembly by the Three-classes franchise. And the Kaiser, not the Riechstag, chose the chancellor as head of government. You can't call that democratic, by any of today's standards.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Heid the Ba » Wed Aug 08, 2018 7:59 pm

I had a feeling it was skewed in favour of Prussian landowners but couldn’t remember how, and I knew the Kaiser had very authoritarian powers.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Lianachan » Wed Aug 08, 2018 8:38 pm

Heid the Ba wrote:I’ve had a look at the site for No Glory in War and it is an odd mix of articles like the above, the usual nonsense about black troops and Walter Tull, women, and an awful lot of stuff about Palestinians. The site seems to have some things they want to bang on about, which is ok, but I’m not impressed with the quality of their work.

Dominic Alexander seems to have written two books, both on religion and magic in the Middle Ages, I haven’t heard of him and he doesn’t crop up under that name on any of the Great War fora I frequent; but to be fair I don’t post under my own name either.

I had a bounce around the site and agree about the articles and quality. I do like the Chaplin one though! Yeah, I couldn’t find much out about D. A. either.

ETA - oh, and thanks for the comprehensive pulling through of the article above. Agree totally. Highly variable points, in terms of accuracy and relevance.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Heid the Ba » Thu Aug 09, 2018 8:49 am

Lianachan wrote: I do like the Chaplin one though!

I went looking for that one and agree, it is easily one of the better articles. Unfortunately I found some stuff about Kipling and his son which is the usual toss.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Мастер » Thu Oct 11, 2018 7:47 am

Arneb wrote:And the Kaiser, not the Riechstag, chose the chancellor as head of government.


The Riechstag, of course, is an assembly of guys who smell bad :twisted:
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Arneb » Thu Oct 11, 2018 7:52 am

Мастер wrote:
Arneb wrote:And the Kaiser, not the Riechstag, chose the chancellor as head of government.


The Riechstag, of course, is an assembly of guys who smell bad :twisted:

Positively awful, I tell you. A shocking semll.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Richard A » Sat Oct 13, 2018 8:52 am

Interestingly, I never studied the lead-up to World War I. Our school O level history course started with 1919 - so we studied the Treaties of Versailles, Trianon and Lausanne, but not the war that led to them (let alone the events that led up to that). But hey! But I agree with Arneb that going to war in 1939 was the only morally acceptable choice, if anything made all the clearer by a guy I was at university with, the descendant of a family that fled in 1944/45: "You went to war over Poland. Over Poland! Who the hell goes to war over Poland?" As for 1914, indeed it's far more blurred. I have sympathy with Arneb's now deceased godfather's take on it. And there have been few more committed historians. He felt that 1914 kicked off as the latest round of the Franco-Prussian war and if everyone else had kept out, things would have been a lot better.
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Re: No Glory In War

Postby Arneb » Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:44 am

There is this terrible last chapter of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, Die Große Gereiztheit - The Great Testiness, where patient groups from different countries start to quarrel, apparently with little reason, with, each other. Insinuations are flying, then threats, then duel challenges. In the end, the arch-conservative Catholic mystic-intellectual challenges the proponent of enlightenment, reason and scientific thought to a duel - for calling the other's opinions "salacious", of all things. They tough it out at dawn, the enlightened philosopher shoots in the air, and his opponent, blind with rage, shoots himself in the head - all for a single disparaging remark.

If everyone had kept out, yes. No-one was in the mood, at all, to keep out. And everyone hoped to gain. Instead, Europa shot herself in the head, blind with rage.
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