World War 1 is a travesty to be mourned, not a triumph to be celebrated

July 1914 saw the outbreak of the ‘war to end wars’. July 2014- what is there to celebrate?

We are fast-approaching the centenary of World War One. Rightly, there has been a lot of comment about how best to commemorate it. Sadly, however, there has been an almost equal amount of revisionism and public figures attempting to use the ocassion for political gain.

Michael Gove ridiculously claimed earlier in the year that ‘left-wing academics’ were responsible for painting World War One as a tragic waste of human life, which it was, rather than a national triumph, which it wasn’t. He then went on to imply that anyone who held a view contrary to the national triumph position was guilty of being unpatriotic.

This is of course the oldest trick in the book in dealing with opponents of military action: accuse them of being unpatriotic or not supporting our troops. It was used against my grandfather, who was a conscientious objector on religious grounds during World War Two. He had to deal with the same demonization as every other opponent and had white feathers handed to him in the street and all the rest. Of course, my grandfather wasn’t unpatriotic, he was passionate about speaking ‘Queen’s English’ and had a love for the countryside and towns of Britain that would have rivaled Rupert Brook. Like so many pacifists, he was a man who loved his country but hated war.

War is never something to be celebrated

And this brings me to my real point, war is never something to be celebrated. World War One saw the deaths of almost 10 million people and the wounding of a further 20 million, and nearly 8 million people remain unaccounted for. When this is coupled with a disastrous treaty in Versailles that created the conditions for World War Two any sane person must ask the question: how can anyone consider this a triumph?

For too long people on the anti-war left like myself have been attacked as being unpatriotic or not supporting our soldiers, but it is simply nonsense. I have tremendous respect for anyone who goes through the rigorous training and possesses the self-discipline that the army requires, and who has the courage to put their life on the line to defend a country and cause they believe in, and would never call their dedication into question. Supporting the armed forces and supporting a war are completely different things, and we need to make this distinction very clear. So as we approach this centenary, Mr Gove would do well to remember that the sacrifice of so many individuals is something to be mourned, but the waste of 10 million lives in colonialism’s dying breath is nothing to be celebrated.

 Sam Fawcett

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9 years ago

I can’t understand this fervor regarding the start of WW1. It was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and was the major cause of WW2.

Yes, mark the start in 1914 with a quiet remembrance and save any celebrations for marking the end of the conflict in 1918.

All wars cause untold grief and suffering and not just for the combatants. People should read the true accounts of what actually happened, lives thrown away needlessly on both sides. What great achievements would we have seen had those people lived.

Someone once said that in a war there are no unwounded soldiers.

Sam Fawcett
Sam Fawcett
9 years ago

Hi Glen,

I completely agree with your statements on World War Two. Ironically, much as I admire his convictions, World War Two is pretty much the only recent war that I believe was worth fighting, and I would have disagreed with my Grandfather. I was simply using his experience as an example of how those against war are treated. My argument was largely against World War One, which of course led to World War Two, and war in general. Apologies if this was misunderstood.


Alan Bond
Alan Bond
9 years ago

I agree with this 100%. It is about time Gove and the rest of his tory zealots were kicked out. They are exactly the type of people that were responsible for all those deaths in two world wars. They only see the ordinary people as objects to be manipulated and exploited for their personal gain.

Glen Newstead
9 years ago

I understand the sentiments of this arguement. Yes you are right that history is very often manipulated to the advantage of current politics, ‘who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.

However the man who wrote those words, whom I admire very much, Orwell himself, who was completely against a system which so obviously disadvantaged the majority, a man who had fought for his political beliefs in the Spanish civil war, stepped up to the mark and fought for his own country in the only, and probably the best way he could, throughout the BBC. He did that rather than have Himmler in this country, and to me that is something to be celebrated.

The arguement you are presenting, in my opinion, will go nowhere. This nation lost millions of lives through two huge industrial wars in the 20th century, that was an enormous tradagy. In WW2 we had our major cities flattened, and were left bankrupted.

People who have suffered, who have lost loved ones, who like me used to sit with their grandfather, sergeant WW1, who went to his grave carrying german shell splinters, will not see their effort as a travesty, but as a victory for what they suffered and what they achieved.

In terms of political capital, because your argue, although I admit interesting academically, would be difficult to convey to the voters.

Like yourself I don’t think war should be celebrated. I often concern myself with the idea that those who do the fighting generally are those who where worst treated by the system they are now defending.

However it is their efforts that we should celebrate, the 348,000 troops lifted off the beaches at Dunkirk, who four years later waded ashore to invade Europe, men who flew planes against odds of 4 to 1, people who suffered an around the clock blitz etc

Perhaps you might, and I mean this respectfully, ask yourself what the position would have been if your grandfather had been a conscientious objector in Nazi Germany. In other words, while I don’t think the democracy we have is perfect, to many it was fought for because they felt it was better than a dictatorship, and that victory is worth celebration.

When we think of the horrors of the death camps or those that took place in Southern Russia 6 million, and 20 million deaths respectively, we have to remember that our fighting people kept that out, and I’m talking about civilians and forces.

Ask yourself, imagine no one fought to defend our liberties, would you rather today have the Gestapo running our police? Our children in the Hitler Youth? Our nation stripped by Germany? If I were you I’d have a serious read of what the Germans planned to do to Britain once they got here.

Our nation stood for what it believed was right, they stood against the odds, they bled, they wept, and they suffered. It is by the effort of those that we are today free. Their effort is worth celebration.

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