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World War One was utterly pointless - why is this so controversial?

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 31 July 2017

We are, this week, remembering one of the bloodiest battles of 1917, Passchendaele. Rightly we remember the brave men of both sides who gave their lives for their country. They deserve our respect and should be honoured. But once again many endeavour to rewrite history and pretend that World War One was not utterly pointless.

Some folks say that our gallant Tommies died fighting for Democracy. But that is not true. Germany had a Parliament and a powerful King (Kaiser) as did Britain. Women could not vore in either country until 1918. The Nobility ruled the roost. This was not, as some suggest , a battle between a democracy and a dictatorship but between two countries both crawling towards democracy.

A chap on twitter lambasted me for queerying his assertion that there was a link between the sacrifice our young men made and Britain not suffering communism and fascism. Really? Was there ever any threat of either before 1914? Were we fighting either communists or fascists during the war? We were not. In fact it was the chaos of the war, the wholesale slaughter that created the breeding ground for communism to take a grip in Russia. Throw in the appalling treatment of Germany at Versailles and the First War can also be partly blamed for the rise of fascism in Germany.

And so we are also told that the sacrifice was justified because it put a check on aggressive German expansionism. Of course that ignores the fact that World War One was not caused by those evil Hun wanting to take over Europe but by events further East. The death of Archduke Ferdinand saw the Austro Hungarian Empire go to war with Serbia. The latter was tied by treaty to its fellow believers in the one true faith, Orthodox Russia and thus it entered the war. Germany was tied by treaty to Austria, France to Russia and Britain to France. Slowly a chain of events unfolded and we had World War One. But that was not caused by German expansionism.

Of course Germany had been building up its military for decades. So too had Britain. We enjoyed the Dreadnought races of the 1900s as both Countries vied to show that they were dominant on the High Seas. But there is no evidence that Germany laid claim to any territory outside of its 1914 borders. This is just another myth.

During the war itself the Germans were portrayed back at home as barbarians. Look at the posters. They are apes or wolves, the snarl, they destroy, they rape, they murder. We had to justify what was a senseless unfolding slaughter by any means possible. And we have carried on pedalling canards ever since. Did the Germans commit industrial scale war crimes? No. Did we behave like Angels on every occassion? No. For instance there is ample evidence that on offensives we would take no prisoners, we sot Germans who surrendered. The Bosch did the same. But 100 years ago we were constantly told that we were fighting evil men, with God on our side, and parts of that myth have persisted. 

I was told yesterday as certain folks snarled,at me for my views, that the grandfathers of certain tweeters had fought in WW1 and that they had not regarded it as pointless. But that does not mean that it was not pointless. Perhaps some of our soldiers really believed our propaganda about the wicked ways of the evil Bosch? I am sure that one hundred years ago many really did think that they had a duty to King and Country and following that was right in itself and thus had a point. Others must have justified the horrors that were all around them by insisting that it must have been for a good reason. How else could you get through such a nightmare?

But 100 years on we can look at these things more objectively. Not for a second do I deny the sacrifice made by the young men on all sides in that ghastly war. My respect for them knows no bounds. I doubt I could have endured what they did. But the scale of the slaughter was on a scale it is hard to comprehend. So many young Frenchmen died that the population of France actually fell between 1918 and 1939 due to a lack of births. All that blood spilled achieved nothing positive. It stopped nothing negative. Indeed it created the conditions for worse things that were to follow.

Surely now we can accept that World War One was utterly pointless.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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