Replies to Harry Patch and a desperately important lesson
We've received a number of email replies to the post which suggested that The forgotten lesson of the First World War is that the greed, fear and lust for power of unaccountable, undemocratic leaders strangled hopes for peace. Undemocratic countries started the war.
Eric Edmond wrote (we're sorry we missed it) on July 26th on his blog - Henry Allingham & Harry Patch's Last Post -The deaths of these old servicemen, the last to serve in the Great War, remind us the price this country paid for being at the 'Heart of Europe' to satisfy political dreams and worthless aspirations. At the UKIP husting last year at Stroud I pointed out that there was a monument to the cost of us being involved with Europe in every town, village and hamlet in the land, the War Memorial for those who fell in the Great War.
Edmond makes an unforgettable point. His whole insightful post is here
In 2004 Rodney Atkinson wrote about the parallels between 1914 and today on Free Nations. They are striking. He has already documented the parallels between the 1930s and the 1990s in Europe's Full Circle. Atkinson is essential reading.
We agree with Peter Charles John Baker who wrote, "Thanks for your thoughts. Mine as well. What a pity we seem unable to get 'the madis' interested also".
MEP Ashley Mote supported the post's point. This is a good time to recall that Mote is an outstanding critic of the undemocratic EU in Brussels, in Britain and on his website.
Charming Ferne Abbott cheered the post's message and is passing it round.
WWII code breaker Harry Beckhough astutely noted that "Strong Intelligence also necessary to give prior info and warning & to allow time for preventable action which would have prevented the mad Kaiser". His book Germany's Fourth Reich is available here.
And James Haeberle (no link available) drew our attention to the tragic ironies of the First World War, writing, David and Catherine,
Many thanks for your kindness in including me in this discussion. First, a quick "Amen!" to what you've written here. The shoot-out from1914-1918 truly was, as Harry Patch called it, "hell on earth." Before I get bogged down in the recollections of the huge and horrific land battles, let me mention that I was recently doing a bit of reading on the Battle of Jutland. So many historians love to disparage both admiralties for wasting all their surface ships in such a huge encounter in one afternoon. They like to point out that neither side was able to use their surface fleets in decisive ways after that fight. And I like to point out that, in sacrificing itself in that way, the British Royal Navy prevented the Kaiser from doing any more mischief with his surface fleet and from giving adequate support to their submarine wolf packs.
But I think that today's historians miss the obvious point. Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, was, as you have correcly pointed out, NOT a democratic nation state. Germany's influence on Europe and the rest of the world was tainted by a man whom our own Teddy Roosevelt said had a point of view that was "very sordid." Monarchies, true monarchies in which one person or autocrat controls or overweaningly influences policy, are just naturally reflective of the character (or lack of same) of their rulers. A man like Wilhelm, who gave his Nibelungentreue to dottering old Franz Josef, chiefly because he, Wilhelm, was grieved by the loss of his hunting buddy, Franz Ferdinand, is using his nation as an extension of his own ego. It is not as though Franz Ferdinand's fellow Austrians were all broken up over the loss of the archduke or of his quasi-commoner wife, Sophie. They were given four HOURS of official mourning. Poor little Sophie, who had born the snubs of the Viennese court for many years, was put in her place even in death. A pair of palace maid's gloves was folded neatly and laid on the foot of her coffin during this ridiculously short period of official grief. Inexcusable pride and condescension.
Then Franz Josef had the foolishness to extend that pride to issuing an ultimatum to little Serbia as though its government had been involved knowingly in the plot to assassinate the royal couple in Sarajevo. Colonel Dragutin Dmitrievic played his role in the plot despite his official police duties, not because of them. Indeed, his plan had been voted down by the ruling body of the Serbian nationalist terrorist organization, the Black Hand (not to be confused with the Black Hand on our side of the pond which was ancestor to the Mafia.) The Colonel, code-named Apis, proceeded with his absurd plan on his own. Being a police chief has its advantages, such as being able to smuggle armed college and high school boys across borders.
Franz Ferdinand cannot be totally excused of some culpability in the success of the plot against his own life and that of his wife. After the first attempt, he insisted that the parade be begun again, because people had been cheering for Sophie, a thing she'd practically never experienced before, I understand. I suppose he meant well, but really...! So little Gavril Princip is able to walk up to their car with his little American-designed/Belgian-manufactured .32 ACP pocket pistol, and dispatch them handily. They wouldn't have been stopped in that intersection if only someone had remembered to tell the driver that the parade route had been changed. Franz Ferdinand, himself, had to tell the poor fellow!
Serbia could issue abject apologies and meet several other requirements of Austria-Hungary's "ultimatum," but it most certainly could not sacrifice its own sovereignty by allowing Austrian agents to investigate the crime in Serbia. Their refusal on this one count led to Franz Josef's call to Wilhelm who, with a devotion to Wagnerian legend that could only be surpassed later by Hitler, gave his Nibelungentreue (a sort of sacred promise from one Super-German to another) to help Austria punish Serbia for what Serbia had not actually done!
The stupidity of it all! Well-intended but none-too-bright Nicholas II vows to come to the aid of his fellow Slavs, the Serbians. That's funny, because during that same war the Russian people resented loudly all the German ancestry of the Tsarina. I guess enough time had passed since Catherine the Great that they had forgotten the Tsar's own German background.
And the Willy-Nicky notes! Have any two bureaucrats ever written a more pointless series of memoranda and with less effect? And their constant changing of their minds was like a comedy of errors with tragic consequences. When one Russian general finally got another "go" order from Nicholas, he smashed his own telephone in order to avoid any more confusing orders. Now the Tsar couldn't have stopped him even if he'd wanted to!
Germany's Von Schlieffen Plan, while not without its virtues, was a classic of Teutonic inflexibility. They had rehearsed it only one way for many years. First go through the Low Countries, then invade France from above and seize the capital. Then, with the French safely under control, turn your attentions on the Slavs. None of this counted on "Brits at their best."
Britain honored a treaty in 1914 which had been drafted and signed in 1835! Who could have guessed that a modern nation state would do something so honorable? With the Kaiser's boys thus slowed by French desperation and British resolve, the thing became a war of attrition. And such attrition! I recall reading that in the spring of 1915, the Brits spent weeks gaining 9,000 yards of territory from the Germans. For this real estate, they paid with the lives of 245,000 English, Welsh, Scottish, and other fine boys who, by rights,should have been at home chasing girls and playing cricket.
So many such discussions often grind down to the point of assigning blame. The "political correctness" which runs so rampant in both our nations today would probably want to assign a good share of the blame for WW I to John Moses Browning, the humble Mormon boy from Utah who designed the little pocket pistol that Fabrique Nationale produced in Belgium. That is the way so many think today.
But, to me, it is still abundantly clear, that Franz-Josef of Austria-Hungary and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, bear primary responsibility for this inconceivably horrible thing. The war cost 9 million in battlefield deaths alone. And the close proximity of so many people in such unsanitary conditions is today blamed by some doctors for the Spanish Flu pandemic which took millions of lives at the end of the war. I am reminded of it whenever I see a line of grave stones all bearing the date 1918. If they're children, they are usually lines of sleeping white lambs. What megalomaniacs like those who started the First World War, and those who started the Second as well, never seem to understand is that every little life represented by one of those little lambs is just as important in the arithmetic of God as that of the grandest personage who ever sat on a throne.
It's 1:39 a.m., my friends, or I'd probably drone on some more. Thanks, again, for the chance to vent on this powerfully important yet largely forgotten topic.