Tag Archives: First World War

The Failure to Prevent World War I – a guest post from Hall Gardner

This is a guest post from Hall Gardner, author of The Failure to Prevent World War I

The failure to rpevent world war 1The Failure to Prevent World War I: The Unexpected Armageddon originated in my PhD research (1987) at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, which had compared and contrasted the geopolitical, political-economic, military technological and diplomatic dynamics between Great Britain and Germany that led to World War I in the period from 1870 to 1914 to the US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War. Following Soviet collapse, my first book, Surviving the Millennium (1994) then updated the multiple dimensions of US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War. Although I then began to focus more on the post-Cold War period, my study of the World War I period was not, however, entirely left in limbo. I began to engage in deeper research on the subject, particularly as I realized that most studies on the origins of WWI written in English tended to focus primarily on Anglo-German relations, but of course with a number of important studies on Austrian and Russian perspectives. And yet there seemed to be relatively fewer studies written on the French perspective.

Ashgate research companion to warMy first step was consequently to update my previous research for one of the chapters of the Ashgate Research Companion to War: Origins and Prevention, which I edited with Oleg Kobtzeff in 2012. But in working on that chapter, I realized that a truly systemic and long-term historical approach to the origins of World War I, which brought in the French perspective on Alsace Lorraine since the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, was crucial to an understanding of the causes of the Armageddon of 1914-18. It is consequently in researching through official French documents that I discovered that French sources had reported in March 1911 that Berlin and Vienna had hoped to place the eldest son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the House of Habsbourg-Lorraine and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Maximilian, as the royal governor of Alsace-Lorraine. If Maximilian was made royal governor of Alsace-Lorraine, it would, in effect, provide a royal legitimacy to Austro-German control over the annexed territory, and help solidify the Austria-German alliance against their rivals. I then discovered, too late to include in the book that had already gone to press, that the secret meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Konopischt on 13-14 June 1914 (which was relayed by the Tsarist secret police) reconfirmed those secret French reports dating from March 1911. In effect, this represents a smoking gun (but not conclusive proof) to argue that the Russians, Serbs, as well as the French, all had reasons to eliminate the Archduke Ferdinand. The problem, and what requires deeper research, is that all French documents dealing with the relationship between the Archduke and Alsace Lorraine—in addition to reports on those who were involved in that assassination—were removed from the public domain. The smoking gun is there. But will the truth ever be revealed?

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About the Author: Hall Gardner is Professor and Chair of International and Comparative Politics at the American University of Paris. He received his PhD in 1987 at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Washington DC. He is a member of the World Association of International Studies, Stanford University and is on the Advisory Boards of the New Policy Forum (Mikhail Gorbachev); Cicero Foundation: Paris/ Maastricht; Journal, Géostratégiques; Online Bibliography, Oxford University Press.

Read more about Hall Gardner’s new book, The Failure to Prevent World War I, including reviews and excerpts from the book on the Ashgate website. Read more about Ashgate’s Military and War publishing programme at www.ashgate.com/military.

The Long Shadows of War: The Aftermath and Legacies of Conflicts in Europe – a guest post from Tim Haughton

Tim HaughtonThis is a guest post by Tim Haughton, Reader (Associate Professor) in European Politics at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, at the University of Birmingham.

This year is full of poignant anniversaries; none more so than the outbreak of the First World War. Whilst the century of the outbreak of ‘the war to end all wars’ has focused attention on the causes of the conflict, as the contributions to the forthcoming edited volume, Aftermath: Legacies and Memories of War in Europe, 1918-1945-1989 highlight, the sight of poppies in the first half of November should also give us pause to reflect on the long shadows cast by that war.

The First World War was the defining conflict of modern European history. Empires were swept away, new states created, social relations were transformed, and old orders were defeated or weakened, bringing in some cases new forces to power, galvanized and legitimized by radical ideological agendas.

Although a century has passed since the guns fell silent and we have lost the last living connections to those battlefields, the aftermath of the First World War, particularly the redrawing of the borders through the Peace Treaties of 1919–1923, continues to matter. Versailles, St. Germain and Trianon bequeathed demographic legacies which shape domestic politics and colour relations between countries, such as Hungary and Slovakia, long after the last casualty fell on the battlefield.

The shadows of war, however, not only matter for countries. We should not underestimate the impact of war and its immediate aftermath on ordinary citizens. Young men were forced to fight in the dirty, noisy and cramped trenches of the First World War, periodically putting their heads above the parapet and advancing into volleys of machine gun fire when asked to go over the top for the sake of a few metres of muddy Flanders fields. For them the war was a profoundly formative experience. The sense of loss and sacrifice felt by the returning soldiers marked them out and isolated them from others in their societies, and this inevitably created divisions.

Indeed, wars create multiple divisions: not just between different countries and empires, and not just between different ethnic groups and regions within a country, but also, as one of the contributors to the volume Mary Fulbrook argues, between generations. War is a transformative experience, which affects generations in different ways. Different generations draw different conclusions and find it difficult to relate to other generations whom they see as obsessive or fundamentally detached from the conflict.

Stress on the individual underlines that there are both private and public aftermaths of war which may sometimes stand in stark contrast. The reified historical narratives of the public may grate and be at odds with the painful personal aftermaths of soldiers and civilians.

Nonetheless, the dark clouds of war can have their silver linings. As Stephen Forcer’s chapter in the volume highlights, such tensions between the personal and the public can provoke – or at least contribute to ‒ innovative cultural trends like the emergence of Dada and Surrealism both of which emerged in part as a reaction to officials and national narratives about the First World War. Indeed, it seems appropriate that from the most absurd of modern conflicts emerged schools of thinking which reify the absurd.

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Tim Haughton is Reader (Associate Professor) in European Politics at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, at the University of Birmingham. He is author of ‘Constraints and Opportunities of Leadership in Post-Communist Europe’ (Aldershot & Burlington, 2005) and editor of ‘Party Politics in Central and Eastern Europe: Does EU Membership Matter?’ (London, 2010); and ‘The JCMS Annual Review of the European Union’ (Oxford, 2009-present). He was Director of the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies from 2012 to 2014.Aftermath

Aftermath: Legacies of War in Europe – 1918, 1945, 1989, edited by Nicholas Martin, Tim Haughton and Pierre Pursiegle is published by Ashgate in December 2014.

General Sir Henry Horne and the renaissance in British military thought during the First World War – a guest post from Simon Robbins

Simon RobbinsThis is a guest post from Simon Robbins, Senior Archivist at the Imperial War Museum and the author of British Generalship During the Great War: The Military Career of Sir Henry Horne (1861-1929) (2010)

This year, 2014, has seen the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, which offers an opportunity to re-examine the performance on the Western Front of the armies led by Douglas Haig, which remains one of the most controversial eras in the history of the British Army. The public still regards the German Army as the model of military excellence during the First World War while disdaining the British Army as the exemplar of military incompetence and inefficiency.  In reality, the British Army had undergone a profound, often painful, change between 1914 and 1918, becoming remarkably efficient by 1918.  It had progressed from being a small professional force organised for colonial policing to a mass army of volunteers and conscripts which fought a large-scale, high-intensity continental war against a first-class enemy.

The British performance on the battlefield improved considerably between 1915 and 1918. The Last Hundred Days campaign between August and November 1918 was one of the most brilliant offensives of the First World War.  For far too long, the historiography of the British Army during the Great War has focused on the personality of Douglas Haig, who has been a lightning rod for discontent about the performance of the British High Command and given an undue significance.  Insufficient attention has been paid to other senior military figures, notably the army and corps commanders, who led the troops on the battlefield.

The career of Henry Horne who commanded XV Corps and then First Army between 1916 and 1918 provides insights into the learning process on the Western Front and hard evidence of how effective the British Army was. Horne was a highly professional artillery officer and his career contradicts many of the commonly held assumptions about the British High Command.  He was not a chateau general but regularly visited his troops, supervised their training, looked after their comforts and minimized their casualties.  Horne was an outstanding example of the group of senior officers who rose to high command during the final two years of the war.

A renaissance in British military thought in 1916-18, which has been overshadowed by the horrific casualties of the Somme and Ypres, provided not only the basis for the achievement of a British victory in 1918 but also for military development for the rest of the century. In 1917-18 Horne was at the forefront of these developments and his assaults on the Scarpe, the Drocourt – Quéant Line and the Canal du Nord in August and September 1918 were models of combined operations, which broke through the German defences on key sections of their front, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans and forcing them to retreat.  As an Army Commander Horne would employ the vast fire-power which was available to British commanders as a result of tactical development and innovation during 1916-17.  Along with Birdwood (Fifth Army), Byng (Third Army), Plumer (Second Army) and Rawlinson (Fourth Army), Horne deserves to be remembered as one of the major architects of victory in 1918.

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British generalship during the great warSimon Robbins is Senior Archivist at the Imperial War Museum and is the author of British Generalship During the Great War: The Military Career of Sir Henry Horne (1861-1929) (2010). Robbins’ book follows the career of Sir Henry Horne to challenge long-held assumptions that the First World War was a senseless bloodbath conducted by unimaginative and incompetent generals. He presents a new model in which men like Horne developed new tactics and techniques to deal with the problem of trench warfare, and in so doing seeks to re-establish the image of the British general.

Military Historian David French on British Generalship During the Great War in The Journal of Modern History:

‘Anyone picking up this book might be forgiven for asking whether we really need another study of the British army during the First World War, and, if we do, whether a biography of a general known to very few besides specialist military historians is the right way to approach the subject. The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes… [Robbins] has now written a study of Sir Henry Horne that not only helps to rescue his career for posterity but also sheds a good deal of light on how the army went about its business between 1914 and 1918.’

How the First World War has been symbolized over the past century – a guest post from Stephen Heathorn

StephenHeathornThis is a guest post from Stephen Heathorn, author of Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

One of the long-lasting images of the British experience of the First World War has been that the British fielded armies were filled with brave soldiers (‘lions’) led by incompetent, reckless and callous generals (‘donkeys’), the latter sitting safe miles behind the murderous frontlines.  This ‘lions led by donkeys’ image became very popular after the Second World War because it implicitly contains a then popular critique of British society: the British high command had been led by aristocrats and gentry who, because of their class position, were largely contemptuous of the middle- and working-class men they sent into battle.

This view of the war was emotionally satisfying for some as it identifies clear villains and victims of the conflict, which was especially important after the interwar years demonstrated that the war had not brought about a necessarily better Britain and the second calamity of the Second World War solidified existing doubts on the motivations for going to war in 1914 in the first place.  But the very idea of ‘lions led by donkeys’ is a myth.  It is a way of understanding the past that contains elements of the actual story, but arranged in a way that overly simplifies what had happened and apportions responsibility for tragedy too neatly and without full context.  It is also not the way in which most people in Britain understood the First World War prior to the 1950s.

A number of historians have tried to debunk the ‘lions led by donkeys’ myth, showing that as a group the British generals (of which there were hundreds who saw service, and some 78 were killed in action) learned the necessary lessons of trench warfare better and quicker than did their opponents, which is why Britain and its allies were able to defeat the Germans.  Others have argued that the generals did not learn very quickly, but that ultimately they were never in complete control of their armies’ efforts anyway, and indeed, because of the limitations of technology at the time, often could not even communicate effectively with their subordinates while battle raged.  Technological, logistical, demographic and geographical factors impinged on what the leaders of the armies could do – regardless of their imaginative frame of mind or tactical abilities.

But the generals at the top – Field Marshals Douglas Haig and Herbert Horatio Kitchener in particular – have since the war continued to be the focus of popular fascination, regardless of whether they have been depicted (as they have at various times) as heroes, villains, unfairly scapegoated, or really quite irrelevant.  Indeed, at different times over the course of the 20th century these two men have become symbols of how the war itself was popularly understood and argued about.  Haig, for instance, was given a hero’s funeral attended by more than a million people in 1928, when the mass of the population still believed (or wanted to believe) that the war had resulted in a meaningful, if costly, victory.  The proposed statue in Whitehall (actually erected in the late 1930s) to commemorate him was controversial from the start not because Haig was reviled, but because numerous constituencies wanted it to reflect their values and sacrifices: the monument to Haig was popularly perceived as standing for more than just the man, Haig stood as a contested symbol of how the British war effort ought to be understood.  Similarly, in the 1990s when a newspaper campaign was launched to have the Haig statue removed, it was because a far more negative view of the war (more in line with the ‘lions led by donkeys’ image) had become popularly entrenched.

Haig’s example points to one of the paradoxes of how the First World War has been remembered and popularly understood.  For while it was a conflict that involved millions and operated according to a depersonalized, alienating logic, subsequent attempts to understand the war have almost invariably tried to do so through the experience and understanding of individual participants.  The experience of a few individuals in the trenches immortalized by the young officer-writers like Owen, Graves and Sassoon, subsequently came to represent for many who did not experience it first hand, what the war was like for the ‘everyman’ in the trenches.  These writers and their perceptions shaped our culture’s understanding of what the war (and indeed for some, all modern war) was like.  The changing representations (and their subsequent use, politically, commercially and academically) of the military leadership, on the other hand, points to the continuing need to have heroes/villains who might be held accountable for the events that occurred – even if such an accounting overly simplifies/amplifies these men’s actual role.  Both representations – of the everyman soldier and of the general – have telescoped a huge variety of experience and context into simple, mutually re-enforcing symbols that have changed considerably over the course of the century since the war began.  Understanding how these symbols have evolved provides us insight into how the war itself has been understood, and why those understandings have changed.

Stephen Heathorn is Professor of British History and Director of Graduate Studies of the Department of History at McMaster University, Canada  He is the author of the research monographs, ‘Earl Kitchener and Earl Haig in Twentieth Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation’ (Ashgate, 2013), and ‘For Home, Country and Race: Constructing Gender, Class and Englishness in the Elementary School Classroom, 1880-1914’ (University of Toronto Press, 2000), and more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

Haig and KitchenerMore about Haig and Kitchener in Twentieth-Century Britain: Remembrance, Representation and Appropriation

What did Australian soldiers read during the Great War?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

This is a guest blog post in the First World War Centenary series, written by  Amanda Laugesen, author of Boredom is the Enemy: the Intellectual Lives of Australian Soldiers in the Great War and Beyond

While letters from home were the most cherished reading material for Australian soldiers serving far from home during the Great War, soldiers read a wide range of books, newspapers, and periodicals. Such reading served various purposes for soldiers, from connecting them to home, to education, to allowing for a brief escape from the realities of military life and the horrors of war.

Other than letters from home, soldiers eagerly anticipated receiving newspapers and periodicals from friends and family. One Australian soldier, Bob Bice, wrote home to thank his family for sending him newspapers from his home town of Nowra: ‘[a] person far from home finds even the advertisements of his home town very interesting reading.’ Newspapers from home informed soldiers about life back there and helped them endure the time abroad. Australian periodicals like The Bulletin were also very popular, with one soldier warning his cousin who was sending them to him: ‘it would be advisable to take cover off. The Bulletin is the most popular here and is sought after by about every man.’

Books were highly prized by many soldiers. Books were provided to soldiers through charitable organisations like the Camps Library. Books ranged from escapist fare such as the work of writers like Nat Gould, John Buchan, and William LeQueux, to more serious educational works such as Darwin’s Origin of Species and a range of popular political texts. For soldiers, escapist fare served an important psychological function in allowing a respite from the realities of war. Educational and political works connected soldiers to civilian occupations and aspirations as they planned for a life after the war. Reading was not confined to silent reading, either. There are many mentions of soldiers reading aloud to one another.

Reading was important to many Australian soldiers during the Great War, and this reminds us that soldiers continued to seek entertainment and opportunities to educate themselves even in the context of war.

Layout 1For more on soldiers’ reading and other experiences of education and entertainment in wartime, see Amanda Laugesen, Boredom is the Enemy: the Intellectual Lives of Australian Soldiers in the Great War and Beyond (2012).

Making Public History, Past and Present

Jennifer WingateThis is a guest blog post in the First World War Centenary series, written by Jennifer Wingate, Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at St. Francis College, USA and author of Sculpting Doughboys (Ashgate, 2013)

The 100th anniversary of World War I coincides with the launching of newly digitized resources that inspire fresh scholarly insights and revisions of the historical narrative.  That same technology also invites the public to contemplate the history of the First World War.  This contemporary public engagement with history parallels that which took place after 1918 when civic groups took it upon themselves to raise money for local memorials.  The U.S. government focused on designing cemeteries abroad, so tributes on home soil were grass roots affairs.  Today, with smartphones acting as extensions of our physical selves, we can take snapshots of local memorials erected almost one hundred years ago, and upload them onto photo sharing sites where they can be categorized by keyword and easily sought out by interested individuals across the country and beyond.

WW1 memorial tree plaque

A memorial tree plaque embedded in the pavement of downtown Brooklyn, walked over daily by thousands of commuters, can reside side by side, in the virtual realm, with a relief stele in Canton, Illinois, a fighting soldier sculpture in the Alliance, Ohio, cemetery, and a neoclassical band shell that serves as the Washington, D.C., World War I Memorial in the nation’s capital (try searching social media sites for #WWI and #memorials).

Doughboy sculpture, Ohio  District of Columbia WW1 Memorial

This is the era of the digital database, and an impressive one called the World War I Memorial Inventory Project is in the works.

If we take the time to look carefully at these sculptures (it was the sculptural memorials that were the focus of my book), we can learn about the nineteen twenties when most World War I memorials were dedicated.  While some are elegant and understated, others are cartoonish looking to twenty-first-century eyes.  Why?  What can these sculptures tell us about women’s roles in the war?  About masculinity in the interwar period?  About African-American soldiers?  About the sculptors who made them?  Or the communities who dedicated them?

These are just some of the questions I tried to answer in my book.  Encouraging students and community members to go out and document and ask questions about this neglected history of community-generated commemoration can enrich the conversation about World War I memory and, ultimately, about how history is made.

Sculpting DoughboysSculpting Doughboys: Memory, Gender, and Taste in America’s World War I Memorials shows why sculptures of ‘doughboys’ (US soldiers during World War I) were in such demand during the 1920s, and how their functions and meanings have evolved. Wingate recovers and interprets the circumstances of the doughboy sculptures’ creation, and offers a new perspective on the complex culture of interwar America and on present-day commemorative practices.

The Processes of Remembering the First World War

During the First World War centenary years, Ashgate’s blog will play host to a series of blog entries – contributed by Ashgate authors – that reflect upon the Great War’s impact upon history and culture over the last one hundred years, and explore issues raised by the latest research in war studies.

ross j wilsonThis first entry is contributed by Ross J. Wilson, author of Cultural Heritage of the Great War in Britain (2013).

With the advent of the hundredth anniversaries of the First World War, questions have been raised as to the ways in which the conflict is remembered in Britain. Over the last few decades, concerns have been expressed that media representations of the ‘mud and blood’ of the Western Front have dominated popular understandings of the war.

However, rather than assume the public passively consume film and television, perhaps it would be better to ask why particular ideas of the conflict persist? What do these visions of the past do for those who honour them today?

To answer this issue, the ‘meanings’ of the war of 1914-1918 within contemporary society across Britain can be examined. These meanings can be identified through the manner in which the conflict is still used as a mode of conveying ideas and values.

For example, expressions associated with the war, such as ‘over the top’, ‘in the trenches’ or ‘no man’s land’, punctuate everyday language, not just as a means of vivid illustration, but to communicate ideas about responsibility, blame and collective identity.

For example, dissenting groups might describe themselves as ‘in the trenches’ over government reforms or ‘in no man’s land’ after the withdrawal of funding. These concepts are employed purposefully to highlight neglect or to assign blame.

These terms are used in a wide variety of contexts in political, media and public discourse, to describe a range of issues, as the First World War is employed as a means of understanding contemporary society.

Similarly, the suffering of the troops on the battlefields has become a feature of modern British identity politics, as communities associate themselves with the trauma of the war. To state a connection to this sense of victimhood provides a point of identification.

In this sense, to bear witness to the victims of the past provides contemporary individuals with a means to highlight current fears and anxieties. Whilst most frequently associated with the memorialisation of the Ulster Volunteers in Northern Ireland, this is not a unique phenomenon.

Distinctive narratives of suffering and victimhood in the war have been utilised by Scottish, Welsh and northern English communities in recent years, as well as political groups of all persuasions, to assert their rights and interests.

The critique of the ‘popular memory’ of the First World War in Britain is an act which obscures the complex processes of remembering that occurs within groups, communities and individuals.

The First World War is a symbolic resource enabling current generations across Britain to ‘return to the trenches’, not as the result of a vapid viewing of Blackadder Goes Forth, but as a means to shape contemporary ideas, debates and identities.

Cultural Heritage of the Great War in BritainCultural Heritage of the Great War in Britain, published in the series Heritage, Culture and Identity, addresses how the war maintains a place and value within British society through the usage of phrases, references, metaphors and imagery within popular media, heritage and political discourse. Wilson explores why wider popular debate within historiography, literature, art, television and film draws upon a war fought nearly a century ago to express ideas about identity, place and politics.

Ross J. Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Modern History and Public Heritage at the University of Chichester.