PJA, on 07 September 2012 - 10:21 AM, said:
: it's not so much Haig's reputational rehabilitation that is at stake, but that of the Great War itself.
You are getting into hand-wringing mode again, PJA, and that always leads to confusing the issues. Your thread is, ostensibly, an examination of ‘Haig’s Achievement.’ Having conceded that "Haig’s achievements be properly acknowledged", however, you go on to state that doing so may lead us to “play down the intensity and bloodiness of the battles he
fought.” As Crunchy has rightly pointed out in response:
“All large battles are bloody and involve heavy casualties, including most of those fought on the Western and Eastern fronts by all of the combatants, not just those Haig fought. The whole denigration of Haig seems to be based on the ludicrous perception that his were an anomaly.”
Your conflation of Haig with bloody battles, as if the cost in blood was uniquely paid by the armies under Haig’s command, is, of course, specious. In similar vein, you write
“Above all - and this has been extant on this thread - we are reminded of the twenty million or so dead of the Soviet Union in the Second World War, and advised to tone down our perception of the Great War's bloodiness.”
I introduced on this thread the losses of the Soviet Union in defeating the main German army in the field in the Second World War. Perhaps you can point to where I advised it should be used to “tone down our perception of the Great War’s bloodiness”? As I made specifically clear – and which I reiterated in a second post for the benefit of KB – my point in referencing the cost to Russia in WWII was to emphasise that you do not remove the main German army in the field from where it wishes to be without paying a heavy price for doing so. That the Soviet people paid an even higher price for doing so in 1941-45 than the British in 1914-18 is a simple statement of fact, and does not diminish one sacrifice in comparison to the other. You say of British casualties in the Great War that “They were an anomaly in terms of British experience - on that we must all agree, surely.” Well, yes – but so what? What point are you making – that Britain should have therefore kept out and let Germany do what she wished? You could argue that – but you’d be arguing about political, not military decisions.
In fact, you now seem to be moving the goalposts of this discussion away from Haig to some hand-wringing angst over the cost of Britain’s participation in the Great War per se – “it's not so much Haig's reputational rehabilitation that is at stake, but that of the Great War itself.” Well, you can certainly argue – as some controversy-courting historians who should know better have – that Britain should have maintained a policy of ‘splendid isolation’ from European imbroglios in 1914, but I’d suggest that that ought to be a separate thread. But as I still suffer the odd twinge of guilt from having supposedly reduced you to a state of shock by my vicious use of the Payloresque ‘oh’ some time ago, I’ll set out here some points which you might want to consider before beginning such a thread.
John Charmley has gained publicity for his work by pretending that Britain could have stood idly on the sidelines in 1914. His ‘Splendid Isolation: Britain and the Balance of Power 1874 - 1914’, (1999) pp 1 – 2, begins as follows:
“This book departs from the view [….] that the British involvement in the war of 1914 was inevitable; it dissents, by implication, from the view that British participation was desirable. Just before this book begins in 1874, the Germans had defeated the French. The skies had not fallen in and civilisation had not ended; nor would it have done in 1914 had the Germans once more defeated the French.”
Charmley is spouting attention-grabbing nonsense, of course. The Germany of Wilhelm II in 1914 was not that of the embryonic European power of Wilhelm I under Bismarck’s pilotage. The key difference from Britain’s perspective between 1871 and 1914 was the existence of the German High Seas Fleet. Coupled with German ambitions under Wilhelm II for a place on the world stage, this rendered Britain’s 19th
-century policy of ‘splendid isolation’ no longer tenable. Had Britain stood aside and let France fall in 1914, as she had in 1870/1, she would have acting against her own national interests by allowing German naval access to ports in the Channel and on the French Atlantic seaboard – not to mention the acquisition of the French Fleet. As for what life would have been like in a Europe – and perhaps wider world – under the hegemony of Imperial Germany, one only has to read academic studies of what life was like in territories they did
occupy during the war in works such as Horne and Kramer’s 2001 ‘German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial’. . Add German disregard for the integrity of neutral states in pursuance of its military goals, and arguments for British non-intervention in 1914 are exposed as entirely specious.
Michael Howard, in his Introduction to an otherwise mediocre anthology in 2001, best encapsulates why the national mood in Britain was prepared to pay the price to stop Germany. I think I’ve quoted it before on this forum, but repetition seems to be the name of the game with some here:
“Nevertheless the question remains: was it all worth it? If the cost of victory was so heavy, would it not have been better if Imperial Germany had been allowed to win the war, whether by acknowledging defeat in 1914 or accepting her peace terms two years later? Some historians have pointed out that the plans put forward by German economists in 1916 for a Mitteleuropa
, an integrated European economy monitored from Berlin, were little different from the European Union that eventually came into being, monitored from Brussels. If only European statesmen had been more flexible and their generals less stubborn, might not this solution have come about half a century sooner and Europe, instead of destroying itself and slaughtering a generation of its young men, have emerged as a Great Power in its own right, even if one under German leadership?
Perhaps. But if the Germany of 1916 was not that of Adolf Hitler, neither was she that of Konrad Adenauer. Power was contested between an authoritarian, militaristic and increasingly proto-fascistic right wing and a liberal-socialistic left, and every military success strengthened the hand of the former. Victory in war would have established their dominance, not only in Germany, but over Europe as a whole, and with it their determination to destroy Britain’s naval supremacy and to reduce her to the status of a second-rate power as they had done to France in 1871. That, at least, was the perception in Britain itself, which was why, for better or worse, neither elite nor popular opinion in Britain across the political spectrum for a moment considered defeat to be an option. Reserves of national pride, built up over generations, were not yet exhausted. Politicians and generals were reviled for the way in which they conducted the war, but not for fighting it at all.”
[Michael Howard, ‘A Part of History: Aspects of the British Experience of the First World War’, (2008) p. xx]