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Great War of Words, Michael Portillo Radio 4

propaganda atrocities in Belgium newspapers

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#1 Liz in Eastbourne

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 09:58 AM

The second episode of this very interesting series has just been on, about German atrocities in Belgium and elsewhere, and British news and public reaction.  It took a rather different line from what I was expecting.

 

I think this series must have been mentioned somewhere on the forum but can't find it!

 

EDIT First programme, sorry,  and this is a better page link.

 

Liz


Edited by Liz in Eastbourne, 04 February 2014 - 01:39 PM.


#2 WilliamRev

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 10:38 AM

In fact the website has made an error - Michael Portillo's programme, broadcast an hour or so ago now, was actually the first of two, and there is a second next week.

 

I thought it wasa  fascinating and well-balanced programme - I waited for the usual errors and cliches that we have got used to in programmes on the war, but I was pleasantly surprised. And I was pleased that he mentioned the change of attitude that came about in the 1920s, with politicians keen to pass the blame for the carnage on to others (mostly generals).

 

William



#3 PJA

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 12:16 PM

Bravo, BBC !

This is excellent. It has authority, balance and terrific impact.

In conjunction with Paxman, I have to say that the BBC has made an auspicious start on its centennial project.

Phil (PJA)

#4 Liz in Eastbourne

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 12:19 PM

In fact the website has made an error - Michael Portillo's programme, broadcast an hour or so ago now, was actually the first of two, and there is a second next week.

 

 

That explains why I didn't notice the alleged first programme last week!

EDIT in fact, it isn't an error but the fact that the page I was directed to, and linked to after listening on the radio, goes straight to next week's programme. This page is more helpful.  

 

I thought it was excellent too.

 

Liz


Edited by Liz in Eastbourne, 04 February 2014 - 01:37 PM.


#5 CarylW

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 05:03 PM

Thanks Liz. Worth a listen and I quite enjoy his Great Continental Railway travels through Europe using a 1913 Bradshaw's. Think the current series is a repeat but if it is, I missed it the first time round.



#6 Liz in Eastbourne

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 05:18 PM

I don't think it's a repeat, Caryl, the page says first broadcast 4 Feb 2014.  But it is repeated this evening at 9.30.



#7 SteveMarsdin

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Posted 04 February 2014 - 06:22 PM

Thanks for flagging it up Liz; I've just listened to it on radio-player and I thought it was well balanced with an excellent selection of experts



#8 PJA

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Posted 11 February 2014 - 10:05 AM

Having just listened to the second episode, I must reiterate how excellent this is.

Too good to miss : please make the effort.

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#9 WilliamRev

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Posted 11 February 2014 - 12:59 PM

Having just listened to the second episode, I must reiterate how excellent this is.

Too good to miss : please make the effort.

 

I agree - this is one of the BBC's best Great War Anniversary offerings so far (alongside "The Wipers Times" on TV), and really gets to grips with issues concerning how the war was subsequently interpreted. I highly recommend it A shorter half-hour version is on Radio Four at 9.30 pm this evening (Tues).

 

William   



#10 SPOF

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Posted 11 February 2014 - 05:16 PM

Also available to download from here http://www.bbc.co.uk...asts/series/ww1



#11 WilliamRev

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Posted 11 February 2014 - 05:56 PM

Also available to download from here http://www.bbc.co.uk...asts/series/ww1

 

That's great - the download is the 43 minute version broadcast this morning, rather than this evening's shortened half-hour version.

 

William



#12 healdav

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Posted 12 February 2014 - 09:09 AM

I didn't manage to hear it, but Michael Portillo is being very busy on the war. He's over here from Friday filming a documentary TV series for broadcast I know not when.

All panic at the moment as I shall be presenting one piece and now they are thinking I ought to do a second piece, but can't make up their minds (it's an editorial puzzle), but I have to bone up a bit on the second piece.



#13 SR Clark

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Posted 13 February 2014 - 09:47 AM

Yes, agree that the R4 two part series was very well done and that Michael Portillo has found a far better role as a broadcaster than a politician! (Also enjoy his train series on the TV with his Bradshaw Tourist Guide, although the radio spares us his brightly coloured jackets!)

That said, I have to say with all the discussion and programmes flying around currently about the causes of the Great War (Paxman, Royal Cousins etc) the most comprehensive and interesting examination has come from Vernon Bogdanor (David Cameron's former tutor at Oxford).

 Unfortunately it is no longer available on iPlayer at present, but can be heard here: 

 

I like the way Professor Bogdanor goes all the way back to the Congress of Vienna after Waterloo and leads us through the use of the Concert of Europe to solve European crises until the ambitions of a growing imperial Germany destabilises its use in the manor of a slow but inevitable train crash. This longer term view shows how the major European powers were really on a collision course for many years and as such the events of 1914 were simply a spark that were seized upon by some and mishandled by others.

 

I am left wondering that should Germany have persuaded Austria to accept the almost complete Serbian capitulation to its outlandish ultimatum, then war would not have been prevented, but only postponed until the inevitable next situation arose. 

 

At the end of the day, Germany wanted its place in the Sun of the imperial world and that was that!



#14 PJA

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Posted 13 February 2014 - 01:45 PM

But do you not think that the use of that word " inevitable" is too extant here ?

As Margaret Macmillan ( McMillan ?) tells us, there are always choices.

Thanks very much for the link, by the way...I'm going to enjoy this.


Edit : Just tried it....no sound !

 

Hooray !  Ditched i-pad and gone to desktop : now it's working .

 

Phil (PJA)



#15 ridgus

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Posted 14 February 2014 - 10:17 PM

But do you not think that the use of that word " inevitable" is too extant here ?

As Margaret Macmillan ( McMillan ?) tells us, there are always choices.

Thanks very much for the link, by the way...I'm going to enjoy this.


Edit : Just tried it....no sound !

 

Hooray !  Ditched i-pad and gone to desktop : now it's working .

 

Phil (PJA)

Phil

 

What did you think of it? I heard it when it was first broadcast and just after I had finished 'Sleepwalkers'. At that time I saw it as essentially an elegant hatchet job on Christopher Clark's central thesis that we shouldn't just blame Germany. As you point out Margaret MacMillan's book takes a broadly similar view to Bogdanor. I wonder if we are getting opposing schools developing here - an Oxford view and a Cambridge view. Wouldn't be the first time.

 

By the way, absolutely agree with you about the Portillo programme - first rate. Wipers Times, Cousins at War, Great Britain's Great War and now this - don't listen to the naysayers the Beeb are off to a flyer in the Centenary stakes!

 

David



#16 PJA

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 05:53 AM

David,

It made my head spin.

He lacked the charismatic impact of Clark ; but I think he has done much to undermine him,

Clark has determined that we see this thing " in the round" " , so to speak , and he does a wonderful job in his delivery....but Bognador draws our attention to one or two salient facts that he reckons Clark has glossed over . I allude especially to Grey's attempt to convene conferences in the summer of 1914 that the Germans dismissed.

I loved the anecdote that Bognador relates about Grey's memoir or diary when he describes meeting a very senior Liberal politician who berated him and insisted that under no circumstances whatsoever should Britain enter a European war. Grey replied that it was preposterous to assert that intervention should not be countenanced under any circumstances.
This made the other even more obdurate....absolutely adamant that there could be no countenancing such a cataclysmic turn.
At this point Grey challenged : " Suppose the Germans invade Belgium. What then ? "
Thereupon the Liberal magnate appeared to recoil, staggered and taken unawares. " They wouldn't do that" he replied..." such a thing would be unthinkable ! " Those are words according to my memory, so forgive mistakes, but it does, I think, convey the essence of Bognador's refutation of Clark. There IS a smoking gun.

In these conflicting accounts, which I find as bewildering as they are compelling, I seek consistencies and agreements.

There is consensus about Bismarck's genius .... he knew how far he could push Germany's luck : his successors didn't.

You mention an Oxford Cambridge split. Niall Ferguson's jumping off point was Jesus College, Oxford.
We need to consider Hew Strachan. The historiography is epic here.

Phil (PJA)

#17 ridgus

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 08:45 AM

Phil

 

Yes, I think the marginalising of Grey was the bit I found most troubling about Professor Clark's book. However I wasn't sure how far that was my bias towards a man for whom I had always had the greatest admiration.

 

As far as Great War studies go Oxford is very blessed at the moment having Professors Strachan and MacMillan in residence.

 

As for the historiography, I think this one will run and run - as the Chinese say about the importance of the French Revolution, "It's too early to tell yet"

 

David



#18 PJA

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 10:15 AM

What intrigues me, David - amongst so many other things regarding the historiography - is the " Black Swan " aspect.

There is another anecdote in Bognador's rendition that gets to me. Heck, I'm beginning to regret my comment that he lacked the charismatic impact of Clark ! Obviously, the lecture has grabbed my imagination.

If memory serves me, he alludes to a sagacious comment by Lord Melbourne, who said that when he saw an array of sensible people trying to persuade mad fools that they were wrong, it turned out that " Gad ! The damned fools turned out to be right ! ".

I think I'd better listen to the talk again.

Phil (PJA)

#19 ridgus

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 10:58 AM

Phil

 

I'm sorry, but you're now doomed to sail the oceans of "causes of the Great War" with all us other Flying Dutchmen.

 

I wrote an essay about it in my first year at University (which was forensically gutted by my Tutor I remember) and I have been obsessed with it for the 40 years since.

 

You'll find you go into remission for long periods and then big beasts like MacMillan and Clark and lesser fauna such as Hastings, Mallinson, McMeekin, Bostridge, Jones et al emerge from the undergrowth and you are hooked again!

 

David



#20 PJA

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 11:52 AM

David,

You're right.

I'm hooked.

The worst of it is, I find myself inflicting it on the guv'nor, too.

We were enjoying our morning cuppa yesterday, and I said to her " You know this house was built in 1912/13? Well, imagine our predecessors having their tea, and discussing the news from the Balkans. I wonder if they imagined that the Germans would go into Belgium. "

It does have some impact on her....she is interested enough to listen while she dunks her biscuit.

Living in this pre 1914 house brings it to life.

Let me ask now, if any pals can send any more links with these lectures, please do so.

Phil (PJA)

#21 ridgus

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 01:29 PM

David,

You're right.

I'm hooked.

The worst of it is, I find myself inflicting it on the guv'nor, too.

We were enjoying our morning cuppa yesterday, and I said to her " You know this house was built in 1912/13? Well, imagine our predecessors having their tea, and discussing the news from the Balkans. I wonder if they imagined that the Germans would go into Belgium. "

It does have some impact on her....she is interested enough to listen while she dunks her biscuit.

Living in this pre 1914 house brings it to life.

Let me ask now, if any pals can send any more links with these lectures, please do so.

Phil (PJA)

 

I'm afraid my wife has the Great War coming at her from all angles as our daughter has also just finished a degree in War Studies, specialising in 1914-18!

 

The attached is a review that Clark did of his rivals' books. You can't read all the review without joining but what is quite interesting is you can read the subsequent exchange between Clark and Norman Frink which sets out the divide quite neatly

 

http://www.lrb.co.uk...-first-calamity

 

David



#22 PJA

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 01:37 PM

Thank you, David.

I've just registered, and will set my password.

Looking forward to the fray !

Phil (PJA)

#23 SR Clark

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 02:15 PM

Phil, 

 

Your question on my use of the word "inevitable" in my previous post made me pause for thought, but I still stand by it. It also had me thinking about the need to have an opinion or just leave it to the professors?

 

"Bad history can be lethal!" are the final words of Michael Portillo in the second part of this excellent radio programme. I smiled as I thought of the recent comments by his own biographer, a certain Michael Gove, who has shown us in my opinion, how not to wade into this unsettled and hotly debated argument with a biassed and narrow minded view to suit his own political agenda of the day.

And with that in mind, I then applied Mr Portillo's comment to the views provided by Professor Bognador's examination of the handling of the July 1914 crisis and pondered his pupil David Cameron's understanding of past dealings and the weight he places on his own use of historical precedents to deal with current crises?

In this context, maybe it shows why these arguments on events of 100 years ago may still have such relevance to us all.

 

I, personally, try to frame all this scholarly work of the experts, using a somewhat subjective feeling that I have for how the mindset ran at the time. For me, as a product of the public school system, the Officer Training Corps and having held a Commission, I know how a perceived sense of honour and belief in a system into which you were wholly immersed during your formative years can really influence all thought on all things.

Thus, in this sense, my "subjectivity" is a useful tool to me, in that I feel that the Imperial and militaristic ambitions of the new Germany were such a vital driving force behind the inevitability of a war sooner rather than later in that period, due to the all the various reasons proposed and also the British reaction in terms of being honour bound not to stand aside.

 

For me this is best summed up by H.G. Wells in my original copy of  "The War Illustrated" dated 22 August 1914 where in the first Article entitled "Why Britain Went to War" he includes such insight as:

 

"If the Germans had not broken the guarantees they shared with us to respect the neutrality of these little States we should certainly not be at war at the present time"

 

"We had to fight because our honour and our pledge obliged us."

 

"No power in the world would have respected our Flag or accepted our national word again if we had not fought."

 

"There can be no diplomatic settlement that will leave German Imperialism free to explain away its failure to its people and start new preparations."  

 

"We have to smash the Prussian Imperialism as thoroughly as Germany in 1871 smashed the rotten Imperialism of Napoleon III. And also we have to learn from the failure of that victory to avoid a vindictive triumph." 

 

"We know that we face unprecedented slaughter and agonies;"

 

All the above was written only two weeks into the war. Unfortunately, perhaps it was the ability of Germany to alter the view of history as Michael Portillo described that actually allowed it to "explain away its failure to its people and start new preparations" ?

 

At any rate on one point H.G. Wells was wrong when he wrote: "This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war - it is the last war!"

However, I suppose it depends on your use of the word "last" !

 

Anyway, these are my own opinions, whether they are "bad history", I will leave up to you!



#24 healdav

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Posted 15 February 2014 - 03:58 PM

David,

It made my head spin.

He lacked the charismatic impact of Clark ; but I think he has done much to undermine him,

Clark has determined that we see this thing " in the round" " , so to speak , and he does a wonderful job in his delivery....but Bognador draws our attention to one or two salient facts that he reckons Clark has glossed over . I allude especially to Grey's attempt to convene conferences in the summer of 1914 that the Germans dismissed.

I loved the anecdote that Bognador relates about Grey's memoir or diary when he describes meeting a very senior Liberal politician who berated him and insisted that under no circumstances whatsoever should Britain enter a European war. Grey replied that it was preposterous to assert that intervention should not be countenanced under any circumstances.
This made the other even more obdurate....absolutely adamant that there could be no countenancing such a cataclysmic turn.
At this point Grey challenged : " Suppose the Germans invade Belgium. What then ? "
Thereupon the Liberal magnate appeared to recoil, staggered and taken unawares. " They wouldn't do that" he replied..." such a thing would be unthinkable ! " Those are words according to my memory, so forgive mistakes, but it does, I think, convey the essence of Bognador's refutation of Clark. There IS a smoking gun.

In these conflicting accounts, which I find as bewildering as they are compelling, I seek consistencies and agreements.

There is consensus about Bismarck's genius .... he knew how far he could push Germany's luck : his successors didn't.

You mention an Oxford Cambridge split. Niall Ferguson's jumping off point was Jesus College, Oxford.
We need to consider Hew Strachan. The historiography is epic here.

Phil (PJA)

Interesting that a senior Liberal politician did not know that as early as 1911 the Committee of Imperial Defence discussed the way in which Germany would walk through Belgium. Apparently they seem to have found it acceptable if they stuck east of the Meuse, but not if they moved west.

I fail to understand the difference.

Incidentally, I have a mysterious report which may or may not have been written and sent to the British just after this meeting which details the German expansion of their railways west of the Rhine.

I quote it in full in my book, "Victims Nonetheless: The invasion of Luxembourg 1914" which is available on Amazon.co.uk/kindle (or Amazon.com for those not in the UK).



#25 PJA

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Posted 16 February 2014 - 09:50 AM

Phil, 
 
Your question on my use of the word "inevitable" in my previous post made me pause for thought, but I still stand by it. It also had me thinking about the need to have an opinion or just leave it to the professors?
 

 
Anyway, these are my own opinions, whether they are "bad history", I will leave up to you!

Your opinions win my respect, and thanks for posting them in such a candid and discerning manner.

The subjectivity you allude to is of momentous importance.

I wonder if I warm to Max Hastings's account because he is telling me what I want to hear.

Likewise, I suspect that many Germans are enthralled by Christopher Clark's rendition because he is telling them what they want to hear.

Editing : another anecdote, if I may...last night I spent a wonderful evening in the best of company, and the conversation turned to the Great War. It's encouraging to see how many people are interested in the subject : I am convinced that Paxman has done a great job here. I wasted no time encouraging my companions to tune in to the Great War of Words tomorrow, and they were keen to do so.

One of my friends took me back when he told me that his great grandfather had been one of the people killed by German naval bombardment at Hartlepool in December 1914. He was, allegedly, one of the first to die and is commemorated on a stone monument. Several sovereigns were found on his corpse, and distributed down through the family as heirlooms. My friend was very impressed and moved by Paxman's show, and was able to appreciate the story properly for the first time.

Phil (PJA)





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