Sean points out rightly that it was today, in the summer of 1914, when Britain found herself with no choice but to enter the Great War, whose stormclouds had been gathering for some weeks. It was also the abiding tragedy of Sir Edward Grey’s life (sad in other respects for him too being an unwilling and unadjusted widower, and a great and renowned trout fisherman and authority on the subject.)
He was aware, as indeed was also Paul Johnson decades later in “The Offshore Islanders”, that this war would be an unmitigated disaster and a tragedy for civilisation.
As I jot today, it is now 94 years on. Since Sean’s piece first saw the light of day, almost all the old men who then remembered that war have passed on. The cenotaph processions of “Old Contemptibles” were quite large in my youth. The last one, probably a gentleman called Harry Patch, is on record as wishing to decline the honour of a State Funeral when his turn finally comes. The last French soldier of ww1 died, I think, a few months ago. I’m not sure if the Germans keep records of this sad kind, but their situation is probably similar as will be that of Austria, Russia, Turkey and the others.
And thus, the Great War passes out of living history, and out of today, and into only memory, into books, Wikipedia pages, and half-remembered conversations with old men who are now dead, and whose faces fade with time. And the Second Half of that War will follow it soon, as any reader of the Daily Telegraph’s splendid and uplifting obituary pages can confirm.
On the whole, it is good to be able to say that, if Anglosphere nations have tended to go to war rather a lot (and you can easily see or google many many stupidly un-thought-out socialist phrases like “Britain is the most warring nation in history”) then it is because they’ve done it either for a principle or for the rights of another third-party nation. These are good reasons to go to war, and “do the right thing”.
I’m not saying that war of itself is good: it is not: it is institutionalised destruction resported to when proper foreign policy avenues have failed - it therefore only exists as a by-product of the existence of “Big States”, and all readers of this and other libertarian blogs need no reminding of what we think of “Big States” and their works.
But wars fought for noble ends are such as is what the Anglosphere has by and large tended to do: having spent a millenium gettng its own house into some sort of practical liberal-conservative order, it has an outlook that differs from all other “States’” outlooks, so far. Inside it, the State has tended to do the least harm possible consistent with “providing against preventable evils” (Enoch Powell’s words, that begin his “RIVERS of BLOOD” speech.) It thus must follow that on the whole we ought to be proud of why and what for we intervened in conflicts. Now for example I have always disagreed with Sean over Iraq (2003.) To me, this was the only right and good decision Tony Blair took in his papacy principate – to support the USA after 9/11 and to offer war to people who were clearly against the West, such as the Taliban, or just wicked, such as Saddam Hussein. (The phrase “the War on Terror” is quite meaningless, since “terror” (which is to say, intellingently-directed blood-assaults on the unprotected civilians of a belligerent) is merely a weapon or tactic, and is not a corporate person or collection of individuals. It merely has a decondary function, as a trigger for an Anglo-American-Leftisto-Stalinist’s excuse to set up Police States -which are even worse than ordinary ones.)
No. The Great War was bad. But in my view, which may contrast with Sean’s, it was unavoidable. It was a pity that no forward providence would or could forsee that Pte Henry Tandy, VC, of the Green Howards, would refrain from shooting a certain Cpl Hitler, at Marcoing near Cambrai, on 28th September 1918. Hitler was wounded, and Pte Tandy said long, long afterwards: “I couldn’t shoot a wounded man, so I let him go.” (All this must be available on google or wiki, and you can find it also in the Telegraph archives for 28th July 1997, as and when they digitize the lot.
If we had not, then probably all Europe and Eurasia would have been over-run, and subsequently ruled by the Kaiser’s autistically-warped vision of what constitutes a Utopian civilisation. Would this have been a bad thing? Yes. Because another Hitler (or the same one?) or, equally bad, a Lenin (or the same one?) would then have had an even larger and more intricate State-Machine, the levers of which to pull at his will. It is not clear to me that the nascent Anglosphere in the 1920s could have stood against this leviathan, without the horrors of another war, probably quite similar to WW2 anyway.
Sorry to be so depressing, and on such a fine and sunny afternnoon too. (Al Gore eat your black heart out – you wouldn’t die for these men, even if we paid you more than you earned from your silly movies.) Here’s a picture of one of the main inscriptions on our war memorial here.
“REMEMBER THAT THE MEN WHOSE NAMES LIVE ON THESE WALLS DIED IN YOUTH OR PRIME THAT FUTURE GENERATIONS MIGHT INHERIT A WORLD AND A HUMAN SOCIETY MORE RIGHTEOUS AND MORE LOVING THAN THOSE BRAVE MEN AND THEIR GENERATION KNEW.”
I just leave you with that thought.