Monday, 21 July 2014

Notes on World War I by Steve Roman

My notes on a talk to the Manchester Litt & Phil by Dr. Nick Martin, Director of the Institute for German Studies at Birmingham University.

British memory of WWI:
* Mud
* Suffering/sacrifice (not killing)
* Death (700,000)
* Donkeys (lions led by – invented by Alan Clark)
* Futility
* Poets
* Veterans
* Poppies
Mud, blood and futility only since the 1950s

German memory of WWI:
* Limited/negligible (remembrance extinguished after 1945)
* Only 2 major overview exhibitions*
* Humiliating terms of Treaty of Versailles and blame (Clause 231)
* War ended 28 June 1919 when the Treaty was signed
* War guilt
* Seen as prelude/condition to rise of Nazism and the Holocaust
* Stab in the back myth
* Not fought on German soil
* Subsumed by WW2 and Nazis’ barbaric crimes
* No debate on causes
* But (re)-imagining Germany in the past 100 years and wider
commemorations of WW2 and the fall of the Berlin Wall

Causes of the War:
* Domino effect of interlocking alliances in Europe
* Increasing fear of encirclement by Russian and France
* The Blame Game – grab for world power, looking for an excuse (conspiracy theory)
* The poker players (cock-up theory)
* Sleepwalkers (Christopher Clark) blames Serbia and Austro-Hungary and the briefing paper
* 1897 – we want our place in the sun
* Schlieffen Plan 1905 (war game) but put in place together with Eastern Front

Other facets:
* Manifesto of the 93 on 23 October 1914 – leading cultural figures in science and the arts defending German actions since August: helped Allied propaganda and led to allies’ boycott of those figures into the ‘20s
* Thomas Mann – Intellectual War Service
* War is purification
* Kultur v civilization
* Massive pro-war poetry and other writings in first months
* Over 2 million German dead
* There was no plan either in the briefing paper or during the war to invade Britain but only to capture the channel ports – this fear, rather than protecting Belgium, was in the British Cabinet’s minds
* From 2001 Germany changed from ‘blood’ to ‘soil’ to determine nationality

A debate at Manchester Salon between Dr James Woudhuysen Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Monfort Uni. and Terry Jackson, Chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Branch, Western Front Association.
The origins of the First World War are variously attributed to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the complex system of international alliances that developed before 1914, the way in which Germany's Schlieffen Plan depended on its army sticking to strict railway timetables, or the unreadiness of old dynasties to move with the times.
In fact, James will argue, it was the very 2014 phenomenon of Foreign Direct Investment that, before 1914, bound all the eventual participants in the conflict into a system of long-run, spiralling tensions. Today's commentators on the First World War often miss three other forces that mediated and accelerated the catastrophe.
* First, Britain's newly privatised military-industrial complex - the forerunner of GCHQ today - heightened frictions with Germany, even if it didn't cause them.
* Second, the Entente between Britain and France was based on fear not just of Germany, but of losing colonies everywhere. The First World War was, in tendency at least, a global war. It was as much about Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America as it was about Verdun, or America's eventually decisive role in Germany's defeat.
* Third, class relations before, during and after the war were much more polarised than they are today. The 'social question' was key to the very fate both of Russia, and of Germany. In the final stages of the war and after it, France, Italy, the US and even Britain encountered significant strikes and militant class struggles.
Today, some see the US guarantee of Japan’s security against China as the potential trigger for a dangerously titanic conflict. In this scheme, a rising China today is analogous to an ascendant Germany before the First World War. The re-emergence of Russia as a world power, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, also suggests parallels with developments 100 years ago.
It may however not be accurate to see contemporary conflicts in the East and South China Seas, and nearby, through the lens of 1914. Nor may it be helpful to view Myanmar as a new Serbia. In this discussion, we will explore the parallels and the differences between 1914 in Europe and 2014 in East Asia. He will ask whether a 'pointless' war over the Senkaku Islands might in fact emerge as the extension, by other means, of today's anxious, precautionary politics.

My notes of the debate:

* Introduction of the assembly line and cultural change
* Brand names for consumers
* Investment – mutual between UK and Germany
cross – eg France in Russian railways
* Privatised military/industrial complex driving the war
- 5 in 6 British warships built privately
- revolving door between industry and government
* Navalism – Britain 2:1 - wanted a navy twice as big as the next two
* Anti-Semitism (J A Hobson)
* Theodore Roosevelt in the Caribbean – Cuba and Panama (Canal)
* India lost 70,000 men
* Japan’s navy supporting the allies - lost a ship off Malta in 1917-18
* 200,000 in the British Army in 1914, half of them overseas
* Prussia was a signatory to the 1839 Treaty of London which guaranteed Belgian neutrality in perpetuity and by implication was one of her supporters
* 60,000 allied casualties on the first day of the Somme: 19k allied killed; 5,000 Germans killed
* 53 different ethnic groups present at Ypres

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