Friday, 31 October 2014

Why On Earth Blog About World War One?

Fair enough question - there's more than enough high quality stuff out there (and the rest).

I have been fascinated by WW1 for fifty years - neatly, half the time since it began. The grainy images of the BBC Great War documentary series struck fear into my adolescent consciousness. Everybody in my family knew about WW2, and my father had served in the Battle of the Atlantic, but this was different. It was there on the screen in moving pictures, but very remote, and the people looked strangely different, with their big moustaches and jerky movements.

Around thirty years ago I bought Liddell Hart's History of the First World War, the first of many, and have been triangulating since then (notably Churchill; Martin Gilbert; Richard Holmes and Hew Strachan). This accelerated with the profusion of new titles in the lead up to the centenary, many of which have given new or different perspectives. In my view Max Hastings' Catastrophe is the best of these for balance and narrative, but I'm just starting on Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers, and may return to that. A wider bibliography is given in a separate post. PS January 2015: Clark's 'Sleepwalkers' is indeed a masterpiece, and the best account I have read of the 10-12 years leading up to War, albeit very detailed. Also enjoyed hugely Barbara Tuchmann's "Guns of August" a well deserved Pulitzer Prize winner over 50 years ago.

In the past 15 years regular visits to the memorials and battlefields of the Western Front have heightened my awareness of the scale of actions and sacrifices made. In the first few months of the war the actions on the Eastern Front were just as staggering, and I'd really like to visit some of those historic places between Galicia and the Baltic.

Aside from the military and political upheavals of 1914-18, whole other areas of change - social, cultural, art and music, technology - intrigue me, whether in antecedents, influencing the course of the war, or in its consequences. They don't feature much in what I have written to date, but do influence greatly our views of what was done in four ghastly years of conflict.

This blog is self indulgent and entirely derivative, although if it's of interest to others that would be great. After a career struggling for peer review publications, this is great fun. Reading about the antecedents inevitably leads to delving back into 19th and 18th centuries for the impact of Franco Prussian war; Napoleonic wars and other events. The reflections, such as they are, are my own, but no claim of originality is made.  I have drawn heavily on the (nearly) contemporaneous works of Winston Churchill The Great War and John Buchan's A History of the Great War. They are both beautifully written in the prose of that time and give (at least they do to me) a feeling of authenticity, despite their inevitable partiality in some areas. 

I had planned to do this in four large chapters - one for each year - posted in instalments roughly 100 years on, but things have grown and I'm running a little late. I'll catch up in early 2015 I hope.

1 comment:

  1. Looking for some old flags my attention was atracted for some maps of your blog that appears in google image search. I did read and enjoy some of the chapters you wrote.
    From PerĂº, Miguel Tejada