Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Long Shadow

By happenstance (and thanks to my Facebook friend Susan R) the following popped up on my Facebook page today.
Well I never, I had just finished reading "The Long Shadow" which I had borrowed from the Sarasota County Public Library (probably a day or two after it had been placed on the "New Books" section at the Fruitville branch library.
It's a fascinating (if very occasionally tedious) read  which made me think anew about all I had been taught about the Great War, and the consequences of that bitter blood-letting.
For instance:
The experience of the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli (and other places) moved  Australia to see itself as a proud co-equal nation in the Empire/Commonwealth, and not as a junior partner or ex-colony.
The incredible number of volunteers from the British Isles (2.5 million from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales) who were convinced of the righteousness of the cause, led to a new sense of British-ness  (gallant Britain coming to the aid of plucky Belgium).
That sense of British-ness broke down in Ireland when the Catholic majority came to believe that the UK parliament would renege on it pre-war promise of Home Rule.  That belief contributed to the momentum for the Easter Rising of 1916,  which in its turn led northern Irish Protestants asserting that they had been "stabbed in the back" in 1916.
But the concept of being British held fast in England, Scotland and Wales until recent devolutions of power in Wales and Scotland.
The British Commonwealth/Empire reached its zenith after the Great War. 
The British economy recovered much more quickly than that of the Germans (we all  know that), the French and the Americans (probably because the Brits were the first to come off the Gold Standard"
When we learned "history" in High School it was presented as an account of "facts".  Thus, with regard to the Great War we were taught about dates and numbers e.g. The Great War started in 1914 and ended in 1918.
But "facts" are disputable, (the Serbs assert that the war truly started in 1912), and they never tell the whole tale.
What David Reynolds points out is that "history" is never pure and unassailable, it is never a mere recitation of facts.   The histories we learn are always subject to the biases of the historians.
For instance (just a few examples):
 (1)  Haig and Kitchener - heroes or villains?
(2) Did Britain, France and the USA "win" the Great War, or was the end of the War a military tie:  with the Germans calling for Armistice because of the revolution in Berlin which led to the abdication of the Kaiser, and because of the success of the British Naval blockade of German Ports.
(3) Was American entry into the War simply on account of the sinking of the Lusitania, or did it have more to so with Woodrow Wilson's liberal optimism?
Well you pays your money and you makes your choice.
My choice is to believe that what we call "history" is entirely suspect.  When someone says "history teaches us that......."  I have to say "but whose history?".
I read "The Long Shadow" with pleasure.  I commend the book to you.

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