Our MP Nick Boles wisely says that “we must make sure that we do not allow any hint of celebration to creep into our commemoration” of the 1914-18 war.
Indeed, we should remember it not with pride or gratitude but rather with anger and shame.
It was “the war to end all wars” that opened an era of almost endless war. It was the “Great War” that led directly to an even greater war only a generation later.
My father fought in the First World War and I fought in the second.
What did the British people gain from the first war’s heroism and sacrifice, misery and mass murder? Big banks and corporations made record profits and a few private contractors became millionaires.
Henry Ford, who claimed to be a pacifist, sold equipment to both sides. But for the majority the end of the war brought attacks on living standards, capitalist crisis and the great depression, with mass unemployment that was ended only by another world war.
Mr Boles says he’s going to find out how the calamity of 1914-1918 came about. Historians will argue hotly about causes and responsibilities, stupidity and mistakes. But most of this will be froth on the surface.
We must identify the underlying forces that made war inevitable. It arose from the irreconcilable big business interests served by the governments of the great powers. German capitalism, coming late to the imperial game, fought to dominate Europe and seize colonies in Asia and Africa. Britain and France, Austria and Russia, earlier players, fought to hold on to their empires. The up-and-coming USA and Japan wanted a bigger share of the super-profits from colonial exploitation.
Our side “won” in 1918 and at Versailles the victors imposed totally unrealistic penalties on the vanquished. It was inevitable that German imperialism would rise again. But because of the deepening capitalist crisis and the threat of socialism, this resurgence took the form of Hitler’s fascism.
The best thing that came out of the First World War was the revolution against Tsarist tyranny in Russia. It established the socialist Soviet Union that 25 years later had a major role in the defeat of Nazi aggression.
King’s Mill Lane, Stamford