Posts Tagged ‘first world war’

There are not two sides to every story. We should not have entered the First World War.

08/08/2014, 02:36:55 PM

by Sam Fowles

The “balance fallacy” in the commemorations of the First World War means we forget the real reason millions died.

“There are two sides to every story and this is my side. The true side.” said Emma Stone at the beginning of the (highly underrated) teen comedy “Easy A”.

The mantra that “there are two sides to every story” is embodied to a fault in the anniversary coverage of the First World War. This is dangerous. January’s controversy about the origins of the war has been smoothed over with references to “complexity”. Every mention of tragedy is mitigated by the platitude that “no one” was expecting the nature of the war. Apparently it was no one’s fault.

Except that it was. To say that the slaughter was senseless and some were more to blame than others isn’t to ignore the complexity of diplomatic and military history. Sometimes history is not balanced. Sometimes the merits of one side of the argument so monumentally outweigh the other that the imbalance must be acknowledged.

In a History Today blog in January I said that the study of history is the search, not for truth but, for understanding. But the belief that the sun orbits the earth does little to advance one’s understanding of the solar system.

Understanding history is important because history is inherently political. Imagine historians agree that “A happened, therefore B action was taken and C was the catastrophic result”. The next time A happens we, as a voting public, will be understandably skeptical of anyone who suggests doing B or of anything suggested by the people who suggested B in the first place.

This creates a problem for those original decision makers (or their political descendants) who don’t wish to lose power. Or if doing B again remains in the interests of certain powerful groups despite its catastrophic consequences for society in general.

There’s a fable amongst lawyers about the Harvard Civil Procedure professor who tells his students: “If the facts are on your side argue the facts, if the law is on your side argue the law and if neither the facts nor the law are on your side bang your fist down on the defence table and make enough noise until everyone forgets you’re in the wrong.” If you want history to forget how you screwed up, create enough contradictory accounts that it looks like a debate with “no right answer” rather than a cataclysmic failure of judgment. Create legitimacy with noise rather than academic rigour.


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Labour history uncut: Labour stands divided, but at least it’s still standing

17/01/2013, 05:05:42 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

When war was declared on 4 August 1914, the Labour party found itself divided into three broad groups:  subscribers to Guns & Ammo, reluctant but resigned pragmatic supporters of the war, and outright opponents of the war (or “big pansies” as they were known to members of the first group).

Do you really need us to add the joke here? Good.

Fortunately, even though the party was only 14 years old, Labour knew its onions when it came to handling divisions. Although there had been one rather prominent resignation in the shape of Ramsay Macdonald’s August departure, this did not prove to be the start of a mass walkout.

War dissenters in general were tolerated and allowed to remain in the party, even retaining positions in any committees and NEC membership held.

In fact, even though Arthur Henderson had picked up the reins of leadership, he only took over the chairmanship of the PLP on a supposedly temporary basis. In the following months he regularly asked Macdonald to change his mind and come back, making him a mixtape of the special songs from their time together.

Macdonald and Henderson became the Gold Blend couple of the Labour party. “Will they or won’t they” was the number one topic of PLP tea room conversation. Finally, on 18th November 1914, Macdonald ended the suspense. He declared “It’s not you, it’s me. No, actually it is you,” and then asked for all his CDs back.

One tub of mint choc chip later, the Labour party decided it was time to move on and confirmed Henderson as Labour’s leader.


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Michael Dugher digs in for a long campaign

23/08/2010, 10:47:55 AM

In August 1914, at the outbreak of the first world war, many famously thought that the war would be ‘over by christmas’.  As Labour MPs and party members return from summer holidays, there are those who believe that, perhaps in hope rather than expectation, the Tory-Lib Dem government will implode sooner rather than later.  As the government marks its first 100 days in office, there are few signs that the coalition will fall apart quickly.

Whoever wins the Labour leadership will need to observe our opponents through the correct end of the telescope.  The Conservatives may not have won the last election, but they will be far more formidable opponents at the next one.  A major part of the Labour election campaign was to highlight the ‘risk’ posed by the Tories, as a way of rebutting the ‘year of change’ message put forward by David Cameron.  To some extent, this was successful.  The Conservative brand was still toxic in some sections of the electorate and many people were nervous about Cameron.  Focus groups would quote the ‘hug a hoodie’ speech, would reference the ‘cycling to work with the chauffeur-driven car following with the suit and briefcase’ incident and would respond to the question ‘what would David Cameron be if he wasn’t a politician?’ by likening him to a dodgy second-hand car dealer. (more…)

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