The reality is that by the turn of the twentieth century the industrialization of war made going to war an act of self-immolation — as Ivan Bloch recognized presciently and argued meticulously, comprehensively and irrefutably in his brilliant study of the subject. The ministers and monarchs and generals of the great powers did not like his analysis, and in their stupidity, cowardice, arrogance, irresponsibility, ignored it as, when the logic of empire demanded it, they went to war in their accustomed manner.
In the fighting that followed the commanders on both sides bore out the definition of insanity (and stupidity) as repeating the same action over and over again in the expectation of a different result they mounted offensive after offensive in which they squandered the lives of a generation and drove their economies to the breaking point. Ultimately numbers told, and the exhausted Central Powers gave in, but not before Russia collapsed, Italy was plunged into chaos, and even France and Britain became shaky — while the catastrophe of the war was such, and the continuing cynicism of the leadership such, that the prospects for a lasting peace were dim, and unrealized, World War I paving the way for the still vaster horror of World War II.
This does not suit the right-wing revisionists, who have still not learned the lesson about the impracticability of war, even after industrial war gave way to mechanized war, chemical war, aerial war, and even intercontinental, thermonuclear, “push-button” war. They dislike the image of wastage of human life in pointless offensives on a static battlefield. They dislike the view that the war cost so much and decided so little and led to worse in a generation’s time.
So they pretend that the belligerents going to war and then, after stalemate set in, sticking it out as long as they did, in the manner that they did, was the right and proper thing to do in the circumstances. They demand that the reader sympathize with the leaders whose mediocrity and conformism and cowardice led to the allegedly “practical option” that more intelligent and braver people had already realized had long since become impractical to the point of insanity. They shrug off the wastage, saying it was not so bad, really — or even, as Correlli Barnett has, that our image of trench warfare’s horrors is really a reflection of the softness of the public school boys exposed to the “real world” for the first time. They marginalize the simple-minded brute force approach of the generals and the profligacy with human life on which it was founded (we are not asked to sympathize with the soldiers condemned to their deaths, here), preferring to play up the idea that the armies were truly dynamic, innovating technologically and tactically (never mind how little it altered the lines). They insist that the war’s victims be called “heroes,” insist that any critic be ashamed to speak ill of anything for which they “sacrificed” their lives (rather than were thrown away for by others), and contend that to the extent the war or the peace were less than satisfactory, they all did the best they could, that things would have been worse had they been otherwise, that the fault really lay elsewhere — perhaps the peoples of the West becoming too little army-minded and too much welfare-minded.
The revisionist vision is as obscene as it is idiotic, a whitewash of the war rather than an attempt to expose overlooked truth, and their hatred for anyone who would give the lie to their false narrative such that figures like Niall Ferguson devote so much ink to attacking Blackadder Goes Forth for the bit of truth about that war it conveyed to the viewer amid the laughter.
That last is unforgivable.
Originally published at https://naderelhefnawy.blogspot.com.