Sunday 2 March 2014

The First World War - A necessary war?

Being a history geek 2014 is a significant year as it marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

The war started on 28 July 1914 so we still have a few months before the official 100th anniversary but the books and history programmes looking back on the origins of the war have already begun.

This week I watched two programmes on the BBC looking at whether it was right for Britain to enter the war. The first show called the Necessary War was presented by historian and journalist Max Hastings.

He argued as the title suggests, that the First World War was a war Britain had to fight despite the popular view that it was a terrible mistake in which thousands of men lost their lives in a futile war.

On Friday I watched the second show called The Pity of War. The show which included a studio debate was chaired by historian Naill Ferguson.

His argument was that Britain's participation in the war was a terrible mistake which should never have happened.

I've always found the origins of the First World War fascinating. Unlike the Second World War, which in a simplistic sense is viewed as Britain and America good, Hitler and Nazis bad!

The reasons for a World War in 1914 are more complex and difficult to understand. There's more ambiguity as to how and why the war started and who was responsible.

I studied the war during my history degree at university but even now I have to remind myself on the origins and causes of the war. Generally speaking Germany was mainly responsible but all the major European powers had their own reasons for wanting to fight in 1914.

What's good about the anniversary is that we've got a chance to think about and re-evaluate the war. I left university back in the late 90s. There's a lot of things from my studies on the war that I've forgotten.

The First World War is one of the most significant events in World history. For me it brought to an end 19th century Europe, and marks the beginning certainly politically of the 20th century.

I'm in agreement with Max Hastings when he says the First World War was a war Britain had to fight. The popular opinions about the war are too limited.

It's all about the Western Front, thousands of men being killed in trench warfare - led into battle by an incompetent officer class.

However, Britain went to war for the same reason it always went to war, it couldn't sit back and watch the continent be dominated by one country, in this case Germany.

Imperial Germany under the Kaiser might not have been as evil as Nazi Germany but a Germany victory in World War 1 would hardly have been good news for Europe.

Germany in 1914 was an autocratic regime led by the Kaiser, it was militaristic, aggressive with plans to expand its empire and influence. It certainly wasn't a democracy. It's highly unlikely that political freedom would have flourished in a German dominated Europe.

You could argue that the end of the First World War led to the rise of Communism and Fascism so democracy wasn't allowed to take hold in many countries but I still don't believe a Germany victory would have been much better.

Hastings argues that had Britain stayed out of the war, we would most likely have had to fight the Germans at a later date.

I find the first part of the 20th century incredibly interesting and the First World War is hugely significant in terms of its impact when it comes to politics, society, popular culture and the arts.

The Second World War gets more attention and is easier to understand but over the next few months and years we should all hopefully begin to get a better understanding of the importance of the First World War.

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