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'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War 
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Post 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
The book examines the confection of a British sense of national identity during the second half of the nineteenth century and relates this to the illogicality and irrationality of the British decision to intervene in the European war that broke out in 1914. It examines the language of English poetry of the war, avoiding the sterile labels of 'pro-' and 'anti-' war verse. It gives the most thorough account to date of Siegfried Sassoon's 1917 protest against the war's continuation, demonstrating that the incoherence of that protest is attributable to the incoherence of the war itself (i.e. there was nothing identifiable against which to protest). It reviews British military conduct of the war, demonstrating that the shortcomings of senior British commanders are attributable to their subscription to the meretricious value-system confected in the nineteenth century. It reviews the Treaty of Versailles, confirming both that the Treaty was an improvisation and that the tenets of economic orthodoxy are fundamentally incompatible with a world-view that accepts the possibility of war. It reviews the factitious 'war-books' controversy of 1930 and indicates that latter-day attempts to attribute negative British perceptions of the First World War to the influence of a handful of literary works are symptoms of the mind-set that created the war itself. In this sense, the book is an allegory of the contemporary Zeitgeist.

https://www.amazon.com/Evidence-Our-Sen ... bc?ie=UTF8



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Robert Tulip
Sun Apr 08, 2018 1:58 am
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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
Hello Rod, this looks a fascinating book, thanks for posting about it. The world is approaching the time scale of the long European peace from 1815 to 1914, so the lessons of the accidents that caused WW1 are very relevant today, especially with the emerging rivalries and alliances of the great powers. My sense of the primary cause of WW1 is that Britain wanted to contain Germany, to prevent it obtaining a European empire that could rival Britain's world empire. Somewhat like how the USA today wants to contain China's ambitions of an Asian empire. Several years ago I visited the Menin Gate at Ypres, and was stunned by the scale of senseless slaughter recorded there.


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Rod Beecham
Sun Apr 08, 2018 7:50 am
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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
Many thanks for your kind words, Robert. You have accurately surmised that my book is as much about today's world as the world of 100 years ago. My central argument is that the First World War was about absolutely nothing - a hideously destructive example of the human propensity to jump at shadows of their own making - so I would argue that the international tensions of today, at least as they apply to our modern 'Great Powers' (i.e. the U.S.A., China, Russia), are, as they were in 1914, largely, if not totally, disconnected from anything to do with the happiness or prosperity of the peoples of those nations.



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Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:31 am
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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
I see it a bit differently. The cause of the first world war was the Anglo-French-Russian rejection of the right of Germany to dominate Europe. That balance of power rivalry reflected perceptions of national interest, but neither side imagined the carnage that the industrial science of war would bring.


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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
Well, we will have to agree to differ. The interpretation you have outlined assumes that there was such a thing as 'national policy' being pursued by the countries you mention. I have found no evidence to support such a view, and a mountain of evidence to the contrary. One of the most striking features of the years leading up to 1914 is the complete separation, in all the Great Powers, of foreign policy and diplomatic activity from military planning. Jockeying for advantage had become an end in itself: no one actually knew what they wanted in any strategic sense, let alone how to achieve it. If they had, no one would have felt the need to produce volumes of documents once the war started showing that it was all the other side's fault, no one would have had to work out what they were fighting for (and no one did: to the very end, as A.J.P. Taylor accurately observed in 1954, 'Victory was expected to provide a policy; in fact, victory was the policy'), and we would have seen the imposition of a predefined settlement at Paris in 1919 instead of the grotesque improvisations that occurred. No one, including the Germans, wanted to start a general European war in 1914: the government of Austria-Hungary wanted a localised war with Serbia and asked the Germans to keep the Russians out, the Germans tried to do just that, bungled it, and only saw the full consequences of their bungling when it was too late (and then attacked in the West - utterly illogically - because they had only one war plan!).



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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
The logic of Germany's attack on Belgium was that by turning France into a vassal, Germany would be free to consolidate an Eastern Empire over the Slavs. This colonial ambition might have worked if Britain had stayed neutral.

Hitler repeated this game plan, and could have succeeded in this dream of Eurasian conquest if he had allied with Japan to defeat Russia, creating a single continental power big enough to confront the Anglosphere.


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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
Hi Robert. As I said, we will have too agree to disagree. I have not found any historical evidence at all to suggest that 'Germany' (and I think we need to consider who exactly we mean when we employ such expressions) had any such coherent plan. Taking military thinking alone, Schlieffen, the celebrated architect of Germany's 1914 Western offensive, feared the vast spaces of Russia: his solution to the problem of the two-front war was to achieve quick victory where he felt it could be achieved to enable to Germany successfully to resist the Russian threat. His thinking was based on fear of enmeshing the German Army in a prolonged struggle in the vast spaces of Russia: he was thinking defensively, not in terms of conquest.



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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
Rod Beecham wrote:
Hi Robert. As I said, we will have too agree to disagree. I have not found any historical evidence at all to suggest that 'Germany' (and I think we need to consider who exactly we mean when we employ such expressions) had any such coherent plan. Taking military thinking alone, Schlieffen, the celebrated architect of Germany's 1914 Western offensive, feared the vast spaces of Russia: his solution to the problem of the two-front war was to achieve quick victory where he felt it could be achieved to enable to Germany successfully to resist the Russian threat. His thinking was based on fear of enmeshing the German Army in a prolonged struggle in the vast spaces of Russia: he was thinking defensively, not in terms of conquest.


Reading discussion on ANZAC Day today, I came across this explanation of Germany's war aims, which seems at odds with your comment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septemberprogramm

Quote:
The Chancellor's private secretary, Kurt Riezler, drafted the Septemberprogramm on 9 September 1914, in the early days of the German attack in the west, when Germany expected to defeat France quickly and decisively. The extensive territorial conquests proposed in the Septemberprogramm required making vassal states of Belgium and France and seizing much of the Russian Empire.


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Post Re: 'The Evidence of Our Senses': Language, Belief and Britain's Great War
I am aware of the Riezler letter. The 'September Programme' has been a godsend to British historians, in particular, who press it into service on any and every occasion to prove the calculating wickedness of Germany. It means nothing because it was composed after the war began. Once the shooting started, people in every country started thinking about what they would do with victory. The Germans started first because, in the opening weeks of the war, it looked as though they might win. Riezler was, as you note, the Chancellor's private secretary. A feature of historical writings seeking to prove Germany's evil intentions is that they rely on what some minor official (a private secretary, an adjutant, or whatever) said or wrote on some occasion. These people were not making policy: they were, like many Germans, dreaming that Treitschkean fantasies of German hegemony in Europe were about to be realised and seeking to influence their masters on that basis. I would not argue that Bethmann would have ignored Riezler's advice: Bethmann was an idiot. But Bethmann did not rule Imperial Germany, any more than the Kaiser did. If Germany had won the war the post-war settlement would have been dictated by the military. It would have been an acquisitive and expansionist settlement, without a doubt. But it would have been imposed after the fact: Germany did not begin the war with any clear idea at all of what she wanted.



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