1914 – 1918: The war to start all wars up again.

The nation’s youngsters have dutifully and thoroughly gobbled up all the propaganda fed to them by their teachers and by the scriptwriters and presenters of the many programmes made to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War. It was chilling to hear a little girl of about eight expertly regurgitate the cliché “A lost generation.” Then a lad of eleven came on and told us WWI was meant to be “the war to end all wars.”

The line peddled consistently by the mass media presents war generally, and the First World War in particular, as a regrettable lapse, an unfortunate fall from our customary sweetness and light. The Great War is also presented as something that people did in the olden days, in primitive and unenlightened times, and the inferred conclusion is that of course we know better today and we would never repeat the mistakes of our forefathers. The idea is that we have progressed. We know better these days. We are modern.

Somehow – it’s a mystery to me how they do it – our bien pensant propagandists are able to present their view in the face of daily, hourly, evidence from the world over of wars, terrorism, hunger and deprivation caused by strife and the consequent displacement of populations. Our children, safe – for the moment – from the ravages of war, rehearse the enlightened platitudes which are constantly drip-fed to them, while in many other parts of the world children are being casually slaughtered.

I was going to say that it is our political philosophy which allows us so consistently to see the world as other than it really is. But no, it goes much deeper than politics. In Europe and the USA – things may be different elsewhere – we think so well of ourselves and regard wars as the stuff belonging in the bad old days. We do this not as a matter of political persuasion or ideology: this belief that we have – or at any rate ought to have – outgrown wars is rooted in our psychological makeup. Bluntly, it is a spiritual disorder and one which has developed very recently – in fact only since the cradle-to-the-grave expectations that have been inculcated since 1945. But the main reason for the emergence of our modern attitude is the decline in religious observance and with it the understanding of human nature.

There have always been wars and there always will be, just as there will always be weather. And until very recently, this was taken for granted. When Jesus’ disciples asked him when the end of the world would come, he told them it would be a time “of wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). He meant that it would be a time like any other. The Church of England – in the days when it was a serious institution – knew that wars are a commonplace of everyday existence. The Thirty-nine Articles attached to The Book of Common Prayer state plainly: “It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in the wars” (Article XXXVII).

This did not imply that Christians desired wars but they knew, because their religion taught them the truth about human nature, that so long as mankind exists there will persist greed, avarice, covetousness, my wanting to possess what is not my own and the lust for conquest. Christians always knew that war is evil, but they also knew that there are greater evils: dispossession, subjugation, the pains of being under the enemy’s thumb. They could also give you an explanation for why these things will always be: the fact of human nature itself, flawed human nature. And the word for this is Original Sin.

When you say these things today, the enlightened modern types are outraged – because, in their ignorance, they think that Original Sin is something ancient, primitive and occult which we outgrew long ago. Original Sin is nothing of the sort. It is merely a proposition of common sense based on long experience. St Paul puts it in a nutshell: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19) There’s the human condition spelt out for us in nineteen words, each of one syllable! Moreover, St Paul was not enunciating some abstract proposition of advanced ethics: he was speaking from his own experience, which is our experience too. We are flawed, imperfect creatures and we know it. So we lie, steal, commit adultery and act murderously in our coveting of what is not our own.

Nothing in human nature has changed since St Paul’s day – except the emergence of the fanciful ideology of thosemodern propagandists who, because they have rejected the Christian faith, are completely at a loss when it comes to self-understanding. As usual, the Prayer Book spells it out for us: “We have erred and strayed.” And we still err and stray. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

We all know this for ourselves as a truth arrived at after a mere moment’s reflection. I say “all” – all that is except the enlightened modern secularists – disappointing to see so many bishops and clergy among them – who imagine themselves to be better than they are.

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17 Comments on 1914 – 1918: The war to start all wars up again.

  1. The nascent Bolshevik movement established a foothold in the world propagandising on WWI. They aren’t going to stop now. Yet understanding this gives us balance. There is a parasitic nature in socialism that is hard to erase from history. It is not particularly compelling. Actually, I find it repulsive. Great article.

    Is there anything the Germans can’t ruin. WWI. WWII. The Frankfurt School. Merkel. The EURO project. What a flush hand of disaster.

  2. As someone born after the Second World War, I’ve never known what being involved in such a war would be like (thank God) – just as Western Europeans have forgotten this, Eastern Europeans know what an existential threat is. The sheer viciousness and savagery of modern technology in war was perhaps a relatively new thing before WWI (or the Great War, as my grandparents called it). One of the best books I’ve read about war and modernity is Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, which can be read in conjunction with Martin Heidegger’s short essay “The Question Concerning Technology”. When we think of technology as something neutral it will control us. Heidegger wrote that the essence of technology is “nothing technological”.
    Anyway, another good article from Peter Mullen.

  3. I really do not want to hear any more sentimental platitudes or see any more public-funded artworks about The Great War delivered by our feminised and squeamish creative class. It is a subject they have no authority to express a view on (though that fact does not discourage them in the least).

    It is extremely frustrating to see the unthinking way our mass media reduces the history of WW1 to “sacrifice”, “futility” and even “madness”. The history of that war is now firmly in the grip of pacifists with very few dissenting voices getting a hearing. Incidentally, the same is true of the Vietnam war.

    I recently came accross a quote by General George Patton which shows actual fighting spirit – a necessary quality in a soldier you’d think:
    “The purpose of war is not to die for your country. It is to make sure the other bastard dies for his”.

    Such an attitude would be completely out of place today as our armed forces are bullied into providing career opportunities for women and the usual array of “excluded” minorities. Perhaps in the future our nation will be defended by a “kinder, gentler, more inclusive” non-aggressive army of confirmed vegans.

  4. As a non-European, and a country that contributed immensely to Britain’s war effort, and a person born far away from both great wars giving me the benefit of comfortable hindsight, these are the lessons I take.

    First, the Great War finally awoke the generation of the time as to the reality of imperialism; until then, the British had indeed had a decent record on governance, discipline, order and economic management. There was a reason the period after Britain got full control of my country in the mid-1800s to the period up to 1914 was known in varying places as the Belle Epoque. The reality of imperialism from a subject’s perspective was not being necessarily having one’s admin work done by overseas people (or outsourcing governance, to use a 21st century term) – this happens today in multiple countries, with or without acknowledgement – it was the fact that you had to pay for your imperial master’s adventures/follies with your life – in the millions; make enemies you never would have otherwise; be involved in issues you otherwise never would have.

    This seems, in retrospect, the core reason for the rise in nationalism in my country in the aftermath of the Great War. It took another War to finally bring this to reality; but the knockout punch had been given in these years.

    Second, and more egregiously in my view, the Great War gave the necessary ammo to political Marxism, and the Bolshevik coup in Russia in 1917, which set the stage for a century of misery and idiocy. No more people have been killed in war and peace in any time in history like in the 20th century; and collective action for political purposes takes most of the blame. Even nationalism would not be the pantomime villain it is today had it not been infused with the collectivist spirit of socialism.

    While the patriotic spirit of the men and women, brave or otherwise, who served their nations or their imperial masters is praise-worthy, I find this most telling – in my country, we were celebrating the Festival of Lights a few days earlier (I’ve blown my cover haven’t I?), and pretty much the entire country was bedecked in sea of earthen lamps, innocent faces, lovely ornaments, beautiful dresses, dances and general merry making without a care. Not two days had passed since, when dour-faced political leaders looking to score silly and ultimately pointless political points engaged in a celebration of death, enmity and misery to which none of them were party.

    Maybe the celebration of the former, in my country, in all its colour and splendour, in November 2018, is the true and befitting tribute to the sacrifice of the latter; for without the latter, maybe there would not have been a festival of lights in my country today. Maybe those brave and not-so-brave people gave their lives for our happiness.

    • Genuine question: In what ways did India contribute to limited government, the rule of law*, and capitalism, without needing Britain’s help the whole time. How can she feel proud of herself and her achievements? On what basis do Indians feel patriotism?

      *other than serving in the army of course.

      All the talk of the belle epoque does sometimes remind me a bit uncomfortably of the self-loathing that the remainers feel- they feel Britain needs help to be civilised. I wouldn’t want that feeling to be widespread in India.

      • I think you misunderstood me. I meant to say that the period 1860-1914 was largely peaceful in India when the British government took over from the EIC. Britain’s achievements are Britain’s own, by deed and by right. The British, manned as they were by highly competent officers and civil servants, brought about a government and bureaucracy that in many ways was better than in England itself. The Indian Civil Service preceded the British Civil Service by a few years and the model of British administration in India was good enough that Britain herself adopted it afterwards. It is to Britain’s credit that the best officers were sent to India rather than being kept in Britain.

        Given the chip on the shoulder of many Indians today for a past they have been led/taught to understand and not question, you’d probably be faced with indignant responses (how dare you! you looted us!) as a matter of course to such questions as those you have mentioned (How can she feel proud of herself, her achievements? Why feel patriotic?) – what did India/Indians contribute to limited government, the rule of law, capitalism etc. – in the period since the Middle Ages – precisely nothing.

        If at all the European Enlightenment resulted in a renewed interest in ancient Indian philosophy among the European intellectuals, only to that extent did Indians (the ancients, not the contemporary) could take some credit for some of the output. Ideas such as freedom, morality and the sciences were dealt with by Indians a very long time at considerable length much before the Enlightenment. The highest attainment in traditional Indian philosophy (expressed through Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism et al) is Moksha/Mukti – liberation/freedom/self-actualisation. This is lost on most Indians today.

        The converse of the indignant Indian I described just now are the others who completely and utterly deride everything about India, Indians, their culture and history and be more English than the English. They are also mistaken. Some balance and level-headedness is of the order.

        To your question then – how can she feel proud of herself and her achievements and on what basis do Indians feel patriotic? We have too much to be proud of in terms of history – simply in that our accumulated culture is so vast, and has survived onslaught after onslaught for much of post-Classical history. Ours is the only single major culture, diffuse and diverse, that has had a continuous run from antiquity till date – compare us with Greece, Iran/Persia, Egypt, Aztecs, Rome, even China. We don’t need museums to preserve our culture; it is alive and thriving. Pay us a visit!

        As a sovereign republic in the years after 1945, her success is mostly in simply sticking together as one unit without major violence and conflicts, however loose. Left free from external influences such as Islam and Communism, Indians – the lot of them – are an easy bunch to govern. It is not language that is the unifier, it is not race – maybe religious traditions are a candidate – but even there it is not strictly exclusivist. I don’t think people feel nationalistic or patriotic unless they are sensitised to it. Patriotism in India is not meant to be vindictive or a steroid. It is, like with much Indian culture, devotional. For instance, a devotional poem (to Lord Krishna) in my language Malayalam (Njanappana) written centuries ago has an entire para explaining why the Indian continent is the best place to attain liberation and where outsiders only wish they were born even as a blade of grass to this end!

        Does nationalism in Europe have a peaceful, devotional angle to it? Modern Indian nationalism, with all its socialist bells and whistles, is a loud, visible, alternatively annoying, amusing or awe-inspiring embellishment to it, but at its core, Indian nationalism is devotional and reassuring.

        In the lands that are India, the roots of a national consciousness, more cultural than political, were laid by multiple individuals at various times. Politically, it is an historic truth that India has been divided among various kingdoms and states of native origin. But this did not really impact on the cultural consciousness or interaction, as states, government and power are given defined rules within the Indian social order – precisely admin work. People do not mind who governs them so long as it is done properly.

        It is in this respect that the British were seen by Indians – as competent administrators. If the British made enemies of the whole lot of Indian people on the go, I do not think they would have managed to forge their dominion in India. In many instances, the natives saw the British as liberators from existing (mostly Muslim) tyranny. As for the native princes and their families, they are still revered and respected to this day, though not mostly in political roles. More like a tip of the hat.

        The British managed the local political affairs to their advantage as opposed to governing, as one civil servant of the time said. What the British replaced, especially in the case of the Mughals, were not exactly universally loved monarchs and neither were they exactly native. Indians had little to lose.

        To the common Indian, getting the British to do their admin work was a bonus given that the latter were least interested in replacing the native culture (whatever Macaulay would have you think otherwise). I ask this – how many temples did the British destroy? How many were destroyed in the preceding 800 years of Turko-Mongol domination? It is a reason why the most indignant people who resent British rule are the Muslims – you destroyed their game, man! For the non-Muslims, the British were an orderly, educated, competent, industrious bunch who were interested in running state affairs because they were competent to do so.

        It is in this respect that the Great War was a rude wake-up call to Indians, who were basking in the orderliness of British governance without going beyond their daily routines. I suspect that when the dead bodies started being returned to villages – Indians suddenly realised the true cost of dominion. And nationalism, in the modern sense, was born out of a sense of – why are we doing this? For whitey? WW2 was a repeat of the same. It is a reason why the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was beaten but the nationalist movement of the early 20th century was not; in the former the mass of the people were probably supportive of the British effort; in the latter the cost was too much to bear. Mind you, I would not have it any other way. Freedom is great!

        Traditions of liberal British politics of the European Enlightenment such as rule of law, capitalism, limited government have worked in India more than in other places where the same British ruled, because the people buy that. The same British ruled Aden (Yemen) – how is that working out for them there? Sudan? Pakistan? Zimbabwe? Palestine? Egypt? Burma? Nigeria? Come on, give us some credit!

        Dare I say, we are one up on the British in one respect – laicite, where the clergy butt out of state affairs, is the fact in India – Britain still has a state church, putting it in company with other stalwarts of the category such as Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

        Britain needs civilising? From socialism, maybe. The British, and especially the English, feel so much socialist burn precisely because they have a recent history of superior competence. Indians certainly don’t feel that towards the British.

        As for the Indian attitudes towards the British, it depends on who you speak to. The young and inexperienced who are drenched in socialist propaganda with no perspective in schools would do what socialists do. On the other end, there are those who are just wannabe quislings. In between are the vast majority for whom Britain and the whole empire business is a non-issue; in a land as old as time, wounds heal fast. The British did little lasting harm. This much is apparent in the international terminals at Heathrow! Do you still want to do the admin for a fifth of humanity or would you rather have us do it ourselves? Indians are not doing a half-bad job at that!

        • This is all good stuff. I’m going to have to take time to digest that.

          (your comment about Egypt, Aden, etc reminds me of something I thought about French Indochina compared with India- which one was the communist hell hole and which one was not? Spoiler: not India)

          I do like to think that India could have had her own industrial revolution without Britain- her metallurgy was excellent, and Mysore’s navy was technically advanced before we destroyed it. It is telling that the latter was destroyed while it was still in the docks. Methinks the Brits/EIC were somewhat nervous about facing it at sea.

          That is enough musing for me today. Thankyou for your response, and I hope the Festival of Light went well for you.

          • Just to be sure, India is a constitutionally socialist country – this clause was added in the 1960s during the time of Indira Gandhi. It has been a bane of India since the British withdrawal. Only since 1991 have Indians really been economically “free” – the results have been good. There is still a formidable communist movement in India and communists rule a few states such as Kerala. The economic record of such states is as expected. The anti-imperialist attitudes of the time meant that Indians swerved to the Soviet side of international affairs. We avoided much of the economics, but the poisonous politics of the Left continue to rule the roost. What is seen as “right-wing” in India are also leftists/socialists; they are seen as being on the religious right. In economics, the entire spectrum is filled with numbskulls.

            Thankfully, most people understand freedom and the responsibility it brings; part of the reason why the Indian diaspora – the largest in the world – is amongst the most peaceable and also the most economically successful.

            As for navies, I think you refer to the Maratha Navy as opposed to Mysore; the Marathas were the first Indians in a long time to invest in naval capabilities. Mysore did invest in the equipment; not in the people – much like the Saudis of today.

        • Great contributions to the discussion and interesting perspectives, Krishnan. I gather that a youthful Babington Macaulay wrote the book on Indian law; it still forms the common law bedrock.

          English and European law developed over hundreds of years was brought to Asia and Oceania (I’m a bit further East than you) and fast-forwarded the legal structure by centuries. One of England’s greatest gifts in the legal field to the world was the concept of trusts, something which would have been nigh on impossible to invent independently.

          But Indians have much to be proud of: the cuisine, yoga and Bollywood are top of my list.

          • Thank you for the compliment, Sheilagh!

            If I were hung up on identities, I would rave mad about Macaulay’s law and such and such. Common sense is as Indian an invention as it is English. The common law system, drawing from the common interactions of people as opposed to God-given law, was as much as revolution in England as it was in the territories where the English held sway. It was not universally accepted – India was not Britain’s only colony in Asia. By the time the English arrived, Indians the great majority of them had been submerged under Muslim tyranny for so long that they’d internalized much of the inherent bias of that legal system. Common law, to the extent it instituted impartiality of the jury, emphasized rule of law and due process rather than despotic tenets was welcome not just in India but pretty much everywhere else. English law is an important strand of Indian law today, but not the only one.

            Very much given less credit, but equally important, in the formulation of the Indian Constitution – the bedrock of Indian law today – is Swiss law. Given the diverse nature of Switzerland, it seemed to be the first nation to draft a constitution as it did – containing the provisions that it does guaranteeing multi-ethnic rights and imposing duties. Its longevity is proof of its success. Reams of it were adopted by Indians. Any alternative would have guaranteed conflict in India.

            So the statement “Britain gave India rule of law” has merit, but with severe caveats. Modern India’s law is a product of the various streams of intellect to which the Indians were exposed – it would not have possible had Indians, or a section of them, not been capable of digesting this. Indians post-Independence have made mistakes; the important bit is how these mistakes have been dealt with. In Iran under the Shah, the language of 20% of the population was banned from usage – Azerbaijani. They sent their kids to Paris. In Pakistan, another nation under British influence, you know the reasons for its split in 1971. I think the constitution failed there.

            Such tensions existed and continue to exist in India as well, but they have been dealt with, constitutionally. New states get made, new languages are recognized, the whole hog. The net outcome is that Indians, at least politically, are the freest people in Asia. Free speech is taken for granted here, although, like in Britain, the Left have rushed the stage. You’d argue about Singapore, Hong Kong etc – yes, they are economically advanced, but are they free? You’d say – what about Muslims – but we’ve been facing their issues far long before it became new to the West post-1945. They are a transnational community and their problems are transnational. In India, Indians are the problem they face.

            I think Indians do not have to be proud of anything – as a group, they stand in contrast to much that happens around them. That alone shows them in much better light. It is a truism of sorts that pride comes before a fall. I’d rather not be too proud. We have done some good work, but I’d like to think our best is yet to come.

          • Like a true conservative, I detest the Indian film industry for its misportrayal of Indian culture and the extent to which it has become a tool of Marxist indoctrination, complete with the oppression olympics and the deconstructivist messaging. It has served to defile pretty much all that is Indian culture. It serves as a parody of Indian culture and is devoid of any meaning. It keeps people entertained, on the cheap.

        • Loved your phrase (lower down) “like in Britain, the Left have rushed the stage…”

          Bollywood/Indian film industry – you are in a better position to judge than I, but at least some of the outstanding dancing and singing gets financial support. Granted, film directors everywhere make a mess of real culture and history, led by our very own Hollywood. I don’t understand why film is so adored by so many. Most Hollywood movies are pitched at people with a mental age of 10-ish.
          What do you think of Mehnaz?

  5. Funny, I thought that religion was the cause of a great many wars and an unnecessary huge loss of life throughout history. It still is.

    And what makes you think, Mr. Mullen, that secularists are not fully aware of human foibles? Religion is not the only way in which people realize that humans can be evil.

    • ‘religion was the cause of a great many wars’
      Oh dear, that old chestnut again. Fact: wars ‘about religion’ are really wars about territory and power; always have been, always will be.

      • Maybe territory and power are the ulterior motives, but religious intolerance (almost a tautology) provides the excuse and a powerful motive force for otherwise inexcusable acts.

  6. The Edwardians regarded themselves as moderns.

    In 1913, Handley Moule, the evangelical Bishop of Durham, wrote to a correspondent: “There is a vile principle abroad today among the semi-pagan people who are so often met with in modern life – that the great thing is to “fulfil yourself”; to “do as you please irrespective of parents, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters.” It is the rebel-devil’s parody of liberty – liberty without which the noble balance of loyalty to right is licence, the straight path to basest slavery.” (Letters and Poems of Bishop Moule. 1921).

    The schoolchildren today probably think that ‘doing you own thing’ only began with The Rolling Stones and the Flower Power generation, and that all was oppression before the great ‘liberation’.

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