The Great War centenary may be over a year away, but the preliminary skirmishes are already providing entertainment.
A few weeks ago a letter appeared in the Guardian, signed by a number of actors and celebrities, sternly arguing that the message of any celebrations should be firmly anti-war:
We are disturbed [...] that David Cameron plans to spend £55m on a “truly national commemoration” to mark this anniversary. Mr Cameron quite inappropriately compared these events to the “diamond jubilee celebrations” and stated that their aim will be to stress our “national spirit”. That they will be run at least in part by former generals and ex-defence secretaries reveals just how misconceived these plans are.
Instead we believe it is important to remember that this was a war that was driven by big powers’ competition for influence around the globe, and caused a degree of suffering all too clear in the statistical record of 16 million people dead and 20 million wounded.
In 2014, we and others across the world will be organising cultural, political and educational activities to mark the courage of many involved in the war but also to remember the almost unimaginable devastation caused. In a time of international tension, we call on all those who agree with us to join us – by adding their names to ours at ww1.stopwar.org.uk – to ensure that this anniversary is used to promote peace and international co-operation.
Today historian Gary Sheffield replies with guns blazing, strongly criticising ‘the popular view of the war as a futile one, a belief that is sharply at odds with most modern scholarship, and with how it was perceived at the time.’ He points out: