The Pity of WarPosted: March 1, 2014
The programme began with Professor Ferguson outlining the situation in 1914 … and presenting the argument that Germany was far from being alone in creating the circumstances that led to the war breaking out. One interesting proposition that he made was that British intervention led to what would otherwise had been a European war becoming a world war. He contended that if Britain had not committed the BEF to the war in 1914, the Germans would probably have beaten the French by 1916, and then turned on – and defeated – the Russians.
He then examined:
- The industrialisation of warfare
- How soldiers could keep fighting in the circumstances they had to cope with. (This seemed to result from hating and despising the enemy, fighting a static war where supplies were easy to get forward to the frontline, and regular rotation out of the frontline for rest and recuperation … and sex.)
- The economics of the war in terms of the percentage of the male population of each of the participants that was killed, and the cost to each nation of killing an enemy soldier (e.g. he stated that it cost Britain almost three times as much to kill a German solder as it cost the Germans to kill a British soldier).
Having covered these topics Professor Ferguson looked at the consequences of the war upon the participants. He placed particular emphasis on the impact that the war had had on the pre-war trend of continued social, political, and economic development, arguing that the war had almost brought such change to a complete halt.
After watching him present his case, I felt that he had been quite persuasive … BUT that he had over-generalised certain aspects of the case and ignored some of the more inconvenient
He then engaged in discussions with a number of eminent historians and experts – including Gary Sheffield, Sir Hugh Strachan, David Reynolds, David Stevenson, Heather Jones, and John Jungclaussen – before throwing the discussions open to the audience.
Was I convinced by Professor Ferguson’s proposition that the Great War – and its consequences – was avoidable?
No … and mainly because his was a broad brush approach that ignored or downplayed some facts that I consider to be much more important than he did. That said, I think that this was a useful and challenging programme – and a valuable contribution to the current historical discussion about the Great War – and I am very pleased to have made the time to watch it.