Lots of talk of “A Pan-European” History of the war, the “European Perspective”. That we should commemorate the dead of all nations equally. Really? don’t think so. We will visit the dead again before the end of the blog. History is a discussion, a debate, an argument. Even “the facts” depend on who you are. You think facts are facts? O.k. what time did the armistice take effect on the 11th November 1918? If you are German you would be right if you say “12 o’clock”. does not have the same ring as on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month does it? So I would expect my German friends to have a different view and opinion of events. If you are British or American a stay at home kid, and your formative years were the sixties I would not be surprised if you were of the “Oh What a Lovely War ” school of thought. This brings me to another point. Many people think they know the whys and what ever of the war, they have read Lions led by Donkeys, seen, Oh what a lovely war, will tell you 60,000 dead on one day, and will tell you Owen and Sassoon were anti war poets. These people are really not worth the effort, life is far to short. I would (?), rather I am also disappointed by those that hang on to every word, the Yes Men. My views on History are mine. I am very much self educated. No one said to me this is how and what you research. No one taught me Great War History. The only Great War “History” I ever got was at the fifth of those British Army schools I went to. My class tutor read out , Dulce decorum est, and asked me what a thought of it. “A bit naive sir, I mean after three years he comes up with War is Hell? It something he knew before he enlisted.” I now think it ranks along side , “And German Guns go Boom Boom Boom” but he wanted to get inside Sassoon’s pants so I think he had other things on his mind. That said, the War Poets Owen included wrote some of the finest English language poems ever written, Dulce …, is just not one of them. After nearly a century remains are still being found on the battlefields. The current consensus is to treat all the dead equally. Most of the soldiers did not want to be there, and it was the same war for all of them.
There is however a major difference between American, British, French, and Germans. It also disregards the possible views of a large number of Belgians and French people. The dead of Americans can be returned to the USA if the relatives of the soldier requests this. British dead of the Great War are buried if possible in individual graves close to the battlefields. French dead are buried mostly in Ossuaries. So the dead of Allied Armies are not treated equally. The question of German dead is also a vexed question. I remember talking to a French farmer about the German dead, he said to me. “They invaded in 1871, 1914, 1840. Millions of Frenchmen and you English died trying to force them out again, and now you want me to give the land? Non.” So do not assume the Belgians or French want Germans buried on their land. Yes, there are equally dead, yes, treat all dead soldiers from the Great War with respect. but you can not treat the remains in the same way.
Now was it really the same war for the major combatants? The evidence we have that it was not is the collective conscience of the survivours. If it was the same war it affected the survivours from the Waring nations very differently. The Russian soldiers returning home tried to build a very different society based on the needs of the common people. Yes I know they failed, but they did try. The French had lost their soul, too many Frenchmen had died for them to go through it all again. The Germans came away with a collective madness, A madness that gave birth to another more brutal war. Not only did the generation of Germans that survived the war abandon the last vestige of humanity, They and their children got away with murder. I was born in the British Army Of the Rhine, and some of my formative years were spent at school in a former Euthanasia centre during the sixties, I knew people involved in those crimes, We let them get away with it. The British came home and dismantled the Imperial Dream, yes the Empire continued to grow, reaching its zenith in the second half of 1945, when you could walk from Calais to Hong Kong entirely on British Controlled territory. But gone was the desire to paint the world Imperial Red. The returning British went on to create the British Wellfare State, the NHS, a better way of life. Every nation fought a different war, and every nation came home to see a world through different eyes.