Gove takes to Daily Mail to set historians straight

Once again, I find myself surprised. I didn’t know anyone bothered to defend the First World War these days; I didn’t know anyone had bothered to do that since about 1930. I was under the impression that the defenders started falling silent at a pretty sharp clip in 1915. (That last one is hyperbole. There was a lot of oppression and repression of opponents of the war as long as it was going on. Bertrand Russell did a stint in the slammer for it.)

But once again, I was wrong. Michael Gove is bothering to defend it, and talk smack about people he dislikes in the process. The Daily Mail (yes) is on the case.

Left-wing myths about the First World War peddled by Blackadder belittle Britain and clear Germany of blame, Michael Gove says today.

The Education Secretary criticises historians and TV programmes that denigrate patriotism and courage by depicting the war as a ‘misbegotten shambles’.

As Britain prepares to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war, Mr Gove claims only undergraduate cynics would say the soldiers were foolish to fight.

Oy. Lots of people at all levels of education (well ok not kindergarten) have been saying that for many decades. For almost all ten of the decades in the centenary.

Has Michael Gove not been informed of what the war in question led to over the following two decades? And then the nasty incident that took place over the six years between 1939 and 1945?

Mr Gove turns his fire on ‘Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths by attacking Britain’s role in the conflict’.

He singles out Richard Evans, regius professor of history at Cambridge University, who has said those who enlisted in 1914 were wrong to think they were fighting to defend freedom.

Mr Gove writes: ‘Richard Evans may hold a professorship, but these arguments, like the interpretations of Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder, are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate.’ 

While writing anti-intellectual bullshit for the Daily Mail is soberness itself.

What an ignorant hack.


  1. Al Dente says

    Has Michael Gove not been informed of what the war in question led to over the following two decades? And then the nasty incident that took place over the six years between 1939 and 1945?

    Tom Lehrer discussed part of that in the “MLF Lullaby”:

    At one time the Germans were warlike and mean,
    But that couldn’t happen again.
    We taught them a lesson in nineteen-eighteen,
    And they’ve hardly bothered us since then.

  2. colnago80 says

    WW1 is an example of a war that was totally unnecessary but was inevitable, due the the interlocking alliances. Bismarck said it best in the 19th Century, “The next European war will start over some damn fool incident in the Balkans. Sarajevo anyone?

  3. says

    I regard myself as lefty and Gove as an utter shit. But he has a point about the way in which the ‘Blackadder version of history’ distorts popular perceptions of the war. The lens the public view that war through was one formed by the inter-war and post-WW2 peace movements, as well as the histories of that well-known perjurer Alan fucking Clarke. It is an incomplete and unbalanced interpretation.

    (As an aside, it’s actually ironic that Gove thunders on about lefties when it was the arch-Thatcherite Clarke who did so much in modern times to promote the view of the British generals as ‘Donkeys’.)

    The war’s origins and its conduct is a complex subject and in this centenary year historians are rightly showing it to be far from black or white as the populist anti-war view would have it. Gove doesn’t help here with his tub-thumping attacks on the left, but a sober view of current scholarship does reject the Blackadder view.

    Oh, and current scholarship is also leaning away from the ‘Versailles was the cause of WW2’ towards looking at the mismanagement of the Weimar economy. I highly recommend David Reynolds’s history ‘The Long Shadow’ on the legacy of the war.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    Well, It WAS a war, lots of people were blown up, gassed, shot, and stabbed who might not otherwise.

    So of course, no one is in favor of WWI. Plus the technological and logistical advances of the late 19th century so far outstripped the development of communication and organization, that the death toll was increased many fold.

    But. The war does lie at the feet of the German empire’s territorial ambitions. And the ‘left’ (e.g. pro Stalin) historical industry has poured rivers of ink to conceal the fact that the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian Revolution was a coup engineered in Berlin.

    Much the same way that Right wing historians have tended to whitewash our anti-communist allies Japan and Germany.

    Partizanship continues to trump truth. Truth is messy and few periods of history involve worse mess than 1914-18

  5. Omar Puhleez says

    June 28, 1914: assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
    August 4, 1914: Germany invades Belgium.

    After that, assuming appeasement to be no option, what could have been done on the western side to avoid the general war?

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