I would just like to leave a few quick notes here about what I’m doing and why.
Wot I Fink
This is not an academic undertaking. Footnotes and references are thin on the ground. I am not doing archive research. I’m not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as ordering them to build me a thousand-foot high observation tower. I’m just a bloke with too many books, metaphorically sticking them in a blender and seeing what picture of the war comes out of it all. (At some point I am going to do a bibliography of sorts, but right now I’ve got some important high-level drinking to do.)
In short, this is an entirely synthetic narrative (if Soylent Green is people, then this blog is historians) based almost entirely on secondary research, and should be treated as such. Students beware!
Generals are boring. Blokes are interesting. Women are especially interesting. (Sergeant Flora Sandes of the Serbian Army is probably the most interesting person in the entire war. Hopefully once we get to the start of her story, her name will convert into a link.) So are rebels. Generals and their doings are only interesting so far as what they are doing will eventually make life rather more interesting for some of the soldiers under their command. Tommies are interesting, but poilus, sepoys, sappers, and miners are even more so. Flanders is quite interesting, but Sarikamis, Van, Kut, Tanga, and the Rufiji are more interesting.
The role and evolution of aircraft is interesting; kill counts and the like for air aces is not. The doings of politicians are usually interesting only on the same terms as the doings of generals. The situation for ordinary people on the home fronts is interesting, but it’s also mostly outwith the focus of the blog.
The British Empire did not have any inherent right to exist and expand. Neither did the German, French, Russian, or Austro-Hungarian empires. They all did shitty things to the peoples they ruled over or conquered. Finding out about those is interesting. Dick-waving about “your atrocities were worse than our atrocities” is not.
I like revisionist historians, to a point. There’s been a movement over the past 15 years or so (you could probably date its modern rise to the publication of Gary Sheffield’s Forgotten Victory in 2002) that’s done some extremely laudable and useful work in challenging some of the myths that have grown up around the war. Things like “no, soldiers did not spend years living in a front-line trench”, and “the armies weren’t just doing the same tactics over and over, they were constantly trying to learn and evolve what they were doing”. These are themes I’m trying to bring out through the posts.
What annoys me is when the field of view widens into questions like “so, why did the war start?” Every revisionist that I’m familiar with seems hell-bent on recasting the war as a just, patriotic struggle on the part of Britain (usually referred to as “Britain” without acknowledgement of the Empire, which I find very interesting), and sometimes also on the part of France, to defend liberal democracy against the pernicious empire-building of the villainous Hun. It’s also often implied that busting all the smaller myths apparently gives greater credence to the war as just struggle.
That’s the bit I would like to call bullshit on. We’ll see how that goes.