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What the poppy really means The War was followed by an elite backlash against civilisation

The War was followed by the revolt of the elites (Carl Court/Getty Images)


November 11, 2021   6 mins

Why do modern architects hate humanity? The question echoes around one my favourite corners of the internet, Reactionary Architecture Twitter. Powered by a loathing of the modernist and post-modernist built environment, it’s weirdly popular, signalling an about-turn towards traditional aesthetics, which has even seen Britain’s reactionary-in-chief, Prince Charles, enjoying a (sort of) comeback.

When “Return” seems to be the future, it’s easy to forget that in the 20th century, modernism was popular. The Victorian city centres whose demolition we now mourn were dismissed as relics of the past. Many celebrated their replacement with modern, progressive steel-and-concrete boxes.

But less often asked than “Why is it all so ugly?” is: how did we get here?

This might seem an odd way to start an article about Remembrance Day, and the centenary of the Poppy Appeal. But writing about how we commemorate the Great War, over a century after it ended, is to ask: what, exactly, are we remembering? And why?

Of course, when we memorialise that war, we honour its 10 million dead and 23 million mutilated. But, less obviously, we also mark the start of an ongoing, monumental collective effort of forgetting.

The most visible traces of that forgetting are everywhere around us, in the modernist art, architecture and anti-culture that seemed, to contemporaries, not just necessary but essential in the wake of the Great War: a wholesale reboot of human culture.

At root, the modernists hoped that somehow, if they could only make everything, clean, rational and anti-traditionalist enough, we’d never have to go to war again.

Why, then, did Europe go to war? Popular sentiment today holds that the Great War was fought for democracy. This is also the story America has always told about its own involvement in the conflict. But it’s far from clear that the modern-day abstraction of “democracy” was uppermost in the minds of British people in 1914, when the war began.

The Europe of 1914 was a place of competing empires, where the word of hereditary monarchs still had meaningful sway. The heads of state of three of the main belligerents were first cousins: George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas of Russia. As historian Miranda Carter shows, the glittering, solipsistic worlds of these three royal cousins became ever more out of kilter with the industrialising empires they ruled.

Ever more intricate webs of alliances, woven by statesmen in the name of realpolitik and balancing competing interests, drove Europe’s imperial powers inexorably toward disaster. After the assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, Britain declared war on Germany partly out of treaty obligations to Belgium, but more broadly to maintain that balance.

It wasn’t until America’s 1917 entry into the fray, under Woodrow Wilson, that anyone talked about “democracy” as a motivating force in the conflict. Wilson’s liberal internationalism blamed an inherently unstable dynamic of “power politics” for the bloodbath, and sought a new way of ensuring peace through “collective security”.

Though it’s widely understood today that Wilson’s efforts helped to create the conditions for a reprise of world war in 1939, recent writers see in Wilson’s project the first germs of the “liberal international order”. The settlement imposed on Germany after 1918 was, after all, America’s first go at imposing democracy at gunpoint.

So from the perspective of grand historical narratives, the poppy marks the end of the 19th-century world of great-power politics, and the long, slow ascent of the supposedly universal Pax Americana.

From the perspective of the ordinary citizen, of course, the poppy simply marks an unimaginable loss. You’ll find a memorial in every parish up and down the country, some huge and some simple plaques. They’re markers of a collective grief, all the more unspeakable because so universal.

In some British families, World War I killed every adult man. The memorials where their names are carved remind us that the schemes of statesmen impose a terrible cost, in empty seats at dinner tables in ordinary homes.

But today even those who remember the fallen are almost all gone themselves. So what, in fact, is the loss we’re left to remember? It’s perhaps most clearly visible in the things we no longer feel able to celebrate, except in subcultures such as Reactionary Architecture Twitter.

For the Great War saw the beginning of the end for faith in the foundations of European culture. By the end of 1918, Tsar Nicholas was beheaded by revolutionaries, Kaiser Wilhelm was deposed and exiled, and George V presided over a broken, debt-ridden empire. The war precipitated a crisis in institutional Christendom. It spawned the first Communist state. And it shattered confidence in Western civilisation.

Patriotism took a hammering; and, perhaps more profoundly, so did institutional Christianity. Most Christian denominations on both sides of the war supported the conflict: according to historian Philip Jenkins many at the time viewed it as “a holy war”. Notoriously, in 1915 the Bishop of London declared it the duty of “everyone that puts principle above ease” to “kill Germans […] not for the sake of killing, but to save the world”.

The aftermath saw an elite backlash not just against nationalism, but also traditional religious faith and cultural forms. As historian Anna Neima shows, after the Great War all energy among the world’s avant-garde focused on how human society might be re-imagined, such that nothing as horrifying could ever happen again — by transcending borders of faith or nation.

Humanity, such visionaries hoped, might be induced to forge links across mere national identity in favour of something higher. In the early Twenties, the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, founder of the utopian Santiniketan-Sriniketan community, expressed this vision in a letter to fellow utopian Leonard Elmhirst as “a great meeting of world humanity”.

The elites who corresponded, shared inspiration and travelled between these and other utopian communities, reads like a Who’s Who of high modernism. Figures as diverse as Amartya Sen, Anton Chekhov and Aldous Huxley were shaped by contact with these attempts to forge humanity anew atop the smoking rubble of the imperial 19th century.

Some went on to found their own visionary communities: in due course, Elmhirst founded his own at Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon. In time, Dartington served as a petri dish for further influential modernist innovations, including progressive education and battery farming.

At Dartington and other communities like it, all traditional practice was to be thrown on the scrap-heap. Classical music; realist painting; traditional architecture. Everything should be new, stripped of the atavistic loyalties that had powered the slaughter of millions and left Europe in ruins.

Very little survives now of the original reasons to mourn, and none of the original mourners. But we go on remembering every year. Because even if there’s no longer anyone alive who feels the real-world loss of those ten million who lost their lives, we still feel the shock of the catastrophe that ended Europe as the heart of world civilisation, in the name of realpolitik.

Today, with a century of hindsight, it’s clear that Wilson’s enthusiasm for “national self-determination” itself contained a measure of realpolitik. For in practice, the high American ideal of nations shaping their own destinies meant unravelling the dominions of America’s Old World imperial rivals.

And the liberal internationalism Wilson inaugurated has itself, ironically, come adrift in another set of poppy fields: those of Afghanistan. Now, the American civilisation that took the torch from Europe is itself embattled, under economic and cultural siege in a once-again multipolar world. And as the ghosts of 19th-century style realpolitik stir and begin to mutter, so too the poppy has become a site of culture war.

For some, the poppy is about patriotism, jingoism, an unreconstructed Kipperanschauung. So we get the annual row over wearing a poppy on telly, or a tabloid scandal about some zealot setting fire to poppies to signify their contempt for those who hew to a sense of national identity.

And as we drift ever further through the digital looking glass, so too the byproducts of Remembrance Sunday get steadily more unreal. This year, you can commemorate the end of institutional Christendom, the collapse of four empires, and 100 years of the poppy, with a limited edition NFT inscribed with the names of 118,000 fallen Canadians. Or if you say “Dulce et decorum est” three times into the mirror, the Poppyman will appear (maybe).

But perhaps we go on remembering, ritually, every year, as a means of acknowledging that the West did in fact once have an astonishing, vivid, remarkable culture — and that we blew it all, along with millions of lives, in two immense bonfires between 1918 and 1945.

This week, I’ve watched my small town putting up the wrought-iron soldier silhouettes that mark Remembrance Sunday here every year. Metal outlines round empty air, they’re perfect emblems for how we reacted to that disaster.

They stand as markers for the ghostly persistence of that old Europe, whose spirit burned out in the Great War. And they’re perfect metaphors for the collective decision we made in its aftermath, to evacuate our civilisation of everything suspected of having caused that cataclysm.

It turned out that this meant evacuating our civilisation of, well, everything. And having more or less completed that emptying-out, no one is quite sure what to believe any more. But if history suggests anything, it’s that now the end of history has ended, something will eventually come along capable of mobilising people at scale, for another round of grand historical events.

As ever, when that happens, it’ll be statesmen who shape the bigger story. And no doubt this will be formed of countless little ones. We can only hope these don’t end up told in empty seats, around dining tables in ordinary homes.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

My key take out from this was that the avant gard Mary talks about didn’t actually fight in the war.

Tolkien and CS Lewis, both of whom did, certainly didn’t advocate wholesale dismissal of the old order. Lewis, particularly, wrote in support of ‘just’ war.

WW1 is a particular fascination of mine. I’ve visited most of the battlefields and read many of the soldiers accounts re-published during the centenary period.

The simplicity of the patriotism, camaraderie in arms, and pride in the regiment is apparent, even in the better known anti war writers like Sassoon and Graves.

If a civilisation sacrifices almost an entire generation of men of character and courage, leaving the milieu to be reset by the shirkers, it should be no surprise that a few generations on we are reaping what was sown.

Simon Denis
SD
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

True enough, but I’d go further still and say that “Modernism” is the hostile takeover of art by totalitarian politics, for it seeks to reshape or refashion mankind itself, instead of simply catering to human wants and needs. And, as Orwell demonstrates in 84, it leads straight to relativistic incoherence, since Man, as we know him, turns out to be – precisely – the measure of all things. Dispense with that measure and nothing makes sense any more. Hence the hard left view that people only dislike communist oppression because they are not yet sufficiently “transformed”. The same applies to art. Angry “modernists” will sneer and snarl that the public is insufficiently aware to appreciate the cacophony they offer in place of music; the shapeless lumps they substitute for sculpture; the smears and daubs with which they replace painting and draughtsmanship. Indeed, even the most principled among them – Schoenberg for instance – make the totalitarian mistake of thinking that human experience is a matter of invention and convention, rather than discovery and truth; hence the absurd whines and whistles of “twelve tone” composition. Since we are currently enduring the furthest extreme of artistic totalitarianism it is to be hoped that the correction is setting in fast – it will come not a moment too soon.

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

I agree. I think if the volunteer Kitchener armies, that were largely decimated on the Somme, had been around to have children and grand children, their idealism wouldn’t have allowed the totalitarians quite such a free run.

Jonathan Weil
JW
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Strange, then, that the two great totalitarianisms of the twentieth century both *loathed* modern art, music, architecture, etc, and actively suppressed them in favour of more traditional forms.

Paul K
PK
Paul K
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Communism loathed modern architecture and art? How do you get the impression from looking at the Societ cultural (and physical) landscape?

Philip LeBoit
PL
Philip LeBoit
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

Stalin did like brutalist architecture, but regarded abstract art and atonal music as “formalism”, too centered on the process of artistic creation for its own sake to be of use in mass propaganda. Many writers and artists who did not subscribe to social realism ended up in the gulag.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Not at first. The first phase of the Bolshevik takeover involved the wholesale rejection of Tsarist culture. The ballet was in danger and had to prove its communist bona fides. It was with the advent of Stalin that the art policy went in a different direction – from subversive propaganda through destruction and distress to active propaganda through continual hectoring. Both are two sides of the same totalitarian coin – aesthetic pleasure comes nowhere.

lawrencesroberts
LR
lawrencesroberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Indeed Constuctivism and modern art preceded the First World War in Russia.

Simon Denis
SD
Simon Denis
2 years ago

Preceded it like socialism itself and often in alliance with it. True, some modernists were far right, but the majority were on the left – poets such as Blok, for example. The hard left so-called “intelligentsia” had, by the end of the Silver Age, conquered most non-communist areas of cultural life – plus ca change – so that whereas the nineteenth century offered a plethora of major cultural conservatives and liberals (Dostoevsky and Turgenev stand out), any man of letters standing against the left in a year like 1910 could expect to be condemned. Hence the violent reception afforded to “Vekhi” or “Landmarks”, in which a number of Liberal to Conservative voices told the intelligentsia that they were insane to welcome “revolution”. The point then about Modernism is that it goes hand in hand with the left; it shares the left’s Hegelian faith in “renewal” or “transformation” by violent means – indeed, it relies utterly on that historicist view – and that it informed the cultural policy of Bolshevism in the early days, which were every bit as bloodthirsty and rapacious as anything devised by Stalin.

Last edited 2 years ago by Simon Denis
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Good points very well made

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

This almost sounds like another denigration, 80 years on of “entartete kunst”. Which of course was carried out by the Nazis, who were true totalitarians! The Soviets also hated modern art of all kinds, or at least they did under Stalin.
If you don’t like something, fine, and the huge gap between fashionable and public taste in art may well be an issue, but politically your attack seems somewhat misplaced.
But the main point of this article is not art as such but the huge loss of confidence in ‘traditional’ Western civilisation after the Great War. A growing number of people reacted against the assumed pre war society and culture. You can condemn them if you will, but it was an ‘organic’ growth in society in reaction to the calamitous losses of that war. Just look for example how popular pacifism was in the 1930s. But in any case, that original internal weakening is indeed a key source of our current woes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Don’t you think it is beneath you to imply that an attack on modernism is ipso facto an agreement with fascism?

Tony Buck
TB
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Dadaism was much less ridiculous and nihilistic than the War.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

He has a point though. Shame you had to be such an appalling snob about it. We all of course bow to your superior intellect.

Ian Stewart
IS
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

It was a cliche comment by Buck – obvious and easy to agree with, and ultimately pointless input to a deeper discussion. Virtue signalling in other words.

Judy Johnson
JJ
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I don’t!
His superiority is probably imagined!

Jean Nutley
JN
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Neither of my grandfathers spoke about their part in the Great War. My paternal grandfather was sent home to London with Spanish flu. I assume he must have been very unwell to have been sent back from Ypres. Strange to think that Spanish flu possibly saved his life.

Mary Thomas
Mary Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

It didn’t, sadly, save Grandad’s. He was blown up at Ypres in October 1917 when he was 27. My grandmother told me he really had little idea what he was doing in the trenches or why, he was a musician and bandmaster in the Salvation Army (as was my Dad, later). I don’t think ordinary men such as he had an intellectual understanding of the why’s and wherefores of this war, caused by a foreign aristocrat being killed somewhere he’d never heard of – he was conscripted, he fought, he suffered, he survived for 3 years in mud and rat filled trenches and then he died in a hundred pieces. That sadness never leaves me. I never knew him but it was a complete waste of a good person, multiplied 10 million times.

Marcia McGrail
MM
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Mary Thomas

o, Mary – I echo your sadness for a brave, ordinary man neither of us knew. The wanton waste of life from any violence, let alone war, is epitomised in your grandfather’s awful death at aged 27. This is why I remember them, not some intellectual claptrap about ‘..ritually, every year, as a means of acknowledging that the West did in fact once have an astonishing, vivid, remarkable culture.. 

Anthony Reader-Moore
Anthony Reader-Moore
2 years ago
Reply to  Mary Thomas

Yes, such a senseless waste!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

On the subject of not fighting, it really sticks in my craw me that arch no talent conchi Ben Britten, who scarpered to the US in 1939 and enjoyed the highlife while his countrymen were fighting nd dying, was commissioned in 1961 to write the War Requiem. It was all things considered a real insult to those who fought and was probably calculated. Also worth weighing in the balance that had we lost, our conquerors would have had a solution for Benji.
The poppy has now been co-opted by our would be cultural arbitrators as a metaphor for a hotchpotch of ephemeral ideas and values which they claim encapsulate Britishness, the origins of which were sown by second raters like Benji and his fellow traveller. So I for one may donate but will not wear a poppy this year.
As for the hotchpotch of ideas and values, if those who fought for this country in the world wars could see it now, I suspect that the majority would not have bothered.

James Chater
JC
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Removed

Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

An excellent reminder that societies change and eras end, with something new always following. It seems we might be facing a similar transition at the beginning of the 21st century.
This article reminded me of Robert Graves’s ‘Good-bye to All That’ and the enormous loss of innocence, not least among the ruling class, after WWI.
A great article. Mary Harrington at her best is most impressive.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“For some, the poppy is about patriotism, jingoism, an unreconstructed Kipperanschauung.” What does that last word even mean? And I wear the poppy in Patriotic Pride.

No it was not a good article, it is just the modern Moral relativity, Situational Ethics, elastic code of honour, it is taking the past and history and spinning it to fit modern values and weak, self loathing, British/Western Guilt.

Paul K
PK
Paul K
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Did you read the same article as me? This essay does precisely the opposite to what you accuse it of.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Google translate is your friend.
English already makes use of Weltanschauung, and Kipperanschauung is just the Anschauung of the (u)Kipper.
It’s a wonder-word and I wish it well.

David George
David George
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Mary Harrington at her best is most impressive.
Yes she is
I’ve always enjoyed Melanie Phillips but she does sound quite depressed these days; and not without reason. I’m sure she’s pleased to see the likes of Mary and Bari Weiss and now, surprisingly, Nellie Bowles taking up the reins.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes but the change, ominously, rarely comes except through a violent upheaval.

Tim Bartlett
TB
Tim Bartlett
2 years ago

I thought it was the French, not the Americans who insisted on the hammering of post WW1 Germany? I’ve read that in multiple sources but correct me if I’m wrong.

Adam Bartlett
AB
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

You’re both right. You’re correct that France was insisting on hammering the Germans – at the start of the Versailles conference, US instincts were for a generous settlement, similar to what they did after WW2. France alone would never had been able to persuade the US – sadly, that was done by us Brits. We were quite divided into those wanted to punish Germany, & those who were more friendly to our old ally.

The former view was championed by the formidable Heavenly Twins; for the most of the conference they had even Lloyd George under their thrall. LG was unable to directly convince Wilson. Instead he got his mate Jan Smuts (PM of South Africa, a genius respected by Einstein, & like Wilson a fervent Christian) to have a word. After that, LG followed up and locked Wilson into team Punish.

A young Lord Keynes was also at Versailles & was horrified – he was easily able to get Smuts back on side, and near the end of the conference even convinced LG that treating the Germans so harshly would be a bad idea.

Unfortunately, while LG has been able “to bamboozle Wilson, he wasn’t able to bamboozle him back”. Hence the US went on to impose the harsh post WW1 settlement, as Mary correctly says.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Useful knowledge, once again I’m glad to be on this site.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

After 1919 there were four people who predicted another war with Germany. The US General Pershing said unless we march through Berlin the German military class will never accept they were defeated. Keynes said the harsh economic measures would result in Germans starting another war. lloyd George and Churchill realised it was an Armistice, not a defeat of Prussian influenced German militarism. The German army started preparing for the next war in 1919. Germany sent engineers to the Netherlands, Italy and Finland to help them develop military technology and started training the Ukraine from the late 1920s .When Hitler came to power in 1933, The German Army was small, they kept the best battle hardened officers and NCOs, but incredibly technically advanced with regard to rapid movement and was capable of quick massive expansion.
The withdrawals of American loans in 1931 led to massive middle class umemployment which led to Hitler’s electoral success in 1933.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes no one much mentions the assistance provided by the USSR to enable Germany to circumvent Versailles and develop its military. I suppose it does not fit the narrative

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

This happened during the Weimar era though. And this was not unsual in this era – Germany gave military training and support to nationalist China against Japan until they grew closer to the latter.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Jean Nutley
JN
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

The harshness of the reparation settlements served to pave the way for WWII. I have been watching an excellent series, WWI -the Apocalypse, which sets out clearly why WWI came about, and more shockingly, why it went on for four years. Far from spawning the Russian revolution, WWI certainly made it easier for the revolution to occur. Lenin was already planning the revolution and actively sought to increase hostilities between Germany and the UK . No doubt it served his purpose to have the countries which might have opposed him engaged elsewhere.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

Germany deliberately allowed Lenin to return to Russia to destabilise the provisional government to force them to sue for peace.

The reparation terms were not especially harsh, or not as much as the German government made them out to be to avoid paying. The hyperinflation came directly as a consequence of the government’s chicanery. They were a fraction of the devasation they inflicted on France.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Save for the fact that it was not that harsh. Nothing like as harsh as the terms the Germans forced on Russia in 1917.
Versailles fell between two stool. On the one hand it was not generous. On the other hand it was no nearly as punitive as the French wanted: to ensure that Germany was never again in a position to wage aggressive war

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

The US didn’t impose anything. It left Europe to its fate, largely, most of what happened in the treaty served British and French interests. The situation was radically different to the post-ww2 situation where Europeans were clamouring for dollars and the US military against the Soviet steamroller. If the post-WW1 settlement was liberal this reflects as much if not more that Britain and France were effectively liberal empires too, one a republic, the other a highly constrained and liberal constitutional monarchy.

Our attitude was, understandably given the loss of life, informed by a desire for revenge – and politicians falling over themselves to sate it. France had just had a siginificant portion of its industrial territory churned up and shattered by a German invasion – was it not natural they would seek compensation for the devasation wrought on their country?

And let’s not forget the Germans had imposed a vengeful and harsh treaty on the Russians too at Brest-Litovsk, which gives a hint of what they would have done to Britain and France with a great deal less squeemishness

Of couse Britain got cold feet with a more sober analysis later on, which partly explains appeasement. Not to mention the few territorial gains at the expense of the Ottomans became a poisoned chalice.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

You’re right, cherchez les crapauds as usual; but you’re assuming that the harshness of Versailles was the only factor in setting the stage for WW2. I think Harrington is thinking more about the break-up of Austria-Hungary (and, with less immediate relevance but disastrous long-term consequences, the Ottoman Empire) in the name of “national self-determination”. Churchill wrote that this was the single biggest blunder of the postwar settlement, leaving as it did a Balkanised heap of small, divided neighbours for Hitler to gobble up (Czechoslovakia, Austria, Yugoslavia) or intimidate into acquiescence (Hungary, Romania), in place of the relatively stable and unifying counterweight that was the Habsburg monarchy.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

It was the threat of the Ottoman Turks which justified the Hapsburg Empire. Once the threat from the Turks had gone, so did it’s justifications for it’s existance.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Not to mention that Germany’s and Austria’s meddling in Russian territories, specifically Ukraine emboldened groups such as the Czechs and Galician Poles to bring it all down.

Their military collapase in Italy inate 1918 and the subsequent economic calamity doomed the empire – already barely keeping together Hungary in 1867 or the south slavs after 1908 whose autonomy the Hungarians feared – as much as anything Wilson wrote.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Those who have been through battle and know they passed the Test, their spirit did not break, often have a cheerful confidence- see interviews of Geoffrey Wellum DFC , the youngest pilot in the Battle of Britain or Commandos interviewed by J Clarkson on his documentary ” The Greatest Raid “.
The scars of war are ugly; the smell of rotting flesh at Paschendale and Belsen traumatised people. Fit brave people want to see and smell beauty after war not brutal ugly objects. Those who have endured the stench of unwashed bodies want to be clean and wear fresh clothes.
I doubt any modernist or postmodernist intellectual survived the horrors of the trenches of WW1, the death camps of WW2, the Japanese POW camps or any combat.
There is a saying in engineering “What looks good works well” and it is the same for a flower, a dolphin, a Spitfire, The Severn Suspension Bridge or an E Type Jaguar. That which works extremely well is usually beautiful and graceful.
Perhaps the ugliness of the souls of modernists and post modernists is expressed in what they produce. Ugly comes from the Norse eaning fear. A Lap Sharman said to me those who have conquered fear can walk with the animals. Perhaps the modernists and post modernists were conquered by fear and as a consequence their souls became ugly, so they produced brutal ugly thoughts and objects. Perhaps because so many of the modernists and post modernists avoided testing their mettle, they developed an inferiority complex, a sense of inadequacy, a self hatred and hatred of western civilisation. Those who work in dangerous dirty tough environments such as coal miners tend to respect beauty, whether it is a flower or work of craftmanship.

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

My great uncle was at the fall of Singapore and survived Changi and other Japanese camps.

You couldn’t meet a cheerier soul. Interestingly, he emigrated to Rhodesia after the war -“couldn’t stand the leftie way Britain was going.”

James Chater
JC
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Removed

Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  James Chater

Not the most intellectual rebuttal

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Hard times create strong men…….

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Im not entirely sure of the point you make. My father was a Lancaster rear gunner shot down in France and evaded capture. DFC and Legion d’Honneur. Apart from a love and respect for the French, his post WW2 life and thoughts were brutal, ugly and bitter. He remained so until he passed away aged 96. In his 80s he went alone to Berlin to try and find peace. Your closing sentence is a romantic ideal. Of course we celebrate the cheerful confidence of Geoffrey Wellum DFC and Captain Sir Tom Moore, it shields us from the horror, as Colonel Kurtz said. For every Geoffrey Wellum there are thousands, millions who don’t know beauty because they swim in horror. I’m not sure my father ‘conquered fear’ whatever that means, even if he didnt I have no less respect for him. That modernists and post modernists produced what they did is no surprise, what should they have done? Produced mini palladian mansions and thatched cottages so we could again go through battle and pass a test? I deliberately refrain from discussing the utility or justice of going to war.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

My Father went to war in February 1940 on the convoys. He talked about the good times in New York. Occasionally he talked about the bad times such as during a documentary on Enigma when they were desperate to break the codes. He was in the Atlantic during both the U- boats Happy Time. Dad said they were losing a ship an hour,he could hear the distress messages on the radio he was stationed on The Bridge. Mum said he survived because he became indifferent to death.
Dad said it was miracle he survived and was grateful for life; he served from February 1940 to VJ Day. A reason why he said he survived was because Captain Angus Campebell told The Admiralty he he had a 20 knot ship so there there was no point in sailing in convoys. Conseqently, they were armed with 6 inch, 3.7 inch guns and many 20mm cannons and used to sail before the convoys left port. We know know the German broke the Admiralty codes so knew when the convoys were leaving. He said he was lucky to miss Operation Vigorous , a convoy from Alexandria to Malta.
Friends of Dad were tortured by the SS /Gestapo, one was pilot and the other an SOE agent and another was Chindit and fought at Kohima. I remember them as being cheerful.
A family friend who as a child Lithuania first saw the KGB commit acts of mass murder from 1939 to 1941, then SS and then the KGB again said he placed his memories in a box and buried them other wise the memories would have destroyed him. The matter of fact way he described witnessing mass murder as a child was very chilling. What should have been done was ask those who experienced horrors how they survived. Below is link to Odette HallowsGC being interviewed about her torture.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oN6xSnG4Y
Churchill wanted cottages for the workers and Nye Bevan said ” If we do not build enough houses in two years we will be criticised and if do not build with high enough quality we will be critcised in ten years “.
If one looks at the blocks of flats built by LCC before WW1 and by Guinness and Peabody Trusts, they are still lived in and have not been demolished. Oxbridge Quads and homes in cathedral closes are example of high density housing but no-one complains about them.

jill dowling
jill dowling
2 years ago

I see the poppy as a symbol of the fact that sometimes we have to stand up for what is right and to also remember the horrors of what happened to Jewish people. Shame the illiberal elite of LSE don’t feel the same.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  jill dowling

I feel the same way. I don’t try and intellectualise it or denigrate it. Our ancestors fought off German imperialists and I’m grateful they did.

T Doyle
TD
T Doyle
2 years ago

Am interesting piece. The pedant in me points out that Tsar Nichols wasn’t beheaded and the bonfire was between 1914 – 1945, not 1918 – 1945. WW1 did unleash Modernism which the Italian Fascists and to lesser extent Hitler and Stalin adopted. Both Nazi and Soviet propaganda posters and art have a Modernist feel. Looking at Modernist design one can see it’s origins in classical design. In terms of philosophy and literature Modernism is almost Darwinian and again reflects the “right” of the strong to rule. Was that any different to old school monarchy? Brave New World is about a Modernist world which has rejected man’s human origins. I enjoyed the article.

Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

That beheaded thing stood out to me, too.

Stephen Magee
SM
Stephen Magee
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

Not pedantry. You’re pointing out that an article which purports to tell the “real” truth can’t even get right the details of one of the most famous political murders in history.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

I recently stood in a football stand with my two of my grandsons, aged 14 and 9. There was a parade by a Welsh Regiment, a parade by just 5 aged- veterans, proud in their berets, a bugler played the last post and the 20,000 crowd observed a minute of absolute silence ( that minute of silence was precious in itself).
I told the boys,casting aside deeper intellectual considerations- condensing things down !.. that for me it was way of saying thankyou to those, “ordinary folk”, who had put their lives on the line. Anyway, that haunting bugle call cutting through the grey November drizzle made an impact on the two boys and later we chatted about it all on the way home, which In the end was our little remembering.
They both agreed that they would fight for freedom, then the eldest asked what I thought freedom was, thankfully we were at their parents house and i dropped them off, drove to my home and had a beer !!!

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  hugh bennett

Should have given them a good long talk and a copy of Animal Farm

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

No one should give ‘Animal Farm’ to a 9-year-old.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

We may fulminate at the pernicious idiocy of Critical Race Theory, the bullying of “TERFs” and all the other absurdities of modern life but at least the chances of ordinary civilians being killed in a war have been greatly diminished at least in Europe and the US.
My father, who was too young to fight in WW1, lost both his elder half brothers in the conflict and my mother her only brother. It still resonates and even my son has visited the battlefields and the cemeteries.
Very few wars lead to a better future even for the victor.

Galeti Tavas
VS
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“Very few wars lead to a better future even for the victor.”

So fighting Attila and the Huns was not worth the bother, Alfred should have just handed Britain over to the Vikings? Germany in Poland was OK, China in South Korea was fine?, Let the invaders invade? NO.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I don’t think his message is no war is ever worth fighting, just that they seldom result in extra portions of pudding – even if you win.

Adrian Maxwell
AM
Adrian Maxwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That is clearly not the point JB was making. Beware of an invasion of straw men.

Last edited 2 years ago by Adrian Maxwell
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“..but at least the chances of ordinary civilians being killed in a war have been greatly diminished at least in Europe and the US”
Give it 5 years

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

A single global nuclear war will make up for multiple pre-nuclear world wars in a few hours.

Bruce Haycock
BH
Bruce Haycock
2 years ago

The comfort against the actuality of a global nuclear war is that politicians have quite good instincts towards self-preservation.

Local tactical use by smaller regimes is a different possibility

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

I recently finished a book about the interlplay between culture and genes.
Humans have intestines, for example, that are 60% smaller (and therefore lighter) than other primates, a reality only possible because most of our digestion takes place outside of the body, through cooking. Humans, unlike other primates, require cooked food to survive. The cultural practice of cooking directly impacted the genetics of our intestines.
One salient observation the author makes in his tour de force of how important cultural beliefs are to human survival, is that all cultures he studied tended to be corrupted by free-rider elements when competition with out-groups waned.
In other words he posits that war, much like an immune challenge, is required, to keep cultural institutions in tact, and adaptive to the challenges the group faces.
By this rationale, the problem with the West is not that it has fought too much, as Mary argues, but that it has fought too little and succumbed to the free-riders who inevitably game pro social cultural practices for their own selfish benefit.

Last edited 2 years ago by hayden eastwood
ml holton
MH
ml holton
2 years ago

Kindly post the title & author. Thanks.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago
Reply to  ml holton

The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I get what you’re saying and yes that makes a lot of sense. War does create a sense of unity in a tribe that little else does. Like that cycle –

Hard Times Create Strong Men,
Strong Men Create Good Times,
Good Times Create Weak Men,
Weak Men Create Hard Times

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

Mutations for lactose tolerance -> cheese and dairy culture among europeans where it is unknown elsewhere is another example of gene and culture interaction.

Marcia McGrail
MM
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago

‘Humans..require cooked food to survive..’ – which ape decided to set fire to, & then eat, food if its internal genetics favoured uncooked? Surely it would have become ill? Surely its cultural peers would have seen the immune challenging consequences of its actions & avoided repeating the same error? What scientific data does your author produce for this story? To extrapolate to an unconnected scenerio is how myths start.

Al M
AP
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Nowhere does it say that earlier primates’ digestion favoured uncooked food. Scenarios to consider might include that the act of cooking, however it came about, enabled more efficient digestion or reduced the impact of pathogens in raw food. This then led to adoption as it conferred an evolutionary advantage upon its practitioners.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

I would suggest it is then decline in dangerous work. Commercial forestry, fishing ( especially in North Sea and Atlantic ), mining , construction and oil industry ( Piper Alpha )are dangerous jobs where mistakes kill and maim. The ending of physically tough sports such as rugby and boxing in most schools means most middle and upper class people can live a life completely free from physical pain and danger. They can indulge in fantasies and know they will come to no harm.

Dustshoe Richinrut
DR
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

I think it is a mistake to say that the Great War had caused a great change in culture and attitudes as well as lifestyles in living. That the Great War had ruptured society. Massive change in people’s lives had already been occurring from the 1890s onwards, change that would have inevitably led to the way people lived in the nineteen ‘twenties and nineteen ‘thirties, anyway.

What is meant by “an unimaginable loss”, in referring to how the the ordinary person sees the poppy? Devastation or sacrifice? The poppy represents the ultimate sacrifice that was paid by countless individuals in the name of civilisation. In the case of the First World War, it was the sacrifice borne by so many as a result of their courageous efforts to halt German imperial aggression.

None of the élites, the artistically inclined who had money and a good time if that’s what is meant, would have gravitated towards a Europe dominated by German imperialism. And how handy for them that they found a neat excuse to not get up on a Sunday morning to go to church, after 1918. Not that they were attending before 1914.

Andrew D
AD
Andrew D
2 years ago

I agree with the broad thrust of Mary’s argument but I take consolation in the exceptions to the rule. One of these was the so-called Return to Order (le rappel a l’ordre), an artistic movement of the 1920s that rejected avant-gardism. And let’s not forget those wonderful war memorials by Lutyens, not least the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The First World War dealt a huge body blow to tradition, but did not extinguish it. There is currently a sustained effort to extinguish what remains of it, and this is where future battles will be fought.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew D
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I’m not sure Lutyen’s memorials were the best examples though. His work in Delhi was spectacular but. Thiepval, for example, feels blocky and lifeless compared to similar monuments nearby such as the Newfoundland Caribou, the Ulster tower, the wonderful complex of Delville Wood or the wonderful statuary of the Vimy Ridge memorial. In general I found that the memorials of commonwealth dominions more thoughtfully built and better cared for than the somewhat lackluster British memorials. For example at Mametz Wood there is nothing but a rather uninspiring Welsh dragon on a plinth from 1987.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Jean Nutley
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

My grandfathers were in WWI, one in France , one in the Dardenelles campaign, both returned to their families. Paternal grandfather had five sons all of whom fought in WWII, and survived. Maternal Grandfather had four sons, three of whom survived. Fourth is buried in Ambon.
For the life of me I cannot see how their ordeals and survival would or could have influenced modern architecture, they were too busy surviving in the Great Depression that followed.
Progress and societal change come from discontent, whilst the Great War had created disillusionment, it wasn’t the only catalyst.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Jean Nutley

I suspect these kind of articles reflect the kind of speculations and titilating intellectual games the ‘extremely online’ disconnected from the real world divert themselves with.

Jean Nutley
JN
Jean Nutley
2 years ago

I suspect you are correct.

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
2 years ago

Emperor Nicholas was not beheaded, as I recall. With his family members he was shot and thrown down a well in Ekatarinburg.

What does the poppy symbolise for me, as a former serving soldier? The, tragic, willingness of a generation to fight for what they saw as their country’s interests and values. Of course, many will have been swept up in patriotism and imagined adventure. But illusions disappeared as the war ground on. I admire their fortitude, their courage, their resilience, their love of country and willingness to endure. I honour that each year in the hope, however forlorn, that we might be worthy of them. It is work in progress. I don’t need post modern architecture to think about the meaning of it all..

Galeti Tavas
VS
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Nice, and PC, bit of revisionism, as usual in Media.

“Though it’s widely understood today that Wilson’s efforts helped to create the conditions for a reprise of world war in 1939”

OK, America’s fault, the default one… USA fighting to get the Germans out of France has always been a thankless task from the French side, but usually the British were different that way, I guess not so much anymore.

How about France? They were the ones who pushed for indemnity and vast money from Germany – Wilson kept it to Reparations – big difference as one means full guilt so financial penalty – the other does not ascribe guilt as such, but instead requested only damages to Civilians from the war to be paid by Germany. Then the big result is the treaty gave all kinds of laws and numbers to stop Germany from re-arming, AND France (and UK to a lesser degree) had a military so superior they could have stopped Germany rearming, they had the legal and military right (and Germany was doing so openly) – but being French did not stop them re-arming, or getting the League of Nations to help, And USA had washed its hands of the situation by then, thus France allowing things to progress ensuring WWII.

But then to moderns guilt is to the winners, and sympathy to the losers. Like how in modern law the victims are punished and the guilty let to walk. BUT Germany was the side which was most to blame in WWI AND almost totally in WWII. And in keeping with modern thinking, Hit*er was just forced into it by USA – although he was the guilty one – as were the German People, no matter how Mary dresses it up.

But yea, we now know – it was Woodrow Wilson who caused WWI and WWII.

Happy Poppy day, now what they mean has been explained.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That part jarred for me as well. I think most historians lay the blame for the excessively punitive terms at Clemenceau’s door. There were plenty of both British and American voices warning this would set up further conflict.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I think you will find the person most responsible for French attitudes after ww1, and therefore ww2, was: Bismarck, whose onerous and crippling demands at the end of 1871 directly drove French calls for vengeance 

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Indeed the open sore of Alsace was the bridge that linked the eastern war to the western one.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

But you have to remember that France had been devestated by an invasion that ripped apart some of its most economically productive regions. If Germany had shelled the south east of England or Pennsylvania into dust over 4 years you could be well assured Britain or the US would have be demanding reparations no matter what too.

Christian Moon
CM
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The argument is perhaps that by promoting the self-determination of small nations whose security was to be guaranteed by an international order from which the USA promptly absented itself, Wilson was responsible for creating a vulnerable and unstable structure in E Europe, and a power vacuum to be filled by whichever of Russia and Germany recovered first.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

It’s a good article I think even If I don’t agree or even understand all Mary’s points.
My view is that the Poppy is simply a sign of remembering the dead and wounded who were willing to sacrifice their lives for something they believed in – their country, morality, decency. But the apocalyptic horror of the actual events and the grief took it’s toll on what humanity could spiritually take. This resulted in cynicism and impatience in the generations that followed, combined with the grim determination of the survivors to prevent anything like it happening again, I can’t blame them, but postmodernism and the liberal world fantasy was the result. Not good.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

There was I think a gap between what war had been prior to industrialisation and what it became after that, that made it harder to sustain the older attitude to it.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

One thing this essay seems to show is that the ruling class is, and will always be, living in a world of its own; a world totally disconnected from that of the people over whom it rules. When a war is fought it is only ever fought for the good of the ruling class.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

Highest death rate of any class in WW1 in Britain was the aristocracy- 20%. Look at village war memorials. Land owner and labourer fought and died together( as did their ancestors) and this has has been the same since before Crecy. The landowner, often with a long tradition of naval or military service, their coat of arms being granted due to bravery, grows up with in the village children but the mercantile wealthy with money made in shady deals does not. The greatest dishonour for a son from a family with a naval or military tradition is to be a coward and dishonour the family name. The plutocrat whose money was made in an unscrupulous manner has no honour to lose.
It is the affluent left wing intellectual: often the grandchildren of merchants( often unscrupulous), who live off family trusts who never fought, who denigrated patriotism, athletism, and courage. Examples are the the Webbs and Lytton Strachey. Malcom Muggeridge, who married a niece of the Webbs and George Orwell who noticed the left wing intellectuals contempt for athletism, courage and patriotism is the 1930s. Orwell pointed out Isherwood and Auden, two well known left wing intellectuals fled to the USA in the late 1930s.

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Great comment

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Isn’t athletic ability, like intelligence, largely genetic though?

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

No. The body is forged in the fire of the mind.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Except it isn’t. Strength, co-ordination, speed are all genetically determined at birth. We can train it within parameters obviously, but a significant proportion is set at birth.
Funny you mention Orwell because in his essay on his public school days “Such, such were the joys” he makes a similar point about how public school was wasted on him.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

His ability to speak and read seven languages and superb grasp of the English language says otherwise. Orwell came to respect the physical toughness and and patriotism instilled by institutions. Orwell’s four volumes of essays from 1927 to 1950 show a change in his views. Orqwell starts to change his views post Spain in 1936 and then after 1942/43 when he resigns from the BBC. Orwell of 1936 could not have written 1984. !984 is result of communism taking over in Europe in 1948 and the supine attitude to the Nazis by many Marxist intellectuals in the period of 1939 to 1942. Orwell says Marxists wanted Britain to lose at El Alamein and were desolate that we won.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Linguistic ability is surely an intellectual not a physical skill? Homer, Milton or Borges were all blind after all. And I am not sure where the idea of his speaking seven languages came from. He spent time in Paris as a casual labourer in hospitality and surely mastered French. He states his Latin and Greek was principally learnt to pass exams and only faintly remembered it beyond the cultural references. In Homage to Catalonia he expresses a sense of embarrassment about his limited ability to communicate in Spanish.

The essay in question is from 1947. He doesn’t really question the institution per se, he accepts it as what it is. His essay is much more revealing than one would expect of an essay of its era and largely reads as impassive cynicism of age and experience. He states he no longer cares about his miserable time and now sees it all in proportion not availabke to a child’s perspective, with many of the protagonists rather amusingly small people from an adult perspective and his essay expresses a weary sense of the imbecility of most of humanity that his bitter experiences over the last decade before ot was written. But he is also clear that he had no aptitude for the kind of inhereted qualities – physicality, hansomeness, the easy of inherited wealth and gregariousness – that put one higher up in the public school pecking order. He comes across as something of a lone frankly, albeit of the unrebellious species who primarily wished to be left alone. Such independence of habit and mind is undoubtedly is what caused him problems with his erstwhile fellow travellers. He was a fairly undistinguished soldier in the Spanish civil war freely admitting he wasn’t a good enough shot to hit anyone up to the point he was shot in the neck himself.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Read his collected essays from 1927 to 1950. They portray a man who changes his mind as the facts change. To be a King’s Scholar at Eton required very high level of Latin and Greek. I knew someone who at 13 years of age spoke with priests in Rome in Latin he also learnt Burmese and offered translations in French and Spanish.Barcelona is inCatalonia, they do not speak Castillian.
He respected the toughness of the Royal Marines he witnessed on a parade. Orwell served five years in the Burmese Police. Orwell had a lung disease which became TB. By the late 1930s he had to take holidays in dry climates.
Orwell may not have been physically tough but he came to respect those who were and combined it with patriotism. Orwell criticised those middle class left wingers who were anti patriotic and sports as it reduced ourt ability to fight.He said if Labour had supported conscription post 1938 , there would have been a million extra soldiers by 1940.
Orwell, Muggeridge and Anthony Powell were the few intellectuals, along with Churchill who realised Communism and Nazism both worshipped power and largely attracted the same type of people- power worshippers.Orwell. Muggeridge, Powell and Churchill were alone in as much they were neither in the Communist or Nazi Appeaser Camps.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thst is an excellent point rarely acknowledged. The honourable, duty-led landowner. Responsible for and bound together with the people who worked on their estates. Eddard Stark rather than Joffrey Baratheon.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you for that post. I just returned from a small (but tight) California village’s Veterans Commemoration. I reflected how my own ancestors fought in every war, from the French and Indian (including both sides of the Civil War) through Viet Nam, when we ran out of males of age. It’s sad to wonder if the new generation should get the call, it seems like it now would be “for the ashes of our gods.”

Christian Moon
CM
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Liz Walsh

And the temples of our fathers.

Stephen Rose
Stephen Rose
2 years ago

Proto fascists like Gabriel d’Annuzzia, Mannetti and the futurists in Italy exalted in war and longed for the overthrow of church and monarchy. d’Annunzzia coined the word holocaust, to describe a social blood letting. The end of the social order was manifest in European culture before 1914. The future belonged to aircraft, locomotives, skyscrapers, film, telephones and pre fabrication.
The Nazis owed more to the Bauhaus, than they cared to mention. The Soviets rejected futurism in art, in favour of social realism, but pursued it in architecture and industrial modernism.
The first world War introduced modernism and the technology that set us on our present course, rapid communication, aluminium aircraft, helicopters, pre fabrication, biological warfare and civilian bombing. War was the opportunity modernism grasped, not a reaction to it. We are witnessing how it has become the hand maiden of authoritarianism.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Rose

My impression is that Gabriel d’Annuzzia and Giovanni Gentile were more exercised by the middle class bourgeois than the church and monarchy that they both felt had been co-opted and corrupted by it.

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
2 years ago

Hmmm, not so sure: I think the relationship between art, culture and the effects of WW1 is a bit more sophisticated than Mary Harrington makes out. I’m also not convinced by her geopolitical analysis; Tsar Nicolas was not beheaded – his end was grim – but, with a mistake like that, I have to question the rest.

Artistically, ‘traditional’ realism, as the principal driving force of art, had died in the middle of the 19th century; you only have to think of Turner in Britain, the Impressionists in France, and writers like Conrad to see that. Of course, movements like the Vorticists took inspiration from the industrialisation of warfare but it is worth reflecting that Paul Nash, whose work spans two World Wars, could produce still recognisable landscapes, even if abstracted, or ‘idealised’ (if that is not too ironic given the horrors he was portraying) but, in so doing, he was in the tradition of almost all landscape artists almost all of whom ‘improved’ their actual view.

So to the geopolitics: the collapse of four empires had the most profound effects but, for all that was revolutionary, what is also surprising is how much stayed the same. Only in Soviet Russia was there a wholesale attempt to reconfigure society away from the previous model; in other countries, I would argue the ‘objective conditions’ show more continuity than not. We can point to Votes for Women, for example, as something that grew out of WW1, but the arguments had all been played through prior to the war; the service and sacrifice of women made change inevitable but it still took until 1928 for there to be something like equality (and in France it was 1944).

So, this is not to deny the profound spiritual and social shocks that WW1 produced but I’m not convinced, a century on, that it was, as Mary Harrington posits, a watershed.

Claire D
CD
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

Interesting comment, but I think it definitely was a watershed, primarily due to the numbers of men killed, if a village lost half or more of it’s young men (some lost all), that literally changed life on the ground irrevocably. It’s easy now to underestimate the importance of village life but it was still prevalent prior to 1914. Customs, family traditions and skills were frequently lost forever. That loss of men meant a whole generation of young women were less likely to marry, which created a long term sorrow for many.
Then there were the technological and logistical innovations that could only have been necessary during a war, but they changed how Britain was run afterwards dramatically.
That’s just two of the most important examples I can think of.

Last edited 2 years ago by Claire D
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

The geopolitical sweeps are, in that context, irrelevant. I wear a poppy for those lost men, forgotten traditions, gutted villages and families that never were.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Agreed. I was around the Somme recently and the never ending cemeteries with their rows of graves is, even after 100 years, a terrible sight.

ml holton
MH
ml holton
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

… yes, and re: the apparent demise of ‘traditional’ landscape painting, don’t forget that the act and art of photography was rapidly advancing too.

For many, the camera, as a novel technological tool, replaced the once coordinated eye-mind-hand skill of precise pencil and paint control.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  ml holton

And also the inter-war period was not particular great time for modernism either – as a movement they were being squeezed out in a variety of countries. Suburban interwar buildings in Britain tend to be more cottage orné and less brutalist with a few eccentic exceptions. Businesses often favoured Art Deco which was a populist idiom that owed more to classicism and art nouveau than the cold buildings of modernism.
It was only after WW2 that they became a movement with much impact.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago

Of course Remembrance Day is not solely referring to the two world wars but the later conflicts in which British servicement (and others) have died. This extension of remembering gives the act of remembrance a much greater depth as we realise that fighting and wars still continue and that some of our contemporaries have been killed in recent conflicts near and far from home.

Christopher Chantrill
CC
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

Well, I’d say that the way to understand the last century is by understanding that the intellectual elite has been wrong about just about everything. From architecture to gubmint spending.
Hey, whose brilliant idea was it to form a Triple Entente against Germany? When Lord Salisbury warned not to enter into European Alliances, and the first thing his dumb son-in-law did was form an Entente with France?
Hey, University President Wilson, whose brilliant idea was it to humiliate Germany with dismemberment and reparations? But wow, you sure enabled your successor FDR to become a World Savior.
Hey, socialists and politicians, whose brilliant idea was to yoke the people of Europe to governments spending 50 percent of national income on social spending loot and plunder.
But I wouldn’t expect a Mary Harrington to get any of this. No. It was the imperial lords of “competing empires” wot done it.

Richard Spira
Richard Spira
2 years ago

Points taken, but was Arthur Balfour not Salisbury’s dumb nephew rather than his dumb son-in-law?

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

“whose brilliant idea was it to humiliate Germany with dismemberment and reparations” – again not sure where this meme comes from but I suspect it is largely (and ironically a US-centric perception) of a highly complex and fraught peace negotiation. Wilson spouted a lot of hot air but was not that influential nor effective at Paris in 1919 and in any case was, compared to his British and French counterparts, a relative moderate in terms of wanting to punish Germany.

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Whilst not wishing to be accused of a Marxist take on history, is not one of the key drivers of art and especially architecture after each war straited economic circumstances? Building in a lavish and flamboyant way was not possible so the austere approach became necessary – and thus arose a philosophical justification of it. Once the economies started to recover then traditionalism and decoration started to take their place again.
Which means for the next twenty years we will be on to the New Brutalism; and there will be some learned reasons advanced for such styles, but the truth will be lack of money.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

So we get the annual row over wearing a poppy on telly, or a tabloid scandal about some zealot setting fire to poppies to signify their contempt for those who hew to a sense of national identity.

Seriously, are there really people who get offended by flowers? What a hellish existence they must lead.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Farrows
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

What interests me is, was there any possible counterfactual combination of leaders or events in the early part of the last century that would have prevented WWI?

And for myself, I cannot imagine any. Ergo, war in Europe was going to happen, there or thereabouts in the second decade of the last century, regardless. Ditto WWII. I have the strongest sensation, that WWII would have happened, even without Versailles, even if there had been no rise of Hitler, even if Hirohito had never existed.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Yes. Edward VII tried to keep his nephew, Willhelm II from starting the war but he died in 1911.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I am not sure he would have achieved much. First of all Germany was only one piece in the puzzle – the tension between Austria and Russia nearly exploded into a general war in 1908 over Austria’s annexation of Bosnia and the Russians wouldn’t back down again. Also it didn’t just require Wilhelm not putting his foot in it but the kind of geopolitical finesse of a Bismarck in the German government. Such a finesse did not exist as the somewhat egocentric Wilhelm could not bare it, as indeed shown by Bismarck’s own humiliating dismissal. And finally a lot of the outcome of the war was caused by German military planning with which Wilhelm was hardly involved.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Agree.Without Edward VII there was no brake on Willhelm II.

tom j
tom j
2 years ago

I enjoyed this, as I also enjoy reactionary architecture twitter.  But Tsar Nicholas wasn’t beheaded, he was shot with the rest of his family in that basement in Yekaterinburg. (& I’d probably call him Tsar Nicholas II)

Last edited 2 years ago by tom j
Aidan Barrett
Aidan Barrett
2 years ago

On the other hand, the world would not have become nearly as egalitarian without the cataclysmic world wars.

https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691183251/the-great-leveler

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Barrett

Depends which country. The Liberal Government in Britain pre WW1 wanted to spend money to reduce the squalor and poverty in the slums. Instead it had to start to increase military spending from 1905 onwards.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Germany was moving towards its social insurance model long before WW1 also.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

This, Mary, is so true. Read ’em and weep. Even so, I cannot resist the urge to point out: there were two blood-thirsty men whose impositions on the course of 20th-century history were the defining forces that killed the post-WWI Wilsonian optimism that you mention above.
The execution of 20th-century optimism was decreed and carried out principally by two cruel men, in two phases. Phase 1: Adolf Hitler. Phase II: Josef Stalin.
Culturally, however, and artistically, the man most responsible for the widespread reconstruction of Art was . . . Pablo Picasso. In his defense, however, I must mention the impact of one mural, of which he supervised the painting therein, at the Spanish pavilion in an international exposition in Paris. The year was 1937.
Picasso’s world famous piece, Guernica, changed 20th-century perspectives forever. Its story began on April 26, 1937 when Hitler’s ramped-up luftwaffe, newly welded under the radar, in violation of the Versailles treaty, was due for a trial run. So they did Franco a favor by bombing the hell into northwestern Spain
George Steer, a reporter for the Times of London, reported on the destruction at Guernica. The Times’s story sailed across the Channel to Paris, where Picasso read of the tragic destruction that had been inflicted on his home country.
Picasso went to the Spanish pavilion where his assistants were working on the mural. The artist instructed his assistants to whitewash the wall and start over with a new painting to represent Spain. That work, which ultimately represented, artistically, the dominance of modern 20th-century warfare, changed the world–most notably the art world–permanently.
And the rest is history. There is no way that traditional art could have depicted the destructive force of mechanized, aerialized warfare that was uncovered in the ruins of Guernica.
In 1937, art–in order to remain relevant to the human condition–it needed to become something other than what it had been before. It had to become ugly; it had to become tragic. Picasso turned that corner. It wasn’t pretty, but it was real, and authentic.
Sad but true. Read ’em and weep.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

As Nassim Taleb wrote chanelling de Maistre, sometimes they delay of war builds up a worse war for the future. This seemed to happen to the post Congress of Vienna world. I wonder if a similar head of steam is building up in ours.

John Hicks
JH
John Hicks
2 years ago

A good read. Many thanks Mary. Here in Germany the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th month provides, each year, the Carnival Joker (popularly appointed) the privilege of launching the Carnival season of general national knees up and approved partying. Largely centred in the South West, an area particularly damaged by both Wars, and close to “Flanders fields where poppies grow.” Why? Would be interesting I think.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  John Hicks

No part of Germany was particularly damanged in WW1.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“But perhaps we go on remembering, ritually, every year, as a means of acknowledging that the West did in fact once have an astonishing, vivid, remarkable culture — and that we blew it all, along with millions of lives, in two immense bonfires between 1918 and 1945.”

I’m not at all persuaded by this narrative that the intent behind Postmoderism was this desire to remake Western culture in the wake of the horrors of war. Why, if so, do the results of the efforts to escape brutality include Brutalism?

And the paragraph I have quoted here is surely nonsense, for the fairly obvious reason that Western culture dominated the globe for seventy years following the end of WW2, so it cannot be true to say that we “blew it” by 1945. In fact, Westen culture only became the undisputed global leader as it produced the mass prosperity of consumerism, which did not happen until the 1960s, which means that the European culture that preceded this was not the zenith of civilisation implied by this argument.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I suppose it is a clash between the old European, post-Vienna vision of the west and the French revolutionary and Anglo-centric version of it, which did in some sense change. But it seems remarkably myopic to not realise that Britain, despite having a monarchy, was as much an enthusiatic propogator of that as the US. The US’s liberal empire of trade and business was built on the British one.

Tony Buck
TB
Tony Buck
2 years ago

A fair number of those commenting here, talk as though they had decorations for military bravery !

Absurd, obviously – and just an excuse for casting themselves as superior to the Usual Suspects, notably Avant Garde creatives.

Who were, agreed, a dismal and dangerous lot, both as people and in their creations.

But not even fractionally as dismal, let alone dangerous, as the armchair jingos who denounce them.

Sue Sims
SS
Sue Sims
2 years ago

As with most of Mary Harrington’s articles, I agree whole-heartedly with the points she’s making. However, I have to indulge in a tiny bit of pedantry: Anton Chekhov wasn’t one of the Brave-New-Worlders, since he died ten years before the Great War began.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Although in comparison with her mixing Charles I with Nicolas II it is small beer.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Chekhov can still be a voice in an intellectual movement that only takes hold of the elites after his death.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

But that’s not what she said.

Nicholas Rowe
CD
Nicholas Rowe
2 years ago

There are ghosts of old beliefs that still possess the unwary and which rise from those days of Edwardian civilisation.
One is that the 1839 treaty with Belgium was a cause of Britain’s entry into the war in 1914. Douglas Newton in his book The Darkest Days clearly demonstrates that this was not so. Nor was the decision to involve Britain in any way democratic.
Daniel Larsen in his book Plotting for Peace shows that the Great War was won or lost in terms of finance. Britain would have lost first but for the entry of the USA.
Mary Harrington’s essay gives the impression that the avante garde’s reaction to the Great War was immediate. Yet the extent to which the dead were remembered and in the way they were in the 1920s does not show any such reaction on the part of the masses.
The authors of the biography of the Edwardian Bishop of Durham, published in 1923, who supported the war and who did not agree with a pacifist vicar in his diocese, did not record any protest by the people who attended the unveiling of the memorials that he presided over.
Letters written to newspapers in the crisis of July 1914 show a belief that Britain had no cause to involve herself in a continental war. Moreover, this was a war that was really a German-Russian dispute.
The crisis of 1914 could have been confined to Eastern Europe, as it could have been in 1939. However, Britain was unfortunate in her foreign ministers on both occasions.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

I find it difficult not to believe Britain would have been dragged in one way or another. France and Germany were heading for another war, and there was little Britain could do to stop that. And a German occupation – and a free hand to grow its navy at the same time – of the channel ports posed a grave threat to its national security.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

“Britain declared war on Germany partly out of treaty obligations to Belgium, but more broadly to maintain that balance.”

The average British citizen *was* told it was about abstract or at least moral values. Not for democracy but something like the classical liberal moral and legal world order the British Empire was felt to represent. There was no contradiction between imperial patrotism and these values as they were seen as one and the same thing. The trampling of Belgium and the cultural and physical destruction if Belgium towns like Dinant and Louvain were potrayed as outrages against Christian civilization that needed to be avenged. Yes we now know the Belgian atrocities were perhaos overegged though a trip to Dinant citadel and the stoty of the massacre that took place there still resonates. All the propoganda – the hulking beastly Hun etc. – and writing of the era reflected that. Perhaps the British government had more cynica motives, although the cabinets decisions in 1914 were highly influenced by their fear of Germany crushing the 19th century order by steamrolling over Belgium.

In addition I can’t help but feel this idea that the splintering of empires was all due to the US gives them too much credit. Their contribution at the end of WW1 was timely but they had limited influence in the peace process as reflected their relatively small military. France ever since the revolution had been a vanguard of nationalist agitation and had strong interests in promoting nationalist movements itself. Britain was less keen bit had sympathised with smaller European nations under the yoke of European giants by its support of Corsican rebellion in the 18th century or its desire to preserve Polish independence in the Congress of Vienna and later sympathy towards Polish uprisings. Britain and France had always sympathised with the plight of post-partition Poland and both sought to exploit nationalism in the Arab regions of the Ottoman empire for their gain.

Not to mention all of the 19th century had seen a rolling succession of nationalist crises, to wit: Greece in the 1820s, Belgium in 1830, German and Italian unification, the 1830 and 1867 Polish uprisings, the 1867 Hungarian uprising and establishment if the dual monarchy, the shattering of the European Ottomam empire into first de facto then de jure independent statelets under Russian pressure and British disapproval if events in Bulgaria, the repeated Irish uprisings from Wolfe Tone to the Fenians to the brink of civil war in early 1914 and Norweigian independence in 1905. During the war itself the Tsar proclaimed he would undo the partitions and create a union of crowns for Poland and Russia under Romonov tutelage – in late 1916 the Germans and Austrians formerly stated their goal of a Polish puppet or buffer kingdom from Congress Polish lands that formed the nucleus of independent Poland.

All of which is to say the outcome of WW1 was as much a product of European dynamics as Wilson’s ten points that as the Germans (who hoped they portended leniency) saw as their way out of full imperial collapse an allied invasion would entail. All sides used nationalism as a blunt battering ram into enemy territory as German scheming around the 1916 Easter uprising shows. If it weren’t why did the US refuse to sign the treaty? The US certain did impose its will after WW2 but under radically different military calculus.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Dustshoe Richinrut
DR
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Norwegian independence in 1905? Was that a break from Danish rule? Hence the renaming of Norway’s capital city from Kristiansand to Oslo?
It’s an inkling I have. But at first I wondered if you had meant independence for Finland. I think there was something going on in Finland at that time.
If I don’t hear from you, I’ll have to look all that up myself. Thank you for your interesting posts scattered about here.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

It was a break from Sweden. Norway had been part of Denmark from the collapse of the Kalmar Union in the 16th century until 1814 where Denmark was punished for being on the losing side of the Napoleonic wars. Sweden gained Norway – in part as a reward to Bernadotte for turning on his master*. Technically Norway was already independent but ruled in personal union with Sweden. Norway started to express more independence such as appointing its own embassies leading to a dispute with the Swedish monarchy and eventually their appointing their own monarch. The renaming of Kristiansand to Oslo happened in 1925 for unrelated reasons.
Finland also had a vigorous nationalist movement – most sublimely expressed in the music of Sibelius. And yet they were also relatively peacible and not much of a problem for the Russian Empire. It is for this reason they didn’t suffer as much Russification as the Poles and retained their institutional separation as a Grand Duchy (Finnish men were not subject to conscription in WW1 for example) – well not at least until Stalin Russified the Karelian lands. After WW1 they declared independence under German tutelage, initially intending to have a German ruling family but then moving to a republic with the German collapse. The Soviets attempted to co-opt them to the new Soviet Union but they fought a bitter civil war against communist Finns that checked the Soviet growth just as in Poland. Interestingly in 19th century books of marine flags you will see the flags of Finland and Congress Poland as separate. Confusingly as after the 1867 revolt Poland was increasingly being wiped out as institutionally distinct from Russia and heavily Russified. Only the even more intense Germanification in the Prussian part of Poland meant that some Poles were sympathetic to the Tsar at the start of WW1 and hence amenable to a reunification of Poland under dynastic union.
As to my original point I would posit that a) WW1 was somewhat inevitable in some form or another and b) large scale warfare like the Napoleonic wars, the Prussian wars or the Balkan wars had changed the map of Europe before and everyone excpected it would be again some time. The real question was how and by whom. Some new independent states after WW1 were inevitable. had the Central Powers one the main difference would be that the new states would have been monarchies not republics – only Yugoslavia was a new monarchy created after WW1 and that from the existing Serbian royal family. The Ottoman empire was on its last legs anyway and had only survived dued to the British popping it up, likely it would have disintigrated in a very bloody way eventually. Apart from that, obviously the Austrian empire would remain intact, although probably suffering from increasing internal tension between the Hungarians and Slavs on the one hand and increasing presure to dissolve it into Germany by pan-Germanicists that wanted a single German state that in the aftermath of such a victory would have seemed a promising future in the new German economic order they envisaged (a more spikey helmeted monarchical version of the EU). The republics that were created were, ultimately a reflection of the fact that the victors were largely republicans or highly limited monarchies like Britain and Italy.
* Bernadotte was a Marshal of Napoleon. He invaded Sweden as a French general and due to the collapse of Sweden in its war with Russia over Finland ended up being appointed generalissimo and crown prince. His descendents still rule Sweden.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

A few years ago, I visited the national military museum of Finland on an island just off Helsinki: the artefacts and installations and equipment as well as the information displayed in it were highly impressive and sparked a new interest in me to discover more about history.
Thank you once again.

Alison Tyler
AT
Alison Tyler
2 years ago

I wear a poppy because it is red and symbolises blood, offered, taken, shed and wasted in in a myriad different ways. It reminds me of of the relatives I never had because their potential parents died, and of the impoverishment of our society after two world wars which endures still to this day. I pray every day for peace and for peace making.

L Walker
LW
L Walker
2 years ago

I wasn’t aware Wilson imposed harsh terms, thought it was the French and English, and considering the devastation the two experienced, understandable. And everyone that predicted Germany would do it again were right.

Julie Kemp
JK
Julie Kemp
2 years ago

Very timely review dear Mary.
At 73 almost and researching Sir Francis Bacon/aka Prince Francis Tudor/Shakespeare, and loving the recent rains here (Queensland), i’ve been re-organising my photo albums along with looking at my Memory Wall. Tears flow. I see my darling tall handsome uniformed Captain Grandpa McPherson (RAIF) from WW I whose writings have been book-published by a relative. I see my late darling father Reginald George Kemp in his RAN uniform of WWII – both cause volcanic emotional eruptions. Such often leads me to assess the pithy spiteful mouthings that have been going on recently about something called ‘identity’ – it is certainly comically confusing if it was not so tragic, literally deplorable (ie perverse egoism) and wretchedly stupid!
This November, as i do most days, i want to honour (as i cherish) my own gentle noble patriarchy who fought wickedness so far away from their ‘country of origin’. Grandpa, “Mac”, and Dad, “Reg” were very present in my early days. I loved them easily and readily, enjoying in it their perculiarities and foibles – Grandpa’s pipe and tobacco; Dad’s love of gardening and our dog, Toby.
After listening for a while and being sort of ‘on the left’, the vanities of late have become so archly despicable, vengeful, empty and ‘oh so vain’ (recall ‘Joni Michell?). They (the ‘activist class’) miss the Bull’s-Eye completely – there is no high art or skill in their discernment or comprehension of the greater Whole – merely their vacuous notional sense of entitlement and fitness without effort.
‘Democracy’ is a vehicle or format that shapes a collection of people. There are various models of such. But hey! Faults or weaknesses are ever-present in this World of Form or Incarnation. Welcome to “Complex Systems” (as one of my fave couples say) !!!! Grow up! Responsibility is inherent in this. That’s what ultimately makes one feel ‘good’ – a ‘goodness’ that is self-sustaining. Some failing is part of learning to be a Person or Identity – and there is only one pathway for that – the ‘Mediocra Firma‘; the balance of opposites. Such gives form to an entity. Character informs that form and gives it its Identity. Fine Art says it via ‘chiaroscuro’ – light and shade which gives a Definition of a Form. The Artist then gives that entity character through his painterly skill and art. Isn’t this what we all do one way or another? There are many forms of ‘love’, just as there are many forms of entities and identities. Hence why we need Democracy of some fashion in order to accommodate and enable the seen and Unseen but knowable forces that constitute the Universe and our World on Earth.
My late Mum loved poppies. She dearly loved her Dad. I loved mine. To me both dear Men were gentle, disciplined, humorous, manly and purposeful. Both served their families and their Country. I be in Australia. I love my Country of birth. I loved the time i spent (Nursing) in the Highlands of New Guinea – so very different: feathers, paint, mass dancing, warcrys, spears, clay and market smells! Wonderful. Scary. Exciting. My first experience of being ‘off Continent’! Then I loved the little i saw of Britain and Europe in which i lived and worked for a year in 1975.
I have come to love the deepest learning which emanated from the deepest of history and ‘pre-history’. So many wonderful Men of Wisdom (Art and Science/Alchemical Both) from long ago. Of course i am acquainted with only a few Women from those ‘times’/eras. But hey, they were There. Like ‘Entanglement’ the past is now as is the future. Distance? Time? What are they? Magic or Physics or Consciousness. I’d say all Three!
Thank you Mary.

Alan Thorpe
AT
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

If there is a lesson for Britain from WWI, WWII it must be don’t join a war you know you cannot win, and from Iraq consider the consequences of winning a war before you start it.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Surely you need to reverse those examples?

James Chater
JC
James Chater
2 years ago

O

Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
Kate Heusser
KH
Kate Heusser
2 years ago

An interesting piece about intellectual elites and their penchant for re-imagining the world order in order to ‘save’ the world. But why pin a poppy on it, other than to suit the intended publication date?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago

Do such incidents as protestors setting fire to poppies reflect a general trend towards dislike or hatred of people who hold oinions that differ from our own? If so, what are possible reasons for the trend.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Insecure immature and spiteful. Violette Elizabth Bott from Just Willaim used to say ” I am goimg to scream and scream until I am sick “. VEB is great British comic character; those who burn poppies are not.

Judy Johnson
JJ
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you! I agree with what you wrote but was wondering if there is a trend for people to dislike those who disagree with them, for example of a different political persuasion. I am thinking of occasions where there is no direct moral issue as there is in destructive protest.

Judy Johnson
JJ
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you! I agree with what you wrote but was wondering if there is a trend for people to dislike those who disagree with them, for example of a different political persuasion. I am thinking of occasions where there is no direct moral issue as there is in destructive protest.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Insecure immature and spiteful. Violette Elizabth Bott from Just Willaim used to say ” I am goimg to scream and scream until I am sick “. VEB is great British comic character; those who burn poppies are not.

Judy Johnson
JJ
Judy Johnson
2 years ago

Do such incidents as protestors setting fire to poppies reflect a general trend towards dislike or hatred of people who hold oinions that differ from our own? If so, what are possible reasons for the trend.

William Murphy
WM
William Murphy
2 years ago

A temporary poppy seen in Watlington, Oxfordshire illustrates the First World War tragedy for some families. The five Harman sons are also commemorated on the permanent memorial in the High Street. A hundred years on, they are still vividly remembered in Watlington, perhaps the smallest town on England. An article in the local magazine recalled that they were from a family of eleven children, raised on a farm labourer’s wages

https://photos.app.goo.gl/JojCTae9nYNtRCrU7

Last edited 2 years ago by William Murphy
Richard Ross
RR
Richard Ross
1 year ago

The Anglosphere certainly has forgotten the significance of the poppy, as shown by the POV of this article, which assumes the cause of WW1 to be “balancing competing interests” in the furtherance of nationalism, as a principle, and the poppy to be a symbol of the tragic waste inherent in that.
But as Barbara Tuchman wrote in her history of the conflict (Guns of August), the closer one looks at it, the more obviously all fingers point to Berlin. German expansionism, plain and simple, was the entire reason for the “intricate web of alliances” – and thank God for them.
Thank God also for those who gave their lives in defense of a great society. Would they have been so willing, had they been able to see a century into the future?

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Ross
Richard Ross
RR
Richard Ross
1 year ago

The Anglosphere certainly has forgotten the significance of the poppy, as shown by the POV of this article, which assumes the cause of WW1 to be “balancing competing interests” in the furtherance of nationalism, as a principle, and the poppy to be a symbol of the tragic waste inherent in that.
But as Barbara Tuchman wrote in her history of the conflict (Guns of August), the closer one looks at it, the more obviously all fingers point to Berlin. German expansionism, plain and simple, was the entire reason for the “intricate web of alliances” – and thank God for them.
Thank God also for those who gave their lives in defense of a great society. Would they have been so willing, had they been able to see a century into the future?

Last edited 1 year ago by Richard Ross
Bogman Star
BS
Bogman Star
2 years ago

Over 2.5 million men, few of whom would have had the right to vote, were conscripted into the British army in WW1. So much for “democracy”.
Their role was to pursue a bloody imperial fiasco on behalf of the
colonial classes. Pope Benedict XV described WW1 as “pointless
carnage”. This isn’t entirely correct. Pointless from the standpoint
of the brave ordinary men who died in their thousands, but far from
pointless from the perspective of the elite. Sir Maurice Hankey,
Secretary of the British War Cabinet, in a letter to Foreign Secretary
Arthur Balfour, noted that “control of these [Mesopotamian] oil
supplies” was a “first-class war aim”. And as Lloyd George later
noted, Britain came out of the war with “a nice fat profit”. We’ve
all heard the usual PR flannel about “poor little Belgium” – the same
Belgium that, even after 1908, was still responsible for running a
vicious colonial regime in the Congo. Despite the “cause of Belgium”,
it’s revealing to note that some of the first British troops deployed
in WW1 were sent, not to Belgium, but to Basra, in modern-day Iraq. Of
course, shortly before WW1, the British Navy had switched from using
coal to oil (partly for engineering advantages, partly out of
Churchill’s wish to outmanoeuvre domestic mining unions). Go figure.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Bogman Star

In WW1 joining was voluntary. The 1830 Treaty guaranteed Belgium’s existance and we were honour bound to uphold it. The Liberal Government supported by Labour did not want to go to war with Germany because it wanted to spend money on reducing poverty in the slums. There were many people who had married Germans and respected German culture. Britain was unprepared for war with Germany. One only has to look at the rushed mobilisation to see the lack of preparation.
In Britain the highest death rate was amongst the aristocracy.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Until 1916. Conscription was introduced then. About half those enlisted in WW1 were conscripts, half volunteers.

Admittedly volunteers bore the brunt in the Somne in 1916 and Flanders in 1917. Volunteers were also more likely to be young men under 30 and so class A fit and thus assigned to the front line trenches. Lloyd George also kept many in Britain to ‘seny them to the generals’ for another offensive until the German spring offensive forced his hand. They also, strangely, bore the brunt of shootings for cowardice – by 1918 a backlash had meant conscripts faced a somewhat less harsh court marshall system than in 1916.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
James Chater
JC
James Chater
2 years ago

Removed

Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
John T. Maloney
John T. Maloney
2 years ago

For a fine example of Fascist, Totalitarian, & Brutalist architecture in pop culture watch the film ‘Titus.’
The film is a 1999 film adaptation (word for word) of William Shakespeare‘s revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus.
The film uses Fascist, Totalitarian, & Brutalist styles that evoke architectural traditions of Ancient Rome, but with the Rationalism and Stripped Classicism popular in the late 1920s and 1930s w/Hitler & Mussolini.
The film leads are Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, both double Oscar winners, making the production eminently watchable.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

That film was, if memory serves me, decidedly mediocre in execution.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
John Shaplin
JS
John Shaplin
2 years ago

.’Modernism’ began before WWI and is embodied in the huge sacrifices of Total War as initiated by Napoleon.. It may surprise some that one of the chief figures responsible for the slaughter, Douglas Haig, started the charity-marketing itself as poppyscotland beginning in 1921..

William Murphy
WM
William Murphy
2 years ago

Professor Alec Ryrie gives a fascinating and depressing account of Christian cheerleading for the 1914-18 slaughter – see Min 32 onwards of this fine lecture, which also mentions how Darwinian thinking could be press ganged to support European supremacy.

https://youtu.be/fqkU2DXSRB4

David Buckingham
DB
David Buckingham
2 years ago

Here’s another way of looking at this at this broad sweep of history and culture in the last century…

All historical events are products of deeper philosophical ideas which emerge hydra-headed in various guises. They directly and indirectly inform politics, diplomacy, economics, aesthetics, ethics, psychology, education, etc.

The counter enlightenment may have developed with Rousseau through the 18th c. but Kant’s anthropocentric (anti-) Copernican revolution claimed the existence of a fundamental unknowable noumenal reality (spot the self-contradiction) accessible via faith, revelation and feeling. The romantic revolution that followed revolted against respect for reason and reality which had gradually evolved from the 12th to the 18th century. Romanticism replaced this by glorifying the subjectivity of faith, feeling and emotion as the channel to profound truth. This has been growing virus-like in the culture – creating a split personality and dichotomy between the mental/spiritual world and the physical.

Hegel interpreted Kant’s rejection of reason to project the supremacy of the volk and nation states over value of the individual. This took an aggressive form from german philosophy in the 19th c. and drove two world wars, plus statist political movements like socialism communism and fascism.

Aesthetic movements through the 19thc gradually abandoned art as a means to portray values in the real world (some powerful politically driven work persisted) and instead focussed on techniques and methods of conveying subjective experience rather than material content. The focus was on the means not the ends. Dada crystallised the fight against objective standards and the absolute in visual values, composers adopted the conflicted angst of atonal music, in pursuit of the elevated but elusive noumenal world; painting found purpose in dreams, trauma, therapy, social and political causes as well as technical navel gazing and exploring perverse and banal but attention-seeking ways to shock. Emotional expression became self justifying and inflated as vehicles of meaningfulness.

The big counter-factual to this – until recently – has been science and technological development along with economic explosion of economic and physical well-being. Many have retained a love of expressions of rational values especially in for instance music, drama and personal achievement. The evidence of benefits was not denied ( until the awokening).

The general direction of architecture was part of this counter factual – embracing not rejecting reason and reality – as part of the undeniable benefits in practical and many would say aesthetic sense. Architecture has been a fascinating ideological battleground. Kant reduced the significance of functional design in architecture and categorised it as fine art. This was in defiance of the ancient Greek concept of to kalon which integrated the two aspects (hat tip Colin St John Wilson). Kantian dogma seeped back in with ‘modernism’ and post modernism (as well as imitative historical styles at different times).

The hidden power of philosophical ideas is now out in the open with post-modern / post-rational onslaught on basic science : trying to enforce dogma and consensus – installing The Science as the New Religion. Denial of gender differences, denial of rational debate if deemed subjectively offensive (language and thought control), hysterical threats of climate and pandemic catastrophe which are either invented or hard to corroborate being politically weaponised – enforcement of censorship and enthronement of consensus over objectivity.

Religion has stuttered along in various guises including the woke version – atomised and benefitting from indulging subjectivism and institutions with authoritarian solutions. The human search for meaning and coherence in life supported by the long-standing legitimisation of faith (Kant) has fed the religious solution of non evidence-based belief. This feeds the demands for blind acceptance of dogmatic, censorious and hysterical assertions about climate, pandemics and victimhood. Low hanging fruit for those looking for a cause.

The fear that inspires hysteria, dogma and bullying is a fear of losing control over your own life and destiny. Not surprising when the definitive tool of survival for humans, reason, has been discarded.

The cult of victimhood is a result of a belief in determinism dominating the culture when free will and individual agency is contemptuously dismissed. Fortunately determinism is a self-contradiction but who knows when it will be called out.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

A very nice essay, Mary. It was one of your essays (linked on RealClearPolitics?) that first drew me in to UnHerd two years ago or so.
Here’s a tangent: How could Western Civilization have produced such horrors, we all wonder? Like many of you, I have read a lot about the age, and most recently I’d taken up “The Sleepwalkers” (Christopher Clark, 2012). I’d also recently read the memoir of Ernst Toller (“I was a German”) and host of other books. And then it hit me: Europe did not stumble/sleepwalk into war. It did, however, find itself fighting war on an industrialized scale for the first time. That really comes out in “Trench Warfare, 1914-1918: The Live-and-let-live System” (Tony Ashworth, 1980).
Ashworth is brilliant. And he really brings the bit about industrialized warfare on an industrial scale.
So, by this interpretation, it was just a matter when the world would visit such horrors. And, we have, and we have been sensitized to it.
The traditional interpretation is that this was all just some big mistake. It wasn’t. In “Sleepwalkers” one sees that everyone was getting into everyone else’s business. That was true in earlier ages. It remains true.

Rod McLaughlin
RM
Rod McLaughlin
2 years ago

Thanks for this. A welcome respite from the mindless worship of mass murder which occurs around this time every year.

Jean Nutley
JN
Jean Nutley
2 years ago
Reply to  Rod McLaughlin

Thanks for that, my family lost nine fine young men in “mindless mass murder” . There is no worship, just Remembrance.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Rod McLaughlin

Ther fact that you have the freedom to say that is because men, women and children died.
” Remember us at the going down of the Sun. We gave our today for your tomorrow “.

John Riordan
JR
John Riordan
2 years ago
Reply to  Rod McLaughlin

This comment is mindless, but what you’re attempting to describe is most certainly not.
As for asserting that it’s a celebration of mass murder, I can barely believe anyone is so stupid as to think it, let alone actually say it.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
James Chater
James Chater
2 years ago
Reply to  Rod McLaughlin

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Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater