Centenary News Debate: Was Michael Gove right to say the UK should commemorate a "just war"?

Posted on centenarynews.com on 03 February 2014
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A high profile argument broke out between politicians in the UK in January 2014 about the causes of the First World War – and how best to commemorate the Centenary of the war. It was started by an article in the Daily Mail, written by the British education minister Michael Gove.

So was Michael Gove right?

Yes:  Mr Gove claimed “left-wing myths” about the First World War belittle Britain and clear Germany of blame. “The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was plainly a just war,” he wrote.

Those who fought were not dupes but saw a noble cause and were committed to defending the “Western liberal order” against German aggression. “The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.”

He also railed against popular television comedy Blackadder for portraying the war as “a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetuated by an out of touch elite.”

He was backed, among others, by fellow Conservative Boris Johnson, mayor of London, who claimed the driving force behind the carnage was Germany’s desire to dominate Europe. “It was Germany who sent her troops smashing through Belgium and France,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph

No: Professor Sir Richard Evans. Regius professor of History and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge, who was directly attacked by Mr Gove hit back: “How can you possibly claim that Britain was fighting for democracy and liberal values when their main ally was Tsarist Russia?” he asked.

British Shadow Education Secretary Tristam Hunt said a blame game was futile and accused Mr Gove of using the solemn moment of national remembrance “to re-write the historical record and sow political division.”

 “Given the deaths of 15 million people during the war attempts to position 1918 as a simplistic nationalistic triumph seem equally foolhardy,” he wrote in the Observer.

German newspaper Die Welt said Mr Gove “was not about historical nuances”. It accused him of projecting British heroic resistance from the second world war onto the first war. It added that Gove needed an “old thesis” of Germany being solely to blame and the British heroically fighting back.

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