Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Centenary? What Centenary?

In a post on the Theatrum Belli blog, at http://theatrum-belli.org/il-existe-une-mission-du-centenaire-de-la-premiere-guerre-mondiale-mais-pour-quelles-missions/ , the noted French military historian of the Great War, Rémy Porte, looks at what is planned officially in France to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, and doesn't like what he sees.

While many communities, departments and regions have announced plans and projects for local commemorations, Porte has failed to find anything concrete coming from central government, apart from one website. Lots of meetings, but no product.

What is worse, he says, is that the people who attend these meetings represent every little clique, every school of thought, niche and theme about the War - the cultural, social, economic, political, diplomatic, scientific and technical, financial and budgetary factors of the conflict; medical services, coal mining, the press, the Christmas truce - all have their enthusiastic supporters. Every aspect, that is, but one - the military campaign. No-one seems to be taking an interest in the actual fighting. There is nothing, he complains, about the organization of the armies of the belligerents, their training, equipment, leadership, doctrine and planning; nor anything about the conduct of operations, the strategic interaction between the fronts, comparisons between countries, the roles of soldiers at every level within their army, nor the immediate and distant causes of the war.

Perhaps through gritted teeth, he compares the situation in France unfavourably with the situation in the UK, where David Cameron's speech last October at least gave an impression that, on this side of the Channel, there is a coherent programme of commemoration.

There have been a number of dissenting voices in the UK as well, seeking to fine tune the Prime Ministerial proposals, but there is some comfort in knowing that someone thinks we are doing well. But I don't want to be the one who has to tell M. Porte that the school of military history that ignores all those howwid guns and all that sordid killing is alive and well in some of our universities.

We shall see.