Sunday, 15 May 2011
moving frontiers and the German fort
That remark by the tour guide, who did not know I was English until I spoke up, struck a chord which had not been struck in me before. Why would British people volunteer to fight when French and Germans did not want to? The guide said something along the lines of "That war did not affect the British to begin with, so why did they want to get involved?" Family members of mine, cousins of my grandfather on my mother's side, had indeed volunteered in the First World War, and not all of them came back - they were teenage boys when they volunteered - and they thought they were fighting for their country, even though their country had not been invaded, and did not have land frontiers to defend as France, Germany and Belgium did. I said that young British men volunteered in that war because they wanted to save England (they would have put it that way) from the threat of war and conquest elsewhere in Europe. This was not understood by the other members of the group They appeared to think that fighting in a war was something you were forced to do and which always had bad consequences.
I do not discuss the merits of the First World War here, or indeed its causes, there have been and will be historians to do that, for the benefit of all of us. That was one war. There have been others since, including in Europe since 1945 (will no-one remember the siege of Sarajevo?), and there will be British volunteers - remember the Falklands? There is an outlook in British, maybe I mean English, minds that says that where our people, whatever that means, are threatened, we must fight, or we will all be threatened. French and German people do not think this way. Discuss.