The latest round of papers from the Prime Minister’s Office have been released, relating to the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1989-90. While files on several topics have been ope…
Archive for the ‘History’ Category
The historian Ernst Nolte who passed away this week aged 93 was one of Germany’s most prominent historians. Aged 40 he published research comparing Italian Fascism, Russian Stalinism and German National Socialism. He not only instigated research into Germany’s recent troubled past but also opened the path for comparative history. This was ground breaking in the 1960s and fitting for the decade that saw Germany leaving the post war period and commencing a debate about the period between 1933 and 1945.
Ernst Nolte came to fame again in the 1980s when he postulated that the German Holocaust was nothing but a reaction to the Russian Gulag system. While there were similarities: the Gulag and the concentration camps were camps in which conditions certainly were not human. Yet the Holocaust is an entirely different matter. People died under the harsh conditions but more importantly people were murdered following a murderous plan executed in industrial fashion. It needed a sophisticated plan to organise genocide on such a scale.
By arguing that the German Holocaust was only a reaction to the Russian Gulag system, Nolte started a debate in Germany that has become known as the Historikerstreit, the historians controversy.
While the 1960s were a decade in which Germany faced its own history, the 70s were a decade of unrest and the 80s a decade of restoration. The argument about the Holocaust came a year after Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker made it clear that the end of the war was a liberation for Germany and Germans. When Nolte published his synthesis in 1986 he immediately saw himself in the centre of a debate about Germany’s history. Once again it was a vital debate. Despite his point of view, we have to be thankful for Nolte that he initiated the historians controversy. That will be his legacy.
The darkness crumbles away –
It is the same old druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand –
A queer sardonic rat –
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
(And God knows what antipathies).
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German –
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through the still heavens?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
Isaac Rosenberg was a British poet who unlike most of his contemporaries did not consider war as a patriotic sacrifice. In a personal letter he made his opinion clear about war:
I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over.
When the Germans launched their final attack in late March 1918 on the Western Front, Rosenberg was killed in battle on April 1 near Arras and is burried at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.
The poem was found in Peter Vansittart’s collection Voices from the Great War; additional info via Wikipedia.
Mute figures with bowed head
They travel along the road:
Old women, incredibly old
and a hand-cart of chattels.
They do not weep:
their eyes are too raw for tears.
Past them have hastened
processions of retreating Tibetans
baggage-wagons and swift horsemen.
Now they struggle along.
with the rearguard of a broken army.
We shall hold the enemy towards nightfall
and they will move
surely into the dark behind us,
only the creaking cart
disturbing their sorrowful serenity.
Herbert Read (1893 – 1968) was an English art historian, poet and literary critic. During the Great War he served with the Green Howards in France.
It is to the day 50 years ago that the World Cup 1966 got underway in England. The final, three weeks produced an epic game between England and West Germany, commencing a narrative that still captivates 50 later.
Fifty years ago today, on Monday 11 July, the 1966 World Cup finals began. The opening fixture saw England, as hosts, take on Uruguay in their Group One fixture.
The British press, while generally supportive of England’s campaign, did not expect to win the trophy. The Times, for example, on the morning of the match predicted that the four semi-finalists would be England, West Germany, Brazil and Italy (in fact the four seeded teams), with Italy defeating Brazil in the final. The Daily Mail, too, reflected this mixture of hope and reality with Brian James playing the role of ‘the hopeful supporter’ and JL Manning ‘the realist’.
The match was televised in full by both main channels, BBC 1 and ITV, although viewers of STV in Scotland had to wait until 8.55 for live coverage. BBC1 carried an episode of their football-related soap opera United! from 6.30 then…
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“Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about a modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it all … one cannot emphasise too much. Nothing is to be seen of war or soldiers – only the split and shattered trees and the burst of an occasional shell reveal anything of the truth. One can look for miles and see no human being. But in those miles of country lurk (like moles or rats, it seems) thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men, planning against each other perpetually some new device of death. Never showing themselves, they launch at each other bullet, bomb, aerial torpedo and shell. And somewhere too (on the German side we know of their existence opposite us) are the little cylinders of gas, waiting only for the moment to spit forth their nauseous and destroying fumes. And yet the landscape shows nothing of all this – nothing but a few shattered trees and three or four lines of earth and sandbags, these and the ruins of towns and villages are the only signs of war anywere visible. The glamour of red coats – the martial tunes of flag and drum – aide-de-camps scurrying hither and thither on splendid chargers – lances glittering and swords flashing – how different the old wars must have been!
This was the observation by Harold Macmillan in a letter to his mother. The letter was dated May 13, 1916 just weeks before the Battle of the Somme begun where he was severely injured. It was a very precise descrition of the battle during the Great War. The inhumanity, the brutality, the continuing of the fighting at all costs.
After the Second World War he became Prime Minister and famous for his ‘never had it so good’ speech.
On this day in 1916 the battle of Verdun begun. It was the longest in the war. And the deadliest. Read the rest of this entry »
As Germany is currently following the trial of Beate Zschäpe, her statement reveals a long tradition of memory loss in German history. Read the rest of this entry »
One of Germany’s best known politicians. One dares to say that he was the most charismatic German chancellor after 1945 only behind Willy Brandt and closely followed by Helmut Kohl, who only got that far because he had a golden opportunity. Helmut Schmidt, a pragmatic man had to lead his country from the age of the long boom into the era in which unemployment continuously rose and the gap between rich and poor ever more increased.
Miles behind the lines
behind the lines,
We’ve got a sergeant-major
Who’s never seen a gun,
He’s mentioned in despatches
For drinking the privates’ rum,
And when he sees old Jerry
You should see the bugger run
miles behind the lines.