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Remembered Today:

10 Great myths about World War One debunked


margaretdufay
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Good news, by and large....a much needed anti dote to the Joan Littlewood and Alan Clarke school of thought.

Didn't like the attempt to downplay the loss of life. The mortality of the Crimean and Napoleonic wars was hugely inflated by the fact that disease killed far more than enemy fire. This was not the case 1914-18. This time the vast, vast majority of soldiers were actually killed in battle, a feature which testifies to the enormous increase in the application of violence, in its scale, intensity and duration. Again, the mantra that the Civil War that rent the British people in the mid seventeenth century was more destructive of British life in proportionate terms needs to be viewed with more circumspection.

That quibble notwithstanding, the thing meets with my approval.

Phil (PJA)

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Very interesting to read many soldiers actually enjoyed WW1!

Roel

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I read in Orlando Figes' Crimea that the 'Lions led by donkeys' description had its origin in the Crimean War, as a Russian remark about the French infantry. This would seem to pre-date Alan Clark's use of the phrase, as claimed by the BBC.

Gareth

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I'm not a devotee of the Snow machine, but this is a useful article, and well worth pointing out those with only a passing interest who have been fed the old lies. On that basis I'm keeping a copy.

Keith

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Good news, by and large....a much needed anti dote to the Joan Littlewood and Alan Clarke school of thought.

Didn't like the attempt to downplay the loss of life. The mortality of the Crimean and Napoleonic wars was hugely inflated by the fact that disease killed far more than enemy fire. This was not the case 1914-18. This time the vast, vast majority of soldiers were actually killed in battle, a feature which testifies to the enormous increase in the application of violence, in its scale, intensity and duration. Again, the mantra that the Civil War that rent the British people in the mid seventeenth century was more destructive of British life in proportionate terms needs to be viewed with more circumspection.

That quibble notwithstanding, the thing meets with my approval.

Phil (PJA)

A contributory factor in earlier major European conflicts was that your chances of recovering from a wound were much lower than in WW1. A bullet anywhere in the torso almost certainly condemned you to a lingering death

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And the point about sickness does not hold true for all combatants. Typhus that rampant killer in many previous wars also wreaked havock amongst the Russian and Serbian armies for instance and the deaths tolls from other diseases amongst native bearers in Africa were horrific

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I'm with Keith on this. We've nearly all had a pop at young Mr Snow in the past, but I think he's 90% on the money with this article, If he keeps it up, we may get to like him!

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25776836

Much of what we think we know about the 1914-18 conflict is wrong, writes historian Dan Snow.

No war in history attracts more controversy and myth than World War One.

For the soldiers who fought it was in some ways better than previous conflicts, and in some ways worse.

By setting it apart as uniquely awful we are blinding ourselves to the reality of not just WW1 but war in general. We are also in danger of belittling the experience of soldiers and civilians caught up in countless other appalling conflicts throughout history and the present day.

Nice article enjoyed reading it.

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'Lions led by donkeys'

" This saying was supposed to have come from senior German commanders describing brave British soldiers led by incompetent old toffs from their chateaux. In fact it was made up by historian Alan Clark "

No it wasn't, he borrowed' it :whistle:Click

Mike

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And the point about sickness does not hold true for all combatants. Typhus that rampant killer in many previous wars also wreaked havock amongst the Russian and Serbian armies for instance and the deaths tolls from other diseases amongst native bearers in Africa were horrific

Right about Serbian armies ; not so about those of the Russians. They too suffered the great majority of their deaths in battle. That's not to say that disease deaths were few : it really drives home the awful fact about the Great War ....it entailed squalor ; but the violence of the battlefield gained ascendancy over disease as the big killer.

Romanian and Turkish armies suffered more deaths from disease than from battle. So, ironically, did those of the United States.

All in all, somewhere between three quarters and four fifths of the ten million or so military deaths were from enemy action. In the British, French and German armies the proportion of dead who were killed in battle approached ninety per cent.

The Austro - Hungarian and Italian armies lost a significantly higher proportion of their dead to disease, largely as POWs, but even these sustained the great majority of their deaths in battle.

Mortality rates among the wounded were roughly half those of the Crimean and American Civil Wars.

Phil (PJA)

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Nik Cornish "The Russian Army and the First World War" indicates that Typhus was the major killer in 1917 on the Turkish Front and Cholera and Typhus ravaged the army in Romania He also states that in the Carpathians in the winter of 1914/15 sickness and exposure killed more on both sides than did combat

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PJA,

I disagree. Dead is dead. A soldier who dies of non-mortal wounds or disease is just as much a loss to his family and to the country as if he was directly killed in battle and just as horrible. They are both dead as a result of the consequences of war. WWI was horrible enough without this sort of hair-splitting.

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PJA,

I disagree. Dead is dead. A soldier who dies of non-mortal wounds or disease is just as much a loss to his family and to the country as if he was directly killed in battle and just as horrible. They are both dead as a result of the consequences of war. WWI was horrible enough without this sort of hair-splitting.

You completely miss my point.

Phil (PJA)

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Good point AIWAC, just add to the dead the vast numbers of those who died from the Spanish Flu which ravaged the populations and soldiers alike. The effects of the war on civilians was no doubt a contributing factor. Sadly this is one of those articles which anybody could construct merely by spending some time on Google

Norman

Edited by Alan Curragh
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PJA,

I understand your point, but it bears more on the specific experience of WWI as a terrifying, especially violent war than deaths per se, which was my point.

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Thank you.

In the earlier eras that Dan Snow alludes to, death from disease was commonplace, in peace and in war ; though no doubt war increased it.

It was " ....the enormous increase in the application of violence, in its scale, intensity and duration.." that I emphasised, and in that sense my differentiation between deaths in battle and deaths from disease is not hair splitting, but a valid and pertinent measure of how the Great War was unprecedented and uniquely shocking in its impact.

I am disappointed that Snow's presentation has not discerned that crucial difference.

Phil (PJA)

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Sadly this is one of those articles which anybody could construct merely by spending some time on Google

Norman

Dan Snow may have been rubbished for some of his other historical pieces but, credit where credit's due, he does a valuable service in redressing the balance here.

Norman, "anybody" might be a able to construct such an article (which I doubt) but to have the media status to get it to feature on the BBC website is something else.

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"though no doubt war increased it"

War often increased it tremendously due to the terribly unsanitary conditions of life among armies on the move - poor food and unclean water, bad sanitation, cramped conditions among thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of men cramped together and so on. Poor medical treatment for wounds also didn't help. This kind of thing was hardly "natural". One does not need to poo-poo the experience of soldiers in earlier periods and their horrors to get across the point that WWI had its uniquely horrible aspects.

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All wars are dangerous. Different wars bring different dangers but you cannot get deader than dead. It matters little in that context if it is a bullet, a bomb or a bacillus that does for you. Indeed the bullet and the bomb may sometimes be quicker.

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Please comment on the contents of the article - personal comments on the author will be deleted

Thanks

Alan

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Nik Cornish "The Russian Army and the First World War" indicates that Typhus was the major killer in 1917 on the Turkish Front and Cholera and Typhus ravaged the army in Romania He also states that in the Carpathians in the winter of 1914/15 sickness and exposure killed more on both sides than did combat

Cornish, Appendix 4, page 235 :

" Of those called to the colours almost 700,000 were killed in action ; 970,000 died from their wounds ; 155,000 died of disease and 181,000 POWs died of various other causes, giving a total of 2,006,000 dead."

Casualty statistics are not his strongpoint.

The more meticulous estimate of Golovin, a staff officer who served in the war, gives 1,300,000 killed in action and 350,000 died from wounds. All the authoritative estimates agree, though, that deaths from disease accounted for a relatively small proportion of the total death roll. Probably the most accurate figure is that of the Russian military historian G.F. Krivosheev, who in 2001 tabulated a total of 2,254,369 deaths : 155,000 from disease ; 190,000 whilst POW and 19,000 from accidents and other causes. The great majority - more than 82% - he attributes to killed in action or died from wounds or gas.

I suspect that Cornish's statement about the Carpathians in the winter of 1914-15 might be correct in so far as casualties - but not deaths -are concerned. This is a very common mistake. People, for example, might insist that disease killed more than battle at Gallipoli ; they're wrong....many more were evacuated sick than were killed; but relatively few of them died.

Phil (PJA)

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