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Martin Bennitt

the loss to humanity

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Martin Bennitt

Dear pals

without belittling the great sacrifice of ordinary men and women in the war who were important to their nearest and dearest,

I can't help thinking of the thousands whose premature death before they could fulfil their potential in their chosen field was a loss to humanity as a whole. It must have included the whole range of human activity, from science to the arts and sport, and I wondered who you might think was particularly worth mention.

Because I lean more to the arts than the sciences, two names come to mind for me, English composer George Butterworth, killed on the Somme, and French novelist Alain-Fournier, whose 'Le Grand Meaulnes' is known to every one of his compatriots, who died early in the war. Both produced little before the war broke out, but there is no doubt that had they lived they would have been major figures.

I would be grateful for your suggestions.

cheers Martin B

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KF Kelly

Henry GJ Moseley, died at Gallipoli aged 28. Great chemist who advanced knowledge of the periodic table.

Kevin

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stuartd

Raymond Asquith - Prime Minister's son. Won a scholarship to Balliol and gained a first class honours degree. Became a fellow of All Souls and called to the Bar in 1902. Took part in the investigation into the sinking of the Titanic and considered to be on eof the great intellects of his age.

Killed on the Somme aged 37.

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Martin Bennitt

Thank you pals

This one is no doubt arguable, and I would not like to stir up a hornet's nest :o

but I have just come across the following comment by Peter Hart in 'The Somme' about Irish nationalist MP and man of letters Tom Kettle, killed on the Somme on September 9, 1916:

"The bullet that struck down Tom Kettle also killed part of the hope for a peaceful solution to the long standing 'Irish problem'.

cheers Martin B

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SiegeGunner

T E Hulme, writer, poet, philosopher, friend and biographer of Jacob Epstein, whose work influenced inter alia Ezra Pound, T S Eliot, Robert Frost and Wyndham Lewis. Lt RMA, killed in action while serving with the Royal Naval Siege Guns on the Belgian coast, 28 September 1917. Buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery.

Hulme was also a friend of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, French sculptor, killed in action 5 June 1915 at Neuville-St-Vaast (subject of the Ken Russell film 'Savage Messiah').

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geraint
Thank you pals

This one is no doubt arguable, and I would not like to stir up a hornet's nest :o

"The bullet that struck down Tom Kettle also killed part of the hope for a peaceful solution to the long standing 'Irish problem'.

cheers Martin B

Nothing arguable, and not a hornet nest stirrer!

A massive intellectual potential was wiped out - striding all over the political divide, and from all the beligerent countries, from all religious, political and social ideas.

There is a theory that warfare is necessary as a catharsis of humanity, leading to irrevocable changes in humankind's understanding of itself and the geopolitical circumstances at the time. Think of the structural changes wreaked on Russia, Turkey, Germany, Austria-Hungary. The isolationism that kicked in in the USA, the begining of the end to both British and French empires, the disappearance of Dominions, the partial settlement of the Irish Question etc etc. These changes would never have occured without the re-forging of intellect due to experience of the Great War. In fact, one could argue that without that massive death rate, the world would have lumbered on in it's pre 1914 situation for another thirty years.

Geraint

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Martin Bennitt
There is a theory that warfare is necessary as a catharsis of humanity, leading to irrevocable changes in humankind's understanding of itself and the geopolitical circumstances at the time. Think of the structural changes wreaked on Russia, Turkey, Germany, Austria-Hungary. The isolationism that kicked in in the USA, the begining of the end to both British and French empires, the disappearance of Dominions, the partial settlement of the Irish Question etc etc. These changes would never have occured without the re-forging of intellect due to experience of the Great War. In fact, one could argue that without that massive death rate, the world would have lumbered on in it's pre 1914 situation for another thirty years.

Geraint

That is really arguable, Geraint. I'll leave you to start the topic: The Great War, a Good Thing: Discuss.

cheers Martin B :)

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salesie
Nothing arguable, and not a hornet nest stirrer!

A massive intellectual potential was wiped out - striding all over the political divide, and from all the beligerent countries, from all religious, political and social ideas.

There is a theory that warfare is necessary as a catharsis of humanity, leading to irrevocable changes in humankind's understanding of itself and the geopolitical circumstances at the time. Think of the structural changes wreaked on Russia, Turkey, Germany, Austria-Hungary. The isolationism that kicked in in the USA, the begining of the end to both British and French empires, the disappearance of Dominions, the partial settlement of the Irish Question etc etc. These changes would never have occured without the re-forging of intellect due to experience of the Great War. In fact, one could argue that without that massive death rate, the world would have lumbered on in it's pre 1914 situation for another thirty years.

Geraint

Instead, the world lumbered on for another twenty-one years to an even bigger catastrophe - what value the re-forging of intellect by total-war?

I doubt if anyone would argue against the premise that war, particularly total-war, acts as a "catharsis of humanity", but whether it is necessary or not is open to plenty of argument, just as whether it re-forges our collective intellect for the better or not.

Cheers-salesie.

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geraint

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing in its favour - merely stating the existence of that argument. My own attitude is far more humane, with the dire loss to humanity on such a profound scale, that it pales such arguments into a footnote. I was just raising the existence of that footnote. (Very profound on a Friday evening having successfully attacked and forced into submission a bottle of good port)

Geraint

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Martin Bennitt

That said, I was really referring to the contribution of individuals to the sum of human progress which the war deprived us of.

I would welcome more names of such people as you think fit into this category.

cheers Martin B

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Clive Maier
... without belittling the great sacrifice of ordinary men and women in the war who were important to their nearest and dearest, ...

I don't myself think there are any ordinary people. Most of the dead who would have gone on to make a difference will always be unknown because they had not got started on their lives or on what would have been their attainments.

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John Gilinsky

I do not wish to beg the question nor go off topic BUT is not every life precious? Is that not what the Judeo-Christian ethic explicitly states from multiple perspectives (legal, political, cultural...)? Is it not hard at least if not frankly impossible to predict what many of the dead or maimed for life whether physically and/or psychologically might have accomplished without their war deaths or injuries?

John

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SiegeGunner
Is it not hard at least if not frankly impossible to predict what many of the dead or maimed for life whether physically and/or psychologically might have accomplished without their war deaths or injuries?

Yes, it is, which is surely why the thread starter asked for examples of people who had already shown their potential before it was brutally cut short – as a small insight into the otherwise incalculable loss.

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Desdichado

The son and many of the students of the great and influential sociologist, Emile Durkheim, were killed in the war. Andre Durkheim died in 1916, after which the great man went into decline and suffered a stroke, passing away in November 1917.

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John Gilinsky

Generalizing about the millions with literally a handful of examples hardly proves the point of the loss to humanity statistically. Looking at both contemporary and modern understandings of normative mortality tables and stats the average life expectancy overall in developed Western Europe and North America was probably around the early 50's for males at the most during the period of the war which included of course ALL males whether in the military or not. The average ages of men in the BEF and the CEF actually increased as the war dragged on so much so that by the war's end there were many men at 25 years of age or older. To grieve over what might have been accomplished by the dead is to miss the real point of grieving over how the survivors of the war were materially deleteriously effected in many cases for the rest of their lives and how this in turn effected both their immediate family members and these mens' larger society. Hardly any attention until very recently has been paid to the veterans plights and the social impacts these had on societies.

John

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geraint

It's a difficult question. It tends to become a 'what if..' situation doesn't it?

I have a young subaltern from my home town, Arthur Elias Hughes, commissioned into 4th RWF in 1914, was described by the local press on his death in 1915 as "a very promising young solicitor and budding poet"

What does that mean? Had he lived, could he have become Lord Chancellor? The Poet Lauriet? Its all conjuncture. What is a fact is that he died young, and his potential died with him.

Geraint

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Martin Bennitt

I never expected when I started this topic that it would take the sort of direction it has -- but I find that is the case with more than a few threads on this forum, for better or worse. I have heard it said that the idea of The Lost Generation is a bit of a myth, as proportionate to the generation as a whole the casualties of the war were not as great as all that, at least in Britain. While trying not to be elitist, I was seeking to have an idea of the sort of people who might have been major figures in the world had they lived, and in the class-ridden society of the time I think these would by and large have not come from humble background. I was not saying that per se the life of one person was worth more than another's.

cheers Martin B

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Clive Maier

I believe the idea of the Lost Generation as opposed to the lost generation, was based on the proposition that war deaths varied by class. JM Winter has made a detailed demographic study of this and came to the conclusion that it was a justified view. He does add a cautionary note though by saying, “We have demonstrated that the 'Lost Generation' is not a myth. But in the inter-war years it became a legend which, though it had a basis in fact, took on a life of its own. Remembering the slaughter of elites seemed to take precedence over recognizing that such casualties were but a small fraction of total British war losses.”

In the first paragraphs of his paper, Winter quotes a number of sources thus. “In the early months of the conflict, a number of British observers contended that the incidence of war-related mortality varied by class. They believed that men of higher social status were more likely to lose their lives in the war than were men of lower social status. The war was thus 'dysgenic' in that it stripped this country of the most 'intelligent', virile, and creative members of the younger generation. Although every war death was wasteful, the deaths of thousands of educated and privileged young men brought about what was called a 'Lost Generation' of future politicians, philosophers, and poets who never had the chance to fulfil their promise.”

Indeed it did but with or without the war, millions of people of lower social status had no opportunity whatsoever of becoming future politicians, philosophers and poets. And that of course is what Martin has just said in the previous post.

Source:

Britain’s ‘Lost Generation’ of the First World War, JM Winter, Population Studies, Vol 31 no 3, Winter 1977, pp 449-466

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geraint

Just raising a few points in the last few postings - and trying to make it adhere to the original topic.

The Lost Generation is incontrovertibly a fact; as is the loss of the 'lower social status' and their unfulfilled potential.

Refering to the Lost Generation (officers, well educated etc)

I can only comment on a very microcosmic part of this - as with Arthur Elias Hughes above. His brother survived, and became a well respected GP in his home area, a raconteur, local author. Arthur would probably have developed similarily in the legal profession...or not.

I have three or four other 'young gentlemen' whose obituaries read very similar - 'such potential...irredemable loss...' etc but these were obituaries and said in the spirit of things as opposed to being a record of fact.

Two local gentry brothers from the Eyarth estate Reginald and Francis Jones-Bateman, belonging to an influential Denbighshire estate were killed. Their local obituaries are glowing and brilliant. Yet Reginald (a rogue) in 1913 shot and killed a 67 year old tramp and was lucky to avoid hanging. Local stories here maintain that he was deliberately shot by his own (local)men in revenge for this. Point being, the fact that they died doesn't necessarily mean that a brilliant future would have developed had they lived.

What occurs in micro is reflected on a macro/national level. Society is the sum of all its little facets.

Hope I'm not moidering here, but a little catharsis does a world of good.

Geraint

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ian turner

Perhaps we could also consider another 'what if' avenue - of course impossible to answer - but what if those casualties with great romantic or scientific potential had survived (or even if there had not been a war). Would their careers have overshadowed those luminaries who did in reality survive and go onto fame, contributing to the good of humanity in later life?

We can all create a graph of where such casualties with potential MIGHT have gone, but who knows what subsequent influences could have still stifled their talent - accident/alcoholism/subsequent influences, etc...?

Ian

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Martin Bennitt
Perhaps we could also consider another 'what if' avenue - of course impossible to answer - but what if those casualties with great romantic or scientific potential had survived (or even if there had not been a war). Would their careers have overshadowed those luminaries who did in reality survive and go onto fame, contributing to the good of humanity in later life?

Ian

Conversely, might any of them -- I am thinking perhaps more of the politicians here -- have been an effective counter to some of those who survived the war but were definitely not a benefit to humanity, from Herr Hitler downwards?

Though not perhaps as I intended, this thread is throwing up some interesting comments; Thank you all for your input so far.

cheers Martin B

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michaeldr

quote from KF Kelly's post No.2: Henry GJ Moseley, died at Gallipoli aged 28. Great chemist who advanced knowledge of the periodic table.

Name: MOSELEY, HENRY GWYN JEFFREYS

Initials: H G J

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Second Lieutenant

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Age: 27

Date of Death: 10/08/1915

Additional information: Son of Annabel Sollas (formerly Moseley), of 84, Banbury Rd., Oxford, and the late H. N. Moseley (Linacre Professor, Oxford. Discoverer of the "Law of Moseley" in Physics.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 23 to 25 or 325 to 328.

Memorial: HELLES MEMORIAL

see pages 73-81 here http://www.trinity.ox.ac.uk/news/Trinity_A...Report_2007.PDF

for an article on HENRY GWYN JEFFREYS MOSELEY—TRINITY’S GREATEST SCIENTIST?

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Michael Johnson

I'm going to Devil's Advocate here (I know most of you think all advocates are from the Devil).

Yes, the loss of potential was tragic.

But let's look at the flip side. How many potential criminals and/or sociopaths were also killed before they could inflict misery on society? Remember Gray's Elegy:

"Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood"

I'm not saying that the one can balance the other. Wars are always a net loss situation.

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truthergw

Karl Schwarzschild, mathematician and a contributor to Relativity theory, died of a disease contracted on the Russian front, 1916. Jean Jaures , Leader of the Left in France, murdered 1914 by a nationalist. French political direction dominated at a crucial period by pro-war right wing.

Society in Britain saw the Public Schools and Universities as the place where the lawmakers,administrators and leaders of industry were produced. That education was held to be more or less necessary for the successful execution of those tasks. To see them being killed by the dozen as subalterns must have caused grave concern.

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phil andrade

The unexpurgated diary of Alan Brooke, CIGS in the Second World War, refers several times to how keenly Brooke felt the loss of some of the finest leaders from the Great War. He leaves us in no doubt that, in his reckoning, some of the disasters that befell Britain 1939-1945 were due in part to the loss of so many potential leaders who died as junior officers 1914-1918. The emphasis is on the qualitative depletion.

As to whether this was a uniquely British perception is moot.

Phil.

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