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First rate piece of work gives much food for thought
on 7 February 2008
Well, this is a tricky one.
On the one hand,the editors are to be congratulated on providing us with the first ever comprehensive-ish volume of Haig's diaries that attempts historical scientific rigour. Consequently, it is a fascinating read - far beyond what one might normally expect of a diary.
On the whole, this is a work that exonerates Haig from the wilder accusations flung at him over the years. For he was, in reality, an educated, intelligent man; a professional soldier and an excellent general officer who was, in many ways, years ahead of his time - he was so good, in fact, that he was obviously several levels above almost all of his contemporaries in tactical and strategic thinking.
And yet... well, of course, this work is Haig's own writing, and so,although there is no great evidence for showmanship and recrafting of events on his part (indeed, this would not be in character), it is nevertheless only one side of the story. And he is also a man of his times, in his bigotries and Victorian piety, and in his adherence to class.
There is a lot to be read between the lines that leads one to ask further questions, not least about the strange dichotomy in Haig's ever-present enthusiasm for 'the breakthrough leading to mobile operations' (upon which much of his love for technology is founded) and his strategic assessment from the very beginning that the war would be one of horrendous attrition, and that victory could only go to the contender who blinked last.
Given that Britain was hardly a massively populated nation, it is hard to see how anyone could suggest that the British would be the victors in such a scenario.
But Haig was right, although his conviction led to an acceptance of human loss that others could not contemplate - this being the source of his spectacular falling out with Lloyd George, although, reading here, one will be amazed to read of the Prime Minister's skulduggery bordering on treason. I always suspected LG to be not entirely as heroic as popular history has painted him, and here, it seems is proof in spades.
So the debate will continue, although surely it must be admitted that no-one else could have done any better, at least. Haig was a first rate soldier trying to do an impossible job with the single aim in mind of defeating his enemy. His only problem really was that no-one (on either side) knew how to execute this mission without killing tens-upon-thousands of men at a time.
I don't think that is Haig's fault.