Top positive review
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A brilliant dissection of how British views of their part changed from "victory" to "failure". It should be required reading.
on 9 September 2014
At the time of writing, Amazon wants to know if books are “verified purchases”. Not all of my books have come up as such, so I shall prove I have read the book by making page / chapter references.
Of the few people who have criticised this book, most have either a) misunderstood what he is putting forward, or b) appear to be incapable of understanding how British perceptions of the war have been changed from favourable to unfavourable. The book is necessarily parochial as it deals exclusively with British perceptions of the British Army in the last 100 years in Britain. It makes no pretensions of being concerned with other people’s perceptions of the war - and why should it ? If the British wish to study themselves, especially with a view to finding out why a stupendous victory is now regarded as a pointless failure, then why shouldn’t we ?
Those raised on the Somme reduced to “20,000 dead ... worst day for casualties” and “In Dulce Decorum Est” will be very surprised to learn that when the war was over, Haig was seen as a hero not an idiot (p18, p73, p83), and the war was seen as worthwhile (p5-6, p17, p128-9, p202 as some of many examples). How things have changed ...
If I tell you what Todman’s thesis is, then there’s very little point in you buying the book. And buy the book you should. It presents a compelling, well argued, and well-researched argument, backed up with lots of details and references. Nor are these wacky individual opinions: doing my own research has confirmed that those who have written popular polemical tomes / works have not always done so with the soundest of motives, research or presentation. I will leave it to you to find out who bare-facedly lied (yes, really, p99-103), who forced people to have their point of view (yes, really, p103 et seq) and recruited a historical advisor was later found to be a Communist spy (yes, really, ditto), who completely re-wrote history to make an inverted snob point about posh people’s contempt for the working class (actually you can probably guess who that one is, p225-6), and the documentary where the balanced view was not wanted (yes, really, p147).
And what is so galling is that these faulty, opinionated works of shoddy historiography are still (muffled scream) selling in great quantities, and far more so than decently researched, sensible books like this one, or the “Battle Story” series, or anything else that starts with original sources and uses those to guide the historian to the conclusion.
Too many of the books, plays, films, poems that make up the British view of the British contribution to WW1 have started with the creator’s inherent, pre-existing, personal, private political prejudices that have led them to a highly subjective, narrow view. And we, the British people, have had this rammed down our throats until any other view becomes impossible.
Please read this book, then go and read some “proper” history books, and ask some really, really awkward questions about what you are being told, how you are being told it, and why. There is no ‘conspiracy theory’, it’s just that some opinions become self-reinforcing. For example, Todman relates the tale of a 15-year-old girl praising a (blatantly leftist) drama for its “realism” (how would she know ?), when actual WW1 veterans were hopping mad about the lack of realism (p39, p66 et seq) ! Just how stupid do things have to get before someone notices ?
There are a couple of problems I noticed. Todman mentions on p153 that there are 2,225 identifiable WW1 poets. Well, some names would have helped, because you try finding WW1 poetry that isn’t Owen, Sassoon, etc and similar. Similarly, he mentions the boom in “battlefield gothic” as a post-war / inter-war literary genre and its popularity (p26, p155). Well, again, you try and find it, as everyone wants to point you at the anti-war stuff.
Overall, this is an excellent book that ought to be on the school reading list (in current form for A-level, needs simplifying for O-level). A wake-up call for a nation to re-discover the wider view of what the people who served actually felt.