Why did the pub­lic sup­port the war from start to end?

Sunderland Echo - - Armistice 100 -

sit­u­a­tion was much bet­ter than in Ger­many, where there was a lethal com­bi­na­tion of a Bri­tish naval block­ade (which pre­vented goods com­ing from over­seas) and in­ef­fi­cient dis­tri­bu­tion of that food that was avail­able. Some Ger­mans starved.

Then there was the Bri­tish be­lief that Ger­many was a dan­ger­ous en­emy that sim­ply had to be de­feated. Ger­many was seen as hav­ing de­lib­er­ately started a war of ag­gres­sion. The Ger­man in­va­sion of ‘poor lit­tle Bel­gium’ in Au­gust 1914 had swung many doubters be­hind sup­port for the war. This cyn­i­cal in­va­sion of a neu­tral state was deeply shock­ing. Some 250,000 Bel­gian refugees reached Bri­tain, bring­ing sto­ries of the Ger­man con­quest of their home­land, mas­sacres of civil­ians and all. The in­dis­crim­i­nate shelling by war­ships of English coastal towns; the tor­pe­do­ing of the Lusi­ta­nia, a civil­ian liner, with the the deaths of 1200 pas­sen­gers and crew; the ex­e­cu­tion of Edith Cavell, a Bri­tish nurse who helped Al­lied sol­diers to es­cape from oc­cu­pied Bel­gium - all th­ese were seen as ex­am­ples of bar­baric and ruth­less, ‘Hun­nish’ be­hav­iour by Ger­many. The Bri­tish made much of th­ese pro­pa­ganda gifts from Ger­many, which was in this sense the per­fect en­emy.

Much of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion lived in con­di­tions of poverty. None­the­less, their lot had im­proved in re­cent decades, and many be­lieved that a Ger­man vic­tory would snatch away th­ese eco­nomic advances. This fear was re­in­forced by the ex­tremely harsh terms im­posed on Rus­sia in March 1918. Just a few weeks later Ger­many launched a mas­sive of­fen­sive in France against the Bri­tish army. Faced with the ev­i­dence of how a vic­to­ri­ous Ger­many treated a de­feated foe, the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the war-weary Bri­tish held firm un­til vic­tory. Thus sup­port for the war wasn’t just a mat­ter of pa­tri­o­tism and serv­ing king, em­pire and coun­try, al­though th­ese were im­por­tant fac­tors that shouldn’t be un­der­rated. There was an un­der­ly­ing cur­rent of self-in­ter­est.

What­ever we think of the First World War today, the vast bulk of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion sup­ported the war from the be­gin­ning to the end, de­spite the ca­su­al­ties and the hard­ships. As we pre­pare to mark the cen­te­nary of the end of that ter­ri­ble war, we should not lose sight of that truth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.