Commemorating the first World War
Sir, – Patsy McGarry (“Belgium gave Irish men reason to enlist and fight”, Rite & Reason, August 26th) says that Germany in the first World War was “unequivocally barbaric and the aggressor” and even compares the behaviour of the German army with that of the Islamic State in Iraq today. He ignores that in the two decades before 1914 Germany was systematically encircled by a huge coalition of France, Russia and Britain. France wanted revenge for its defeat by Bismarck in 1870; Russia as usual was greedy for more territory; and a stagnating Britain was animated by jealousy of the young German nation’s extraordinary economic success.
Yes, Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914 in a pre-emptive strike against the Allies, but that was purely because of the necessities of military strategy – France had to be outflanked because of its fortified borders, and the German government pledged that Belgian territorial sovereignty would not be violated after the war if Belgium did not resist.
Mr McGarry is correct in saying that atrocities were committed by German soldiers against Belgian civilians, but those war crimes were mostly carried out by part-time reservist troops and were not typical of the German army as a whole.
What happened in Belgium in August 1914 pales in comparison to violence against civilians carried out by other powers: the Austro-Hungarian army’s slaughter of Serbian civilians, the Russian army’s pogroms against Jews in Austrian Galicia, not to mention the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915. Moreover, the British blockade of Germany throughout the war killed hundreds of thousands of German civilians through slow starvation and consequent susceptibility to illness and the flu pandemic of 1918-19. Germany was not the “monster” of the first World War. – Yours, etc,