First World War commemorations


Madam, - Edward Horgan (June 13th) paints a popular, but utterly uninformed, view of the first World War: a mass of meaningless carnage justified by the imperial lies of "the Lloyd Georges of this world", where soldiers who have "switch[ ed] off their minds" do "morally reprehensible things".

Irish soldiers participating in this war, he claims, died "miserably, not honourably", and the President is speaking "balderdash" by trying to commemorate this most "useless and wasteful of wars".

What is completely missing from this view is any real knowledge of the war itself. Soldiers did not "switch off their minds", but knew what they were fighting for. Dr Dan Todman, who has done much archival work on the subject, notes that for "those who had served in the trenches, and for those left at home, the war experience encompassed not only horror, frustration and sorrow, but also triumph, pride, camaraderie and even enjoyment, as well as boredom and apathy". This multifaceted complexity is, however, largely ignored in popular understanding of the war.

Mr Horgan also sneers at the notion of defending "small nations", without glancing at the reality of the independence and security of many small nations in Europe today - which was, at the start of the 20th century, no guaranteed thing. What did guarantee these things was the successful outcome of the two major wars - provoked by an expansionist, aggressive and finally defeated Germany - fought at the heart of Europe.

Dr Gary Sheffield, professor of war studies at Birmingham University, and an author of a comprehensive study of the war, puts it this way: "Far from being fought over trivial issues, World War One must be seen in the context of an attempt by an aggressive, militarist state to establish hegemony over Europe, extinguishing democracy as a by-product. To argue that the world of 1919 was worse than that of 1914 is to miss the point. A world in which Imperial Germany had won World War One would have been even worse."

That horror and shame and massacre were occasioned by the war is irrefutable. To imply that this suffering was meaningless - that the world obtained at such a price was somehow not worth it - is to make a grave error of both fact and judgment.

Incidentally, my own great-uncle lies in a field somewhere in Flanders. Mr Horgan may believe he was a "military moron" who was "conned" into service, and that the honour he attained by giving his life is mere "false heroism". This is, of course, his right. What is truly sad, however, is that the freedom Edward Horgan has to express such sentiments - a freedom essential to democracy itself - was purchased with the very lives that he so readily disparages. - Yours, etc,

SEAN COLEMAN, Lindisfarne Lawn, Dublin 22.