100 years on, most people in Britain believe that World War One generals served the troops badly, wasting thousands of lives in pointless attacks – and there is little consensus on the justness of the war
August 2014 marks the centenary of World War One, and to begin the debate over how the Great War should be remembered Education Secretary Michael Gove has written a controversial article in the Daily Mail. In it he rebukes comedies such as Blackadder and ‘left-wing’ academics for ‘belittling’ what he calls the “patriotism, honour and courage” of the war, which he believes has been wrongly painted as “a misbegotten shambles”.
A new YouGov survey finds that most British people take the view that the troops were badly served by the miiltary top brass, who made poor decisions and needlessly wasted thousands of lives in pointless attacks.
While Mr Gove's piece praises historians who claim that even the battle of the Somme, often portrayed as the epitome of military futility, can now be seen as a precursor of allied victory, the majority (52%) disagree.
Only 17% say British troops in WWI were well served by their generals, who ultimately made the decisions that led to victory.
It is perhaps comforting to the Education Secretary, however, that young people are most likely to take the latter view (26% of 18-24s compared to 13% of over 60s).
But although Mr Gove says the conflict of 1914-1918 was “plainly a just war” against Germany’s “aggressively expansionist war aims”, less than half (40%) agree.
Over a quarter (27%) say the war was between countries that were just as bad as each other, and Britain’s behaviour was no better than Germany’s.
Tony Robinson, who plays the character Baldrick in Blackadder, hit back at Michael Gove. He said: "It's not that Blackadder teaches children the first world war. Ultimately, if you think about it, what [Gove is] really doing is just slagging off teachers... to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as leftwing and introducing leftwing propaganda is very, very unhelpful."