By Boris Johnson
January 6, 2014
In this centennial year, it’s more important than ever that we treat the truth with respect
Photo: MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGES
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
One of the reasons I am a Conservative is that, in the end, I just can’t stand the intellectual dishonesty of the Left. In my late teens I found I had come to hate the way Lefties always seemed to be trying to cover up embarrassing facts about human nature, or to refuse to express simple truths – and I disliked the pious way in which they took offence, and tried to shoosh you into silence, if you blurted such a truth.
Let me give you a current example of this type of proposition. It is a sad but undeniable fact that the First World War – in all its murderous horror – was overwhelmingly the result of German expansionism and aggression. That is a truism that has recently been restated by Max Hastings, in an excellent book, and that has been echoed by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary. I believe that analysis to be basically correct, and that it is all the more important, in this centenary year, that we remember it.
That fact is, alas, not one that the modern Labour Party believes it is polite to mention. According to the party’s education spokesman, Tristram Hunt, it is “crass” and “ugly” to say any such thing. It was “shocking”, he said in an article in yesterday’s Observer, that we continued to have this unacceptable focus on a “militaristic Germany bent on warmongering and imperial aggression”.
He went on – in a piece that deserves a Nobel prize for Tripe – to mount what appeared to be a kind of cock-eyed exculpation of the Kaiser and his generals. He pointed the finger, mystifyingly, at the Serbs. He blamed the Russians. He blamed the Turks for failing to keep the Ottoman empire together, and at one stage he suggested that we were too hard on the bellicose Junker class. He claimed that “modern scholarship” now believes that we have “underplayed the internal opposition to the Kaiser’s ideas within the German establishment” – as if that made things any better.
Perhaps there was some more “internal opposition” to the Kaiser, as Hunt thinks. Whoever they were, these internal opponents, they weren’t much blooming use, were they? It was Germany that pushed Austria to make war on Serbia. It was Germany that declared war on Russia, on August 1 1914. It was Germany that decided it was necessary to invade Luxembourg, and it was Germany that deployed the Schlieffen plan (devised in 1905, incidentally) and sent her troops smashing through neutral Belgium and into France.
Why was it necessary to follow up some rumpus in Sarajevo by invading France, for heaven’s sake? It wasn’t. The driving force behind the carnage was the desire of the German regime to express Germany’s destiny as a great European power, and to acquire the prestige and international clout that went with having an empire. That is why Tirpitz kept increasing the size of the German fleet – in spite of British efforts to end the arms race. That’s why they tried to bully the French by sending a gunboat to Agadir in 1911.
That, in a nutshell, is why millions died in the trenches of the western front and elsewhere, 15 million in all. It was an even greater tragedy for Germany, and for the world, that within two decades of the end of that conflict there should arise another German leader who decided to revive what was essentially the same military/political objective – a massive expansion of German influence in Europe and beyond; and though Hitler was admittedly even more nasty and militaristic than the Kaiser, it was no coincidence that he used a very similar plan: first take out France and the Low Countries, then go for Russia.
In both wars, huge numbers of British people, military and civilian, lost their lives in the struggle to frustrate these deranged ambitions. They were, in essence, fighting on the right side, and it should not be forbidden to state that fact. The Second World War arose inexorably out of the first, and in both wars I am afraid the burden of responsibility lies overwhelmingly on German shoulders. That is a fact that we should not be forbidden from stating today – not just for the sake of the truth, but for the sake of Germany in 2014.
Hunt is guilty of talking total twaddle, but beneath his mushy-minded blether about “multiple histories” there is what he imagines is a kindly instinct. These wars were utterly horrific for the Germans as well as for everyone else, and the Germans today are very much our friends. He doesn’t want the 1914 commemorations to pander to xenophobia, or nationalism, or Kraut-bashing; and I am totally with him on that.
We all want to think of the Germans as they are today – a wonderful, peaceful, democratic country; one of our most important global friends and partners; a country with stunning technological attainments; a place of incomparable cultural richness and civilisation. What Hunt fails to understand – in his fastidious Lefty obfuscation of the truth – is that he is insulting the immense spiritual achievement of modern Germany.
The Germans are as they are today because they have been frank with themselves, and because over the past 60 years they have been agonisingly thorough in acknowledging the horror of what they did. They don’t try to brush it aside. They don’t blame the Serbs for the 1914-18 war. They don’t blame the Russians or the Turks. They know the price they paid for the militarism of the 20th century.
They don’t try to mitigate, palliate, or spread the blame for the conflict. They tried that in the Thirties, and they know that way lies madness. The Germans know the truth about the world wars, and their role. They have learnt, and they have changed. It would be a disaster if that truth became blurred today. I can hardly believe that the author of this fatuous Observer article is proposing to oversee the teaching of history in our schools.
If Tristram Hunt seriously denies that German militarism was at the root of the First World War, then he is not fit to do his job, either in opposition or in government, and should resign. If he does not deny that fact, he should issue a clarification now.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org