Have any of you, in all of your reading, come across a definite characterization of what a) a traditionalist historian and b) a revisionist in an Irish context actually is....
Check “Revisionism” in The Legacy of History
by Martin Mansergh (Cork: Mercier, 2003). A bit self-justificatory, but might get you the reference you need. Really every historian is a revisionist, as he revises his understanding of the past in the light of new discoveries, documents, etc. Unfortunately the term has become value-laden and politicised, both here and in Britain.
In our own case, the relatively recent release of the Bureau of Military History records invites all of us to re-evaluate our understanding, to some extent at least, of the Revolutionary years. The release of more records held by the Department of Defence is pending and that event will prompt further revision. In Britain, the Public Records Office’s declassification of a vast amount of material after 1968 made it easier to question received wisdom on the nature of the Great War, and expose a lot of simplistic and politically-engineered thinking—which unfortunately persists in the teeth of scholarship.
You also might be able to find a link with Jack Lynch’s remark about appealing to past gods as if past generations had the last word to say. As Moody and Dudley-Edwards modernised the study of Irish history you might check their work too. But really the historiography of Irish revisionism is well outside my field and I hope someone else can give you more help. (John Dorney’s recent posting is a very fair summary.)
Many thanks. Though I didn't seek it, I'm also grateful for your generous addendum of an apology.
You’re welcome, Julian. I’m trenchant in argument but I like to be fair and if I get something wrong I own up like a man.
Your latest posting was a bit all over the place, and I can't say that much of what you submitted was either particularly original or surprising....
I’m unamazed you found it thus: it was a response to your own previous postings.
Hmmm, no more than the introduction of compulsory military service in 1916 was the granting of temporary commissions a matter of choice by British Generals or the Army Council.
You’re right there, Julian. There was indeed no other choice but defeat Germany, and nobody liked what it took to do that.
The selection of rankers for commissions was highly selective....
Right again, Julian—or at any rate, as right as tautology can get you: selections tend to be selective and standards have to be maintained. The Earl of Crawford, for example, was considered too old to bear the burden of work that went with a commission, so he remained in the ranks. (I know: ageism. Terrible times. So inegalitarian. So unenlightened.)
Haig would have welcomed the Devil incarnate to avoid being held responsible for the losses sustained by the formations under his command during the preceding three months of slaughter on the Somme....
I can hardly be the only one who would like to know how appointing a civilian administrator to improve transport and logistics all across the British sector, from the Channel Ports to the front line and from just south of Langemarck to the north bank of the Somme, possibly could have helped Haig “avoid being held responsible for the losses sustained” in a localised military operation. Furthermore:
A bit of a tight reference, dates-wise, eh?
An extraordinary statement from a professional historian whose specialist interest is the Great War. Can you possibly be serious, Julian? Assuming that you are, and not being mischievous or evasive, the statement doesn’t “bolster confidence in your judgment” (to borrow your own expression). But perhaps more significantly, the fact that a professional historian genuinely doesn’t know that a joint civilian-military overhaul of the BEF’s transportation system had been mooted and put in train before the Somme battles even opened is evidence of the damage done down the decades by ignorance, lies and deceit; for if a professional can get things so wrong, is this not evidence that most of what most people think they know about the Great War is simplistic at best? Incontrovertible evidence of the need for revisionism.
Exactly at what point in their writings did “all the historians” I mentioned acknowledge that the “learning curve” was climbed by the military leadership of all the belligerent powers? Even Gary Sheffield eschews use of the “curve” and refers to “process” nowadays… can you also climb a process?
At the risk of repeating myself: are you serious, Julian?
Wilhelmine Germany exercised no monopoly in barbarism.
Nor did I say that it did, any more than I would wish to “give moral authority to Anglo-French imperial ambitions”. I am certainly not here to defend imperialism, but let me rephrase the question you evaded: do you morally equate, say, the shameful mismanagement and callous neglect in Boer concentration camps with deliberate genocide in Sűdwestafrika
... the Royal Navy sunk the vessels of neutrals and belligerents, willy-nilly.
I had no idea, Julian. From what sources may I learn more?
Who’s being simplistic, now? The issue of German war guilt was addressed and culpability for death, damage and destruction refined at Versailles in 1919. German war guilt was advanced by the victors to legitimate the systematic asset stripping of Germany and German overseas territories.
I wasn’t being simplistic, but rather specific. I’m aware that the causes of the Great War may be traced, ad absurdum
, all the way back to the barbarians’ crossing of the frozen Rhine in AD 406; and I’m aware of the “sneaky diplomats” and all the rest (like Haldane sneaking off to try to reach some sort of peaceful accommodation with Germany in 1912).
So to be specific, Julian, if you can, let’s revisit here other questions you evaded and try and lay them out as unambiguously as I can manage and see if you can manage to answer them this time round:
Would you morally equate the efforts made in London, Paris and Moscow to reach a non-belligerent solution to the Sarajevo Crisis, in July 1914, with the efforts made in Berlin to turn this same crisis into European war? Would you morally equate the forbearance of France, desperate to avoid any possibility of an inciting incident, pulling her troops six miles back from a frontier she knew was liable to assault, with the aggression of Germany in sending her troops across that frontier, and that of neutral Belgium, in unprovoked invasion?
With reference to Winter in my humble opinion it seems to me that you are inferring he is a liar and a fraud and that an ill-disposed smartypants lawyer could enjoy a drink or so at your expense.
I’m about as intimidated by the disposition of your dipsomanic lawyer as I’m impressed by the humility of your opinion. You just worry about that other question you evaded, and leave me to lose sleep over the lawyer.
“Oh! What a Lovely War” is a play, so is Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, as is Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock”.
Do you think I don’t know that, Julian? And don’t you know that any play—or story, or poem or song—can be propagandistic? Are you trying to pretend that Oh! What A Lovely War!
blatantly propagandistic, and not
written as such from the first draft? Do you think we’re simpletons on Paddy’s side of the I. Sea?
Simplistic? Aside from their books about and sometimes rather hagiographic articles about Himself [General Haig], should forum members feel inclined to sense a measure of exaggeration on my part, I invite them to judge for themselves by checking Dan Todman, Gary Sheffield and John Bourne’s online commentaries about Haig: [http://www.scotsatwar.org.uk/AZ/TheDouglasHaigFellowship.html]
Real historians write about any subject that exercises them—and support what they say with evidence and argumentation. Is there something wrong in writing about Haig? Or only in writing anything that doesn’t damn him, with or without supporting evidence? And does not even Gary Sheffield, your apparent bête noir
, criticise Haig for his conduct of Third Ypres, for example? Because evidence justifies criticism. This “invitation” of yours “to forum members” is no more than a rhetorical ploy. Do you think we’re all simpletons over here?
I’ve been abroad and otherwise busy, so haven’t had a chance to do more than scan a couple of the essays on the site, but can find no evidence of hagiography. Some do have a partisan flavour, as one might expect, but the partisanship of Terraine is prompted by understandable outrage against ahistorical nonsense:
roused, I think, almost beyond bearing, by the most mendacious vilification since the War Memoirs of Lloyd George: I am, of course, referring to the book which goes under the entirely misleading title of Haig's Command.
And it’s with the historical method that the contributing essayists seem concerned. One may or may not agree with their conclusions—I don’t agree with everything they say myself—but the cases that they make seem thoughtfully constructed, intelligently argued, and supported by evidence. Terraine certainly can be emotional—but he remains always far too professional to substitute emotionalism for argumentation. (Even back when I shared your views, there was something nagging about that crusty old dinosaur I couldn’t scratch; and while I still would have issues with Terraine, I often have to stretch myself intellectually to justify disagreeing with him. Usually more than I have to stretch myself when disagreeing with you, Julian.)
So unless you can draw attention to specific cases I see no reason to change my position that “celebrating the ‘rehabilitation’ [of] Haig” is a simplistic way to summarise the work of the historians under consideration. Rather, your drawing attention to this website, in the scornful way you do, seems to justify the establishment of the Douglas Haig Fellowship and its drive toward “only justice, only that”, for the inarticulate old patrician who would have looked down on both of us equally and patronised us both, unshaken by any mortal’s opinion of his worth. Real historians judge people of the past by the standards of their time, not by those of a more egalitarian age.
And speaking of my position:
Methinks I detect a whiff of neo-Whiggery in your position statement.
And it’s the historiographical position you impute to me from my statement that matters more than the substance of that statement? Had you been able to detect a whiff of, oh, Marxism in my position statement, would that have affected the substance of what the statement said?
Methinks I hear stretcher-bearers calling, “GSW foot”.
Their “position” likewise seems to account for the problem you have with battlefield tour guides:
Overwhelmingly ex-military ones tend to be social and political conservatives.... I cannot readily recall ever hearing a tour guide criticizing the Generals....
Do I take you to mean that a person who doesn’t criticise a British general, but does criticise an incompetent teacher and correct her ignorant version of history is ... what? Wrong
? Would you champion ignorance and lies that bolster your own position? Are people to be gauged by where you judge them to stand on a theoretical political spectrum, and not by the validity of the arguments they make, and the evidence they offer to support what they say? The truth that they tell?
? An archaic Judeo-Christian concept, banished to the Dark Ages by brilliant PoMo scholarship. Frankly risible that anybody would invoke it nowadays! As long as it’s “sound” who cares whether it’s true. And evidence
? “An antiquated bourgeois indulgence”—or however Ché dismissed it. It isn’t the truth of the statement that counts, it’s the soundness of the position—right, Julian?
The notion that the British and Imperial army generals valued meritocracy is frankly risible - and citing Currie as an example does little to bolster confidence in your judgement.
Oh.... I see. Well, that puts me in my place.
What, ah ... what about Monash, Julian? A civilian engineer, with German parents, could hardly have become a corps commander through any Old Boy connections? Hadn’t even an old school tie to wear to the interview. And certainly he couldn’t have been an Orangeman! Could it possibly have been native Prussian ability
that swung that job for him?
But ... maybe he was a Freemason! Yes? No? Maybe? Ah well, sure maybe
will do until we can dredge up something worse to fit him. As he was a Jew, it’s genetically unlikely that Monash was a boozer, but maybe he beat his wife? Maybe he had relatives in Palestine. (Someone needs to check this out.)
I didn’t know that Currie was an Orangeman, Julian, and I have no reason to challenge your assertion that he was a bigot and corrupt. No reason, and no interest in doing so—any more than I’d be interested in joining the Orange Order myself, even if they’d admit me. (A sound Marxist position that, you’ll agree, one leaning toward an eyebrow-wagging Groucho.) No interest in Currie beyond how he discharged his duties and justified his promotion.
And if I thought, Julian, that you or anyone else believed me capable of judging a man in the round, or in the discharge of his professional duties, on the basis of his membership of a fraternal organisation, I’d blush. Has muck-raking become a substitute for scholarship in anti-revisionist circles?
No – I’m saying that Laffin was no daftie; he knew very well that what he was writing would provoke and upset British military grandees and their fan clubs.
Your concession that Laffin has nothing of value to offer any student of history did not bowl me over, but I was astonished (and remain a little shocked) that you nevertheless endorse his nasty book because it upsets people you don’t like. Has rattling the cages of Old Boys in blazers become another substitute for scholarship in anti-revisionist circles, Julian?