Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby enfieldd on Sun Apr 08, 2012 1:29 pm

Welcome to the forum Julian, great to have you here!.
I tried to contact you on your old email addy but it seem to be out of date. You helped me in the past with the Connaught Rangers Mutiny and Bill Coman. I tried to restore contact with you through Paul Reid without success. Can you please pm me your email addy?.
Kind regards.
Tom.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby JulianPutkowski on Sun Apr 08, 2012 3:11 pm

Tom,

Many thanks. My e-mail address is : jjputkowski@msn.com

My ie. debut e-message failed to record that it was prompted by Michael's e-message of 22 June 2011. I'd have responded with greater alacrity had it been drawn to my attention at the time of posting.

The footnote (*) that was pasted into the latter part of my e-message defined "embefuddlement", a term that figured in the excised part of my response to George Simmers:

George,

With reference to military recruitment of British volunteers during 1914, I’m sorry you didn’t also recall my caveat, reminding assembled ‘comrades’ about the dangers of over-subscribing to ‘economic determinism’. The comment elicited an ironic smile from folks recalling dialectical reasoning, and vexed debates about Marxist views concerning class consciousness (‘false’ and otherwise); discourse about reflection and correspondence, and the essentially dialectical relationship between the Economic and Political.

More immediately, I maintained that in their work on Kitchener’s Army, Peter Simkins and fellow WW1 revisionists have relegated the importance of economic factors. In supporting my contention, as you acknowledge, I referred to casual labour (e.g. unskilled teenagers) and seasonal unemployment (e.g. agriculture, construction & building industry. However, I also cited the impact of underconsumption(e.g. coal mining, shipbuilding); the negative impact on working class families’ budgets of the sharp rise in women’s unemployment (e.g. domestic servants). I added that working class people lacked savings and local welfare agencies’ parsimony combined with the Army’s provision of dependents’ allowances were also significant in explaining the (sic.) ‘rush to the colours’ in 1914.

These preliminary comments were intended to be essentially remedial. I’ve never denied the lures: self aggrandisement, unrefined kick-ass patriotism – and, yep, widespread political embefuddlement.*.

There was certainly nothing ‘mindless’ about Edwardian patriotism and the enticement of a war that was supposed to be over by Christmas ’14 – and just for the record I have no problem accepting the moral sincerity affirmed in letters, personal diaries and other contemporary records.

That said, you’ll get a longer version of these and other points that got aired, for Cyril, Nick, Lois & m’self have been persuaded by the Labour History folks to write up what we had to say in a quartet of articles for the Society’s journal.

Thanks for congratulating me on my oratorical flummery but I’d welcome a more nuanced acknowledgement of my attitude to WW1 revisionism and revisionists than” Julian managed to get in some kicks at revisionist historians, too. He really doesn’t like them.”

You are wrong. In personal terms, I’ve enjoyed an amicable enough relationship with many revisionists. I’ve downed drammies with John Terraine and enjoyed a pint with Gary Sheffield, even when the ‘Shot at Dawn’ campaign was being lambasted at RUSI. Revisionist academics ain’t too precious when referring their postgraduate students to me for research advice and assistance – and Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson made use of my research about mutinies (albeit selectively) in their book ‘Blindfold and Alone.’

I’ve lost count of the talks and lectures I’ve been invited to deliver by plenty of socially and politically conservative groups and institutions. Conversely,I doubt if I’ve addressed more than five or six gatherings of Lefties (Old or New) in the 40 or so years I’ve researched about the First World War.

The latter may have been because in 1968 I was denounced by a Maoist as ‘A petty bourgeois individualist unsusceptible to political reform.’ More plausibly,it’s probably because Lefties are uninspired and view with distaste the crude nationalism that informs much British military history writing. All of which I reckon is a pity because there’s a wealth of opportunity for historical engagement and research(revisionism?) by the Left, as well as the Right.

As for my “kicks”? They’re to do with -isms and not-ists. It ain’t personal. We do what historians are supposed to do – debate one another’s ideas,ideological constructs and varied interpretations of historical events. That’s all.

Best Wishes for 2009,

Julian Putkowski

* A confused and confusing mental state arising from uncritically accepting imperialist, patriarchal fantasies that were systematically peddled by school teachers, priests and press barons.


Fraternally,

Julian
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby enfieldd on Sun Apr 08, 2012 6:07 pm

Thank you Julian.
Let me say to the forum members that Julian has gone out of his way to assist me in the past and I very much appreciate it.
Kind regards.
Tom.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Mon Apr 09, 2012 12:22 pm

Good to see Julian Putkowski on the forum. I would disagree with you in many matters, Julian, but it’s from those with whom we differ that we may learn the most.

You place our own discussion of revisionism in a broader context, your revisionism being
the affirmation of an essentially partisan understanding of British military prowess and leadership.

And indeed one can see a certain overlap in sympathies between some revisionists on both sides of the Irish Sea. Revisionists on your side, you say, seek to remedy an imbalance in

the British public’s perspectives about the First World War [which] have failed to take due account of the tactics, military genius of the generals; native British technical innovation and ingenuity, and the victories achieved in 1918 by the British and American forces.


I haven’t seen the programme you describe but I rather doubt that the historians who partook in it would be uncritical of British generalship; I know of no one who, for instance, would disagree with your evaluation of Johnnie French’s leadership as “indifferent”—at best. Rather, they would acknowledge the tragic and disastrous mistakes that were made, as in every war, and the extent to which all generals, on both sides, were bewildered by the way in which this war challenged everyone’s expectations and created unique problems, notably in command and control. They would, however, deny that such mistakes were all down to foolishness or stupidity, and insist that, say, the premature opening of the Somme battles needs to be seen as a political as well as a military decision.

They also would acknowledge that the long years of European peace had had a Darwinian effect, but the number of “temporary gentlemen” given commissions in the latter half of the war, and the promotion of non-professional soldiers like Arthur Currie to high command, would suggest that meritocracy was properly valued, by British generals at least. Though none can deny the resistance by an old guard to such developments, Haig was always eager to explore creative ways of winning the war and saving men’s lives; he welcomed professional civilian input, notably that of Eric Geddes, and three days after tanks’ inauspicious debut at Flers-Courcellette he ordered 1,000 of them, an order that was never filled by the politicians. But we can’t blame them either, for the Germans were sinking up to 900,000 tons of shipping a month, and tanks came a long way behind ships and guns in importance in prosecuting the war—even preventing starvation.

As for your point about
Todman, Sheffield and Bourne’s established reputations for celebrating the ‘rehabilitation’ [of] Field Marshal Haig:

this is simplistic, Julian. Bourne points out, rather wearily, one senses, that any historian seeking to redress the imbalance, which anti-revisionists would seem to wish to preserve, “nearly always become[s] far more strident in Haig’s defence than is proper and more than the evidence permits” (Brian Bond & Nigel Cave, Haig: A Reappraisal 80 Years On, p. 1). Redressing any imbalance would seem to be laudable, and such redressing is what revisionists do. Haig was not, in my opinion, a “great” commander, after Napoleon, Wellington, Marlborough, Manstein or Zhukov, say, but all of those had had the experience of long wars in which to learn their trade (the last two in WWI), which Haig had not. The static nature of WWI made “great” victories almost impossible for either side through much of it—on the Western Front anyway. Though he was far more intelligent than his poor social manner and Lloyd George’s scurrilous remarks suggest, Haig’s greatest asset, I suspect, was his iron nerve, which held, like Joffre’s in 1914, when Moltke’s, arguably Falkenhayn’s and ultimately Ludendorff’s broke; that nerve, and his readiness to delegate command when open warfare was restored.

He also was proved correct in predicting that the war would be won or lost in confronting the main enemy in the main theatre, and not elsewhere. Lord Grey later acknowledged that “sideshows” had been a waste of lives and money, but Lloyd George never forgave Haig for being right where he had been wrong, and he attacked him relentlessly—after Haig was safely dead and unable to sue for libel.

All the historians you mention frankly acknowledge that the “learning curve” was climbed by all combatants, each learning from the other. Bruckműller and Hutier in particular are recognised as brilliant German contributors to the total sum of knowledge and understanding that the British seem to have applied disproportionately well in the Hundred Days campaign. But probably as much as anything else it was the more effective mobilisation of British industry that enabled the lessons learned to be implemented—as you claim. As Dr Rob Thompson puts it, victory was in part that of the English Midlands over the Ruhr.

You speak of “weakening of the German forward effort by the Allies sustained naval blockade”, and seem to question that Germany really was so bad “an
 autocratic, imperialistic and a notionally proto-nazi regime”—or at any rate, to imply that because it was an imperial power it was no worse than its opponents. Are you claiming moral equivalence here? Imperialism inevitably brought evil in the wake of even well-intentioned men like David Livingstone, but Germany, to my knowledge alone of all the powers in the New Imperial age, deliberately adopted genocide in its colonies (where the charming Dr Eugen Fischer also conducted grisly experiments on captured Africans, mentoring his more infamous disciple, Josef Mengele).

Similarly, while civilian suffering is lamentable, are you claiming that Britain’s naval blockage of Germany was morally equivalent to Germany’s no-warning sinking of merchantmen and passenger liners, including those of neutral nations?

And of course there is the small matter of Germany starting the war; of very deliberately turning the Third Balkan War into European, and then World War. Would you say that for France to fight to preserve, not its overseas empire, but its cosmopolitan integrity from an invading foe, makes that fight an “imperial” one?

Laffin never implied anything and he certainly never pretended that his “Butchers and Bunglers” book was less than partisan, and your gentle observation about Winter engaging in “manufactured fraudulence” beyond polemicism may even be of interest to the latter’s learned friends.


You have me baffled here, Julian. Are you suggesting that any student of history has anything, anything of value, to learn from Butchers and Bunglers or Haig’s Command? Are you saying that the latter is fair and reasoned in arguing its case, that there is no cutting-and-pasting of sources, for example?

[R]evisionists appear to believe that some terrible corrupting force has perverted public opinion through propaganda

What would you call Oh! What a Lovely War, whose historical “advisor” frankly acknowledged that his contribution to the making of that musical comprised “one part me, one part Liddell-Hart, and one part Lenin”. (L-H is now largely discredited; not even anti-revisionists reference him any more, I believe—though Lenin still has admirers.) Whether it’s a reflection on how effective such propaganda has been, or on the terrible deterioration in the quality of our education systems, speak to any battlefield tour guide in Ypres or at the Somme about the hair-raising nonsense they overhear schoolchildren being told by their teachers on school trips. (Or are tour guides revisionists too for, say, correcting the ignorant or bigoted assertion that the lower number of officers’ headstones is because officers didn’t lead, but drove enlisted men to their deaths?)

As you say, Julian, “there’s a wealth of opportunity for historical engagement and research (revisionism?) by the Left, as well as the Right” and I hope we may “enjoy an amicable enough relationship” on this forum. Just need to be careful not to take it over!
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby JulianPutkowski on Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:23 pm

Michael,

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 - neither did it contain any references to C20th Irish history. Should the length of my responses (***) to the scattering of issues that you have generated make too many demands on your time and patience, skip 'em and simply read my final two paragraphs.

“Rather, they would acknowledge the tragic and disastrous mistakes that were made, as in every war, and the extent to which all generals, on both sides, were bewildered by the way in which this war challenged everyone’s expectations and created unique problems, notably in command and control. They would, however, deny that such mistakes were all down to foolishness or stupidity, and insist that, say, the premature opening of the Somme battles needs to be seen as a political as well as a military decision.”

***: Quite so – though a bit of relativist position to adopt, wouldn’t you agree?

“They also would acknowledge that the long years of European peace had had a Darwinian effect, but the number of “temporary gentlemen” given commissions in the latter half of the war, and the promotion of non-professional soldiers like Arthur Currie to high command, would suggest that meritocracy was properly valued, by British generals at least.”

***– 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. The selection of rankers for commissions was highly selective, as may be determined from the nature of the referees and references that feature in the applications for commissions. 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. Though in religious bigotry, cronyism and financial shenaniganry he was more than matched by his fellow Orange Lodger, Sam Hughes, Moreover, Currie’s promotion to brigadier was due to elite patronage and having Garnet Hughes (Sam’s son) as one of his officer-subordinates. (see Tim Cook’s “The Madman and the Butcher” [2010]}.

“Though none can deny the resistance by an old guard to such developments, Haig was always eager to explore creative ways of winning the war and saving men’s lives; he welcomed professional civilian input, notably that of Eric Geddes”

*** This reads like a bit of Gary Sheffield’s work. A bit of a tight reference, dates-wise, eh? 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. The Field Marshal had little choice but to make the best of Geddes appointment and (pace Keith Grieves, “Eric Geddes”, pp. 30 et seq) and acknowledging the Field Marshal’s recognition of the military importance of supply and transport amounts to nix.

“…And three days after tanks’ inauspicious debut at Flers-Courcellette he ordered 1,000 of them, an order that was never filled by the politicians. But we can’t blame them either, for the Germans were sinking up to 900,000 tons of shipping a month, and tanks came a long way behind ships and guns in importance in prosecuting the war—even preventing starvation.“

*** And…. [you’ve lost me}…?

“ As for your point about

Todman, Sheffield and Bourne’s established reputations for celebrating the ‘rehabilitation’ [of] Field Marshal Haig:

this is simplistic, Julian. Bourne points out, rather wearily, one senses, that any historian seeking to redress the imbalance, which anti-revisionists would seem to wish to preserve, “nearly always become[s] far more strident in Haig’s defence than is proper and more than the evidence permits” (Brian Bond & Nigel Cave, Haig: A Reappraisal 80 Years On, p. 1). Redressing any imbalance would seem to be laudable, and such redressing is what revisionists do. “

*** Simplistic? Aside from their books about and sometimes rather hagiographic articles about Himself, 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]

“Haig was not, in my opinion, a “great” commander, after Napoleon, Wellington, Marlborough, Manstein or Zhukov, say, but all of those had had the experience of long wars in which to learn their trade (the last two in WWI), which Haig had not. The static nature of WWI made “great” victories almost impossible for either side through much of it—on the Western Front anyway. Though he was far more intelligent than his poor social manner and Lloyd George’s scurrilous remarks suggest, Haig’s greatest asset, I suspect, was his iron nerve, which held, like Joffre’s in 1914, when Moltke’s, arguably Falkenhayn’s and ultimately Ludendorff’s broke; that nerve, and his readiness to delegate command when open warfare was restored. He also was proved correct in predicting that the war would be won or lost in confronting the main enemy in the main theatre, and not elsewhere. Lord Grey later acknowledged that “sideshows” had been a waste of lives and money.,”

*** Methinks I detect a whiff of neo-Whiggery in your position statement.

“but Lloyd George never forgave Haig for being right where he had been wrong, and he attacked him relentlessly—after Haig was safely dead and unable to sue for libel.”

*** Very interesting, would y’say it was akin to a brace of paedophiles blaming one another for the pain and suffering for which they were jointly responsible?

“All the historians you mention frankly acknowledge that the “learning curve” was climbed by all combatants, each learning from the other. Bruckműller and Hutier in particular are recognised as brilliant German contributors to the total sum of knowledge and understanding that the British seem to have applied disproportionately well in the Hundred Days campaign. But probably as much as anything else it was the more effective mobilisation of British industry that enabled the lessons learned to be implemented—as you claim. As Dr Rob Thompson puts it, victory was in part that of the English Midlands over the Ruhr. “

*** 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?

“You speak of “weakening of the German forward effort by the Allies sustained naval blockade”,”

*** And….. your point is?

“and seem to question that Germany really was so bad “an
 autocratic, imperialistic and a notionally proto-nazi regime”—or at any rate, to imply that because it was an imperial power it was no worse than its opponents. Are you claiming moral equivalence here? Imperialism inevitably brought evil in the wake of even well-intentioned men like David Livingstone, but Germany, to my knowledge alone of all the powers in the New Imperial age, deliberately adopted genocide in its colonies (where the charming Dr Eugen Fischer also conducted grisly experiments on captured Africans, mentoring his more infamous disciple, Josef Mengele).”

*** Ah! No need to engage in hair-splitting: for folks on the receiving end of economic exploitation, military oppression and genocidal policies, Wilhelmine Germany exercised no monopoly in barbarism. If Roger Casement’s reports are anything to go by, a prior medical qualification was not required by Belgian colonialists wishing to lop hands off Congolese labourers, (q.v. Adam Hochschild, “King Leopold’s Ghost” (1988/2006). The British in South Africa jammed the black population and Boer civilians into concentration camps in which thousands died of neglect and sickness (Emily Hobhouse, “The Brunt of the War and where it fell” 2007). Good ol’ Aussies gunning down Aboriginies? Even Christopher Andrew (no Lefty, he) has declared “Judged by the general standards of colonial rule, the charge of Germany’s colonial unworthiness was little more than a convenient myth to give moral justification to Anglo-French imperial ambitions.” (The climax of French Imperial expansion 1914-1924 [1981] p.60)

“Similarly, while civilian suffering is lamentable, are you claiming that Britain’s naval blockage of Germany was morally equivalent to Germany’s no-warning sinking of merchantmen and passenger liners, including those of neutral nations? “

*** Nope – compare like with like. Aside from the “Baralong” murders, the Royal Navy sunk the vessels of neutrals and belligerents, willy-nilly. On the impact of the Allied naval blockade on German civilians, read Major Eric Osborne’s “Britain’s Economic Blockade of Germany 1914-1919” (2004).

“And of course there is the small matter of Germany starting the war; of very deliberately turning the Third Balkan War into European, and then World War. Would you say that for France to fight to preserve, not its overseas empire, but its cosmopolitan integrity from an invading foe, makes that fight an “imperial” one?”

*** Wot? More reductionism? 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’ve never had much time for any of the imperial nation states but if you’re seeking to exculpate France and British pre-war military planners, take some account also of the sneaky diplomats; warmongering arms-producing merchants of death, imperialist pro-consuls and the lunatic Army and Navy leagues, fine, go ahead

“Laffin never implied anything and he certainly never pretended that his “Butchers and Bunglers” book was less than partisan, and your gentle observation about Winter engaging in “manufactured fraudulence” beyond polemicism may even be of interest to the latter’s learned friends.

You have me baffled here, Julian. Are you suggesting that any student of history has anything, anything of value, to learn from Butchers and Bunglers or Haig’s Command? Are you saying that the latter is fair and reasoned in arguing its case, that there is no cutting-and-pasting of sources, for example? “

*** 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. 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

[R]evisionists appear to believe that some terrible corrupting force has perverted public opinion through propaganda

“What would you call Oh! What a Lovely War, whose historical “advisor” frankly acknowledged that his contribution to the making of that musical comprised “one part me, one part Liddell-Hart, and one part Lenin”. (L-H is now largely discredited; not even anti-revisionists reference him any more, I believe—though Lenin still has admirers.) Whether it’s a reflection on how effective such propaganda has been, or on the terrible deterioration in the quality of our education systems, speak to any battlefield tour guide in Ypres or at the Somme about the hair-raising nonsense they overhear schoolchildren being told by their teachers on school trips. (Or are tour guides revisionists too for, say, correcting the ignorant or bigoted assertion that the lower number of officers’ headstones is because officers didn’t lead, but drove enlisted men to their deaths?)”

“Oh! What a Lovely War “ is a play, so is Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, as is Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock”.

Battlefield tour guides engaged in the heritage n' legacyl business of war spin whatever it is that will earn them a living. Overwhelmingly ex-military ones tend to be social and political conservatives, and peddle yarns about duty, honour, courage, bravery and masculine values. Their tales tend to extol suffering and blood sacrifice, except when referring to weaklings, cowards and deserters . In the past decade I cannot readily recall ever hearing a tour guide criticizing the Generals, individually or collectively.

OK? Enough reproof, I’ve responded point by point to the meandering procrastination you’ve served up by way of a response to my complaint about the frankly outrageous personal remarks you made about my work and character in your posting to this thread on 22 June 2011. You were not then being amicable and believe me, right now, neither am I

I’d therefore be obliged if you would exercise some good manners and either publicly substantiate or withdraw the allegation that I resigned before completing research work that I was commissioned to carry out by the BBC for the “Monocled Mutineer” TV series. I earn a fair part of my income from research commissions and the kind of false allegation you have made undermines my professional reputation and threatens my livelihood.

Julian
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Mon Apr 09, 2012 8:01 pm

I’d therefore be obliged if you would exercise some good manners and either publicly substantiate or withdraw the allegation that I resigned before completing research work that I was commissioned to carry out by the BBC for the “Monocled Mutineer” TV series. I earn a fair part of my income from research commissions and the kind of false allegation you have made undermines my professional reputation and threatens my livelihood.


Julian, I should have made clear that you completed your work for the BBC and that the broadcaster ignored your advice. I was aware that this was the case and accept that I should have been more careful in my choice of words in the submission that I made last year. I regret any inadvertent implication of unprofessionalism on your part and beg your pardon for any offence I caused you.

I'll be out of the country for several days, but shall reply to the other points you make when I return.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby JulianPutkowski on Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:57 am

Michael,

[Growl mode : OFF] Many thanks. Though I didn't seek it, I'm also grateful for your generous addendum of an apology.

Now let's get on with matters historical.


Fraternally,

Julian
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby New2History on Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:56 pm

Hi guys..

Started following your thread last night..has been very interesting!

Am currently doing an assignment for college on the Kilmichael Ambush in which we are to compare the account given by three sources..1)Tom Barry 2) Peter Hart and 3) Meda Ryan...

Enjoying the assignment so far but have come across one stumbling block! 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....have identified each within the assignment but, like always, i need to give evidence to support what i state and therefore need a reference!

Any help would be much appreciated and thanks for the interesting & enjoyable read last night!
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:18 pm

New2History wrote:Hi guys..

Enjoying the assignment so far but have come across one stumbling block! 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....have identified each within the assignment but, like always, i need to give evidence to support what i state and therefore need a reference!



Hi, all such terms are subjective. And nobody, or hardly anyone, says 'I am a revisionist', or 'I am a traditionalist'. What they say is that they are simply a historian following the historical method of only drawing conlcusions from soruces they've gathered. It's the other side that are politcally motiviated charlatans.

But very broadly, here's my definition. There was very little academic history work done on the Irish revolution until the 1970s or 80s. So most of what was written about the period was memoirs by participants, almost all Republican, so obviosuly with the odd exception they were biased in that direction. On top of this, there was the state's official version, which went something like this -'The Irish people waged a united struggle against British aggression, by democratic means but also by guerrilla warfare, resulting in an (almost) successful liberation of the country. This was unsullied by sectarianism or war crimes which were merely an invention of British propaganda'. (The civil war is usually left out of such accounts more or less).

That's very crude but I'd say you can define a tradionalist, eg Meda Ryan, by applying these precepts to their work and seeing if they fit.

Now 'revisionism' came along mostly in the 1980s and 1990s, at the same time as many people in the south were trying to distance themselves from the Provisional IRA and what was going on in the North. In one way, it is distinguished by the first generation of professional historians to take on the subject - many of them were not Irish eg Peter Hart and Joost Augustein. But the term 'revisionist', refers to an attitude that is hostile to varying degrees to the republican version of the independence struggle.

Hart and David Fitzpatrick argued that the republicans of the 1920s were basically a Catholic nationalist movement and argued that protestants often suffered at their hands. Another strand of this the stressing of the cruelty of the IRA - their killing of the unarmed and defenceless and their military incompetence. William Sheehan's work has elements of this I think as well. Another strand again, looking especially at Tom Garvin, is that the IRA reperesented an anti democratic force who wanted to impose their, narrow, definition of Irishness as something opposed to Britishness, by violence. In this conception, the civil war is the restoration of democracy by moderate nationalists.

Now you can make your own mind up about these issues but two things should be borne in mind, one is that people were anxious at the time to discredit the use of violence by Irish republicans in the north during the conflict there. This influenced the writing of history. Another thing is that a lot of people in the south especially were fed up with the conservative, Catholic economically backward state founded in 1922. And they blamed Irish republicanism for this and saw the pre-Indpendence state and politics as being more liberal and progressive. Again this also had an influence.

Just finally though, while you can see these kind of influences at work in people's writings it's not always fair to pidgeon-hole people. Hart for instance has a lot really excellent work that is not controversial. John Borgonovo is crtical of 'revisionism' but is not a 'traditionalist' etc.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Fri Jun 08, 2012 5:33 pm

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 and Ostafrika?

... 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! is not 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?

What—truth? 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?
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