Michael Gove has started a rapidly unfolding debate with Sir Tony Robinson over claims that ‘left wing academics’ are establishing and propagating a mythological account of the First World War. Gove claimed the First World War was a ‘Just War’ against excessive German aggression; these comments are tantamount to a complete and utter denial of the role of the elite in perpetrating nothing less than mass murder.

WW1 was termed a ‘total war’ by eminent Historian Eric Hobsbawm, and this is true insofar as it was the first time socio-economic mechanisms at home were fully mobilised towards a war effort. It saw 8.5 million men slaughtered and 21 million wounded. Statistics do not show the true horrors of warfare, and Gove’s comments illustrate this; Blackadder humanised the war in a way statistics cannot. It turned the soldiers into people, and in that timeless final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth it is almost impossible not to be emotionally impacted by the desolation of life in such a systematic manner.

Politicians don’t want to humanise soldiers; it lowers recruitment and establishes a polemic between the distant elites who direct massacres and the masses forced to endure them. In the year in which the centenary of the outbreak of war will be commemorated these comments are untimely and offensive. David Cameron sparked outcry a few months ago by likening the commemoration of the First World War with the Diamond Jubilee; commemoration of warfare should be solemnly conducted and the soldiers should be respectfully honoured. It is not a time for celebration or political attribution of blame.

…WW1 should not be the subject of political squabbling…

These comments reflect upon the government own agenda; nostalgia and commemoration go hand in hand, and a mystification of the past is something the Conservative led government would love to garner in the build up to European elections and a General Election next year. WW1 should not be the subject of political squabbling or the topic of a renewed blame game; Historians are continuing attribute blame to Germany, Britain, imperialism and militarism, as well as a plethora of other factors.

Sir Tony Robinson, who portrayed Baldrick in the program, offered a rebuttal of Gove’s comments by claiming he was attacking teachers. This may not be strictly true, but Gove’s radical overhaul of the education system has been the subject of an intense disjuncture between Gove and teachers unions.  Blackadder is not a teaching tool; it is not a historical representation of the overarching phenomena which caused the war, but it does portray the atrocious conditions and context in which the war was fought by normal people who you can grow attached to through watching the program.

…This was the first war that saw industrialised slaughter of millions in a 4 year stalemate…

Commemorating the war is important, and should be undertaken in solemn and dignified manner. Political division should not be entrenched in this time. This was the first war that saw industrialised slaughter of millions in a 4 year stalemate which would not end through military conquest but through domestic unrest at the sustained tensions facilitated by warfare. Gove’s comments are mistimed and politically laden with language which exonerates elites from responsibility for audacious atrocities which remain burned on the retina of our countries history; the Somme, Verdun and Ypres conjure up images of horrific levels of death and suffering.

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