There’s a lot of vitriol about Michael Gove around. He really seems to get on people’s wick. I’m not entirely sure why; education is not really my area, although I’m informed my colleague Michael Cooper has his face pinned to a dartboard in his bedroom. But that may just be hearsay.
Regardless, Mr Gove appears to have had what my father would call a “funny five minutes” whilst writing an opinion piece for The Daily Mail.
In the article he goes on at some length about how the TV series Blackadder Goes Forth is some sort of communist plot and that there exists a kind of leftist conspiracy by historians to convince the world that the First World War wasn’t Germany’s fault and purport a myth of the conflict as “a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.”
So what’s the point Govey? It seems you feel that people have been focusing too much on all of the senseless, bloody slaughter and the horror of the trenches and not enough on how we gave the Hun a jolly good spanking.
I appreciate that this sort of “our brave boys” patriotic tub thumping chimes well with Mr. Gove’s intended audience for this article in, well, the Mail, as does his dishing out of the blame for the perceived decline in general flag waving “my country ‘tis of thee” little Englandism to left wing academia and the metro-liberal attendees of Islington dinner parties. But it all smacks of rather lazy political posturing which infers that anyone who’s ever laughed at Blackadder lacks the proper respect for the war dead.
In his view it seems that if you take a vaguely critical stance on say, Field Marshal Haig’s handling of the Battle of the Somme, in which some 20,000 British troops were killed on the first day alone, which I’m assuming is considered a balls up by anyone’s standards, then you’re a raving socialist. I am not a socialist, but it’s fair to say that on balance, I think the British officer class could have handled things a little better. Gove’s view is a whitewash to suit political purposes, the exact allegation he levels against his opponents.
It’s bizarre how the partial raison d’etre for Gove’s article was his backing of Maria Millar’s proposal that the centenary celebrations of the “Great” War should lack overt jingoism, when his article seems to be furthering exactly that. Gove has put himself in the middle of a debate where on one side is a broad historical consensus and the other those blokes who shout things like “two World Wars and one World Cup” at German tourists in the Algarve, and thrown his weight firmly behind the latter camp.
I, like Michael Gove, am not a historian. But surely the reason why WW2 is so much more frequently celebrated as a cause for British patriotism is that our involvement was morally so much clearer cut than the First. WW2 was a war of ideology against a foe that was genuinely contemptible. An expansionist, fascist enemy who threatened us, our values and all we held dear. WW1 was a war started when a Bosnian shot an Austrian and resulted in a domino effect of centuries old dynastic alliances coming to a very dramatic head. It was a Game of Thrones with a causus belli which makes it so much more difficult to deride the blasted bosch, and people have tried, people always try.
Ultimately, if Gove really wanted to honour the spirit of the British soldiers who died in the conflict, he’d let them rest. Not try to hijack their sacrifice in a rather feeble attempt at political grandstanding. They deserve that much, surely?