Education secretary Michael Gove has come out and said that the first world war was a noble war that was justifiable in the face of the ‘cruel and tyranical German nation’, at the same time as hitting out at the likes of Blackadder and the Monocled Mutineer for ‘mythologizing’ the war and making it seem like a ‘catastrophic shambles.’ He even calls the battle of the Somme ‘a vital precursor to victory.’ He’s not correct. He’s far from correct. His views come across as exactly the same sort of narrow minded and blind-sided opinions as the elitist top brass had before and during the war, before the benefit of hindsight and before everybody understood how terrible and savage that war really was. Those who came back were never the same again. They were haunted and scarred by that war for life and they were the lucky ones. On the first day of the Somme alone nearly 20,000 British troops were killed. 20,000! I went to a school with around 1000 pupils. Twenty times that many were killed on the first day of the Somme and Gove is calling it ‘a precursor to victory?’ If that’s what Gove calls a precursor to victory I’d hate to see what he would call a disaster. In terms of human life, not just those who were killed but those who were wounded, traumatized or knew someone who had been killed, the whole war was a catastrophic disaster. It was one of the worst wars in human history and yet Gove appears to be trumpeting it up as some sort of glorious imperial triumph, the last hurrah of the British Empire against the beastly hun… But it wasn’t. And not once does Gove mention the colossal waste of life, the horrors of trench warfare, the men who were traumatized or the broken families. Based upon what he has said he just doesn’t seem to understand the war at all.
But he isn’t the only member of the government to have recently come under fire for missing the point about the first world war. At some point last year the Prime Minister was criticized for making the anniversary seem like some sort of celebration by comparing it to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Put together with Gove’s comments it hints at something that is quite alarming: The government just doesn’t understand the first world war.