The Great War of Words

13 February 2014 | by D.J. Taylor


To anyone monitoring the fall-out from Michael Gove’s suggestion that most First World War history exists in the shadow of Blackadder, Michael Portillo’s two-part series (4 and 11 February) will have come as an eye-opener. Portillo’s aim, in assembling the very large number of historians who took part, was to re-examine the moral positions on which, at any rate on the British side, the war was fought and to investigate the myths and counter-myths that coloured subsequent responses to it – an enquiry in which several people came out very badly indeed.We began with Rudyard Kipling remarking that the world was divided into two kinds of person – human beings and Germans – and the idea of “gallant little Belgium”, the ­jettisoning of whose ne

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