Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Great European Civil War

Perusing the newspapers earlier I saw that the Daily Mail was not only critical of the Bishop of London for his comments about the "baby-boomer" generation - he being a member should not criticise it etc being the argument - but also for saying that the Great War was a European civil war and that church leaders should reflect seriously on how their predecessors on all sides had endorsed men going off to fight. The Bishop's comments were apparently all the worse for being in line with an EU approach that the war had been such a civil conflict and in line with the Government apparently wanting not to blame the Germans when it came to commemorating the outbreak of hostilities next year.

Well now, the European civil war argument is not new - it was certainly used by F. Scott Fitzgerald in writing about the '20s, and strikes me as an excellent way to understand the dreadful disaster that was the 1914-18 war. You do not have to be an obsessive devotee of the modern EU to think that. One can be very Eurosceptic indeed about the structures of the Union without wanting to ignore the fact that the UK is inextricably bound up with what happens on the continental mainland of Europe - that is, after all, why we were drawn in in 1914.

As to blaming the Germans - well what actually started the war was not the Deutches Reich, but an act of terrorism against the established order in Sarajevo. That set off a tragic and disastrous series of political chain reactions that drew in most of Europe, due to mutual suspicion and the failure on all sides to look at the wider scene. It would be less than historically accurate to think that the war started when Germany invaded Belgium - that is of the "Fog in Channel, Continent cut off" school of thought.

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