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.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Outbreak of War in 1914

Today has been the centenary of the British ultimatum to Germany which led to British participation in the Great War.

The public events in commemoration appear to hacve been dignified and appropriate.

My own sense is of the utter waste of human lives, and the consequent loss of who knows what in terms of human talent.

It is also a sense of the misery visited upon those who lost family, friends, homes and livelihoods as a result of the war, and that that misery and pain continued and continues in its effects.

That is in no way to diminish or ignore the courage and bravery, the human spirit of those who fought for their countries.

This was the destruction of a civilisation, an implosion of self-destruction, and with the attendent, and continuing corruption of diplomacy and policy.

This was the unleashing of horrors unimaginable in the summer of 1914, and their effects still continue, in many ways unabated, if not always so intense.

We only have to look to the situation in the Ukraine, or to the Middle East. In the latter case this came about through the destruction or acceleration of the disintegration of the Ottoman empire as a consequence of the war. The conflict is still going on there, the problems not merely unresolved, but ever more complicated.

We also see that politicians do not learn, or, if they do, too often learn the wrong lessons. Once again the Middle East comes to mind, but so too do issues nearer home - less violent, but still the refighting of previous generations' conflicts to satisfy the voters' prejudices.

Listening to the Radio 4 series by Christopher Clark in the days following the anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination and that by Margaret McMillan giving aday by day account of the move towards war I have been once again struck by the mischances and accidents, the minor human failings with unimaginable consequences that led to disaster. At times it seems it could all have been so easily prevented. That makes it all the more terrible in its destructiveness.

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