x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Truth, lies and the great war

In his book, Catastrophe, Max Hastings describes The First World War as the conflict that pushed an unsuspecting generation of young people through the meat grinder

Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914
Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914

In the summer of 1914, the Great Powers embraced the prospect of war with all the enthusiasm of a sporting tournament. Few saw anything but a short engagement covered in glory. British popular sentiment was that: “it will all be over by Christmas.”

Catastrophe, by Max Hastings, is the story of what really happened in the opening shots of what we now call the First World War, when the flower of Europe’s youth was dispatched to the slaughterhouse.

This was the conflict that pushed an unsuspecting generation though the meat grinder. In the early battles, French troops, in scarlet and blue, marched into battle with trumpets blaring and colours flying. It was a scene, Hastings observes, that would have been familiar to Napoleon.

In a single August day, the French army lost 27,000 men. British and German casualties were almost as appalling.

Exhaustive, not to say exhausting, Catastrophe’s 566 pages are an indictment of the follies of war and the foolishness of generals and politicians.

By December 1914, the armies were in trenches, where they stayed for the next four years.

jlangton@thenational.ae