John Bird Rehabilitates World War One

John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has rewritten history in his article The Necessary War (4-10 August) which states ‘the First World War was an imperative conflict for Britain and France to fight as Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany would have propelled Europe back to the Dark Ages.’  It is an essay full of 1914 anti-German propaganda.

He identifies the Kaiser ‘with a withered arm’ as a reason for Germany starting the war. Bird writes that ‘it would have been an absolute disaster for Germany to have won the First World War.’ This the country that brought us Goethe, Beethoven, and Hegel. He writes Germany would ‘turn Europe into an Africa; open for rape and pillage and plundering’ which is ridiculous. Britain declared war ostensibly to defend neutral Belgium which had committed atrocities in the Congo Free State where natives were maimed and slaughtered for profit.

Bird dismisses the idea of ‘generals who from the comfort of their officers clubs sent the masses to their death! Over the top and into oblivion’ culturally epitomised in Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder Goes Forth. What about Haig’s contempt for the working class evident in his diary entry ‘mostly gamekeepers and servants’ after hearing 13,000 men were killed in three hours during a battle.

He makes the ludicrous assertion that Napoleon caused the First World War. We know the ‘Great Man’ theory of history but Bird surely needs a dose of the Materialist Conception of History. The war was the outcome of decades of competing capitalist interests, the fact that the predominance of British and French capitalism was being challenged by Germany, French hurt pride over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and Britain’s determination to halt German access to the oilfields of the Persian Gulf.  Bird needs to take a history lesson.

His article was an insult to the homeless people who sell his magazine. Fortunately the same issue carried our advertisement stating that ‘we oppose all leadership, all war.’


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