Was the the First World War justified?

August 2014 is the Centenary of the First World War – a dreadful war which cost the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. An estimated 9 million soldiers were killed and countless more civilians.

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First World War

The first thing is to feel grateful that we didn’t live through such an appalling catastrophe, and waste of human life. War is undoubtedly man’s greatest tragedy and the emotional suffering of this ‘Great War’ is incomparable. I’m glad I didn’t have to make the choice that many young men of the 1914-18 period did.

However, if we could go back in time, would you fight for your country of birth or would you be a conscientious objector?

Was there any justification to the First World War?

Would I fight for Britain?

I am British, and have often thought about this question.

Firstly, I believe the British Empire was wrong. Britain had no right to be ruling in India, African countries, parts of Asia and parts of the Middle East. I would not fight to save the British Empire because I would support the independence movements in Ireland and India.

If I joined the British army and found myself in India or Ireland, I would feel compromised because I wouldn’t want to be party to supporting an Empire which denied the democratic rights of the inhabitants.

However, the First World War wasn’t primarily about promoting the British Empire. Most soldiers were sent to the Western Front to fight the German army.

Defence of Belgium and France

Sometimes, the First World War is portrayed as a senseless war where we fought for no reason. However, in 1914, there seemed to be a certain moral necessity for Britain to be involved.

Although the causes of the First World War are complex and multifarious – in August 1914, Germany were invading Belgium and France. This violated Belgian neutrality and also French borders. Britain had signed a guarantee of Belgian independence, and should Belgium request support from an invading army, Britain had a treaty obligation to support.

This makes it very difficult not to join the British war effort. It is true, Britain was fighting for self-interest. We didn’t want Germany to dominate Europe, we wanted to protect our trade interests and also the rule of international law. But, it wasn’t entirely selfish. It was wrong for the Germans to invade Belgium and France. In that sense, the First World War could be seen as a defensive war against an invading army.

Read On…

The socialism of George Orwell

A look at the Socialist beliefs of George Orwell. Also, a look at his writings on Soviet Communism.

George-OrwellGeorge Orwell was a fascinating figure and brilliant writer. He was an idealist, who is best known for his work in warning of the dangers of totalitarianism (whatever its political form) This can be seen in the two classics 1984, and Animal Farm. Orwell was also a committed Socialist who sought to promote a more egalitarian and fairer society.

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.

George Orwell, “Why I write” p. 394

Firstly, George Orwell was definitely a democractic Socialist. He stated this consistently throughout his life from the mid 1920s to his death in 1950. It is true that he wrote a compelling account warning of the dangers of totalitarian state. But, Orwell always maintained that just because you severely criticised Soviet style Communism didn’t make you any less a Socialist. In fact, Socialism as Orwell understood it, stood for all the values – democracy, liberty, equality – that Soviet Communism rejected. Orwell believed that only a truly democratic Socialist regime would support liberty.

And the only regime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist regime. If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer — that is to say, finished in my only effective capacity. That of itself would be a sufficient reason for joining a Socialist party.

- George Orwell, “Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party”:

Homage to Catalonia

Orwell detested Soviet style Communism a belief strengthened when he ended up fighting Soviet backed Communists during the Spanish civil war – Orwell went to Spain to fight against Fascism and for the Republican movement. As a member of the ILP, he joined a fraternal Spanish party – POUM – a small Marxist / Anarchist Socialist grouping who had strong utopian Socialist ideals. Orwell loved their utopian Socialism. Read On…