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Category: John Keegan

Tamping down, spinning up

“The speed and completeness of the German victory in western Europe in 1940 resulted in the absence of any significant plans for resistance to occupation. Shocked by military defeat and cowed by the full weight of the Nazis’ well-honed forces of repression, opposition to German rule was initially unco-ordinated and small scale. Instead, large sections of the population sought to conform to the new status quo and endeavored to recreate a form of pre-war normality. In contrast, the Nazi parties of the newly conquered countries anticipated that the new conditions would enable them to seize power. But even trusted leaders such as Quisling in Norway and Mussert in Holland were allowed by the German occupiers to exercise only limited political control. Nevertheless, the rewards of outright collaboration proved too strong for many to resist, with hundreds of thousands volunteering to work for the occupying forces. Consciences were salved to a great extent by Germany’s attack upon the Soviet Union in 1941, and for those who enlisted in the Waffen-SS collaboration became less of a betrayal of nationalist ideals and was elevated to the level of a ‘crusade’ against Communism.” – “Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-1945,” The Times Atlas of the Second World War, ed. John Keegan

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I dunno, maybe because people are stupid

“The First World War is a mystery. Its origins are mysterious. So is its course. Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict? Why, when the hope of bringing the conflict to a quick and decisive conclusion was everywhere dashed to the ground within months of its outbreak, did the combatants decide nevertheless to persist in their military effort, to mobilise for total war and eventually to commit the totality of their young manhood to mutual and existentially pointless slaughter?” – John Keegan, The First World War

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They were fat but none too happy

“It is difficult today not to sympathize with the condemnations, worse or better informed as they have been, of the generals of the First World War. In no way—appearances, attitude, spoken pronouncement, written legacy—do they commend themselves to modern opinion or emotion. The impassive expressions that stare back at us from contemporary photographs do not speak of consciences or feelings troubled by the slaughter over which those men presided, nor do the circumstances in which they chose to live: the distant chateau, the well-polished entourage, the glittering motor cars, the cavalry escorts, the regular routine, the heavy dinners, the uninterrupted hours of sleep. Joffre’s two-hour lunch, Hindenburg’s ten-hour night, Haig’s therapeutic daily equitation along roads sanded lest his horse slip, the Stavka’s diet of champagne and court gossip, seem and were a world away from the cold rations, wet boots, sodden uniforms, flooded trenches, ruined billets and plague of lice on, in and among which, in winter at least, their subordinates lived.” – John Keegan, The First World War

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Dying in France and in vain

“There is nothing more poignant in British life than to visit the ribbon of cemeteries that marks the front line of 1 July 1916 and to find, on gravestone after gravestone, the fresh wreath, the face of a Pal or Chum above a khaki serge collar staring gravely back from a dim photograph, the pinned poppy and the inscription to ‘a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.’ The Somme marked the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered.” – John Keegan, The First World War

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