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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Ypres: Great Battles.

Reviewed by Matthew Haultain-Gall.

Ypres. For well over one hundred years now, the name of this Belgian town has become shorthand for the death and destruction wrought by the First World War. But why? For whom? And which Ypres? After all, hundreds of thousands of combatants from dozens of nations fought several major battles in the ‘immortal salient’, each of which generated their own distinctive narratives. These questions are at the heart of Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel’s fantastic Ypres, which painstakingly strips back the layers of this dense, multifaceted lieu de mémoirefrom the turn of the twentieth century to the First World War centenary.

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Fighting the People’s War

Reviewed by Oliver Parken. The notion of the Second World War as a ‘people’s war’ remains an established, and highly contested, tool for understanding the experience and representation of the conflict. Transmitted through wartime propaganda and cultural codes, scholars have tended to assess its workings in the home front context. In the British case, citizens were, after all, drawn into the front-lines of war as targets of enemy bombardment as well as forming the back-bone…

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Old diplomacy and new diplomats

Written by Paul Sharp.

From a combination of instinct and convention, most people have a sense that diplomacy is and ought to be important. They are much less clear on what diplomacy is and what diplomats actually do. For much of the past, this did not matter for both were thought to be far removed from the concerns of ordinary people.  This is no longer the case. Thanks to the revolutions in the technologies of how information is produced, distributed and exchanged, ordinary people are increasingly aware of what diplomats do, and diplomats are increasingly involved in managing, expanding, and exploiting this awareness.

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Some Conclusions on Foreign Office Attitudes towards European Integration, 1957-73

Written by Adam Rolewicz.

The history of Britain’s relationship with Europe is one which has received significant attention from scholars and laypeople alike, especially in recent times. It has been explored from a wide range of angles and perspectives, all of which offer unique insights into what has often been characterized as an awkward or reluctant relationship. My thesis employed a specific focus on the attitudes of Foreign Office officials towards European integration in the years 1957-73 and the ways in which these attitudes shaped the foreign policymaking process. The role which Foreign Office officials played in Britain’s approach to membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) was extremely significant, and their attitudes had a profound impact on the policymaking process.

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The Narratives of the Communist Party of China

Written by Kerry Brown.

One thing that the importation of the body of ideas associated with Marxism Leninism into China in the early part of the twentieth century did was to also introduce a new kind of historiography. This showed history not as a series of tragic cycles of rising and falling of dynasties and their territories – something envisaged famously in the great Ming classic from the 14thcentury, `Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ which talks of the coming together and falling apart of empires over the long sweep of Chinese history. Instead, it brought the idea of ever onward dynamic progress, with events being propelled through thesis and antithesis into improving synthesis before the process started again.

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Belgian Neutrality and its Reinterpretation ahead of the First World War

Written by Mario Draper.

Léon Arendt will not be a familiar name to most readers. His role as the Political Director at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1896 to 1912 was hardly likely to make him a household name beyond Belgium’s borders. Yet, his conceptualisation of these borders and of Belgium’s wider relationship with neutrality – imposed in perpetuity by the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia) in 1839 – marks him out as a singularly important figure in defining the strategic paradigm at the outbreak of the First World War. For here was a man who proposed the controversial view in 1911 that neutrality was but a tool of independence and not an end in itself. In other words, were neutrality to jeopardize continued independence, Belgium was within its rights to reinterpret its duties and forgo its strict adherence to the 1839 Treaty of London. 

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Keeping the Pot Boiling: British Propaganda in Neutral Turkey during the Second World War

Written by Edward Corse.

Neutral Turkey was geographically surrounded by the Second World War. The Germans occupied land to the north and west; Italy occupied parts of Greece; the British were to the south in places such as Cyprus, Egypt and Iraq; the French were in Syria; and Russia, Turkey’s traditional enemy, loomed in the east in the form of the Soviet Union.

To try to keep itself out of the war, Turkey signed a number of agreements: a Treaty of Friendship with Britain in April 1939 followed by a Tripartite Agreement with Britain and France in October 1939; then later a Treaty of Non-Aggression with Germany in June 1941. Working to balance the interests of the warring parties was the very essence of maintaining neutrality.

However, being neutral did not mean that the war had no impact. Both Britain and Germany had Ambassadors in Ankara – Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen and Franz von Papen, respectively – and the cities of Ankara and Istanbul were awash with their spies and propaganda.

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Reflections on the Centenary: An Important Moment for Education and the Memory of the First World War

Written by Natasha Silk.

As the Centenary of the First World War ends, it is time to reflect on the conflict as a whole and consider how the commemorations have unfolded. We are likely to see a raft of new literature in the coming months discussing the impact of the Centenary on British collective memory of the war. It is undeniable that the events of the last four and a half years have influenced the way we, as a society, view the war. Some have argued that we have allowed the story of the dead to overwhelm the way we have approached the Centenary. Certainly, the commemorations and remembrance services for the dead have been centre stage. However, many have used this opportunity as a platform to educate the wider public about the war, including more marginalized areas. It seems that these two aspects of the Centenary commemorations have gone hand in hand. This post considers how education and remembrance have worked together to create the Centenary’s own legacy.

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(Re-)Visiting Ypres

Written by Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel.

Visiting Ypres, or Ieper to use its modern name, is an amazing experience. First, there is the sheer wonder of wandering around a seemingly historic city which, on closer inspection, proves to be of very recent completion. Then, there is the impressive scale of the massive Cloth Hall, the great medieval trading market which attracted merchants from across Europe. But, that too proves to be a bit of curiosity when stared at, as the mix of very smooth, sharply cut stone merges with the pock-marked, scarred and worn pillars along the ground floor. Next to the Cloth Hall is a soaring medieval cathedral, but enter inside and it feels so new you almost expect it to squeak as it comes out of the shrink-wrap. Finally, there is the Menin Gate, a huge memorial to the British and Commonwealth missing of ‘the salient’. Tucked into the ramparts, the Menin Gate almost leaps out on the visitor walking along the street from the central square (the Grote Markt). Of course, it is the Menin Gate that provides the key to the rest of the mystery, for it commemorates the fact that this charming West Flanders city witnessed some of the most intense and prolonged fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. During that fighting, Ypres was reduced to rubble and ashes only to rise again in replica form. And that is an underlying theme of our new book, Ypres: the recycling, rebuilding, reconstruction of images, stories, and histories of Ypres which stands alongside the physical construction of memorials, monuments and cemeteries in a reconstructed landscape. It is about construction and reconstruction; the encoding and reinterpreting of a major historical event within its original space, and how the battlefield of Ypres could be brought home.

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