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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Reflections on the Christmas Truce: Myth, Football and the Christmas of 1914

Written by Natasha Silk.

The Christmas Truce forms one of the central focal points for the modern memory and commemorations of the First World War. Terri Blom Crocker in her exploration of the subject, has suggested that behind this myth that all soldiers ceased hostilities in rebellion against war is actually a complicated story. She argues that through its mythology and position in modern memory it has become a reflection of modern anti-war sentiment. Within the cultural memory of this event, the idea that British and German soldiers played football up and down the frontline is the dominant narrative. As Stanley Weintraub explored in Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 (2001), there is evidence to suggest that there were a number of football matches in no man’s land between the British and the Germans, however, it was not widespread. Weintraub pointed to examples where the Germans refused to participate and the British played the matches alone. Yet, the idea that soldiers ceased hostilities and played football during the season of peace and goodwill to all men holds a certain charm for modern audiences. It allows for the myths and widespread interpretations which have existed since the war to endure. This being, that the soldiers of 1914 were just ordinary men fighting a war that they did not want, forced to fight by politicians who did not understand, or care, about the horrors of war.

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Censorship and Propaganda in World War I: A Comprehensive History

Reviewed by Pip Gregory.

Eberhard Demm’s Censorship and Propaganda takes on a vast task in attempting to provide a comprehensive insight into First World War propaganda. There is an abundance available out there, across all combatant nations, and its relationship with censorship adds further levels of complexity. There are studies that address aspects thereof, but tying that all together is a daunting task. Demm’s new book builds upon his fabulous articles for the online encyclopaedia 1914-1918, plus a number of other works. This new and highly comprehensive volume presents a depth of analysis around propaganda; its design, influence and those who controlled and contributed to it, as well as considering its impact, and legacy that has otherwise been lacking in other studies. Naturally, within Demm’s study of both censorship and propaganda there are aspects for which there is more evidence available, namely the propaganda, and others less so, but what evidence Demm has found he has utilised effectively to demonstrate the value of the widespread of wartime propaganda and its partner in (avoiding) crime, censorship.

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Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Reviewed by Kate Docking.

Reckonings, authored by Mary Fulbrook, analyses the various implications of Nazi atrocities on both an individual and state level. A key aspect of the book explores how the judicial punishment of those involved in National Socialist persecution in the decades following the war could vary vastly between states. The stories of Rudolf Zimmerman and Walter Thormeyer provide a particularly poignant example of this. Zimmerman lived a seemingly innocuous life before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Residing in a village near the city of Mielec in Poland, Zimmerman helped his father’s farming business. When the SS came to Mielec, Zimmerman soon became involved in Nazi atrocities; he murdered Jews, and was later also involved in selections and deportations. After the war, Zimmerman became a ‘model’ socialist citizen in East Germany; he even acquired awards for his work. However, Zimmerman’s dark past soon caught up with him. He was arrested by East German authorities in 1966, put on trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. Walter Thormeyer, who was Zimmerman’s superior during the war, was tried in West Germany, and received a lesser sentence; he was condemned to twelve years in prison, in spite of the copious amount of evidence pertaining to his participation in murderous crimes. The cases of Thormeyer and Zimmerman are reflective of how East and West Germany often adopted different approaches to the handling of those involved in Nazi crimes; harsher punishments were (generally) dealt out in the GDR, whereas the Federal Republic embodied a more lenient approach.

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Keep Smiling Through: British Humour and the Second World War: Conference Report

Written by Ellis Spicer.

In the current political climate of upheaval and uncertainty, it was certainly agreed by all that some light relief was in order. Therefore, on the 12th and 13th September, scholars covering a truly international spectrum gathered at the University of Kent for a symposium on British humour and the Second World War – entitled ‘Keep Smiling Through’. Organised by Dr Juliette Pattinson of the University of Kent and Dr Linsey Robb of Northumbria University, the two days promised engaging with the many ways war could, in fact, be quite amusing.

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Monarchies and the Great War

Reviewed by Mario Draper.

The First World War has frequently been described as a watershed moment. Arthur Marwick, for instance, famously put forward the notion that the resultant social, economic, and political change qualified it as the first total war. The impact on the institution of monarchy was no less dramatic, with the abrupt demise of the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Habsburgs, as well as the resultant fall of the Ottoman dynasty a few years later. Nevertheless, a systematic study of monarchy’s role and influence during the First World War has received relatively little attention. This is all the more evident in terms of comparative history, where even The Cambridge History of the First World War only tackles the question of monarchy within the framework of civil-military relations (the autocracy vs democracy debate), which naturally extends its scope to include a study of the participating republics. To this end, Matthew Glencross and Judith Rowbotham’s conference and ensuing published proceedings, Monarchies and the Great War, provides a useful addition to the plethora of publications that have accompanied the Centenary of the First World War.

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Does Terrorism Work? A History

Reviewed by Megan King.

Richard English’s Does Terrorism Work? provides readers with an extensive, yet unwaveringly insightful probe into whether or not the employment of terrorism can accomplish the intended goals of its perpetrators. As a political historian, English emphasizes the need for a cross-disciplinary, yet historically grounded approach to the study of terrorism and responses to terrorism accompanied by a meticulously developed framework for assessment. Accordingly, English draws on concepts and approaches from traditions such as political science, international relations, philosophy, and geography. In strengthening and expanding his survey, the bulk of this work utilizes four case studies of non-state terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, the Provisional IRA (PIRA), Hamas, and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) or Basque Homeland and Freedom. Although it indeed possesses a mildly misleading title, this study is intended not as an answer to the question, ‘Does terrorism work?’ but rather as a means of opening that inquiry up for debate and advancing the study of terrorism and the discussion of its efficacy. As such, this enthralling and informative work will make a substantial contribution to the bookshelf of scholars and casual social scientists alike.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and the Family Connection

Written by Ann-Marie Foster.

The amount of personal mementoes brought to centenary events proved that family objects are at the core of many people’s understanding of the First World War. And why wouldn’t they be? These are objects that people associate with family members, use to tell stories about the past, and want to preserve for future generations. These family connections are present in many objects. Handkerchiefs, trench art, and postcards, are all examples of items which families kept as they reminded them of their loved ones. This blog focuses on one of the most enduring forms of family memorial item: the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque.

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On Reading an Account of the Battle of Britain without Words

Written by Tony Pratley.

The story of the Battle of Britain, when written down, almost always begins with a quote.  It is not a rule, more a convention.  ‘What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’ Winston Churchill’s famous declaration even introduced the opening title sequence of the film Battle of Britain (1969).  Chroniclers in search of something less common do have plenty of choice.  King George VI, ‘I feel happier that we have no allies to be polite to and pamper.’  Air Chief Marshall Dowding, ‘thank God we are alone now.’  Even Hermann Goering, ‘we’d forgotten the English fought best with their backs to the wall.’ Any one of these quotes will do and it will set the narrative agenda, telling the reader that the story to follow will be about an extraordinary episode in the life of an exceptional nation.   It is an oft-repeated tale – a myth, a ‘memory’, a confection of fact and fiction. Whatever it is, though, is of little concern here. I am more interested in the story-teller.  This is because, since the beginning of the 1990s, there have been more and more occasions when words won’t do.  Such an occasion will be outdoors and involve a crowd numbered in the thousands, and then a Spitfire flypast will do very well instead.

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Nineteenth-Century Guerrilla and Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Conference Report

Written by Tom Lawrie. The overall historiography of insurgency and counter-insurgency is generally both Eurocentric and regionalist, lacking a truly definitive, overarching study of global guerrillaism and the general response from established authorities. This two-day symposium organized by Mark Lawrence and the Centre for the History of War, Media and Society pledged to put the study of insurgency and counter-insurgency in a truly global context, bringing in papers that focussed not only on the cradle…

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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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