Frank Furedi is a British sociologist and author who has written an analysis of the Great War and its aftermath.

His latest book, published early in 2014, is called First World War: Still No End In Sight (Bloomsbury).

Furedi is also one of the main writers for Spiked, an online magazine, whose editor and contributors are, to a large degree, ex-Marxists. The magazine is libertarian in stance, opposing big government, state intervention and a therapeutic society.

When Furedi’s book was published, he wrote an article about his research for the Mail. Whilst some of his findings will come as no surprise to those of us over 40, they might do to a new generation who have been told some untruths about the war.

For those who have heard only the post-modern or revisionist story, it would be worth their while to watch a few of the documentaries currently on British television featuring old soldiers interviewed 10 and 20 years ago. Many were ready and willing to fight. They lied about their ages, enlisted to be with their friends and wanted to become men. In that era, unlike now, manhood was valued. A boy could not grow up quickly enough. Besides, at its outset, the war was only supposed to last until Christmas of 1914. What was the worst that could happen?

Furedi found that the British public also supported the war effort. Everyone wanted to play a part, including men involved in creative pursuits (emphases mine below):

Today we are used to cultural figures, from comedians to novelists, mocking or disdaining our country and its past. But in 1914, support for the war was so strong among creative types that they joined up in huge numbers.

Within weeks, the ‘artists’ rifles’ had no fewer than three battalions, made up of painters, musicians, architects and poets.

In those days, the government did not have to drum up popular support for war. It is not that Britain and her Allies were pumped-up warmongers. However, people knew that the Kaiser and Germany were a real threat to freedom, stability and industrial progress. More importantly, the British fought because they loved their country and wanted desperately to defend it.

a very different Britain existed then, one that had genuine patriotism at the centre of its society.

It was precisely because national pride was such a powerful social force in 1914 that there was a huge outpouring of public enthusiasm when war was declared.

While researching my new book on the  conflict, I was astonished to find how strongly this mentality gripped all sections of society, highlighted in the massive crowds that  gathered outside Buckingham Palace or in the surge of men volunteering at the recruitment stations, fired by a belief that militarism — in the form of the  Kaiser’s Germany — should not prevail in Europe.

the patriotism in schools was so fervent that Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government actually tried to damp it down, worried that it might spiral out of control.

An amateur historian knows that, in some cities and in some neighbourhoods, families with German names ending up being the subject of harrassment. This happened not only in Britain but elsewhere in other allied countries. Britain’s Royal Family was affected by the anti-German sentiment. They eventually changed their name. Wikipedia tells us:

The Mountbatten surname derives from the German town of Battenberg, in Hesse. Prince Louis of Battenberg Anglicised his surname to Mountbatten (its literal English translation) during the First World War at the request of King George V. When then-Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (the royal house of Denmark and Norway and the deposed royal house of Greece) took British citizenship, he used this surname since he descends from the Battenberg family through his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg.

The name Windsor was adopted by the British branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1917.

Of his research, Furedi says:

As we reach the centenary of the start of the conflict, we have become so used to the downbeat narrative of death and futility that we now ignore how popular the cause of fighting the Kaiser really was in 1914.

Amid the relentless focus on the horror of the trenches, we tend to disregard the historical reality that this was a war fought not only with remarkably bravery, but also with overwhelming public support.

Moreover, it was a struggle in which Britain and her Allies were ultimately successful, again a fact that is too often overlooked in the concentration on the shell-strewn mud and barbed-wire of Flanders. 

Whilst today we look only at the cost and put forward a revisionist narrative, Furedi says that Britons at the time would have viewed this war and its outcome rather differently in 1918:

In one classic example of this determination to downplay the British victory, a BBC news report in 2008 about the 90th anniversary of the war’s end introduced some archive footage with the claim that the crowds gathered in London could be seen ‘celebrating the peace agreement’ with Germany.

No, they were celebrating their country’s victory and the surrender of the enemy.

As for remembering the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War this year, Furedi laments what he finds:

When I talk to pupils about what they were taught about World War I, frequently I am dismayed at how students seem to know nothing beyond the usual tired clichés about the supposed inhumanity of General Haig and the gloom of the war poets.

There is rarely any recognition of other aspects of the struggle, like the naval war, the development of military aircraft or the introduction of the tank.

The jaundiced, remorseless negativity has infected all commemorations of the war’s beginning this year. A tone of hesitancy and nervousness has pervaded all discussions of the centenary.

There has been no official appetite for mounting any high-profile symbolic national events. Even the most minor steps to mark the moment are greeted with hostility.

I hope that Furedi helped to change young minds — and a few older ones — in his school visits.

He is also right in saying that we cannot even talk about this centenary — outside of the annual commemorations in November — because it is anathema.

Oh, the irony of thousands upon thousands of young men fighting to defend their country and all we can come with 100 years later is post-modern pacifism and censorship on the subject.

We need commemorations, education about how this war was seen when it took place as well as an honest discussion of its victories and horrors.

If that seems cruel or heartless, Germany was hardly sitting idle between 1914 and 1918. The conflict started when Germany invaded Belgium; Britain fought to defend Belgium.