This month, of course, is the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, the worst military slaughter in British history and perhaps the battle more than anything else that gave the First World War such an air of futility and waste in later assessments. I have on numerous occasions discussed books on here about that war and its myriad implications for Eastern Christians.
Almost a decade ago now, when it first came out, I read with great interest the historian Christopher Duffy, Through German Eyes: The British & the Somme 1916.
Duffy unearthed from Bavarian military archives fascinating and hitherto obscured German views of the British, whom the Germans held in condescending contempt as corrupt and decadent and the “poor little men of a diseased civilization.” Time and again the German interrogators could not believe that they were losing to an army they derided as filled with men of “crooked legs, rickety, alcoholic, degenerate, ill-bred, and poor to the last degree.”
This was not just Bavarian hubris, nor the infamous preening pride of the Prussian Junker class. Even as educated a woman as the philosopher Edith Stein, to my amazement when I read her reflections the same summer as reading Duffy, would flatly assert that “I believe I can assert objectively that since Sparta and Rome there has never been as strong a consciousness of being a state as there is in Prussia and the new German Reich. That is why I consider it out of the question that we will now be defeated.”