The Nations old ways of life and thought perished in the mud of Flanders

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Last updated: November 10, 2019

World War One, the first global war that the world experienced, brought with it a concept of total war; where the entire nation focused its activities to the war effort as opposed to solely the arms forces as had been the norm in prior conflicts. This resulted in an extreme change temporarily in ways of life and thoughts, as outlined in the question, and, arguably resulted in more permanent consequences.The question uses ‘the mud of Flanders’ as a metaphor for the horrific fighting of the First World War and uses the term ‘perished’ which signifies that the ways of thought and life were changed unalterably, abruptly resulting in permanent changes throughout Great Britain.

This suggests that the First World War saw a rate of change in style of living that far exceeds the rate of change prior to, and following, the four years in which the war took place.It is for this reason that I hypothesise that the view that ‘The Nations old ways of life and thought perished in the mud of Flanders’ is invalid: because the war is surrounded by a period of change; from the industrial revolution, to the decline of the British empire, it is simplistic to assume that the war was the sole cause of a the great change in ways of life and thought, as it was merely part of a general trend throughout the twentieth centaury that saw an end to colonisation, and put into place organisations such as the League of Nations, primarily, and latterly the United Nations and the European Union.Ways of Life A change that undoubtedly took place within the time period of the First World War was the demise of the Liberal Party, and the coinciding rise of the newly formed Labour Party. This brought upon a great change in British politics and thus in British ways of life.

The Liberal Party went from a landslide election in 1906, with 377 seats, to less than half this value of seats and a third place finish in1918.The Labour Party’s fortunes were to the contrary; from being a small party in 1914, only being founded 14 years previously, with only 42 MPs, they had overtaken the Liberal Party in the 1918 elections and have remained one of the top two parties, along with the Conservative Party, ever since, with the Liberal Party never having won an election since. One view is that the war was the cause of the political change, as T. Wilson’s ‘The downfall of the Liberal Party’ illustrates: ‘The outbreak of the First World War initiated a process of disintegration in the Liberal Party which by 1918 had reduced it to ruins’.

It is easy to see how this opinion can be achieved: the number of MPs that the Liberal Party held in elections prior to and after the war provide significant evidence that suggests that this interpretation is correct; the First World War became an increasingly unpopular conflict and blame was placed heavily at the feet of the Government; political decisions made during the war proved erroneous as high ranking army officials, appointed by the government, often proved incompetent and outdated which further added to the government’s unpopularity.However, it can also be argued that the war did not cause the decline of the Liberals and the rise of the Labour party, it merely coincided with the process. K Laybourne expresses the view ‘The problem is one of assessing the point at which the process of change became inexorable. In this respect, it is clear that the process of political change was well established before the First World War’.This view is furthered by McKibbin’s ‘The evolution of the Labour Party 1910-1924’ in which he states: ‘I have argued that the Labour Party cannot be seen as a declining force before 1914, but that, on the contrary, it was already successfully mobilising working-class support at the expense of the Liberals’. These views become valid to a greater extent when it is taken into account that in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed that gave the vote to all men and women over thirty, including the working class, who previously did not posses this capability, who make up the majority of the Labour vote.This suggests that the war bore no relevance to the rise of the Labour Party, and it was merely a change in the laws concerning voting that allowed them to become a leading party.

The fact that the two parties were fighting for the same, anti-conservative, vote identifies the reality that it was as much the decline of the Liberal Party that brought about the rise of the Labour Party as it was that the rise of the Labour Party brought about the decline of the Liberal Party.This further suggests that the parties’ opposing fortunes were not created by the war. Conclusion It is evident that the war did hasten the process of political change quite considerably. It is also evident that a war is not going to make intelligent people decide not to support a party for almost a century after the conflict has ended. It will however serve to illustrate that a party’s ideals and ways of operating are defunct; that is to say that the Liberal Party’s ideal of minimum interference no longer had a place in British politics.The rise of the Labour Party was inevitable as the working class was given the vote, as was the demise of the Liberal Party as their beliefs became outdated; however a war was needed to give the public an illustration of how liberality no longer worked in modern Britain and therefore allowed Labour to overtake the Liberal Party in the 1918 election.

Ways of Thought The Great War undoubtedly affected the way people thought at the time that it took place but it is questionable whether the war has caused the United Kingdom to change the way in which it has thought irrevocably.A major way in which the war changed the way in which people thought is in that it changed the belief of glory, which had been a common place view of war, to one of tragedy, and with it the very way that people remembered the dead. World war one was a hugely costly conflict for Great Britain, resulting in 0. 9 million deaths and what is often known as a ‘lost generation’, a generation of young men were lost to the war effort.

It was therefore extremely difficult for people to view the war as a glorious victory, but more as a tragic loss of life, and since World War One no war in British history has been held in such esteemed glory as battles such as the charge of the light brigade or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It is undoubted that following World War One attitudes did change towards the waste of life experienced in any war. After the war memorials were erected throughout the country, a list of names in almost every settlement of the country, in remembrance of the sacrifice that men had made for King and Country.A national day of remembrance was designated on the 11th of November (the date that the armistice was agreed in 1918) so that the men that died would never be forgotten and the country would always remember the tragedy that was the Great War. Since then subsequent wars have added names to plaques and the occasion has extended to a general day of remembrance; however, the reason that it exists is due to the First World War.One million men had died and the country mourned and continues to remember those men that gave their lives. It could be argued, however, that had it not been for other battles that have been fought since, that the culture of remembrance that arose from the war would not have lasted for nearly a century as it has done; it would have fallen by the wayside as a piece of ancient history, contrary to it being revived by endless conflicts and wars as it has been.

This is most likely true but equally it is unlikely that the Second World War, or any other conflict, would have been remembered in anything like the way it has been had it not been for the First World War. During the Great War Great Britain lost far more men than in the Second World War and it is, unlike many other nations, for whom the Second World War proved to be a greater tragedy, Britain’s greatest loss of life to date and as a result is foremost in the factors leading to a retained culture of remembrance for the dead.Conclusion Undoubtedly World War One has not only instilled a culture of remembrance in the nation as a whole but it has changed the way we view conflict, war is now viewed as an occasion of tragedy. Although subsequent wars have added to the change in the way people remember the dead the First World War is where the initial change took place and without that conflict it is unlikely that such respect would still be paid to those that have fell in battle.The First World War showed people the realties of warfare, death; and the changes which it instilled have remained within the British psyche ever since, permanent changes that albeit never entirely changed the way the Nation has thought, has changed aspects of certain principles; such as the principle that many held, of the glory and honour of war, thereby affecting almost every future conflict that Britain has participated in.

The Second World War is an example of a conflict that was evidently affected by this shift in principles; as if the nation had still believed in the honour of dying in battle, and not in the preservation of young life, then it is undoubted that d-day would have occurred several years prior to 1944. This is just one example of how the changes in the ways of thought were permanent changes; however this is perhaps the only way in which ways of thought changed, in other respects, unrelated to the death of young soldiers, the war did not greatly affect the Nation’s philosophy.Final Conclusion Changes have taken place following World War One. Ways of life did change, and ways of though were significantly altered, however; ways of life were changing regardless due to the country modernising and the war simply served as a catalyst to quicken the process of change. The way that the country thought about war was changed permanently as did the way that death was remembered but nevertheless saying that ‘The Nations old ways of life and thought perished in the mud of Flanders’ is an exaggeration.

The First World War merely showed the people of Great Britain the tragedy of such a waste of life, not changing the entire way in which they thought, but merely identified the fact that wars are in fact horrific events that should be avoided wherever possible. In addition the war did not change irrevocably ways of life; it was a time of great political change and scientific advance, as are the majority of wars but it by no means changed the way in which the people of Britain operated from day to day with any significance great enough to state that old ways of life ‘perished’ in the mud of Flanders.

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