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(2002) German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial by Horne, J. and Kramer, A. and Conceiving Revolution: Irish nationalist propaganda during the First World War by Novick, B., reviewed in History Ireland, 10:2, Summer, 50-51

(2002) German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial by Horne, J. and Kramer, A. and Conceiving Revolution: Irish nationalist propaganda during the First World War by Novick, B., reviewed in History Ireland, 10:2, Summer, 50-51
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    Wordwell Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to History Ireland. Review Author(s): Angus Mitchell Review by: Angus Mitchell Source: History Ireland, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 47-48Published by: Wordwell Ltd.Stable URL: 28-09-2015 16:20 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  info/about/policies/terms.jspJSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact This content downloaded from on Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:20:48 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  German Atrocities, 1914?a history of denial John Home & Alan Kramer (Yale University Press, ?27.50) ISBN 0521582172 Conceiving Revolution?Irish Nationalist propaganda during the First World War Ben Novick (Four Courts Press, 24.95) ISBN 1851826203 The justification of war can be a bitter and acrimonious matter capable of driving regimes to desperate ends to maintain the moral high ground. One state's victory is often another people's atrocity and so it was with the First World War. Ninety years after one of the most traumatising events in mod ern history, which left nine million dead, the dust is finally starting to settle. Lay ers of prejudice are unravel ling as war-time mentalities are gradually dismantled. The release of new records offer new perspectives. As Europe draws together the old national hatreds disinte grate. Historical orthodoxies are challenged under the weight of new evidence. The official versions of history are now scrutinised as much for what they say as for what they omit to say. Most significantly, we are starting to understand the power of propaganda and its use and abuse in all national and international conflicts dur ing the last century. These two well-tuned, scholarly studies look at the bitter struggle for hearts and minds that was set in motion as the world went to war in 1914. They analyse the poli tics of propaganda and how the control of information and manipulation of memory distorted (and still distorts) understandings of events and the popular interpreta tions of crucial aspects of the first orld War. Both are ground-breaking contri butions to an emerging debate into one of the most gruesome arenas of modern times: the culture of atroci ties. In atrocity culture all is not always what it seems. 'Facts' are deliberately dis torted. Too often 'truth' is derived from uncritical and sensationalising journalism. The suppression of both contrary positions and unwelcome certainties enmeshed within the fabri cation of lies, help foster deceit and myth. The dark heart of atrocity culture is imprisoned within a vicious psychological engagement of accusation met by counter-accusation. John Home and Alan Kramer, both eminent histo rians attached to the depart ment of history at Trinity College Dublin, have thrown themselves into the vortex of the debate in n effort to divine what happened in Belgium in the first months of 1914. The basic thesis of German Atrocities is to work out who did what to whom. Home and Kramer's brief is to root out the 'beliefs, myth and cultural assumptions' and discover, like any histo rian worth their weight, what really happened. The book opens with the I disturbing narrative of the escalation of violence in August 1914 after the Ger man invasion. The Schlieffen Plan involved a million sol diers mobilised to enter Paris from the north. As the German army advanced through 'neutral' Belgium to the French frontier, reports emerged of a series of hor rendous engagements that shocked the world: Liege, Dinant, the destruction of the University Library of Louvain, the battle of the Ardennes. Lurid atrocity tales described the conduct of German soldiers. Rumours escalated. Graphic horror stories depicted apocalyptic images: the mass rape of nuns, the abuse of young girls, mutila tions and the severed hands of children. The accusations that Ger man soldiers were commit ting brutal 'atrocities' against innocent civilians were met by German counter-charges against the Belgians and French of atrocities committed by francs-tireurs [free-shooters] or irregulars, who mounted a guerilla war against Ger many's occupying forces. By September 1914 the moral battle lines were drawn and by the spring of 1915 a propaganda engage ment raged. Politicians, churchmen and intellectuals all fought to assert their ver sion of the 'truth'. Atrocity accusations became a cen tral part of war culture. While on one side there was a need to dehumanise the enemy and expose him as 'demonic', atrocities were also an important means of justifying military interven tion. Britain itself, after all, had entered the war to defend the rights of small nations. The culture of atrocity reports was rooted in the nineteenth-century anti-slav ery movement. The expo sure of abuses and atrocities helped Britain build up her global naval supremacy and gradually rid the world of the slave trade, only for it to be reinvented in a new form. Early in the twentieth centu ry, Leopold II, King of the Belgians, had been humiliat ed and disgraced when a series of official reports exposed his treatment of I Reviews tribal culture in his private fiefdom, the Congo Free State. In high circles of gov ernment, atrocity reports became useful political weapons and remain vital sources in narrating the long struggle for human rights. Realising the propaganda potential of German brutali ty, Britain moved swiftly and prime minister, Herbert Asquith asked the former chief secretary to Ireland and British Ambassador in Washington, James Bryce, to head up a commission and investigate alleged German outrages. The Bryce report (as it is generally referred to) revealed a catalogue of crime and used overtly sexu al and sadistic language to give the report added sensa tional appeal. This Blue Book was widely distributed by Britain's secret propagan da organisation, Wellington House. Over a million copies circulated throughout the world and the report became a powerful instru ment in bringing wavering countries in on the side of the allies. Germany, France and Belgium all followed with their own official ver sions of events as the tri bunal of world opinion tried to understand the abyss of conflict. Bryce was attacked at the time for using distorted wit ness evidence and for failing to cross-check facts as his training as both lawyer and historian should have demanded. Trevor Wilson remains one contemporary historian who questions some of the approaches of the report. It is also the case that the srcinal evidence, including both the testi monies and the captured diaries containing open Ger man confessions of their crimes, have disappeared, while the image of the sev ered hands was almost cer tainly a result of 'witness memory distortion'. While Home and Kramer do much to restore Bryce's reputation their work also reveals that there is no real evidence suggesting organ ised resistance to the Ger mans: most stories about HISTORY IRELAND Summer2002 47 This content downloaded from on Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:20:48 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  CORK C U P UNIVERSITY PRESS The P?trie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland By George P?trie Edited and Introduced by David Cooper A revised edition of a classic work featuring a new biographical essay on P?trie. Melodies are returned to the form that P?trie srcinally notated them and are cross-referenced with other major coilections. May 2002 1 85918 301 8 Cloth, 60.00/UK?45.00 240 x 160mm, 280pp, Music setting throughout Irish Migrants in Britain, 1815-1914: A Documentary History Edited y Roger wift An collection of documents detailing the Irish xperience in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, forming an invaluable resource for students of Irish history. May 2002 185918 236 4 240 x160mm, 360pp Cloth 57.25/UK?45.00 People Power? The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in the Northern Ireland Conflict By Feargal Cochrane and Seamus Dunn A critical examination of the impact of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland and their role in the political conflict and subsequent peace process. May 2002 ISBN: 85918 302 6 222 x 142mm, 32pp Cloth, 57.50/UK?45.00 British Intelligence in Ireland, 1920-1921: The Final Reports Edited by Peter Hart Confidential reports by Sir Ormonde Winter provide a uniquely personal, if flawed account of British Intelligence during the Irish revolution of 1920-1921 from 'the inside'. May 2002 185918 2011 Paperback 12.00/UK?8.95 198 x 128mm, 96pp, Irish Narrative Series Loyalism and Labour in Belfast The Autobiography of Robert McElborough, 1884-1952 Edited by Emmet O'Connor and Trevor Parkhill McElborough's autobiography records Protestant working class life, he mistreatment of workers and the divisions within Ulster trade unionism. May 2002 1 85918 278 X Paperback 12.00/UK?8.95 198 x 128mm, 96pp, Irish Narrative Series A Viceroy's Vindication? Sir Henry Sidney's Memoir of Service in Ireland , 1556-1578 Edited by Ciar?n Brady One of the earliest recorded political memoirs in English literature, richly etailing the life f a key figure in the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland. May 2002 1 85918 180 5 Paperback 12.00/UK?8.95 198 x 128mm, 96pp, Irish Narrative Series SPECIAL REVIEW Field Day Anthology f Irish riting olumes IV nd V: Irish omen's Writing nd Traditions Published October, 2002 Details of this landmark anthology, including a full list f authors and extracts, are now available at 48 HISTORY IRELAND Summer 2002 the francs-tireurs were noth ing more than imaginary anecdotes. In 1919, articles 227-232 of the treaty of Ver sailles were justified in con victing Germany of breaches of international law. The underlying conclusions of this pioneering work reach far beyond a reconfirmation of German atrocities. The analysis articulates how deep the roots of myth can extend and how hard it an be to demolish the far extended power of the lie. The most interesting propa ganda deceit circulated shows that 'gallant little Bel gium' was anything but gal lant and their civilian popu lation did little to resist. Ben Novick's Conceiving Revolution looks at a com pletely different spect of First World War propagan da: as part of the advanced nationalist armoury. In a long introductory chapter, Novick discusses propagan da theory and important recent developments, in par ticular the ground-breaking work by Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell in Propa ganda and Persuasion which outlines a methodology whereby propaganda may be evaluated. This is an area of study that has for too long remained a missing dimension of Irish history and as a result has impeded deeper understanding of the complex intellectual tradi tions, progressive outlooks and propagandist illusions underpinning the Easter Ris ing of 1916 and the millenni al vision of advanced nation alism. Novick's approach is the matic. Initial chapters are dedicated to the thorny and embittered question of recruitment leading on to the use of history in atrocity propaganda and how Sinn F?in used the war to under mine the British presence in Ireland. Many subversive newspapers which were closed down under the Defence of the Realm Act are used in evidence. These are the 'seditious' publica tions containing the journal ism of the 1916 leaders: James Connolly's Irish Work er and Worker's Republic; the overtly revolutionary Irish Freedom of Sean Mac Dermott, Bulmer Hobson and P.S. O'Hegarty?the mouthpiece of the IRB. The most innovative chapter entitled 'Youth, sex and Charlie Chaplin: moral tone and the Irish revolu tion' scrutinises the centrali ty of moral idealism within Irish revolutionary dis course and the construction of a new national identity. The prevailing image of Britain as an 'impure sink of perversion' contrasted with images of 'manliness' and 'virtue' promoted by the leadership of the Irish Vol unteers. The vision of the new Ireland was rooted in the Gaelic revival until the movement gradually turned militant through the activi ties of Na Fianna ?ireann and the philosophy of chivalry and armed resis tance espoused in its hand book. Moral rectitude was also vital in securing the bond between the new revo lutionary forces and the Catholic church. Novick finally faces gen eral themes of 'humour' and 'aggression' as a means of exploring what he defines as the 'brutalisation of dis course'. Here the angry tempo of propaganda is mapped as the pitiful tragedy of war drifted on leading to the democratic election of a revolutionary government in Ireland in the general election of 1918. Together these books help open a new vein of understanding in contempo rary history. They are des tined to sit beside pioneer ing works on the First World War inspired by David Fitz patrick's Politics and Irish Life (1977) and more recent contributions by Terence Denman and Thomas Doo ley. Above all they will help future generations of histori ans unravel the propaganda of the deed from the propa ganda of fact. Angus Mitchell This content downloaded from on Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:20:48 UTCAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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