Seven million soldiers were slaughtered in the First World War, and thirteen million civilians perished through the diseases and malnutrition brought on by the fighting; the imperturbability of the statesmen involved became notorious to later generations. A stiff-upper lip mentality was not peculiar to the British; the idea that the burdens had to be endured without complaint was shared by the other Allies and by the Central Powers. A feeling that national honour was at stake was potent. Nor could the ruling élites in each belligerent state ever forget that defeat would almost certainly bring their rule to an end. Most conscripts, moreover, were drawn from Europe’s working classes and peasantries. The dangers of discontent with the worsening conditions in town and countryside were obvious to ministers. The upper and middle classes were affected also, since military officers were killed in their tens of thousands. The politicians knew this; but their offices were in London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Petrograd, hundreds of miles from the muddy, dispiriting, blood-stained trenches. Ministerial visits by a Lloyd George or a Clemenceau were fleeting episodes. Furthermore, the various military high commands were baffled by the stationary form taken by the war on both Western and Eastern fronts. In the first couple of years of the fighting it seemed that there was no strategic alternative to the man-hungry trench cross-fire that raged on both fronts.
KeywordsPolitical Life Central Committee Socialist Party Socialist Revolution Fellow Member
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