their trees." As in most war, the first casualty was the truth. When Europe slid from a nervous peace into raging war, almost everyone anticipated a brisk, spectacular and triumphant campaign. In the summer of July 1914, war was a great and glorious suggestion. Not yet real, a 'good ole biff' was a glamorous image that appealed to soldiers and civilians alike. Indeed, attitudes towards war were most enthusiastic and joyous amongst almost everybody in both Britain and Germany.
It had been a long time since either side had experienced a real war. For Britain, it had been a century since any large-scale violence. Not since 1871 had any German seen a bloody battle. As it was, not even anybodies great grandfather could tell the people what it is like to live in war. By 1914, enough time had passed for the ugliness of war to be clouded by romance. A joyous crusading mood swept Europe as the righteousness of each nation was indubitable. It was built into the psyche of Britain and Germany that it was the other side that was up to no good and stirring for a fight.
Everybody willfully accepted that it war guilt was completely on the hands of the enemy. Prime Minister Asquith of Britain announced to parliament, "No nation has ever entered a great conflict with a clearer conscience or stronger conviction to defend principles vital to the civilized world." Ironically, claims to righteousness were echoed in Germany. Popular culture, in the form of poetry, novels and cartoons, celebrated the arrival of a chance to show the greatness of your nation. In Germany in particular, the whole population had embraced the culture of war with books and poems celebrating its glory topping the best-seller lists.
British writers and artists also exploited the hunger for war. Patriotism, bordering on racism, was the theme of almost everything. Thomas Hardy's popular poem, Men Who March Away referred to the German people as "braggarts" and claimed, "They surely must bite the dust." Boy's magazines, immensely popular at the time, stereotyped the Hun as deviously mustached always plotting some evil scheme to ruin the world.
Another good indicator to the high-spirited attitudes was the unprecedented volunteering to fight. In the euphoric climate of blind patriotism, Kitchener's call to arms was eagerly answered. In fact in this time of war romance, the worry among men was the war would be over before they had time to get involved in such an appealing cause. One man wrote: "I feel restless, excited, eager to do something for the desperate cause of England." Justification for enlisting was obvious. Another man wrote: "It should not be seen as un-Christian to carry a gun when one uses it to carry out God's will." AJP Taylor describes it as "the greatest surge of willing patriotism ever recorded."
With God on their side, and the "Women of Britain saying go", the men of Europe happily dived face first into the war. So with hysterical nationalism thwarting logic and cool thought, the ancient motto of dulce et decorum est came into the fore. Latin for it is sweet and honourable to die for one's country; all encouraged this old virtue. So it was that the naïve men of Europe marched off amidst wild parades of frenzied patriotism. Unfortunately, they would not be home for Christmas.
Four months of fighting passed. Christmas came and Kitchener's sobering yet logical July prediction was realized. By the time Christmas trees were going up, Germany's Schlieffen Plan had failed, the race to the sea had ended, a 700km trench line had been dug, the machine gun's deadly effectiveness had been observed, and the flower of the French and British armies had been decimated lying dead in Belgium and France.
The ugly stalemate was completely contradictory with to the image of splendid warfare promoted in August. The glamorous promises made by the Kaiser and King turned out to be a lie. Instead of enjoying...