Lloyd George and the Generals

Lloyd George and the Generals

Lloyd George and the Generals

Lloyd George and the Generals

Synopsis

The frustrating stalemate on the western front with its unprecedented casualties provoked a furious debate in London between the civil and military authorities over the best way to defeat Germany. The passions aroused continued to the present day. The mercurial and dynamic David Lloyd George stood at the centre of this controversy throughout the war. His intervention in military questions and determination to redirect strategy put him at odds with the leading soldiers and admirals of his day.

Professor Woodward, a student of the Great War for some four decades, explores the at times Byzantine atmosphere at Whitehall by exhaustive archival research in official and private papers. The focus is on Lloyd George and his adversaries such as Lord Kitchener, General Sir William Robertson, and Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig. The result is a fresh, compelling and detailed account of the interaction between civil and military authorities in total war.

Excerpt

The British victory in World War I, achieved at immense human and material cost, failed to create a better world and led to widespread disillusionment. Had victory been worth the ghastly slaughter, and of equal importance, had the war been conducted along right lines? Scapegoating flourished in Britain as both civil and military leaders censured their rivals about their alleged blunders. Chief among the combatants were David Lloyd George and the generals, who resumed their wartime disputes in the publishing houses. This war of paper bullets had begun almost as soon as the guns fell silent, with the liberal editor A.G. Gardiner initiating the fray on November 30 with an article in the Daily News headlined “MR. LLOYD GEORGE AND UNITY OF COMMAND: A LEGEND AND THE TRUTH, ” which attempted to strike down the notion that Lloyd George had “won the war.” The generals and their sympathizers soon followed Gardiner into print with polemical accounts of Lloyd George's role in the war. The view that the generals had won the war in spite of Lloyd George was canonized in the British official history of the war compiled by BrigadierGeneral James E. Edmonds. To be sure, Lloyd George had his defenders. None proved more one-sided than the Welshman himself, who portrayed the generals in his memoirs as inept and stupid. Nor has time stilled the passions aroused by Britain's deadliest war. Witness the angry reaction to the simplistic musical, Oh, What a Lovely War, which characterized the military authorities as callous butchers, and the running battle between John Terraine, the staunch defender of the “Westerner” Sir Douglas Haig, and the late Captain Liddell Hart and his disciples, apostles of indirect strategy.

Too rarely have these often partisan accounts added to our understanding of the how and why of decisions affecting the lives of tens of thousands of British soldiers. Considerable literature exists on both Lloyd George and the higher direction of the Great War, yet access to many private and official papers sealed until the mid-1960s or later permits a fresh and more balanced look at Lloyd George's controversial role in military affairs and his frequently antagonistic relationship with the British high command, which his “Eastern” or indirect strategy exacerbated. The wealth of new material makes possible a detailed description of how civil and military authorities grappled with the problems of fighting a world war which centered around a

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