Were World War One Soldiers Really ‘Lions Led By Donkeys’?

Were World War One Soldiers Really ‘Lions Led By Donkeys’?

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Close to one million men from Britain and the Empire were killed during World War One. But immediately after the war, the generals were celebrated as heroes. When Field Marshal Haig died in 1928, over a million people came to watch the funerary procession through the streets of London.

There was a service in Westminster Abbey, followed by the coffin being carried to Edinburgh, where it lay in the High Kirk of St Giles. The queue to see the coffin stretched for at least a mile, despite horrendous weather conditions.

Field-marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Kt, Gcb, Gcvo, Kcie, Commander-in-chief, France, From 15 December 1915. Painted at General Headquarters, 30 May 1917. Credit: IWM (Art.IWM ART 324) / Public Domain.

This legacy quickly became tarnished. David Lloyd George’s war memoirs quickly undermined Haig’s standing, and British generals during World War One became increasingly vilified in popular culture.

The famous stereotype is that of ‘lions led by donkeys’, the donkeys being the uncaring, incompetent generals, responsible for thousands of their mens deaths through sheer callousness.

There have been famous portrayals in recent years by Blackadder, with Stephen Fry playing the part of General Melchett, an incompetent commander in charge of Blackadder’s regiment.

In a fit of characteristic buffoonery, General Melchett retorts, against opposition to his plan to send the men into No Man’s Land aimlessly to die, that:

…doing precisely what we have done 18 times before is exactly the last thing they’ll expect us to do this time.

On the eve of the Battle of the Somme, cameraman Geoffrey Malins visited the front lines near Beaumont-Hamel to film footage of the troops as they prepared for the supposed, decisive offensive. He went on to film some of the most iconic footage of the battle. This short drama follows in the footsteps of Malins that fateful morning in 1916.

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Separating myth from reality

As with all historical myths, fragments of truth lie sown within a larger distortion of events. One myth suggests that the generals were so out of touch as to have no idea as what was actually happening on the frontline. For instance, General Melchett’s headquarters are located in a French Chateau 35 kilometres away from the trenches.

But that a majority of generals were out of touch is completely implausible in reality.

The generals knew exactly what was happening on the battlefields, but they were under pressure to produce results. With limited avenues for manoeuvre on the Western Front, there were few lines of attack that did not involve an assault directly across No Man’s Land.

Perhaps the best evidence that the generals had a good understanding of the pain and suffering their soldiers were going through is the death of the generals themselves.

Of the 1,252 British generals, 146 were wounded or taken prisoner, 78 were killed in action, and 2 were ordered the Victoria Cross for valour.

German soldiers of the 11th Reserve Hussar Regiment fighting from a trench, on the Western Front, 1916. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 136-B0560 / Tellgmann, Oscar / CC-BY-SA.

Mistakes from high command

This is not to suggest that generals were blameless. They did opt for tactical choices that jeopardised the lives of their men needlessly, and continued to do so throughout the war.

For instance, German general Erich von Falkenhayn created a plan to “bleed the French white” at Verdun. While Verdun had comparatively little strategic importance, Falkenhayn thought that the war could be won by exhausting French resources and manpower.

He committed thousands of German and French lives to what amounted to an extended bloodbath, in an attempt to win the war by attrition.

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson sits down with Dan to discuss his stunning new film They Shall Not Grow Old.

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At the Battle of Aubers Ridge, on 9 May 1915, the British were massacred trying to attack the Germans quickly.

This was an attack based on poor intelligence – the British commanders thought that the Germans had withdrawn many more troops to Russia than they actually had – and over 11,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded.

The scale of the deaths was so great that it brought about a complete rethink of the way that the British army conducted battles.

Again, at Gallipoli, generals caused heavy loss of life through tactical errors. General Sir Frederick Stopford was put in command, despite a lack of experience in the battlefields of World War One.

The landing was initially successful, securing the beachhead and catching the Turkish army by surprise.

However, Stopford ordered his men to consolidate their position on the beachhead instead of pressing the advantage, and allowed the Turks to reinforce their defences and inflict heavy casualties.

Dressing station at Gallipoli during WW1, 1915. Credit: Wellcome Library /CC BY 4.0.

These flaws were not exclusive to British army generals. The German army trained its officers with an assumption that once trained they would know intuitively how to respond to situations on the ground, which today is known as Auftragstaktik, or mission-type tactics. This made the already difficult task of coordinating movements over large frontiers even harder.

In the early advances of 1914 on the eastern front, General Hermann von François disregarded orders from Berlin not to attack the Russians and moved in when an opportunity presented itself.

This led to the battle of Gunbinnen, where the Germans were badly defeated and lost east Prussia. The panicked Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, withdrew men from the Western Front to send eastward, thereby weakening the planned western offensive.

The Austrian army fighting under General Oskar Potiorek in Serbia was given little guidance on matters such as infantry artillery coordination.

Their limited grasp of practical warfare came at a serious cost when the Serbians defeated them in a surprise night attack at the Battle of Cer causing Potiorek and his forces to withdraw from Serbia.

Dan joins Martyn Rady to discuss one of history's most thrilling families, the Habsburgs. Ruling for almost a millennium, their imperial vision was perhaps best realised in Emperor Frederick III's AEIOU motto: Austriae est imperare orbi universe, "Austria is destined to rule the world."

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The futility of war

The main reason that World War One battle lines rarely changed was not the incompetence of generals, but the impotence of offence in the face of determined defence. While it was possible to capture the frontline trenches, it was difficult to press any advantage.

Heavy casualties were often unavoidable in any offensive. The primary issue was that offensive troops moved at around 1-2 miles per hour, whereas defenders were able to use railway networks to move at around 25 miles per hour. In the same length of time, defenders could reinforce twenty times as fast as any offensive units could.

Communication also meant that the defenders had another edge in the conflict. The field commanders had little way of finding out which units had been successful in any push, and thus didn’t know where to send troops to support any breaches in the defensive line.

Defending commanders could use telephone lines to summon troops to the breach, while attackers had no way of doing the same thing. The smallest ‘trench radio’ required 6 men to carry it, and was thus completely impractical in No Man’s Land.

Dan explores HMS Caroline, the last surviving Royal Navy veteran of Jutland.

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The way that war was conducted and approached from a tactical and a strategic standpoint went through a series of important changes between 1914 and 1918.

Most armies began the war using outdated tactical ideas, and progressively changed them as new technologies and new ideas showed their worth.

Most of these approaches caused heavy casualties, and there was little manoeuvrability in this regard for generals. General Mangin, a French commander, remarked that ‘whatever you do, you lose a lot of men’.

Top image credit: Vladimir Tkalčić.

Lest we forget: the 306 ɼowards' we executed in the first world war

The piper had not finished his lament yesterday when the dragon's roar of London's traffic drowned out the unofficial Cenotaph service for those shot at dawn.

Eight decades on from the end of the First World War, the 306 British soldiers shot for desertion are still dishonoured, still shamed, still the subject of the official disapproval of Her Majesty's Government.

The microphone at the Cenotaph had been turned off, and the traffic kept at bay for only a brief moment by the police. The homage of Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay - 'We shall remember them' - was all but sabotaged as a silver Saab revved up and the exhaust of a souped-up superbike echoed across Whitehall.

We shall not remember them. We shall not remember Herbert Morrison, who was the youngest soldier in the West India Regiment when he was led in front of the firing squad and gunned down for desertion. A 'coward' at just 17.

We shall not remember the moment when Gertrude Farr went to the local post office in 1916 and was told: 'We don't give pensions to the widows of cowards.' She was left destitute, with a three-year-old and a four-month-old to feed.

We shall not remember the poor soldier who confessed: 'I haven't been the same since I scraped my best friend's brains from my face.' He, too, was shot at dawn.

To this day, the Ministry of Defence refuses to give a pardon to the 306, convicted of cowardice, though even in 1914 people knew all about 'shell shock' - what the modern world calls Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The daughter of Harry and Gertrude Farr was at the Cenotaph yesterday to hear the piper. Still fit and spry at 86 years, Gertrude Harris told of the agony of her father. He went over the top countless times from the day he joined up with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. He was shelled repeatedly, collapsed with the shakes in May 1915 and was sent to hospital. 'He shook all the time. He couldn't stand the noise of the guns. We got a letter from him, but it was in a stranger's handwriting. He could write perfectly well, but couldn't hold the pen because his hand was shaking.'

It is possible that Farr was suffering from hypacusis, when the ear drums are so damaged that the auditory nerve is exposed and the victim cannot physically bear loud noises. This is a condition familiar to people in Northern Ireland caught up in bomb explosions. Whatever his precise ailment, Farr was sent back to the front line.

He struggled on for months, and went through the Somme unscathed. But then something snapped within him. He was in a ration party, moving towards the front line, and he couldn't go on. He went to a dressing station and asked to see a medical orderly. He was told that he couldn't see an MO because he wasn't wounded. The sergeant-major was quoted in Farr's court martial papers saying: 'If you don't go up to the fucking front, I'm going to fucking blow your brains out.' Farr replied: 'I just can't go on.'

The court martial lasted 20 minutes. Farr defended himself. The decent doctor who had first got him to hospital had been injured and could not defend him. General Sir John Haig - one of the donkeys who led the lions - signed his death warrant. Farr was shot at dawn on 16 October 1916.

And that is not the worst. There was no war pension, only shame. Gertrude said yesterday: 'I only knew the truth about what happened to my father when I was 40. My mother never, ever spoke about it. She was destitute, and we both went into service.'

The agony did not end with the executions. John Laister died two months ago at the age of 101. All his life he was tortured by the moment he was dragooned into a firing squad. He raised his rifle and, on the command, opened fire. The victim was a boy soldier who had been arrested for cowardice. Laister told BBC's Omnibus, to be broadcast tonight: 'There were tears in his eyes and tears in mine. I don't know what they told the parents.'

The historic shaming of men - and, consequentially, their women and children - happened in other countries too. In France and Germany men were shot for cowardice and desertion. But in the case of Germany, only 25, not 306. And in both countries that shame was lifted within a decade of the end of the war when official memorials were built.

Only in Britain do we continue to dishonour the victims of shell shock. The Government's argument echoes the one first set out by John Major. He told the Commons that pardoning the 'deserters' would be an insult to those who died honourably on the battlefield and that everyone was tried fairly.

Documents released under the 75-year-rule give the lie to the last point. Soldiers accused of cowardice were not given fair trials they were often not properly defended. The evidence against them was often contradictory. Tom Stones's great uncle, Sgt Will Stones of the Durham Light Infantry, was shot for desertion, but any reading of the case papers shows that no court today would have convicted him. Instead, he would probably have got a medal. He blocked the trench with a rifle, which had been sheathed on the orders of Major Bernard Montgomery. For this he was convicted of 'shamefully casting away his weapon in the face of the enemy'.

Thus far the Government has resisted appeals to give a Millennium Pardon for those shot at dawn. Mackinlay told The Observer yesterday: 'It appears there are still some Bufton Tuftons in the Ministry of Defence who resist this. None of the relatives want compensation, only justice and the return of the good name of their loved ones.'

Some of the executed were clearly under age. The Ministry of Defence defended this last barbarity in a letter dated 24 March 1999 to Shot At Dawn campaigner John Hipkin from MoD historian A. J. Ward. She wrote: 'You also state that a number of soldiers who were under-age were illegally tried and executed. This is not the case. Anyone over the age of 14 was deemed legally responsible for his actions and Army regulations provided no immunity from Military Law for an under-age soldier.'

That may have washed in 1918. For the Government to continue that defence of bureaucratic inertia in 1999 is as plain a disgrace as the silent microphone.

25 things you might not know about WWI

One hundred years after it began, the history of World War One is as relevant as ever. From the existence of the Free State of Bottleneck to the presence of female fighter pilots, RN brings you 25 facts you might not know about the Great War.

The Contested Beginning

1. After his motorcade was bombed on the day of his assassination, Archduke Franz Ferdinand suggested visiting the victims in hospital. Some in his car were concerned about the potential danger, but Oskar Potiorek, a member of Ferdinand's staff, is said to have shrugged it off, replying: 'Do you think Sarajevo is full of assassins?'

2. In August 1914, Andorra declared war on Germany. With no standing army and no navy, it wasn’t exactly an overwhelming force. At the time, the military of Andorra consisted of 10 part-time solders wielding ceremonial blank cartridges.

3. French leaders, who feared the new tactic of aerial bombardment, built a fake Paris north of the real city from wood and electric lanterns in order to confuse German pilots.

Lions and Donkeys

4. WWI was the first filmed war, and saw the emergence of film as a tool for propaganda. Kaiser Wilhelm II personally appeared in more than 60 shorts and documentaries.

5. A feature film of the Battle of the Somme which mixed documentary and staged footage was produced in early July 1916 and released in August to critical acclaim. Its theatrical run ended in October, while the battle continued for more than a month after the film closed.

6. As a result of the war Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia declared independence or came into their current day existence.

7. For some belligerents, the war was very long indeed. Andorra, which was one of the earliest states to declare war in 1914, was also one of the last to declare it over. With their demands left out of the Treaty of Versailles process, Andorra remained in a state of war with Germany until the start of World War II, some 25 years later.

8. In 1964, the West German government decided to backpay its Askari soldiers, African troops who had fought in WWI as part of colonial forces. Some 50 years on from the start of the war, hardly any Askari had any proof of service, and were instead made to perform the manual of arms (a series of weapon and formation manoeuvres) in German as a test to prove they had served. Not a single one failed.

The Enemy Within

9. One of the earliest casualties of WWI was the German language in America. In 1914, German was the second most widely spoken language in the US, and was taught in schools and used by some newspapers. At the height of the war, German street names were changed and German books burnt.

10. The House of Windsor (the UK royal family) used to be the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha until anti-German sentiment during the war forced King George V to change his family’s name.

The View from Berlin

11. Germany and Austria-Hungary were the first countries in the world to introduce daylight saving time, which they called sommerzeit and used to conserve coal during wartime. The practice quickly caught on in other nations.

12. The unofficial national anthem of the German Empire until 1918, 'Heil dir im Siegerkranz', had the same tune as the British national anthem, 'God Save The Queen'.

13. POWs in Germany were sent to neutral Switzerland or Holland during the latter years of the war if they were ill or had problems with their nerves after prolonged imprisonment. By the end of the war, 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops were interned in Holland alone. Once there, they could pay to stay in hotels and officers were allowed to have their wives join them.

14. When he served in WWI, Adolf Hitler, like most Germans with facial hair, was sporting a full Kaiser moustache—twiddly points and all. Hitler was ordered to trim his existing facial hair down to the more iconic toothbrush to better fit his gasmask.

The Pen and the Sword

15. Louis Raemaeker was a Dutch painter and cartoonist whose anti-Kaiser works so angered the German government that a reward of 12,000 guilders was given for his capture (dead or alive). He was put on trial for ‘endangering Dutch neutrality’—what a crime.

16. Hugh Lofting, a member of the Irish Guards, often complained that any news from the front he could send back to his family was either ‘too dull or too horrible’ for them to hear. Instead, he wrote his children imaginative tales of a doctor who could speak to animals. These later formed the basis of the Dr Doolittle stories.

17. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to enlist at the age of 55, stating: ‘I am 55 but I am very strong and hardy, and can make my voice audible at great distances, which is useful at drill.’

18. WWI wasn’t a grand time to be a journalist the British War Office banned independent press reporting, as it was seen to help the enemy. They even threatened the death penalty for journalists unwise enough to try.

19. By 1916, British and Commonwealth troops were no longer allowed to have cameras in France.

Other Voices, Other Battles

20. Women were flying planes before and during the Great War. Some taught fighter pilots, while a handful of Russian women and one Belgian actually flew combat missions.

21. French aviatrix Marie Marvingt, also known as the ‘La fiancée du danger’, was the first woman in the world to fly combat missions. A world-class athlete who won multiple prizes in skiing, cycling, fencing, shooting and luge, she initially disguised herself as a man and joined the infantry. Once outed as woman, she was removed from the front and volunteered with the air force, flying bombing routes over Germany. When she died in 1963 she was the most decorated woman in the history of France.

22. In the US, Katherine and Marjorie Stinson trained over 100 Canadian cadet pilots at their San Antonio flying school. At the time, Katherine, who had been called ‘the flying schoolgirl’, was 24, while Marjorie was 18.

23. The Free State of Bottleneck, or Freistaat Flaschenhals, was a quasi-state that existed briefly after WWI due to a measurement error. When French and American forces were drawing up their zones of control in occupied Rhineland, the two zones didn’t quite touch, and thus Bottleneck was born. Home to some 17,000 people, it had its own passports, stamps and currency. There was no land or sea access to the state and though a train network ran through the capital, Lorch, trains weren’t permitted to stop, so most of the state’s income was derived from smuggling.

24. Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, were developed in WWI. The Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, devised as a kind of ‘aerial torpedo’, first flew on March 6, 1918.

25. The United States only got involved in the war after British cryptographers decoded a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman encouraging Mexico to invade the US. The British, seeing a chance to play their advantage, held on to the telegram for over a month before showing it to the US ambassador in London. The revelation of the telegram, along with Germany’s bullish submarine tactics in the Atlantic, led to the US joining the Entente forces. The US entry was not a political coup for President Woodrow Wilson, who had just been elected on the slogan ‘he kept us out of war.’

A timeline of facts from the Imperial War Museum's Terry Charman:

On June 28 and 29, RN presents The Great War: memory, perceptions and 10 contested questions to commemorate the centenary of World War One and Australia's place in it.

Animals in World War One, 1914-1918

A single soldier on his horse, during a cavalry patrol in World War I. At the start of the war every major army had a substantial cavalry, and they performed well at first. However, the development of barbed wire, machine guns and trench warfare soon made attacks from horseback far more costly and ineffective on the Western Front. Cavalry units did prove useful throughout the war in other theaters though, including the Eastern Front, and the Middle East.

The extent of the logistical apparatus that made the war feasible is almost impossible to imagine. Today, hundreds of tons of armaments remain to be discovered under the former battlefields of Belgium and France. The numbers and weights involved are vast: during the Battle of Verdun, for example, some 32 million shells were fired, while the British barrage preceding the Battle of the Somme fired some 1.5 million shells (in total, nearly 250 million shells were used by the British army and navy during the war).

Gas attack on the West Front, near St. Quentin 1918—a German messenger dog loosed by his handler. Dogs were used throughout the war as sentries, scouts, rescuers, messengers, and more.

Railways, trucks and ships transported these munitions for much of their journey, but they also relied on hundreds of thousands of horses, donkeys, oxen and even camels or dogs for their transport. Field guns were pulled into position by teams of six to 12 horses, and the dead and wounded carted away in horse-drawn ambulances.

The millions of men at the Front and behind the lines also had to be fed and supplied with equipment, much of which was again hauled by four-legged beasts of burden. Because of the deep mud and craters at the front, much of this could only be carried by mules or horses. Even the British army, which could boast that it was the most mechanised of the belligerent forces, relied largely on horse power for its transport, much of it organised by the Army Service Corps: by November 1918, the British army had almost 500,000 horses, which helped to distribute 34,000 tons of meat and 45,000 tons of bread each month.

German soldiers pose near a horse mounted with a purpose-built frame, used to accommodate a captured Russian Maxim M1910 machine gun complete with its wheeled mount and ammunition box.

Bandages retrieved from the kit of a British Dog, ca. 1915.

The animals themselves needed feeding and watering, and British horses had to carry some 16,000 tons of forage each month. In total, perhaps six million horses were engaged by all sides. Looking after these animals were specially trained soldiers, who knew how to care for such beasts from their jobs before the war, and who were also trained in modern methods of animal husbandry (although the level of training varied from army to army).

Without the millions of horses, mules and donkeys serving on the various fronts, the war of attrition would have been impossible. Losses through exhaustion, disease (such as infection from the tsetse fly in East Africa), starvation and enemy action were high. 120,000 horses were treated in British veterinary hospitals in one year, many of which were field hospitals.

A pigeon with a small camera attached. The trained birds were used experimentally by German citizen Julius Neubronner, before and during the war years, capturing aerial images when a timer mechanism clicked the shutter.

The resupply of horses and other animals was a major concern for the leadership of all sides. At the outbreak of the war, Britain’s horse population stood at under 25,000, and so it turned to the United States (which supplied around a million horses during the war), Canada and Argentina.

Germany had prepared for war with an extensive breeding and registration programme, and at the start of the war had a ratio of one horse to every three men. However, while the Allies could import horses from America, the Central Powers could only replace their losses by conquest, and requisitioned many thousands from Belgium, from invaded French territory and from the Ukraine. The difficulty of replacing horses arguably contributed to the eventual defeat of the Central Powers.

Unloading a mule in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1915. The escalating warfare drove Britain and France to import horses and mules from overseas by the hundreds of thousands. Vulnerable transport ships were frequent targets of the German Navy, sending thousands of animals to the bottom of the sea.

Despite the machine gun, barbed wire and trenches (or thick bushes in the Levant), cavalry proved to be remarkably effective during the conflict where mobile fighting could take place. Cavalry saw considerable action at Mons, and Russian cavalry penetrated deep into Germany during the early phases of the war. Cavalry were still occasionally used in their traditional role as shock troops even later in the war.

Cavalry were effective in Palestine, although were obstructed by thick bushes as much as by barbed wire. Cavalrymen from Britain and her colonies were trained to fight both on foot and mounted, which perhaps accounts for horses’ more frequent use by these armies than by other European forces during the conflict. But most military tacticians had already recognised that the importance of mounted soldiers had waned in the age of mechanised war, a shift that had already become apparent in the American Civil War.

Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. The Boston Bull Terrier started out as the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, and ended up becoming a full-fledged combat dog. Brought up to the front lines, he was injured in a gas attack early on, which gave him a sensitivity to gas that later allowed him to warn his soldiers of incoming gas attacks by running and barking. He helped find wounded soldiers, even captured a German spy who was trying to map allied trenches. Stubby was the first dog ever given rank in the United States Armed Forces, and was highly decorated for his participation in seventeen engagements, and being wounded twice.

Where cavalry regiments were maintained on the Western Front, many considered them a drain on men and resources, and futile in the face of machine guns. This was despite the esteem in which such regiments were still held in the traditional military mind, and the public popularity of the image of the dashing cavalryman.

Members of the Royal Scots Greys cavalry regiment rest their horses by the side of the road, in France.

As well as acting as beasts of burden or participants in the fighting, animals also played a vital role in communication. Trained dogs were used to carry messages from the front lines, especially by the German forces, and both sides made particularly heavy use of pigeons. Trained birds, which could fly at 40kph or faster, relayed messages back from the front lines to headquarters, often more reliably or securely than telecommunications or radio.

Naval ships, submarines and military aeroplanes routinely carried several pigeons to deploy in case of sinking or a crash landing. Mobile homing pigeon units acted as communication hubs, and in Britain pigeon fanciers assisted in breeding and training for the war effort. The French deployed some 72 pigeon lofts.

Pigeons also captured the popular imagination, with one American bird, ‘Cher Ami’, awarded a French medal for her service within the American sector near the town of Verdun. On her last mission she successfully carried her message, despite being shot through the chest, and purportedly saved the lives of 194 American soldiers with her news.

At Kemmel, West Flanders, Belgium. The effect of enemy artillery fire upon German ambulances, in May of 1918.

Animals also served important psychological functions during war. The military had long had a close association with animals, either as symbols of courage (such as lions), or through the image of the warrior and his horse. Similarly, the enemy could be depicted as an enraged beast, as Allied propaganda presented the German war machine. The Central Powers revelled in depicting the British Empire as a duplicitous, colonising ‘octopus’, an image that was in turn used against them by the French.

Regiments and other military groups often used animals as their symbol, emphasising ferocity and bravery, and also adopted mascots, both as a means of helping to forge comradeship and to keep up morale. A Canadian battalion even brought a black bear with them to Europe, which was given to London Zoo, where the creature inspired the fictional character of Winnie the Pooh.

Red Crescent Hospital at Hafir Aujah, 1916.

There are many stories of the close relationship between men and their animals, whether bringing a reminder of a more peaceful life at home on the farm or as a source of companionship in the face of the inhumanity of man. It is claimed that communications dogs were of little use among British soldiers, as they were petted too much and given too many rations from men in the trenches.

Close proximity also brought dangers to men at the front. Manure brought disease, as did the rotting bodies of dead horses and mules that could not be removed from the mud or no-man’s-land.

A corporal, probably on the staff of the 2nd Australian general hospital, holds a koala, a pet or mascot in Cairo, in 1915.

Animals at home also suffered. Many in Britain were killed in an invasion scare, and food shortages elsewhere led to starvation and death. Lack of horses and other beasts of burden sometimes led to the ingenious use of circus or zoo animals, such as Lizzie the elephant, who did war service for the factories of Sheffield. In total, the World War I in which 10 million soldiers died, also resulted in the deaths of 8 million military horses.

Turkish cavalry exercises on the Saloniki front, Turkey, March of 1917.

A messenger dog with a spool attached to a harness for laying out new electric line in September of 1917.

An Indian elephant, from the Hamburg Zoo, used by Germans in Valenciennes, France to help move tree trunks in 1915. As the war dragged on, beasts of burden became scarce in Germany, and some circus and zoo animals were requisitioned for army use.

German officers in an automobile on the road with a convoy of wagons soldiers walk along side the road.

“These homing pigeons are doing much to save the lives of our boys in France. They act as efficient messengers and dispatch bearers not only from division to division and from the trenches to the rear but also are used by our aviators to report back the results of their observation”.

Belgian Army pigeons. Homing pigeon stations were set up behind the front lines, the pigeons themselves sent forward, to return later with messages tied to their legs.

Two soldiers with motorbikes, each with a wicker basket strapped to his back. A third man is putting a pigeon in one of the baskets. In the background there are two mobile pigeon lofts and a number of tents. The soldier in the middle has the grenade badge of the Royal Engineers over the chevrons which show he is a sergeant.

A message is attached to a carrier pigeon by British troops on the Western Front, 1917. One of France’s homing pigeons, named Cher Ami, was awarded the French “Croix de Guerre with Palm” for heroic service delivering 12 important messages during the Battle of Verdun.

A draft horse hitched to a post, its partner just killed by shrapnel, 1916.

The feline mascot of the light cruiser HMAS Encounter, peering from the muzzle of a 6-inch gun.

General Kamio, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Army at the formal entry of Tsing-Tau, December, 1914. The use of horses was vital to armies around the world during World War I.

Belgian refugees leaving Brussels, their belongings in a wagon pulled by a dog, 1914.

Australian Camel Corps going into action at Sharia near Beersheba, in December of 1917. The Colonel and many of these men were killed an hour or so afterward.

A soldier and his horse in gas masks, ca. 1918.

German Red Cross Dogs head to the front.

An episode in Walachia, Romania.

Belgian chasseurs pass through the town of Daynze, Belgium, on the way from Ghent to meet the German invasion.

The breakthrough west of St. Quentin, Aisne, France. Artillery drawn by horses advances through captured British positions on March 26, 1918.

Western Front, shells carried on horseback, 1916.

Camels line a huge watering station, Asluj, Palestinian campaign, 1916.

A British Mark V tank passes by a dead horse in the road in Peronne, France in 1918.

A dog-handler reads a message brought by a messenger dog, who had just swum across a canal in France, during World War I.

Horses requisitioned for the war effort in Paris, France, ca. 1915. Farmers and families on the home front endured great hardship when their best horses were taken for use in the war.

In Belgium, after the Battle of Haelen, a surviving horse is used in the removal of dead horses killed in the conflict, 1914.

A dog trained to search for wounded soldiers while under fire, 1915.

Algerian cavalry attached to the French Army, escorting a group of German prisoners taken in fighting in the west of Belgium.

A Russian Cossack, in firing position, behind his horse, 1915.

Serbian artillery in action on the Salonika front in December of 1917.

A horse strapped and being lowered into position to be operated on for a gunshot wound by 1st LT Burgett. Le Valdahon, Doubs, France.

6th Australian light-horse regiment, marching in Sheikh Jarrah, on the way to Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, in 1918.

French cavalry horses swim across a river in northern France.

Dead horses and a broken cart on Menin Road, troops in the distance, Ypres sector, Belgium, in 1917. Horses meant power and agility, hauling weaponry, equipment, and personnel, and were targeted by enemy troops to weaken the other side — or were captured to be put in use by a different army.

War animals carrying war animals — at a carrier pigeon communication school at Namur, Belgium, a dispatch dog fitted with a pigeon basket for transporting carrier pigeons to the front line.

(Photo credit: Library of Congress / Bundesarchiv / Bibliotheque nationale de France / Text: Matthew Shaw).

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Each of the defeated nations signed a treaty with the Allies, most significantly the Treaty of Versailles which was signed with Germany, and which has been blamed for causing further disruption ever since. There was devastation across Europe: 59 million troops had been mobilized, over 8 million died and over 29 million were injured. Huge quantities of capital had been passed to the now emergent United States and the culture of every European nation was deeply affected and the struggle became known as The Great War or The War to End All Wars.

Military Commanders of World War One

Senior military commanders dictated the course of a battle. The commanders of the time stifled initiative and orders were expected to be obeyed to the letter. This led to the mentality that existed on all sides – send men over the trenches in huge numbers to fight the enemy. Some commanders, such as Russia’s Samsonov, failed to adapt to a modern mode of fighting. Haig, though he used the tank at the Somme, was deeply suspicious of it as a means of fighting. For the French commanders, fighting élan was enough to win the day – hence the slaughter at Verdun. However, it may well be that these commanders were also not guilty of incompetence (“lions led by donkeys”) but victims of the rapid industrialisation that took place in the world which resulted in modern and far more deadly weapons. Many of the commanders who led their armies in World War One were from a traditional cavalry background and brought the mentality of a cavalry commander into a war that saw, for the first real time, the mass use of the machine gun and hundreds of artillery guns on one battlefield.

  • Author : Houston Stewart Chamberlain
  • Publisher :
  • Release Date : 1915
  • Genre:
  • Pages : 24
  • ISBN 10 : OCLC:253020650
  • Author : Brian Tierney
  • Publisher : Random House (NY)
  • Release Date : 1977
  • Genre: Cold War
  • Pages : 88
  • ISBN 10 : WISC:89016865321

Battle Begins - July 1, 1916

Prior to the attack, the Allies launched a week-long heavy artillery bombardment, using some 1.75 million shells, which aimed to cut the barbed wire guarding German defenses and destroy the enemy’s positions. On the morning of July 1, 11 divisions of the British 4th Army (many of them volunteer soldiers going into battle for the first time) began advancing on a 15-mile front north of the Somme. At the same time, five French divisions advanced on an eight-mile front to the south, where the German defenses were weaker.

Allied leaders had been confident the bombardment would damage German defenses enough so that their troops could easily advance. But the barbed wire remained intact in many places, and the German positions, many of which were deep underground, were stronger than anticipated. Along the line, German machine gun and rifle fire cut down thousands of the attacking British troops, many of them caught in no man’s land.

Some 19,240 British soldiers were killed and more than 38,000 wounded by the end of that first day𠅊lmost as many casualties as British forces suffered when the Allies lost the battle for France during World War II (May-June 1940), including prisoners.


With the development and spread of Italian Fascism, i.e. the original fascism, the National Fascist Party's ideology was met with increasingly militant opposition by Italian communists and socialists. Organizations such as Arditi del Popolo [3] and the Italian Anarchist Union emerged between 1919 and 1921, to combat the nationalist and fascist surge of the post-World War I period.

In the words of historian Eric Hobsbawm, as fascism developed and spread, a "nationalism of the left" developed in those nations threatened by Italian irredentism (e.g. in the Balkans, and Albania in particular). [4] After the outbreak of World War II, the Albanian and Yugoslav resistances were instrumental in antifascist action and underground resistance. This combination of irreconcilable nationalisms and leftist partisans constitute the earliest roots of European anti-fascism. Less militant forms of anti-fascism arose later. During the 1930s in Britain, "Christians – especially the Church of England – provided both a language of opposition to fascism and inspired anti-fascist action". [5]

Michael Seidman argues that traditionally anti-fascism was seen as the purview of the political left but that in recent years this has been questioned. Seidman identifies two types of anti-fascism, namely revolutionary and counterrevolutionary: [6]

  • Revolutionary anti-fascism was expressed amongst communists and anarchists, where it identified fascism and capitalism as its enemies and made little distinction between fascism and other forms of authoritarianism. It did not disappear after the Second World War but was used as an official ideology of the Soviet bloc, with the "fascist" West as the new enemy.
  • Counterrevolutionary anti-fascism was much more conservative in nature, with Seidman arguing that Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill represented examples of it and that they tried to win the masses to their cause. Counterrevolutionary antifascists desired to ensure the restoration or continuation of the prewar old regime and conservative antifascists disliked fascism's erasure of the distinction between the public and private spheres. Like its revolutionary counterpart, it would outlast fascism once the Second World War ended.

Seidman argues that despite the differences between these two strands of anti-fascism, there were similarities. They would both come to regard violent expansion as intrinsic to the fascist project. They both rejected any claim that the Versailles Treaty was responsible for the rise of Nazism and instead viewed fascist dynamism as the cause of conflict. Unlike fascism, these two types of anti-fascism did not promise a quick victory but an extended struggle against a powerful enemy. During World War II, both anti-fascisms responded to fascist aggression by creating a cult of heroism which relegated victims to a secondary position. [6] However, after the war, conflict arose between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary anti-fascisms the victory of the Western Allies allowed them to restore the old regimes of liberal democracy in Western Europe, while Soviet victory in Eastern Europe allowed for the establishment of new revolutionary anti-fascist regimes there. [7]

Anti-fascist movements emerged first in Italy during the rise of Benito Mussolini, but they soon spread to other European countries and then globally. In the early period, Communist, socialist, anarchist and Christian workers and intellectuals were involved. Until 1928, the period of the United front, there was significant collaboration between the Communists and non-Communist anti-fascists.

In 1928, the Comintern instituted its ultra-left Third Period policies, ending co-operation with other left groups, and denouncing social democrats as "social fascists". From 1934 until the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Communists pursued a Popular Front approach, of building broad-based coalitions with liberal and even conservative anti-fascists. As fascism consolidated its power, and especially during World War II, anti-fascism largely took the form of partisan or resistance movements.

Italy: against Fascism and Mussolini Edit

In Italy, Mussolini's Fascist regime used the term anti-fascist to describe its opponents. Mussolini's secret police was officially known as the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism. During the 1920s in the Kingdom of Italy, anti-fascists, many of them from the labor movement, fought against the violent Blackshirts and against the rise of the fascist leader Benito Mussolini. After the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) signed a pacification pact with Mussolini and his Fasces of Combat on 3 August 1921, [8] and trade unions adopted a legalist and pacified strategy, members of the workers' movement who disagreed with this strategy formed Arditi del Popolo.

The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGL) and the PSI refused to officially recognize the anti-fascist militia, while the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'I) ordered its members to quit the organization. The PCd'I organized some militant groups, but their actions were relatively minor, and the party maintained a non-violent, legalist strategy. The Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni, who exiled himself to Argentina following the 1922 March on Rome, organized several bombings against the Italian fascist community. [9] The Italian liberal anti-fascist Benedetto Croce wrote his Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, which was published in 1925. [10] [ page needed ] Other notable Italian liberal anti-fascists around that time were Piero Gobetti and Carlo Rosselli. [11]

Concentrazione Antifascista Italiana (Italian Anti-Fascist Concentration), officially known as Concentrazione d'Azione Antifascista (Anti-Fascist Action Concentration), was an Italian coalition of Anti-Fascist groups which existed from 1927 to 1934. Founded in Nérac, France, by expatriate Italians, the CAI was an alliance of non-communist anti-fascist forces (republican, socialist, nationalist) trying to promote and to coordinate expatriate actions to fight fascism in Italy they published a propaganda paper entitled La Libertà. [12] [13] [14]

Between 1920 and 1943, several anti-fascist movements were active among the Slovenes and Croats in the territories annexed to Italy after World War I, known as the Julian March. [15] [16] The most influential was the militant insurgent organization TIGR, which carried out numerous sabotages, as well as attacks on representatives of the Fascist Party and the military. [17] [18] Most of the underground structure of the organization was discovered and dismantled by the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism (OVRA) in 1940 and 1941, [19] and after June 1941 most of its former activists joined the Slovene Partisans.

During World War II, many members of the Italian resistance left their homes and went to live in the mountains, fighting against Italian fascists and German Nazi soldiers. Many cities in Italy, including Turin, Naples and Milan, were freed by anti-fascist uprisings. [20]

Slovenians and Croats under Italianization Edit

The anti-fascist resistance emerged within the Slovene minority in Italy (1920–1947), whom the Fascists meant to deprive of their culture, language and ethnicity. [ citation needed ] The 1920 burning of the National Hall in Trieste, the Slovene center in the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Trieste by the Blackshirts, [21] was praised by Benito Mussolini (yet to become Il Duce) as a "masterpiece of the Triestine fascism" (capolavoro del fascismo triestino). [22] The use of the Slovene language in public places, including churches, was forbidden, not only in multi-ethnic areas, but also in the areas where the population was exclusively Slovene. [23] Children, if they spoke Slovene, were punished by Italian teachers who were brought by the Fascist State from Southern Italy. Slovene teachers, writers, and clergy were sent to the other side of Italy.

The first anti-fascist organization, called TIGR, was formed by Slovenes and Croats in 1927 in order to fight Fascist violence. Its guerrilla fight continued into the late 1920s and 1930s. [24] By the mid-1930s, 70,000 Slovenes had fled Italy, mostly to Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) and South America. [25]

The Slovene anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia during World War II was led by Liberation Front of the Slovenian People. The Province of Ljubljana, occupied by Italian Fascists, saw the deportation of 25,000 people, representing 7.5% of the total population, filling up the Rab concentration camp and Gonars concentration camp as well as other Italian concentration camps.

Germany: against the NSDAP and Hitlerism Edit

The specific term anti-fascism was primarily used [ citation needed ] by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which held the view that it was the only anti-fascist party in Germany. The KPD formed several explicitly anti-fascist groups such as Roter Frontkämpferbund (formed in 1924 and banned by the social democrats in 1929) and Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus (a de facto successor to the latter). [26] [27] [ need quotation to verify ] [28] [ need quotation to verify ] At its height, Roter Frontkämpferbund had over 100,000 members. In 1932, the KPD established the Antifaschistische Aktion as a "red united front under the leadership of the only anti-fascist party, the KPD". [29] Under the leadership of the committed Stalinist Ernst Thälmann, the KPD primarily viewed fascism as the final stage of capitalism rather than as a specific movement or group, and therefore applied the term broadly to its opponents, and in the name of anti-fascism the KPD focused in large part on attacking its main adversary, the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany, whom they referred to as social fascists and regarded as the "main pillar of the dictatorship of Capital." [30]

The movement of Nazism, which grew ever more influential in the last years of the Weimar Republic, was opposed for different ideological reasons by a wide variety of groups, including groups which also opposed each other, such as social democrats, centrists, conservatives and communists. The SPD and centrists formed Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold in 1924 to defend liberal democracy against both the Nazi Party and the KPD, and their affiliated organizations. Later, mainly SPD members formed the Iron Front which opposed the same groups. [31]

The name and logo of Antifaschistische Aktion remain influential. Its two-flag logo, designed by Max Gebhard [de] and Max Keilson [de] , is still widely used as a symbol of militant anti-fascists in Germany and globally, [32] as is the Iron Front's Three Arrows logo. [33]

Spain: Civil War with the Nationalists Edit

The historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote: "The Spanish civil war was both at the centre and on the margin of the era of anti-fascism. It was central, since it was immediately seen as a European war between fascism and anti-fascism, almost as the first battle in the coming world war, some of the characteristic aspects of which - for example, air raids against civilian populations - it anticipated." [34]

In Spain, there were histories of popular uprisings in the late 19th century through to the 1930s against the deep-seated military dictatorships. [35] of General Prim and the Primo de la Rivieras [36] These movements further coalesced into large-scale anti-fascist movements in the 1930s, many in the Basque Country, before and during the Spanish Civil War. The republican government and army, the Antifascist Worker and Peasant Militias (MAOC) linked to the Communist Party (PCE), [37] the International Brigades, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), Spanish anarchist militias, such as the Iron Column and the autonomous governments of Catalonia and the Basque Country, fought the rise of Francisco Franco with military force.

The Friends of Durruti, associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), were a particularly militant group. Thousands of people from many countries went to Spain in support of the anti-fascist cause, joining units such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the British Battalion, the Dabrowski Battalion, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Naftali Botwin Company and the Thälmann Battalion, including Winston Churchill's nephew, Esmond Romilly. [38] Notable anti-fascists who worked internationally against Franco included: George Orwell (who fought in the POUM militia and wrote Homage to Catalonia about his experience), Ernest Hemingway (a supporter of the International Brigades who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls about his experience), and the radical journalist Martha Gellhorn.

The Spanish anarchist guerrilla Francesc Sabaté Llopart fought against Franco's regime until the 1960s, from a base in France. The Spanish Maquis, linked to the PCE, also fought the Franco regime long after the Spanish Civil war had ended. [39]

France: against Action Française and Vichy Edit

In the 1920s and 1930s in the French Third Republic, anti-fascists confronted aggressive far-right groups such as the Action Française movement in France, which dominated the Latin Quarter students' neighborhood. [ citation needed ] After fascism triumphed via invasion, the French Resistance (French: La Résistance française) or, more accurately, resistance movements fought against the Nazi German occupation and against the collaborationist Vichy régime. Resistance cells were small groups of armed men and women (called the maquis in rural areas), who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers and magazines such as Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) during World War Two, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks. [ citation needed ]

United Kingdom: against Mosley's BUF Edit

The rise of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s was challenged by the Communist Party of Great Britain, socialists in the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, anarchists, Irish Catholic dockmen and working class Jews in London's East End. A high point in the struggle was the Battle of Cable Street, when thousands of eastenders and others turned out to stop the BUF from marching. Initially, the national Communist Party leadership wanted a mass demonstration at Hyde Park in solidarity with Republican Spain, instead of a mobilization against the BUF, but local party activists argued against this. Activists rallied support with the slogan They shall not pass, adopted from Republican Spain.

There were debates within the anti-fascist movement over tactics. While many East End ex-servicemen participated in violence against fascists, [40] Communist Party leader Phil Piratin denounced these tactics and instead called for large demonstrations. [41] In addition to the militant anti-fascist movement, there was a smaller current of liberal anti-fascism in Britain Sir Ernest Barker, for example, was a notable English liberal anti-fascist in the 1930s. [42]

United States, World War II Edit

There were fascist elements in the United States in the 1930s such as the Friends of New Germany, the German American Bund, the Ku Klux Klan, and Charles Coughlin. [43] [44] [45] During the Second Red Scare which occurred in the United States in the years that immediately followed the end of World War II, the term "premature anti-fascist" came into currency and it was used to describe Americans who had strongly agitated or worked against fascism, such as Americans who had fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, before fascism was seen as a proximate and existential threat to the United States (which only occurred generally after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and only occurred universally after the attack on Pearl Harbor). The implication was that such persons were either Communists or Communist sympathizers whose loyalty to the United States was suspect. [46] [47] [48] However, the historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written that no documentary evidence has been found of the US government referring to American members of the International Brigades as "premature antifascists": the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Strategic Services, and United States Army records used terms such as "Communist", "Red", "subversive", and "radical" instead. Indeed, Haynes and Klehr indicate that they have found many examples of members of the XV International Brigade and their supporters referring to themselves sardonically as "premature antifascists". [49]

Anti-fascist Italian expatriates in the United States founded the Mazzini Society in Northampton, Massachusetts in September 1939 to work toward ending Fascist rule in Italy. As political refugees from Mussolini's regime, they disagreed among themselves whether to ally with Communists and anarchists or to exclude them. The Mazzini Society joined together with other anti-Fascist Italian expatriates in the Americas at a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1942. They unsuccessfully promoted one of their members, Carlo Sforza, to become the post-Fascist leader of a republican Italy. The Mazzini Society dispersed after the overthrow of Mussolini as most of its members returned to Italy. [50] [51]

Burma, World War II Edit

The Anti-Fascist Organisation (AFO) was a resistance movement against the Japanese occupation of Burma and independence of Burma during World War II. It was the forerunner of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The AFO was formed at a meeting in Pegu in August 1944 held by the leaders of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the Burma National Army (BNA) led by General Aung San, and the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP), later renamed the Burma Socialist Party. [52] [53] Whilst in Insein prison in July 1941, CPB leaders Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe had co-authored the Insein Manifesto, which, against the prevailing opinion in the Burmese nationalist movement led by the Dobama Asiayone, identified world fascism as the main enemy in the coming war and called for temporary cooperation with the British in a broad allied coalition that included the Soviet Union. Soe had already gone underground to organise resistance against the Japanese occupation, and Than Tun as Minister of Land and Agriculture was able to pass on Japanese intelligence to Soe, while other Communist leaders Thakin Thein Pe and Thakin Tin Shwe made contact with the exiled colonial government in Simla, India. Aung San was War Minister in the puppet administration set up on 1 August 1943 which also included the Socialist leaders Thakin Nu and Thakin Mya. [52] [53] At a meeting held between 1 and 3 March 1945, the AFO was reorganised as a multi-party front named the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. [54]

Poland, World War II Edit

The Anti-Fascist Bloc was an organization of Polish Jews formed in the March 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto. It was created after an alliance between leftist-Zionist, communist and socialist Jewish parties was agreed upon. The initiators of the bloc were Mordechai Anielewicz, Józef Lewartowski (Aron Finkelstein) from the Polish Workers' Party, Josef Kaplan from Hashomer Hatzair, Szachno Sagan from Poale Zion-Left, Jozef Sak as a representative of socialist-Zionists and Izaak Cukierman with his wife Cywia Lubetkin from Dror. The Jewish Bund did not join the bloc though they were represented at its first conference by Abraham Blum and Maurycy Orzech. [55] [56] [57] [58]

After World War II Edit

The anti-fascist movements which emerged during the period of classical fascism, both liberal and militant, continued to operate after the defeat of the Axis powers in response to the resilience and mutation of fascism both in Europe and elsewhere. In Germany, as Nazi rule crumbled in 1944, veterans of the 1930s anti-fascist struggles formed Antifaschistische Ausschüsse, Antifaschistische Kommittees, or Antifaschistische Aktion groups, all typically abbreviated to "antifa". [59] The socialist government of East Germany built the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the Eastern Bloc referred to it officially as the "Anti-fascist Protection Rampart". Resistance to fascists dictatorships in Spain and Portugal continued, including the activities of the Spanish Maquis and others, leading up to the Spanish transition to democracy and the Carnation Revolution, respectively, as well as to similar dictatorships in Chile and elsewhere. Other notable anti-fascist mobilisations in the first decades of the post-war period include the 43 Group in Britain. [60]

With the start of the Cold War between the former World War II allies of the United States and the Soviet Union, the concept of totalitarianism became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse as a tool to convert pre-war anti-fascism into post-war anti-communism. [61] [62] [63] [64] [65]

Modern antifa politics can be traced to opposition to the infiltration of Britain's punk scene by white power skinheads in the 1970s and 1980s, and the emergence of neo-Nazism in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Germany, young leftists, including anarchists and punk fans, renewed the practice of street-level anti-fascism. Columnist Peter Beinart writes that "in the late '80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action (ARA) on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than they would be with fighting fascism". [66]

In Germany Edit

The contemporary antifa movement in Germany comprises different anti-fascist groups which usually use the abbreviation antifa and regard the historical Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifa) of the early 1930s as an inspiration, drawing on the historic group for its aesthetics and some of its tactics, in addition to the name. Many new antifa groups formed from the late 1980s onward. According to Loren Balhorn, contemporary antifa in Germany "has no practical historical connection to the movement from which it takes its name but is instead a product of West Germany's squatter scene and autonomist movement in the 1980s". [67]

One of the biggest antifascist campaigns in Germany in recent years was the ultimately successful effort to block the annual Nazi-rallies in the east German city of Dresden in Saxony which had grown into "Europe's biggest gathering of Nazis". [68] Unlike the original Antifa which had links to the Communist Party of Germany and which was concerned with industrial working-class politics, the late 1980s and early 1990s, autonomists were independent anti-authoritarian libertarian Marxists and anarcho-communists not associated with any particular party. The publication Antifaschistisches Infoblatt, in operation since 1987, sought to expose radical nationalists publicly. [69]

German government institutions such as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Federal Agency for Civic Education describe the contemporary antifa movement as part of the extreme left and as partially violent. Antifa groups are monitored by the federal office in the context of its legal mandate to combat extremism. [70] [71] [72] [73] The federal office states that the underlying goal of the antifa movement is "the struggle against the liberal democratic basic order" and capitalism. [71] [72] In the 1980s, the movement was accused by German authorities of engaging in terrorist acts of violence. [74]

In the United States Edit

Dartmouth College historian Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, credits the ARA as the precursor of modern antifa groups in the United States. In the late 1980s and 1990s, ARA activists toured with popular punk rock and skinhead bands in order to prevent Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white supremacists from recruiting. [75] [76] Their motto was "We go where they go" by which they meant that they would confront far-right activists in concerts and actively remove their materials from public places. [77] In 2002, the ARA disrupted a speech in Pennsylvania by Matthew F. Hale, the head of the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator, resulting in a fight and twenty-five arrests. In 2007, Rose City Antifa, likely the first group to utilize the name antifa, was formed in Portland, Oregon. [78] [79] [80] Other antifa groups in the United States have other genealogies. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group called the Baldies was formed in 1987 with the intent to fight neo-Nazi groups directly. In 2013, the "most radical" chapters of the ARA formed the Torch Antifa Network [81] which has chapters throughout the United States. [82] Other antifa groups are a part of different associations such as NYC Antifa or operate independently. [83]

Modern antifa in the United States is a highly decentralized movement. Antifa political activists are anti-racists who engage in protest tactics, seeking to combat fascists and racists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists. [84] This may involve digital activism, harassment, physical violence, and property damage [85] against those whom they identify as belonging to the far-right. [86] [87] Much antifa activism is nonviolent, involving poster and flyer campaigns, delivering speeches, marching in protest, and community organizing on behalf of anti-racist and anti-white nationalist causes. [88] [79]

There have been multiple efforts to discredit antifa groups via hoaxes on social media, many of them false flag attacks originating from alt-right and 4chan users posing as antifa backers on Twitter. [89] Some hoaxes have been picked up and reported as fact by right-leaning media. [90] [91] During the George Floyd protests in May and June 2020, the Trump administration blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests. Analysis of federal arrests did not find links to antifa. [92] There have been repeated calls by the Trump administration to designate antifa as a terrorist organization, [93] a move that academics, legal experts and others argue would both exceed the authority of the presidency and violate the First Amendment. [94] [95] [96] Several analyses, reports and studies concluded that antifa is not a domestic or major terrorism risk and ranked far-right extremism and white supremacy as the top risk. [97] [98] [99] A June 2020 study [100] of 893 terrorism incidents in the United States since 1994 found no murder that was specifically attributed to anti-fascists or antifa while 329 deaths were attributed to right-wing perpetrators. [97] [101]

Elsewhere Edit

Some post-war anti-fascist action took place in Romania under the Anti-Fascist Committee of German Workers in Romania. [102] A Swedish group, Antifascistisk Aktion, was formed in 1993. [103]

The Christian Democratic Union of Germany politician Tim Peters notes that the term is one of the most controversial terms in political discourse. [104] Michael Richter, a researcher at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism, highlights the ideological use of the term in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, in which the term fascism was applied to Eastern bloc dissidents regardless of any connection to historical fascism, and where the term anti-fascism served to legitimize the ruling government. [105]

Watch the video: World War One 2 lions led by donkeys (June 2022).


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