Leszek Swirski Question 2
2. Evaluation of an interpretation for sufficiency
John Keegan, a modern military historian, suggests that Haig was an ‘efficient and highly skilled soldier who did much to lead Britain to victory in the First World War’. Is there sufficient evidence in Sources C to L to support this interpretation? Use the sources and your knowledge to explain your answer.
Source C is a quote from Field Marshall Haig’s son, Dawyck Haig. Dawyck Haig, being Douglas Haig’s son, would have definitive bias towards his father. This bias would be conscious and unconscious: conscious due to his faithfulness to his heritage and name; unconscious due to the effect of his father’s upbringing. Anything Dawyck Haig had been taught about his father’s efficiency and skill during his childhood would be from his father, mother and family, who would obviously never want to disgrace his father in front of his son. This would stay with him through his whole life, and any attempts to discredit his father would automatically be disregarded.
Furthermore, Haig’s purpose in saying this would be to somewhat rescue his father’s reputation; therefore he may have been inclined to some extent to bend the truth.
Therefore, in conclusion, Dawyck Haig’s comments on his father’s efficiency and skill are hardly useful at all, due to his strong bias towards his father. However, all negative comments should be taken with the utmost seriousness, as if Haig’s own son says anything bad about him, it must have been a serious fault indeed. Unfortunately, there is no such example in the source.
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Source D is a parody picture from a recently published book. After much research, I have found no information whatsoever on the image, nor even the book, not even the name of the author. The picture shows evidence that the artist and author did not believe that Haig was efficient or skilled, but that his plans would only get the soldiers killed, and that Britain was harming herself by recruiting him. However, since we know nothing about the author or artist, it is possible that one of them had a personal vendetta against Haig, for example that their relatives died while going ‘over the top’, and they blame Haig. Equally, the author and artist may be completely unbiased and just present things as they are. Due to the lack of information on this source, not a lot of information can be extracted, however in conjunction with other sources, it can provide additional evidence.
Source E is a set of Haig’s own views. All opinions made by Field Marshall Haig can be and are biased towards him, consciously and unconsciously, as he would interpret events to his advantage, however his reports would have to be accurate to an extent, as he could not lie about the situation. Also, in those times, honour was very important, and lying would break that honour, therefore it is possible that Haig would try to be sincere. However, this is by no means certain. It is certain that he did not present himself as someone who would not get a single man killed, so it is possible that he would be fairly self-critical.
Haig’s reports would be based on whatever information he had. Since he did not have direct contact with soldiers on the front, and radio and telephone technology was not very advanced, this information could often be faulty or incomplete. Also, the fact that he was the Field Marshall would have made his men afraid to tell him bad news. This means that any apparent evidence in the source can be unreliable, and therefore not very useful as evidence.
The source supports the interpretation in the question; there is no doubt of that. However, this is not complete evidence, as it is not certain, making it only useful if other sources agree. In conclusion, this source provides additional evidence, however doesn’t provide evidence by itself.
Source F is an excerpt from a relatively recently published history book. The source makes no reference to Haig’s efficiency or skill, instead focusing on his character. Therefore it is not very useful as direct evidence for the question. However, this source gives information on Haig that could be used to asses the reliability of Haig’s own opinions, such as those in Source E. If he indeed was as the source describes him, then anything he says about himself, such as the high praise of his attack in Source E, should not be considered as reliable evidence.
Source G is an excerpt from the War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister from December 1916, and previously Minister for Munitions. The extract strongly contradicts the statement in the question; however whether it is evidence is debatable. Lloyd George disliked Haig, not trusting him; hence his criticism may not be fully unbiased. Lloyd George suggests that Haig was risking his soldiers’ lives mainly for his own splendour, without real military justification.
As this is not the description of a “highly skilled soldier”, Lloyd George’s extract contradicts John Keegan’s statement.
Source H is an excerpt from Haig’s official biography. The biographer was chosen by Haig’s family, hence there is a high chance of bias towards Haig. This is evident in the source, where he defends Haig, saying that he had no other choice. Considering that this excerpt is not fully objective, this suggests that the source is reliable and can be used as evidence. This is not evidence that Haig was efficient and highly skilled, but that the choice was not his, and that it he made the only right decision in the circumstances.
Source J is an excerpt from the Times, which in turn quotes a German newspaper. This was still during the war, more precisely about half a year after the Somme Offensive ended. The German article can be interpreted in two very different ways: sarcastic and honouring.
For the former, the German author describes Haig as the ablest general in England, and is from Scotland, saying that the English have no good generals of their own, and that even their best non-English general is still not competent. This contradicts the statement made by John Keegan
On the other hand, the article could be honouring Haig as the strongest opposition the Germans have met. Many phrases in the article would then support John Keegan’s statement.
It is impossible for me to tell which of these interpretations are correct without more information about the newspaper, propaganda and the author, however, due to the fact that this was in a German newspaper, and judging the whole tone of the article, I am inclined to support the sarcastic interpretation.
Source K is an excerpt from an article discussing whether Haig was totally at fault or not. The article describes Haig as the product of his time, and that nobody in his place would do better. It describes him as having made mistake, but that it was not all his fault; especially saying that ultimately he had won. It says that Haig had done the best that could be expected in efficiency and skill at the time, and that it is only now, in retrospect, that we can see the mistakes. Therefore, the source does support John Keegan’s statement.
In conclusion, only one source (Source K) definitively agrees with John Keegan’s interpretation. However, only one definitively disagrees with the statement (Source G), and there is one that could be interpreted as strong evidence either way (Source J). All the others do not give sufficient evidence either way. Therefore, I believe that there is not sufficient evidence to support John Keegan’s interpretation, but that there is also not enough evidence to contradict it. This is possibly due to the fact that it is difficult to measure skill and efficiency, especially when we know what happened next.