Welcome, I am Rob Ruggenberg (1946), author and editor of this website The Heritage of the Great War. I am a professional journalist (daily newspapers) since 1970.
From where I live, in the south of the Netherlands (Holland) in Europe, it is only a 3 hours drive to the old battlefields of the Great War in Flanders and Northern France.
Years ago I visited my first war cemetery. And I wondered: Why did these boys and men enlist for their armies, only to be slaughtered in a couple of weeks? What were their ideals? And where did these ideals came from?
I started studying the Great War and I learned that the soldiers on both sides had been ill-informed. Politicians, kings, emperors and newspapers had told lies. And because those boys and men believed these lies, they stood up for their country (at least they thought they did), and shouting and singing they marched to the battlefields. To defy the ugly warmongers on the other side and ready to give their life for freedom.Filth and fear
Those who did not die right away, soon found out what was really going on. Instead of heroism they found filth and fear. Many wanted to stop fighting - but this their superiors did not allow. Any soldier who refused to fight, or who ran away, was shot by his own troops.
On Christmas Day in 1914 (and again in 1915) soldiers from both sides made their own peace. All along the frontline they came out of their trenches, and they walked through No Man's Land and shaked hands with their so-called enemies. They talked, drank and ate together. They showed each other pictures of their beloved. They played football. They wanted and talked about peace. But then the generals found out and became furious and ordered them to start shooting and killing again immediately.
The famous writer/poet Rudyard Kipling first fiercely defended the war in public, but after his only son became missing in action, he realized what he had done, and he wrote, as an epitaph: 'If any ask us why we died - tell them: Because our fathers lied.' You will not find this epitaph on any cross or gravestone; the authorities did not allow it.Lies, lies, lies
Independent war correspondents or photographers were not allowed anywhere near the front. British people were not told that their Expeditionary Force was retreating from Mons; the French were not told that their armies had lost the battle of the frontiers; the Germans were not told that the Schlieffen attack plan had failed to win the war.
And as always, when hard news is lacking, rumour flourishes. Mountains of myth grew over the atrocities which the Germans were supposed to have commited in Belgium. Babies had their hands, nuns their breasts cut off. An innocent story that church bells were rung in a Belgian village, to warn of the coming of the Germans, became, when passed from hand to hand, the solemn assertion that the Germans had tied the village priest to his bell and used him as a live clapper.
Pictures in the newspapers showed smiling soldiers and the dead were always enemies. Photograps that showed the reality were destroyed or otherwise hidden from the public. Letters to newspapers or friends at home were censored. Heroes were made, sometimes even faked, to keep the homefront happy.
Sometimes the truth slipped through. For instance in the shape of a poem, like The Hero by the British officer S. Sassoon. It is a short poem - but when you read it the Great War will never be the same again for you. Soldiers like Sassoon and others who tried to speak out, were usually looked upon (and treated) as traitors or madmen.Suspicion
In 1905 philosopher George Santayana cautioned: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But history has already been repeating itself - and still is. So I decided to make a website to put some of these Great War stories on.
Maybe someone will learn and will remember and become suspicious about what politicians and generals tell. Maybe, next time, there will be less people cheering when soldier lads march by.
When a president or a king or a government starts a war, it is almost certain not true or only half true what they say. Behind the curtains influential powers like oil firms and other energy companies, banks, weapon factories, government contractors and global investment firms play their own invisible roles. They have specific interests - not necessarily yours - and they lobby, they rig, they juggle, they pay - and you will not be told.
So please beware: things are quite different from what you see on TV or read in your newspaper. Journalists are just like other people (I know, I am one for more than three decades now) and they too can be - and they are - manipulated.
Foreigners, other races, people with a different religion are not the brutal, greedy and dumb caricatures they delude you with. But alas, when lies are told over and over again, and repeated by media, people tend to believe them.
It takes a strong man or woman to stand up against what thus becomes general belief. So were the circumstances during the Great War and so are the circumstances today.
P.S. I am not a pacifist, nor a communist, nor a liberal; I am just myself.
P.S. P.S. Yes, I am also responsible for the antique layout of this website. I designed it when I started the site (back in 1994), and I do not intend to change it. Happily some others like it as well.
P.S. P.S. P.S. The Netherlands, where I live, were neutral in the Great War. No direct relatives of mine fought in that war. But the American branch of the Ruggenberg family (emigrated to the USA in the 1870's) did their part. I salute David Ruggenberg (from Mahaska, Iowa) and Charles Wallace Ruggenberg (from Poweshiek, Iowa), who fought on the Western Front. David didn't come back.
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