The debate began with a flurry of activity after Education Secretary Michael Gove published an article in the Daily Mail criticising the dominant “lions lead by donkeys” interpretation of the war. Gove was subsequently forced back by a wave of criticism from academic historians and members of his own party. However, the debate has since become a struggle of tedious attrition, with neither side gaining much ground.
Nonetheless a quick victory has been predicted by both the ‘revisionists’ -who are critical of the war’s military oversight and conduct- and those who support the ‘Fischer thesis’: that the war was a necessary response to German aggression. Indeed, popular historian Sir Max Hastings, who defended Gove’s views in a second Mail article, told supporters yesterday afternoon, “These lefties lack the stomach for an argument. Stay true, lads – we’ll be sipping herbal tea in the New Statesman’s offices by 6 this evening!”
Regius professor of history at Cambridge Sir Richard Evans, has claimed the debate itself was prompted by an act of academic aggression on the part of Gove and his allies. However, the debate may have been precipitated by the decision of Evans and his fellow revisionists to ally with the post-Fischer historians in what has been termed the ‘Entente Historicale’.
Marxist historians were briefly involved at the start of the spat but have now opted for a position of neutrality, describing the debate as a “bourgeois struggle”.
Given the unprecedented heatedness of the dialogue, a number of commentators have described it as the “historical debate to end all historical debates”. However, there are concerns that a second, even bigger debate could occur in as little as twenty-one years time.