Field Marshal Haig: “Hero or Butcher of the Somme”
I consider the field marshal as a butcher and a hero for numerous reasons. While the insinuation of Haig as a butcher ignores many positives that he possessed, the implication of him being a hero also neglects negatives that the field marshal obtains. Although the winning of the war had come at the sacrifice of a vast number of soldiers, we must not forget that the general had achieved his primary objective even if it had been accomplished in the most gruesome ways. This essay will examine reasons which voice out opinions that support both arguments as well as my own. One explanation of Haig being described as a butcher is the ineffectiveness as well as the inadequacy of his plans and preparations. Wires were not being cut and telephone messages were intercepted. This is explicitly depicted in source 7, as it describes how “hundreds of dead were strung out (on barbed wire) like wreckage washed up to a high water mark.” This view is further supported and portrayed in source 12 as Churchill shares his worries on the fact that “we have not gained in a month’s fighting as much ground as we were expected to gain in two hours” and that “we have not advanced two miles in a direct line at any point.”
Although the above sources discuss the futility of his tactics source as it describes how the “barbed wire has never been so well cut, nor the artillery preparations so thorough.” But as this source was written by field marshal Haig we must be weary of the fact it the report might have been biased in a desperate attempt to keep his job. Yet another source that contradicts the above mentioned source is source 6 which is also written by Haig. He writes about the “very successful attack this morning” and how the attack “all went like clockwork”. But again as the writer had been Haig it is not a completely reliable source.
Another reason for Haig’s portrayal as a butcher is his apparently uncaring and disrespectful attitude towards his soldiers. This view is conveyed in source 8 as “his men lived in muddy, noisy trenches” suffering “Haig slept in a cosy bed in a quiet country chateaux and dined on the best food available.” Another mutual analysis of this is expressed in source 11 where it horrendously describes the poor living conditions for the solders. They were “stinking, ragged, unshaven and sleepless” which illustrates quite well how abysmal and appalling the conditions in the trenches were.
This time source 18 contradicts source 8 as it points out that “altogether, four British lieutenant generals, twelve major-generals died or were killed.” These facts show that “whatever else the generals were doing, they were not sitting in comfortable chateaux.”
The last reason the field marshal was depicted as a butcher was his seemingly willing approach to sacrifice men without the slightest bit of remorse or hesitation. In source 13 it tells us that “we are slowly but surely killing off the best of the male population of these islands” and then asks us if we can afford “to go on paying the same sort of price for the same sort of gain?” This implies that Haig is murdering the best soldiers without gaining any use.
His actions were justified in source 17 where he explains his tactics. He writes that “the object of all war is victory and a defensive attitude can never bring this about.” He also further says that in a war “losses were bound to be heavy for both sides” which conveys that it was not his fault for the mass of casualties in the war.
Haig should not be dismissed as a villain just yet because we have not pointed out a crucial point. In source 16 it noticeably states “if the criterion of a successful general is to win wars. Haig must be judged a success. The cost of victory was appalling, but Haig’s military methods were in line with the ideas of time, when attrition was the method all sides used to achieve victory.” As all sides were using the same policy of attrition the British were not the only army that received a high casualty rate as probably many other countries did as well.
In addition “by the end of 1918, the British army was the only army that maintained its morale and hadn’t been hit by mutiny (like the French) or military defeat (like the Germans). This illustrates Haig as an inspirational leader as the soldiers had managed to maintain their morale through the war and no soldier had betrayed their country. In source 19 it is written “although generals made mistakes, the army had expanded very quickly and they also learnt very quickly. Haig and his generals may not have been the team that the British army has ever produced but they were pretty good, and did their best.” This proves that Haig, although was not the best of leaders, was still hardworking and continually tried hard to achieve victory.
Although he was a good leader source 22 still contradicts source 19 with its description of the British being “Lion led by Donkeys”. This implies that the British generals were clueless and did not know what they were doing. Source 20 disagrees with this as it writes how “at the end of the war Haig and the others were heroes. The view of them as “donkeys” only appeared later.”This implies that their primary reaction towards Haig differed only after the war when his tactics had come under scrutiny.