General Haig: Butcher or War Winner?

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The purpose of this analysis is to compare sources 1 to 7 and determine if they present any evidence suggesting that General Haig did not prioritize the well-being of his soldiers. To accomplish this, I will first address the overall question and then proceed to examine each source individually. During this examination, I will assess their strengths, weaknesses, reliability, and take into account factors such as authorship, date of creation, and intended purpose (including potential entertainment value).

In my view, the seven sources given do not offer enough proof to back up the assertion that Haig neglected the welfare of his soldiers. Source 1 exhibits a photo of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, adorned with military honors indicating his knighthood and past military service. While this image may not be directly relevant to the current query, it does provide some understanding by verifying Haig’s involvement in previous wars through the presence of military honors.

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This photograph is valuable because it demonstrates the individual’s experience and success in ascending the British ranks, implying their proficiency as a soldier and leader. However, it does not provide any insights into Field Marshal Haig’s treatment of his troops. The photograph is unlikely to be biased as it merely captures his attire and the medals he earned. Source 2 emphasizes the need to educate the nation on accepting casualties.

Haig wrote on June 30, 1916, the day before the Battle of the Somme began, that no amount of skill from higher commanders, no matter how good the training of officers and men, and no matter how great the superiority of arms and ammunition, will lead to victories without sacrificing men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists as losses must be borne and accepted.

The text suggests that when we first hear about Field Marshal Haig, our initial impression may be that he lacked concern for his soldiers. However, he later provides an explanation for why casualties are inevitable in war. It is noted that the source may have a biased perspective, as it would be unusual for Haig to present himself as a ruthless butcher. Source 3 highlights that the soldiers’ morale is high, with many acknowledging that they have never received such comprehensive training and briefing on the upcoming mission.

The cutting of the barbed wire has never been as flawless, and the artillery preparation has never been so meticulous. All the commanders are filled with unwavering confidence. However, those of us who are familiar with the realities of war know that this is far from the truth. This piece of writing is heavily biased and, as one can guess, it was penned by Field Marshal Haig following the initial day of the Somme in June 1916.

Another passage from a soldier who experienced the Somme further emphasizes the aspect of comparison. It states, ‘In numerous areas, the wire remained intact. The artillery did not succeed. Countless lives would be sacrificed as the soldiers were unable to penetrate the barbed wire without cutters. Meanwhile, in other locations, the Germans focused all their firepower on the areas where the wire had been cut, fully aware that the British forces would have to emerge through those passages.’

‘Depending on who you believe, one perspective portrays Haig as a war winner while the other portrays him as a butcher. It should be noted that this extract may also exhibit bias, albeit in the opposite direction, as the author is likely to harbor resentment towards the commanding officers and the war itself. Source 4 is widely considered a reliable source; however, I believe it still carries potential bias due to the soldiers’ inherent resentment towards the commanders. Additionally, this account was written years after the battle and under the influence of war-related conditions such as shell shock, which may have caused factual inaccuracies.’

Many dead bodies were hung on the barbed wire, resembling wreckage deposited at a high flooded area. The number of deaths on the enemy wire was almost equal to those on the ground. It was evident that there were no gaps in the wire during the attack, indicating that the Germans had been strengthening it for months.

It was so thick that daylight could barely be seen through it. The planners did not consider how Tommies would navigate through the wire or the fact that artillery fire would not destroy it completely. Any Tommy could have informed them that shell fire actually lifts and drops the wire, often leading to a more tangled mess. ‘Source 5, written by Gerard De Groot, is considered one of the most reliable sources since he authored the biography on Haig. This source is reliable as it is based on extensive research and attempts to present an unbiased viewpoint.

According to an extract from the book, Haig’s living conditions and food were comfortable while his men lived in muddy trenches and shared their rations with rats. It seems that Haig was unaffected by the stark contrast between his own comfort and that of his men. This source suggests that Haig lacked concern for his troops, as there is no indication in the extract that he did care. Source 6 is a still from the recent BBC TV series ‘Blackadder goes Forth’.

Across six episodes, Captain Blackadder and Private Baldrick skillfully evade going over the top, while their comrade Lieutenant George enthusiastically embraces the concept. This observation implies that Haig, their leader, showed minimal regard for his soldiers. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize that the episode was meant as a comedic piece. If it failed to elicit laughter, its credibility would be questionable. Nonetheless, we should still acknowledge that the series’ creators likely strived to portray the truth as accurately as possible.

The final source, source 7, is an article from Punch Magazine in 1917. It is a fictional piece intended to entertain readers but also serves the purpose of revealing the truth about war through cartoons to the British public who were unaware of its true horrors. Therefore, we can regard it as a reliable source. Although it does not directly mention Haig, it does demonstrate that Generals in general disregarded the welfare of their soldiers.

While the lack of sources prevents me from definitively stating whether General Haig was indifferent to his men’s well-being, based on my contextual knowledge, I believe that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig did value his men. However, he unfortunately failed to take appropriate actions. It is important to acknowledge that during the Battle of the Somme, he made positive contributions that are often overlooked in favor of focusing solely on the high casualty count. This has led to him being labeled as the Butcher of the Somme without recognition for his concern for his troops—a viewpoint I strongly disagree with. My aim is to provide an enjoyable reading experience by acknowledging different perspectives on war and the battles themselves.

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General Haig: Butcher or War Winner?. (2017, Nov 13). Retrieved from

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