While politicians argue about whether the First World War was glorious, a just conflict or a shambles, preparations for the centenary commemoration this July gather pace around the world.
Historians search for great narrative arcs, an approach that can steamroll the parts played by chance and human agency. In trying to understand devastation on that scale – 18 million people dead, many tens of millions more overwhelmed by carnage, a relatively prosperous civilisation brought to its knees – it is natural to want to marginalise the part played by mis- fortune, individual malice and error.
Today we begin a series which I hope will appeal to you over the coming months, even if you dip in and out of our coverage: The Great War in 100 Moments, running for the next 100 days. I don’t want to ruin the suspense, but we start in a fairly logical place. Although we devote two pages to this first instalment, subsequent items will be considerably smaller – sometimes no more than a photograph and caption.
Some of the moments will be of obvious historical significance: the first day of the Somme, the signing of the Armistice, General Allenby entering Jerusalem on foot, Wilfred Owen being killed a week before the end of the war. Others, though, will recall the experience of uncelebrated participants. Some of the writing will be new, particularly at the outset, but we will turn to primary sources: diaries, letters, newspaper reports, official dispatches. Look for it at the very back of News or within IQ.
We hope that by illuminating moments in the war we can bring texture to the wider debates sure to be fought over the coming months. Please let us know what you think as the series beds in. The commissioning editor, Richard Askwith, is also open to your suggestions.