The Tides of War

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The one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World war looms on the horizon. 1914 is a date forged into the British consciousness, just as it's carved into monuments the length and breadth of the UK and many places beyond. With that awareness comes an understanding that it was the war to end all wars, shocking the culture, politics, and societies of Europe, but particularly Britain, out of their comfortable progress and reshaping everything.
But in this series Michael Portillo challenges that notion. Looking at a series of themes, the suffrage movement, the Irish question, the decline of the liberal party and the arts, he argues that to a large extent Britain was already in a state of flux by 1913 and many of the developments we think of as emanating from or being catalysed by the war, were actually in full flow.

In the fourth programme Michael tackles the abiding image of Britain's lack of preparedness for the Great War - the cavalry being cut to pieces by the brute modernity of German machine-gun fire. But were the British really so out of step? Look at the debates about naval power, the popular culture and its plethora of 'invasion and 'Germany Spy' stories, and it seems that Britain was more than ready for conflict with Germany. Quite how that conflict would be played out wasn't clear but in 1913 the country didn't have it's back turned. Indeed, the use of Cavalry wasn't quite as anachronistic as we've been lead to believe.

Producer: Tom Alban.

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15 minutes

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Thu 13 Jun 2013 13:45

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