This being 2014, I picked up my copy of Paul Fussell’s brilliant 1975 book The Great War and Modern Memory. Although I very much want to read Margaret Macmillan’s new book, The War that Ended Peace, I’m tempted to say that if you only read one thing this centenary year, make it the Fussell. This early passage caught my eye:
“Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so dramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends. … But the Great War was more ironic than any before or since. It was a hideous embarrassment to the prevailing Meliorist myth which had dominated public consciousness for a century. It reversed the Idea of Progress.”
I, like many economists I would guess, incline toward meliorism. A hundred years on from Fussell’s Greatest Irony, it’s probably right to reflect on Progress, though.
The Great War and Modern Memory