The Woman-Power Debate, March 1941

In learning about the workforce requirements of total war, specifically the debate in the House of Commons about conscripting women to work on the land and in munitions factories in March 1941 Britain during World War Two, I saw a quote which gave me pause.

Agnes Hardie MP was arguing that “it has been a tradition for generations that war is a man’s job and women have the bearing and raising of children and should be exempt from war“.  I bet that comes up a lot in the gender studies modules of Peace Studies degrees.  (Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 376 (1941–1942), Parliamentary Debates November 12–December 19, 1941, Debate on Maximum National Effort 2/12 (1941), col. 1,079.)

While one side argued in the Woman-Power Debate that female war work was heroic and liberating, this was countered with concerns that increasing state management of women’s lives threatened to undermine both family life and femininity.  Agnes Hardie argued that mothers were “doing a far more important job for the future generations…than filling shells with which to kill some other mother’s son” (Hansard, vol. 370 (March–April 1941), Woman-Power Debate, cols 351–3).

As King Baudouin I of Belgium said: “It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him”.

Note for later: I wonder if the Bill to conscript women permitted the the right to conscientious objection, like the Miltary Service Act 1916 did for men?  I think it may have been the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, but there’s also “In December 1941 Parliament passed a second National Service Act. It widened the scope of conscription still further by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up.”  If so, I think it permitted them the right to object to military service, but does that include filling shells?  They did, however, get the choice whether to work in factories or on the land.

Advice on assessing a source

I have just read a free ebook and I cannot determine if it is factual or not.  If anyone else is familiar with it, or looking for a distraction, I’d appreciate another’s opinion edit: no need; I’ve worked it out.

Title: The Diary of a U-boat Commander

By: Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall

Described on FeedBooks: http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4208:The diary of a World War One U-Boat commander. As well as being a fascinating glimpse of life on the German U-boats during the intense submarine blockade, this also reminds us there were humans involved – on both sides of the action – as we read too of the intimate thoughts and intense love of a man longing for his sweetheart.

It begins after World War One with a U-Boat commander requesting a British officer returns another U-Boat commander’s personal diary.  The British officer refuses and decides he will get it translated and published.  What follows is the German’s diary, with translator’s notes.

It is categorised in the ebook collections as non-fiction.  But reading it, it doesn’t feel right.  It feels like someone writing a fictitious diary designed to show what a horrid man a German U-Boat commander is, but who could not get it published before the war ended and published it as it is instead.  As if it was meant as propaganda: “Look what we found”.

It is by (note I am careful to say he is not the author) Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall.  He was a journalist, politician and playwright, suggesting he may have made the book up.  But he was a naval officer until 1929.

Wikipedia lists this book against Stephen King-Hall link and suggests he was the translator, for what that’s worth.

On ManyBooks, it is listed under ‘Fiction and Literature’ and the reviewers conclude it is fiction, yet plausible.

A quick skim through  A North Sea diary, 1914-1918 by Commander Stephen King-Hall, does not refer to the incident of him getting access to a U-boat commander’s stuff.

A description on Archive.org suggests it is fiction – warning contains spoilers.  They have an online copy of the original, with one review which also cannot determine if it is fiction or not.

A search for the details of the U-boat commander, Karl von Schenk of U122 … gives me the answer.  Of course there are fanatics who trace every ship and its commanding officer, duh.  I knew that.  Should have done that first.  He never existed.

Now, having written all that, I’m going to post it anyway, just as a way of reinforcing the message to myself: do not automatically trust sources that say they are genuine, even when published by distinguished honourable gentlemen with titles, honours and military careers.  (After all, he was also a politician… thoughtful )


Advice given to me:

For what it’s worth, Simon, I tend to look for reviews of books about which I have doubts in academic journals. If no academics have reviewed the book then I start to wonder. Obviously with so many books being published, many will not be reviewed so that’s not the end of it. In this case, I would have wondered about the fact that the author also wrote plays, children’s books and for Children’s Hour. Again, no doubt there are excellent historians who also write or wrote fiction, but, again, it raises a question. However, I gather from the reader reviews that it becomes obvious as you reach the final chapters that the book you asked about is fiction.

But even that isn’t enough to discredit it. King-Hall was apparently awarded a gold medal by the Royal Institution of International Affairs for his thesis on submarine warfare and served in the 11th submarine flotilla in the First World War. There is a possibility, therefore, that the technical detail could be accurate.

On the whole, though, if I had been faced with this question I would probably have put the book aside on the basis that I’ve got too much information from reliable sources without getting bogged down in figuring out how good this is.


My response:

You’ve described the path I took very accurately.  I bounced up and down on that see-saw of doubt many times.  I would have put it aside as irrelevant but for an essay but I wanted to use to practise determining the veracity of sources.  I get the impression part of A327 is teaching us to think “just who really wrote this, and why?*

I particularly wanted to know because the main character is not at all likeable, but totally plausible.  As a Prussian Junker, he gave opinions that seemed to explain how Germany was led by the sort of people who would start a war of conquest as a matter of entitlement.  What made me suspicious was the main character got to do a couple of cross-service activities on short postings and that felt unlikely.

But it was the consequences of its accuracy that bothered me.  Either I was learning valuable insights about German society and culture from a painfully honest artefact written from the heart, or I was being misled by a disingenuous and fatuous work of propaganda or revenge from an embittered victor.

Upon reflection, now knowing it is fiction says more about its author than it does about the Germans.  Knowing it to be fiction being passed off as factual diary, one could use it as evidence to claim “Look how the British want to blame the Prussians for the war, rub Germany’s nose in their loss, obviously the British wanted revenge out of hatred, and would make up lies to show how bad the Germans were, no wonder the Germans complained about the reparations, the reparations must have been unfair, WW2 was the fault of the British“.  Same artefact, totally opposite potential interpretation of history from the one deviously intended by the author.

Was there much material like this?  Were loads of people putting out anti-German literature or was this unusual?  Did it influence the Paris peace talks and European relations in the next two decades?  Alternatively, would anyone reading it at the time have laughed it off knowing full well it was just a light-hearted jab at the nasty stereotypical Hun by another veteran letting off steam?  I don’t know, and it makes me wonder.  What I suppose I’d need for that would be reviews of the book written at the time.

* They are.  Learning outcome 4: The ability to identify, gather and evaluate historical evidence and the work of historians critically; to appreciate the qualities of different kinds of texts, images, audio and visual sources; and see the need to adjust your approach in line with purpose.

Military Spending Calculator error

The Conscience Online web site has a military spending calculator on its home page that shows how much has been spent so far this year globally on military expenditure. I noticed it displaying an 11-digit number despite it only being the 7th of January. “Oops” I thought, “I need to change it so it starts again from zero on 1st of January”.

I thought it did that automatically, but decided I must have been mistaken. There is no way we could have spent £22 billion on war-making in under a week.

So I went to see what was wrong and found the error: we spend too much on war-making. In the first six days and nine hours of 2017 the world has already invested £3 per person on killing or readiness to kill one another.

The global news was making a fuss yesterday about the cost of Donald Trump’s proposed wall between the USA and Mexico likely to be about half that with pessimistic estimates expressing concern it will be about the same. If the cost of the wall is a scandal, why isn’t spending 50 times that amount every year on delivering premature death and suffering also a scandal?

Less conventional postgraduate peace degrees

In a discussion about transferability of degree modules, it got me thinking about the history of universities and how 900 years ago one could switch between Bologna, Paris and Oxford universities willy-nilly because they offered the same curriculum.  Now it is really hard to get one university to give credits fro study in another even in the same country.  Division and protectionism, even in education.

Anyway, international peace degrees.

The University for Peace or UPEACE is (according to Wikipedia) “an intergovernmental organization with university status established in 1980 and based Costa Rica“.  I have looked at it before and eliminated it primarily on not having $US15,000 and partly because of lack of recognition for the qualification.  I also wasn’t too impressed with the course content.

The United Nations University or UNI is (according to Wikipedia) “the academic and research arm of the United Nations, established in 1973.  Based in Tokyo, Japan, has since 2010 been authorized to grant degrees. It provides a bridge between the UN and the international academic, policy-making and private sector communities.”  Most of its programmes seem to be about international development with the exception of the Institute for Sustainability and Peace Tokyo (Wikipedia) (their web site is down as I write this).  Even their Master’s Degrees are about the environment, sustainability and public policy rather than peace.  So, no conflict prevention type degrees.

Both are dead ends for me.

This is the sort of work I want: peace informatics

There is a group on LinkedIn called Peace Informatics describing itself:

This group brings together researchers, practitioners and other professionals who want to explore how Big Data can be applied in the field of peace and security. The group’s moderators provide regular updates with cutting edge information about related developments and aim to exchange views among network members about lessons learned, latest insights and potential collaboration.

Peace Informatics is initiated and run by the Peace Informatics Lab at Leiden University (Campus The Hague). The Peace Informatics Lab consists of a number of interconnected projects that explore new ways of Big Data methodologies in the field of peace & security.

I’m not convinced about the hype around ‘big data’ (my views come from decades of experience working with large databases, data analysis and business analysis rather than marketing bumf), but I am impressed with what I have seen of Leiden University, having done some of their MOOC courses.

But this could be a field where my IT experience would be very useful.  Now, how to get my foot in the door…?

Is ‘a just war’ still a meaningful argument?

I’ll try that argument again by expanding on another view: leaders start wars but the citizens suffer – how is this just?

Are the citizens of a state so responsible for not preventing the internationally unacceptable actions of the leaders of that state, or so responsible for the previous actions or perceived misdeeds of their predecessors, or guilty of a crime by nature of having different cultural values of those of another state, that it is reasonable for the sovereignty of that state to be disregarded such that they can be killed by the orders of the leader of another state?

That is, the rules of just war determine whether it is considered acceptable by political leaders for state A to attack state B.  They do not consider whether the citizens of state B or even state A consider the war to be just.

Is it appropriate in global, internet-connected societies with so much freedom of movement with so much cultural intermingling that it should be considered right and proper that people be killed according to the arbitrariness of their current place of residence at the time of a declaration of war?

In a democracy, is it just that those who vote against a policy should be equally vulnerable to death by the weapons of another state as those who voted the other way?

Where feudalism has been abolished and blind nationalism is no longer credible, I don’t see how ‘a just war’ is possible any more.

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.