Field Marshall Haig: ‘The Butcher of the Somme’

Unfortunately, the purpose for which Haig wrote this source is not completely evident, however Source A is likely to be part of a letter written by Haig, intended to inform politicians in England that the nation should be made aware that mass death is coming – to prevent shock – which can be assumed as the source contains frequent punctuation, resulting in it resembling a speech, perhaps suggesting to the politicians at the time how the public should be informed, showing that Haig was fully aware that many of his men would die.

Haig uses the word “sacrifice”, which can be interpreted in two ways. One way is that it shows that he believes the ends would justify the means. If the outcome he perceives is victory in this battle, then it shows that he believes that the victory is more important than life – showing he does not care about the life of his men, only winning the battle no matter what the cost – the deaths would be worth the victory.

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Furthermore, Haig seems to be justifying his actions and decisions throughout the source, suggesting it is not completely reliable and may not completely show Haig’s thoughts and feelings before the battle. The fact that he is justifying the deaths, shows that he is aware that public opinion would be unhappy with the impending scale of loss of lives and his ‘war of attrition’ tactic – this might suggest he does not care about the ‘losses’ since he clearly accepts that the end justifies the means, and is just preparing the nation with this source.

On the other hand, the word “sacrifice” also implies small losses in relation to the larger reward – victory in the war – suggesting it is perhaps not that he doesn’t care about the lives of his men, but that he knows victory could not be gained (the larger reward will not come), without the loss of men (the “sacrifice”). Haig may have seen the only way of achieving victory and stopping the continuous slaughter of men would be by using the ‘war of attrition’ tactic.

His aim may therefore have been to prevent even greater loss of life, even though large amounts of deaths would occur in the Battle of the Somme. This shows that he did care about the lives of his men – he was losing some lives in this battle, to shorten the war and to eventually save more lives than was lost during the battle, with the ends justifying the means (with the ends here being the overall saving of lives, rather than the victory of the battle).

It is therefore possible that Haig did care for the lives of his men, but was forced with the dilemma that he had to kill many of his own men to end the war and prevent more deaths. However, the British public would not have liked the idea of the ‘sacrifice’ of their own men, as relatives of the soldiers would have failed to perceive the larger image, in which their relatives were dying to save more lives.

Therefore, Haig would have had to continue with this idea, but prepare the nation for these losses, rather than reveal to them the real cause – which would have caused a huge loss of morale. This explains why he is preparing the nation for the huge loss in this source. Unfortunately, no definite conclusion can be ascertained as the context in which he is writing it is not known. Another possible intention of the source could be that it is an excerpt from Haig’s diary.

If the diary were solely intended for his exclusive use, then his entries would be completely accurate, reliable and true. Therefore showing that he didn’t care about the lives of his men, as if he did then he would describes his feelings towards these deaths or at least the fact that there was no alternative. However, Haig was a well-known figure and key character in the First World War, therefore suggesting that he knew that one day someone would read his diary, and he would want to be remembered in the best possible way – resulting in selective input into the diary.

Assuming the diary was for public viewing, then it is once again inconclusive, as it could have contained this extract whether he cared about the lives of his men or not – as he is justifying their deaths. If the source was written purely to prepare the public for the apprehended loss of men, then one can’t read far enough into it to draw a conclusive decision as to whether the source proves that he cared about the lives of his men or not.

The circumstances under which Haig wrote this, and the thoughts, feelings and perhaps dilemmas he experienced when writing it are not known, so his attitudes cannot be assumed. The source contains evidence to both concur and contradict to the fact that he didn’t care about the lives of his men, and the source can only display his attitudes to a certain extent, until the context of the source is definitely known. Otherwise, no definite conclusions can be drawn from this source.