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Did General Haig really say that?

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Heinz Kiosk
828439.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 8:30 am Reply with quote

Quote:
QI Quote of the Day

“Make no mistake, this weapon will change absolutely nothing. ”

GENERAL HAIG on the machine gun, 1914.


I'm intrigued by this particular quote, which by using Google I can see in a few places round the internet, but I've been unable to obtain an original citation of it. Curiously one of the internet citations is a French Staff Officer in 1910.

Contrary to uninformed belief Haig was an eager advocate of modern weapons such as the early tanks that the British Army was the leading exponent of in WW1, and so it seems unlikely that he would rubbish the machine-gun.

Maybe the quote (whoever said it, if anyone did, the First World War is notorious for made-up quotes that make generals appear to be idiots) is taken out of context, since actually the machine-gun wasn't significant in WW1 above and beyond eg entrenchments, field-artillery, aircraft, armoured vehicles, submarines, convoys, gas, barbed wire, mass production, high explosives, and so on. (Artillery killed vastly more soldiers than were ever killed by machine gun bullets)

 
Barbara-B
828442.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 8:41 am Reply with quote

I've read a couple of biographies of him and they cite him as an enthusiastic advocate of new technologies. So it sounds very unlike him indeed.

 
Zebra57
828450.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:12 am Reply with quote

From memory I think that I read the quote in a book called "I wish I hadn't said that" but I do not own a copy.

 
Heinz Kiosk
828463.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 11:43 am Reply with quote

Zebra57 wrote:
From memory I think that I read the quote in a book called "I wish I hadn't said that" but I do not own a copy.


Indeed, that quote appears in such books and internet references can be found. What is not apparent is the primary source. Can any contemporary reference to Haig saying that be found? If not it would seem likely that one author has made it up, or misattributed it, or quote-mined it, and everyone else (perhaps including QI) has been shepherded along behind.

The quote fits the popular mythology that demonises WW1 generals yet appears a million miles from anything that Haig would actually have said since there is no other evidence whatsoever (that I'm aware of) that Haig thought machine-guns to be inneffective. It may conceivably be true that Haig didn't think that machine-guns changed the fundamental nature of war. And he would have been correct in that belief, as other technology was more significant in creating the WW1 stalemate.

 
CB27
828469.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 1:33 pm Reply with quote

Looking at the dispatches of Sir Haig (available in a number of places), I can't see that he says anything of the kind, he does in fact seem to suggest that it's a useful part:

http://www.archive.org/stream/sirdouglashaigsd00haiguoft#page/170/mode/2up

However, in a number of entries he seems to show that his method of confronting the issue was to use as many advancing soldiers as possible, in the hope some might get through. This didn't endear him to a number of politicians and pundits at the time who were not enamoured with haig, and Churchill is a good example, when he wrote in The World Crisis that Haig blocked the enemy's machine guns with "the breasts of brave men". This is probably what led to a number of misquoted phrases.

 
clack
828491.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 3:54 pm Reply with quote

I believe the quote originates from Lloyd George's 'War Memoirs' (1936), and as such should be regarded as unreliable. (George had an anti-Haig agenda, and some of George's claims in the book have been debunked).

But I'm no expert on the subject...

 
Heinz Kiosk
828493.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 3:57 pm Reply with quote

Perhaps we have a "Qibble" candidate here.

 
Ion Zone
828495.  Sat Jul 02, 2011 4:13 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
From memory I think that I read the quote in a book called "I wish I hadn't said that" but I do not own a copy.


I've looked through a few of those. Often they put in quotes that are, in fact, satirical or sarcastic statements, or subtle plays on words, rather than the litaral and brainless remarks they think they are.

 
Heinz Kiosk
828557.  Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:42 am Reply with quote

Ion Zone wrote:
Quote:
From memory I think that I read the quote in a book called "I wish I hadn't said that" but I do not own a copy.


I've looked through a few of those. Often they put in quotes that are, in fact, satirical or sarcastic statements, or subtle plays on words, rather than the litaral and brainless remarks they think they are.


Ah, a bit like the CO commanding an exercise who when asked by a keen young subaltern what to do with the machine guns growled, "Take the damned things out to a flank and hide them". That particular quote is cited as an example of senior officer stupidity symptomatic of British Army resistance to new technology. But read the order again, literally, and think about it; what better tactical instructions could the subaltern have been given?

 
CityBill
828645.  Sun Jul 03, 2011 11:07 am Reply with quote

This is a simply ludicrous quote, typical of the silly anti-Haig "donkey" myth. Haig was an enthusiastic user of machine guns in the Sudan in 1898, writing home to say that he wished he'd had more, so it's absurd to imagine that he didn't appreciate them in 1914. It's like a lot of quotes about the first world war (another example is Kiggell sobbing "Did we send men up to fight in this?") which can never be found in any contemparary documents and first appears long after the war AND when the person being "quoted" was dead so couldn't object that they had never said it. Haig's diaries, which were not edited by him after the war, are FULL of positive references to light and heavy machine guns throughout the war, tanks, landing craft, every sort of new technology. IF he said it, which I very strongly doubt, it was in the context that it wasn't going be a miracle-working war-ending weapon. Which it wasn't... So the quote, if it can be found other than in circular references, could be viewed as perfectly sensible (as in the "take the machine guns to the flanks and hide them" - which, as Kiosk says, is quoted as blinkered military stupidity, but is actually EXACTLY what you should do with them...)

 
Jenny
828690.  Sun Jul 03, 2011 2:52 pm Reply with quote

By the way I forgot to say - welcome HeinzKiosk and CityBill :-)

 
Individualmember
849952.  Sun Sep 25, 2011 4:56 am Reply with quote

I recall reading that a machine gun (the Gatling Gun) was used in the second phase of the Zulu war, in 1879. So whether Haig ever said what was quoted or not, it seems to me that the machine gun wasn't a "new technology" which might (or might not) change anything in 1914.

 
Sadurian Mike
849977.  Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:22 am Reply with quote

It was new in so much as it had yet to be properly appreciated as a weapon of war.

Not only were Maxims used in various colonial wars (most notably at the Battle of Omdurman in the Suda,n where they proved very effective, but they were also employed during the Russo-Japanese War in the first few years of the Twentieth Century.

However, the lessons learned were not necessarily the correct ones. Colonial wars, with the exception of the Boer Wars and Sikh Wars, were not fought in the same manner as a European conflict. This mean that tactic learned in those wars were liable to be dismissed as irrelevant to a European war. The Russo-Japanese War actually showed that a determined and disciplined attacker (the Japanese in this case) could overcome machine-guns, rapid-fire magazine rifles, trenches, and barbed wire.

Come the start of the First World War, and the best employment of the machine-gun in a regular, European, war was still to be figured out.

 
bobwilson
850235.  Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:01 pm Reply with quote

Notwithstanding the above posts and much historical debate - I would still describe Haig as having the intelligence of a donkey. As CB says his method of confronting a novel situation was to throw massed troops against it. It's exactly the same mindset that Dubya employed (bomb the bastards). It worked in the past so it'll work now.

Conflicts are resolved by the use of imagination - not simply resorting to what worked last time.

 
dr.bob
850315.  Mon Sep 26, 2011 5:30 am Reply with quote

CityBill wrote:
Haig was an enthusiastic user of machine guns in the Sudan in 1898, writing home to say that he wished he'd had more, so it's absurd to imagine that he didn't appreciate them in 1914.


The quote doesn't actually say that Haig didn't appreciate them. He merely states that it would change nothing. Perhaps that's a pretty frank assessment of the state of the war when both sides have machine guns, as opposed to colonial conflicts where the other side are armed merely with grass skirts and tropical fruit.

 

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