“37 Days” BBC World War 1 drama – A Critique

It’s as General Helmuth von Moltke once wote to his wife, nearly 10 years before 1914, that (non verbatim) a whole stream of lies is being put out from England about Germany and its aims. Yesterday I watched the last of the 3 episodes of the BBC drama “37 Days”. It’s essentially set in the Foreign Offices of Britain and Germany between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany 4 August 1914.

For those who haven’t seen it, here are some observations: Sir Eyre Crowe is misrepresented because while he was from 1912 Assistant Under-Secretary below Sir Arthur Nicolson (Permanent Under-Secretary and most senior FO civil servant), both Nicolson and Sir William Tyrrell (Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s own secretary and the man who worked most closely with Grey on a day to day basis) are both entirely absent from “37 Days”. In fact, it was quite hard for Crowe in his position to get to see Grey, yet the drama chooses to show him as Grey’s right-hand man almost and he is in many scenes often meeting foriegn ambassadors with Grey which would never have happened in real life. Tyrrell and Nicolson were in fact the two who saw Grey the most; the real Crowe was frustrated because he didn’t have their access to Grey and had to be satisfied with writing memos. But of course, from the dramatic perspective, it was presuambly seen as better to have Crowe with Grey because Crowe can be presented as so ‘German’ while the quintessentially English Grey and others can constantly make little quips and even snide remarks subtlely reminding Crowe of his origins and the fact that he has a “curious defect” about him, as Grey puts it. So Crowe, “the German” in the British FO, is actually anti-German (as indeed was the real Crowe – not anti-German culture but anti-German policy) and Jens, the young German in the German FO in the drama is “British” in that he is ‘a liberal’, which he says is “poison” in the Prussian FO. Both of them are critical of Germany and what they see as warmongering. So tight from episode 1 we are supposed to see Britain as wonderfully liberal and Germany as Prussian and militaristic.
The presentation of the Kaiser is not too inaccurate perhaps, though in various ways they try to show him as someone essentially insane; they oversimply somone who was a very complex personality, but the presentation of General Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff – and the bete noire of the drama -  is simply appalling. He is portrayed as the very image of aggressive, scheming “Prussian militarism”, but worse than that, he does not even have the stereotypical rigid, upright. cold manner of the  cardboard stereotypical Prussian aristocrat; he is shown to be an emotional violent brute, a crude bullying loud oaf in a general’s uniform almost. He is shown horizontal and bent over more as much as he is upright. The real Helmuth von Moltke was none of these things. Unfortunately, but predictably in the context, the makers of the programme, looking for a villain for the piece, chose to go with the appallingly simplistic and ignorant picture of von Moltke  – a crude hatchet job essentially – presented in “Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War” (2001) by Prof. Annika Mombauer of the Open University (UK) rather than the much truer and more complex picture of Moltke the man presented in Thomas Meyer, “Light for the New Millennium: Rudolf Steiner’s Association With Helmuth and Eliza Von Moltke : Letters, Documents and After-Death Communications” (1998). Mombauer’s book was her PhD thesis, and it is all too obvious that the book tries to draw attention to itself by savaging the reputation of man who was a truly decent and sensitive, much misunderstood human being. the book and the drama make him out to be THE figure primarily responsible for the catastophe of the war – and thus of all that followed it. That is certainly the message that those viewers of this programme who don’t know anything much about the war or about Moltke will take away from watching it. It was certainly the message communicated by the scriptwriter Mark Hayhurst, who puts into Moltke’s mouth numerous things he never said and by the director Justin Hardy who has the actor playing Moltke behave in such a crude and repulsive manner.

The actor who plays General Falkenhayn  – in real life, a sinister and far more belligerent character than Moltke – actually looks a bit more like the real Moltke and the one who plays Moltke looks a bit more like the real Falkenhayn. When you remember that most British viewers won’t even have heard of Moltke, then THIS is the image they will imbibe of the man. In short, this disgusting image of Moltke has ‘Mombauer’ written all over it. This is the result of the crude caricature of the man that she presents in her book about him. It has in in its essentials been taken up right across the board by British historians, including even Christopher Clark in his reent work “The Sleepwalkers”, if not quite so crudely. Moltke is shown in the drama to plan a provocative move to force the Russians into general mobilisation (“I shall provoke them into it”.) He is shown to do this by telegraphing the Austrians and ordering them to mobilise.
The Austrian Count Hoyos is presented as as an utterly effete dandy with a bizarre moustache and as the Austrian ambassador to Berlin, whereas in fact he was only a messenger; the real ambassador was Count Szoegyeny-Marich. The veteran Austrian ambassador in London, Count Mensdorff, who was very popular in London, is treated with headmasterly scorn by Sir Edward Grey and spoken down to in an insulting manner which Grey would never have used with anyone. Mensdorff is shown as an idiot and a buffoon with another ridiculous moustache. The German ambassador, Prince Max Lichnowsky, is portrayed sympathetically but only because he’s obviously “an English gentleman” or close to one and is on very good personal terms with Grey.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand is described as “rash” (Crowe) and “a fool” whom “nobody liked in Vienna and whose wife was treated as a waitress” (Grey) and of course, they don’t miss the chance to make him look bad in the minds of ‘the nature-loving English’ by describing him and the Kaiser as having been responsible for “the extinction of the Bohemian antelope in a single afternoon’s shooting.” (Lichnowsky). That’s all that’s said about him really. They omit the cardinal fact that Franz Ferdinand was a peacemaker who wanted no war with any country, had held the hawks in his own country in check for years, and at least had a good idea to save the Austro-Hungarian Empire by giving the Slavs equal rights with the German-speakers and the Hungarians, trnasforming the Empire from a dual into a threefold structure. These are the reasons why HE was killed. he was not just any Austrian archduke. In addition, of course, he was the Austrian Heir Apparent about to accede to the throne at any moment (as the Emperor was well into his 80s) and a personal friend of the Kaiser of Germany – two more significant reaons why the enemies of his country wanted him dead.
They programme makers do at at least point to the Russian threat to India, made explicit in a comment by Count Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador, to Grey and Asquith, the Prime Minister. In the first 2 episodes the French figure not at all except for a very brief appearance by their ambassador to London, Paul Cambon. He’s shown to speak perfect English, which is nonsense because in fact, he could hardly speak English while Grey could hardly speak French; meetings between the two men actually took a long time as they could only communicate with each other very slowly.
Lloyd George is shown in a Cabinet meeting on July 31 or 1 Aug threatening to resign if Britain were to intervene on the Continent. This is untrue; he had already been a secret sympathiser with the Grey-Churchill-Asquith-Haldane group since his infamous Mansion House speech in the City in July 1911.
The actor playing Grey (Ian McDiarmid) looks 20 years too old; Grey was only in his early 50s when war broke out.. The character of Grey in the drama comes across as an honest, rather bumbling but at times steely and occasionally double-dealing man (he says one thing to the Austrian ambassador and then the opposite to the Russian immediately afterwards). Of course, as the model Edwardian English gentleman he is intended to be, he is shown as being  kind to all, including his junior staff, plays cricket (though actually fishing and tennis were more Grey’s interests) and in general behaves like an amiable country squire; his peace conference move is presented as entirely honourable and well-meaning, whereas in reality it was an empty and unrealistic gesture in which he lined up 3 of Germany’s opponents (England, France and Italy) against Germany in order to discuss ‘peace’ between Russia and Austria. In the end, the move was overtaken by Russia’s peremptory general mobilisation.
The character playing Czar Nicholas II looks and seems much more like Nicholas’ father Alexander III than Nicholas II, and though at one point he is clearly shown to be pressing the button for war with a forceful order for general mobilisation (the programme doesn’t show how that comes about; the warmongering Foreign Minister Sazonov is entirely absent), the moment is very short, and the rest of the drama at that point chooses to focuses on German (ir)responsibility in line with the general mood of the whole drama as a conflict between Britain and Germany, which of course is quite false, as *the real* enmity was actually between Britain and Russia, Britain’s supposed Entente partner. Russia wanted war against Austria and Germany because she knew she would be supported by France, and France abd Russia both felt sure of the support of Britain.

In the end the drama identifies the villains as Moltke and the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, who at one point savagely barks at the Austrian Hoyos, supposedly the Austrian ambassador, “Do not sit down!!!” – typical behaviour for your typically stereotyped Prussian. Afterwards he says to his aide: “It’s like giving orders to a pony” – the point here being to ram home the notion desired by the writer Mark Hayhurst that Austria did nothing itself and that everything was originated by Germany.
In fact, only London and Berlin are ‘real places’ in this drama (which was mostly filmed in N.Ireland apparently). The French, Russians, Austrians hardly figure and the Serbs not at all except, briefly, for the Sarajevo assassin Gavrilo Princip.
Here are some observations about the third and final episode:
Jens, the young German liberal at the Berlin FO: “It took the special genius of General Moltke to turn a local conflict into an international crisis” – Moltke identified as THE villain.
Moltke: “There can’t be a powerful Germany and a powerful Russia on the same continent!!! One has to submit!!!” – Moltke identified as raving megalomaniac
Bethmann-Hollweg (BH): “He [Moltke] wants to declare war on France.” [This was not at all true, but Moltke knew that France *would* without question fight alongside Russia and thus a two-front war would be unavoidable.]
Young Scottish clerk in London FO: “And that was when things began to change in London….we had an alliance with France…”
[Actually, Britain had no alliance with France only a supposedly informal  Entente 'partnership', but Grey's diplomacy was so deceptive, hiding things from his own Cabinet colleagues, that he in effect committed Britain to the terms of an alliance without actually setting them down on paper.]

The young Scottish clerk in the London FO, is used to excuse Grey’s bungling (?) or deception (?) on 1 August in his telephone call to the German ambassador: “Sir Edward used the telephone to broker some kind of agreement with the German ambassador but telephones, you know? Things get scrambled, don’t they?” [In other words, the suggestion was here made to the viewers that it was a case of 'cock-up not conspiracy' - the usual British excuse  - just a mistake made on the phone, don't you know?  The British like to think that history, indeed, human life itself, is just a series of random events and absurdities at which all one can do is laugh - such is British 'philosophy'. In fact the scenario shown in the drama concerning the circumstances of this famous telephone call is entirely speculative. Grey actually sent his secretary Tyrrell to speak to Lichnowsky and misunderstanding already began there.]
Bethmann-Hollweg to Moltke: “a war will exterminate socialism in Germany for ever…” [this was evidently to antagonise all the liberals and socialists watching the drama against the Germans]
Lord Morley : “Grey has misled the Cabinet and conducted foreign policy without reference to Parliament.” [TRUE!!!]
Moltke to the Kaiser: “it will be easier for us to fight on 2 fronts than on 1….we just need to sweep away the dust from the Schlieffen Plan….” [here the old whipping horse of the Schlieffen Plan is trotted out again]
Falkenhayn to the Kaiser: “the Schlieffen Plan has always been updated, Your Majesty” [This reflects a nod by Mombauer in the direction of military historian Terence Zuber's research perhaps? Zuber argues that recently discovered documents show there was no Schlieffen Plan as conventionally understood and no 6 weeks to carry it out]
Moltke: “6 weeks,,,,the time it will take to knock out France…our scouting parties will first see Paris 40 days into the war…” [the usual nonsense about the Schlieffen Plan]

Bethmann-Hollweg, concerned about breaking Belgian neutrality: “What about Belgian neutrality?” Moltke: “something has already been arranged about that” i.e. by HIM. HE has sent a telegram to the German embassy in Belgium. The drama presents Moltke as secretly plotting the main events in Germany,  both in the East and the West. The level of slander in this drama against Moltke reminds one of Lord Stanhope’s calumnies against Kaspar Hauser.
The young German liberal at the FO: ” ‘the last battle fought in Belgium would be Waterloo’ – that was the epic idea of the Great Powers who signed the Treaty in 1839. It was not an idea that meant much to General Moltke.” [Moltke was to blame]

Grey to Cambon: “You credit Britain with too much power, Paul.” Cambon to Grey: It is YOU who can stop it. YOU alone. The power is yours.” [Indeed, as Rudolf Steiner pointed out, Grey could have stopped the war with one sentence; he could either have said clearly to Russia "we shall not support you" or he could have said clearly to Germany: "we shall fight you if you go into Belgium or attack France"; he did neither.]
Grey is shown declining to believe that German troops are heading for Belgium [yet he had attended most of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) meetings where all the military matters relating to France and Belgium had been discussed in detail for years.]

Lichnowsky to Grey: “To violate Belgian sovereignty would be madness.” [i.e. the Germans are MAD.]
Grey to Churchill: “What does it mean to lead a democracy into war. Churchill: “I don’t know. Never been done before.” [Yet even this drama pointed out the power of German socialism in the Reichstag and the fact that in Britain working class representation was still puny. In fact, only  40% of adult males had the vote in 1914 in Britain]
Grey to Morley in Cabinet 2 Aug: “Words have to mean something; otherwise all that remains is the cannon” [subtext: we British use diplomacy; Germans use cannon]

Grey in cabinet 2 Aug: “our good name, none would trust us if we stayed out…we would face a continent dominated by a solitary power and that a military one, dedicated to blood and iron….let every man here search his own heart…. [i.e.  they omitted Grey's famous 3 Aug. speech to Parliament (too costly all those extras and the Commons mockup necessary) and instead, put his words and arguments into the 2 Aug. Cabinet meeting]
Asquith 2 Aug. Cabinet: “If Germany fails to be impressed by the Belgian neutrality issue and Belgium fails to ask for our help, would you, David Lloyd George, commit to war for the sake of France? DLG: No.” [untrue. Lloyd George was already secretly on the side of the 'warriors' and was hedging his bets until the very last minute like the true opportunist he always was]

Lichnowsky to Grey: “State your conditions for neutrality. Help me. There must be something you can insist on.” Grey: That you do not go to war with France. [Wrong. Grey said no such thing to Lichnowsky on 3 August. It is well-known and attested by Grey himself that he simply refused to say any such thing, saying only "we must keep our hands free".]
Lloyd George in Cabinet 3 Aug: “I am genuinely frightened of a rampant Germany sitting in Brussels and Paris and on the Channel coasts. I care for a small nation like my own and its rights. Do I care for international law? Yes I do! There ought to be more of it. Not less. [a PC advert for the UN?] The German invasion of Belgium has changed everything for me. The only sensible thing now is for this government to send an ultimatum to the aggressors in Berlin.” ['Britain' has spoken! The Germans are the aggressors!]

This is followed by a scene in Berlin of the German leading figures all now wearing their pickelhaubes. [!]
and the young German liberal at the FO: “I believe it was Rousseau who said ‘it is a sort of folly to remain wise amidst those who are mad’ and in those 37 days Germany was short of that kind of folly.” [i.e. Germany was MAD.]
Bethmann-Hollweg to the the young German liberal at the FO: “I always hoped that under my stewardship I would see Germany as a State with an army rather than the other way round.” [i.e. German is a militaristic society]
Margot Asquith: “forgiving” Grey: “I suppose there comes a time  in all diplomacy when nothing is left standing except principle.” [i.e. "well done, Edward, for standing up for principle!" Britain stands up for principle!]
10:30 pm 4 Aug. Grey: “Perhaps I should have travelled more. I’ve never once set foot in Germany. I could’ve taken my own measure of the place. Asquith: “I don’t think that matters. That’s what the FO is for. The world dissected by experts in every field, its vital organs displayed and explained.” [no need to interact with real live foreigners. Better not to. Instead, it's better to cut them open and analyse them]

Asquith: “What will it be like, do you think?” (the war)
Grey: “I haven’t given it much thought, not the military side of things.” [the mind boggles - yet he HAD attended most CID meetings over the years and was well aware of military and naval planning]
The drama ends with the two young FO men, Scottish and German, now in army uniform. They relate the sad statistics of death and horror that resulted from the war – and the unspoken conclusion which has been hammered home by  this drama is that all this was caused essentially by ONE WICKED MAN – Helmuth von MOLTKE. This drama is actually the perverted victory of the ideas of one woman  – Annika Mombauer.
As the credits come up, the programme continues its tissue of lies with a photo of Moltke and the words: “Gen. Helmuth von Moltke resigned after failing to take Paris in the Autumn of 1914″. [He did not; he was dismissed by the Kaiser on grounds of ill-health after the failure of the Battle of the Marne in Sept.1914]
They programme makers do not fail to point out that “Prince Lichnowsky blamed his own government for leading Europe to war.” [they have done this svereal times - get Germans to condemn their own country]
The last lie: “Sir Edward Grey left the House of Commons and became Ambassador to the United States. [Grey was ousted in 'a very British coup' in December 1916 by the Milner Group which set up a new War Cabinet with Lloyd George as figurehead prime Minister in order to prosecute the war more efficiently and avoid peace offers]
The writer and producer was Mark Hayhurst. the BBC executive producer Martin Davidson assisted by producers; Lucy-Bassnett-McGuire and Susan Horth. The director was Justin Hardy.
See this interview with the actor who plays Grey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JJT1Y76dC4
He says: “it gave a balanced picture of what happened…all the facts are there….the quality of the writing emphasises the humanity of the characters” !!!! this from a man who says at the outset that he didn’t know anything about those 37 days or about Grey before being in the film.
Keep an eye on Youtube. It’s possible that someone will upload the 3 episodes at some point soon and you can watch this abomination for yourself.
It is, alas, another shameful ‘masterpiece’ from the wizards of British propaganda, because among those members of the public who are actually interested in the First World War, they are more likely to remember this drama than the various BBC documentaries by Max Hastings, Niall Ferguson et al. just as the only thing most Brits know of Grey is his evocative “the lamps are going out all over Europe…” phrase. It has long been said that the English prefer to get their ‘philosophy’ from Shakespeare rather than from philosophers.
One can only hope that the ‘instincts’ which the English are sometimes said to possess and their supposed innate ‘nose’ for fair play and balance will alert at least some of them to the Salome-like propaganda (naked but at the same time veiled) which this drama represents.