A penchant for war stories drama and a love for history led me to read Barbara W. Tuchman's The Guns of August, a dramatic, full, and meticulously detailed account of the early stages of World War 1. Having initially read her account of the 14th century Europe, A Distant Mirror, I was keen to find out how she would utilize her style of using key individuals of the time to illustrate how events panned out through the account of their experiences, during the First World War.
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The Guns of August is a military account of the opening month of World War I written by a self-made history scholar. A 1962 Pulitzer award winner, The Guns of August, cemented Tuchman's status in the history turf. Tuchman was a historian who utilized facts combed meticulously from a huge number of primary and secondary sources and intertwined a mesmerizing plot from the interaction of these facts, an examination of the part played by individuals, and a reflection of the multifaceted impetuses that might have made them take the actions that they took. Instead of imposing her own understandings on the thought of the participants, she allowed the facts show the way.
Tuchman's account is a single articulate narrative- the agreement of which is descriptive as opposed to analytical. She centers on man and not conditions and it has a subject matter and an argument i.e. the recounting of World War I and its devastating costs for Europe. Tuchman's clearly is aims at knowing what was going on in the individuals' minds during the first month of the First World War. She effectively combines documentary facts with the power of the thoughts to paint brilliantly a living depiction of the happenings and the actors of the month of August 1914. Despite the significant descriptive prowess displayed in this book, Tuchman does not fail when discussing the root causes that started World War I. The best short-term igniter of the battle was the killing of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian assassin. The "damned foolish thing" that Bismarck had anticipated would start the next war.
In the initial days of August 1914, Germany marshaled seven armies. The plan, hatched for years, was to attack in a massive curve across Europe and, by the ending of August, attack Paris, the hub of their longtime adversary. The proceedings of August 1914 were the starting events of what that was then known as The Great War, and what came to be known as World War 1. August 1914 is the month Barbara Tuchman centers on in her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Guns of August. This result into a 440-page account that sometimes can be annoying. A book with broad descriptions of generals and the topography, but nonetheless paints a stunning representation of a devastating happening that wiped out a generation of youthful men.
The book is excellent but its strong pro-Georgian bias at times damages the excellence of its scholarship, and at times distorts the difference between fact and fiction. The Guns of August covers the two main theatres of war, the Western and the eastern front. Tuchman leaves out the battle in the Balkans around Turkey, though she dedicates a remarkable chapter to the Mediterranean chase of the German warship Goeben by the Allied forces. The Goeben lastly anchored in the Turkish Dardenelles though Turkey was at the time a neutral and consequently rushed its involvement in the War backing Germany. The ensuing Joint forces battles in the Balkans against Turkey was inclusive of the wretched Gallipoli battle the Joint forces lost many British army troops.
The Guns of August thesis is that France and Germany were on a crash course for war regardless of the happenings as they occurred and that the events of august 1914 shaped the First World War. If Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated then there would certainly have been another reason for the two to go to war. Tuchman examines the events leading to the eruption of war, and this leaves us with an image that the war was inevitable. Germany, insecure from feelings of betrayal and being left out of alliances by the European countries, had been making war plans for over a decade. Thomas Mann held that "Germans . . . deserved to be the most powerful, to dominate, to establish a 'German peace'" (311).
France had always been Germany's enemy. When a Serbian assassin killed Archduke Ferdinand (an Austrian), an intricate maze of alliances was activated. The overall upshot of it was that Germany attacked France. To move seven armies within Europe required ample space, Germany intended to infringe on Belgium impartiality by moving its troops through Belgium to Paris. That was how the first battles of the war happened in Belgium against its cities. The attacks on civilians by the German army alongside the setting of Louvain on fire were a wake up call to the world and this was the start of an extended vicious war.
Through Tuchman, we get to meet all the major players, the Allied and the German commanders. With her signature thoroughness, we discover of their traits, strengths and flaws. Through her, we come to comprehend just how world happenings can be fashioned by individual shortcomings. Tuchman gives us the account in fine researched detail. She carefully avoids making conclusions for the reader by focusing on the significant moments for instance, when Joffre sways Field Marshal Sir John French to redeploy the British forces to war. She depicts the state of the soldiers under compulsory march as dirty, weary, bloody and starving. The Generals while dining on cower and drinking tea while leading the business of war are depicted as giving orders, tracking the army positioning and even appointing and dismissing field generals. Tuchman puts a human touch to the happenings and hence aids us to comprehend them. Prudently, she does not offer a lot of analysis, save for saying that the first World War was an awful loss of a whole age, and that it left no victors but merely a deep sense of disenchantment.
Tuchman, however, seems biased against the Germans albeit one can understand why. As one reads this account, it is hard to find anything commendable amid the German forces leadership. The intentionally friendless and hostile commander Erich Ludendorff, the "hero of LiŠge", characterizes the Germans. Nevertheless, one can welcome the courage of persons such as the paradoxically named General von Fran‡ois. His single-minded insubordination led to an early on and amazing triumph over the Russians. The Joint forces naturally are depicted to be better in Tuchman's description. Concerning the Germans, the writer deftly merges perceptive descriptions of characters and a close concentration on the path of action every person takes. The effect from this is a lucid depiction of the way these men manipulated the result of the first critical month of the battle.
This book is both riveting and enormously fulfilling intellectually. However, Tuchman work calls for a critical mental input from the reader. At times one will find the extensive narratives on soldiers' exercises head spinning. Tuchman also appears impulsive in her selection of which expression to translate, frequently leaving the German phrases not translated, but giving English translations to many (not all) French ones. Another weakness is that the short compilation of photos could have been extended to comprise powerful pictures like the attacks on the Cathedral at Rheims or the Library at Louvain. While maps were integrated, they were of poor quality. It was hard to distinguish the marks that showed soldiers movements and the names of places were hard to figure out. Nevertheless, the superb flow of the text and the outstanding research mask these shortcomings.
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