Skip to comments.'Catastrophe' by Max Hastings - magisterial and humane history of the First World War
Posted on 10/26/2013 11:49:11 AM PDT by Ravnagora
German soldiers cross into Belgium in August 1914 Photo: RA/Lebrecht Music & Arts
Like one of Field Marshal Haigs family whiskies, Max Hastings is a dram that steadily improves with age.
His own trenchant views on war, and caustic opinions of the commanders who ran them, tended to obtrude too obviously in his early works, suggesting that if only he had been present at key military conferences costly errors would have been avoided.
However, Hastingss recent massive volumes on his specialist subject, the Second World War, have shown why his position as Britains leading military historian is now unassailable. They demonstrate not only his always formidable grasp of the nuts and bolts of logistics and strategy and an authoritative narrative sweep, but a new humane note of empathy not always present in military history, or indeed in his early works.
In this enormously impressive new book, Hastings effortlessly masters the complex lead-up to and opening weeks of the First World War. As a historian, his objective is twofold: to pin the principal blame for launching the catastrophic conflict where it rightly belongs: on Austria and Germany; and to argue unashamedly that Britain was right politically and morally to fight it.
In advancing these arguments, Hastings takes on two foes: first, revisionist historians such as Cambridges Prof Christopher Clark who have recently sought to exculpate Germany and put tiny Serbia in the dock as the chief villain, for organising or conniving in the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo the spark that gave Vienna and Berlin a perfect excuse to set off the conflagration.
(Excerpt) Read more at telegraph.co.uk ...
Its World War One; theres thirteen million killed; it was all because the militaries of both alliances believed they were so highly attuned to one anothers movements and dispositions, they could predict one anothers intentions, but all their theories were based on the last war. And the world and technology had changed, and those lessons were no longer valid, but it was all they knew, so the orders went out, couldnt be rescinded. And your man in the field, his family at home, they couldnt even tell you the reasons why their lives were being destroyed.
What was the.fatality count for WII?
Count me as a Max Hastings fan.
most of the blame for WW1 rests on the head of a narcisstic, incompetent, arrogant, petulant, childish, clinically insane ruler named wilhelm II. description sound familiar?
—nonetheless, in another of the weighty tomes on the subject which I have read, it is asserted that the German General Staff , knowing his kinship to and ties to Great Britain, usually didn’t let him know what they really were planning-—
—and , while not generally mentioned , from the time of Bismarck on , there was apparently much feeling in the British right-wing of politics , that the new “Germany” should be reduced to a nation of agricultural serfdom-—naturally enough, the Krauts didn’t agree-—
Early in the war, soldiers on both sides sang Christmas carols to each other. By the end of the war, they just wanted to kill the other side and get it done with. Perhaps that war played as big a role as anything in killing off Christianity in Europe.
I too love Hastings' work. Perhaps he has an answer to my questions in this book.
Difficult to comprehend. Very grim.
I’ve seen stats for the soviet union of 20-26 million dead, civilians included.
This is believed to be the major reason why the soviets subscribed to the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. They didn’t want a nuclear war with the US with more millions dead.
I also believe Iran doesn’t give a damn about MAD. They are religious fanatics. They just want to have the bomb and I believe they will initiate first use.
My Great Uncle, Newfoundland Regiment British Army, that if he knew then the realities he have hid in the woods with the Frenchies.( Exact Quote.)
The German awareness of the Morgenthau Plan - the "agrarian serfdom" plan championed by FDR's Sec'y of the Treasury - stiffened the resolve of many individual German soldiers in 1944 and '45, even ones that were no longer particularly enamored of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Words do have consequences, although not necessarily for the political hacks and government weenies that spout them.
As far as blame for WWI goes, there is plenty to be ladled out, and everyone gets their share. I'll have to see if the local bookstore has a copy of "Catastrophe," but I've gotten weary of books full of politicians, generals and grand overviews to the point where books like "A Rifleman Went to War" or "Storm of Steel" are more welcome here than "the latest great scholarly view of the subject."
I second that. The 20th century was a long period of decline. Christianity in decline. Freedom in decline. Culture in decline. We did develop toys and technology (I won't complain about antibiotics and computers) but so much of the 20th century was movement away from what a Conservative would like to see.
I blame WWI (and the Progressives) for really getting the bad trip going.
It Really Was All Germanys Fault
Max Hastings Traces a Wars Origins in Catastrophe 1914
I’d say it’s a lot more complicated than that. You can’t lay all the blame on Wilhelm II. He was a major player of course, but there were quite a few trigger points at which individuals could have stopped the war, and he was just one of those individuals. Now you can make a case that he was a strong contributor to the powder keg that was waiting (with his provocative positions such as his naval race with the UK), but the rulers of Serbia, Austria, or Russia could have stopped the war from occurring as well.
The rulers of Serbia were as “compliant” as humanly possible (more than they should have been) to Austria’s “Ultimatum” of July 23, 1914, and it still wasn’t “good enough”. Nothing that Serbia did or did not do would have prevented Austria from attacking her, because Austria was hell bent on crushing Serbia.
Well, she should have rethought that desire, because in the end, it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was “crushed” and dissolved.
Wilhelm II is a bit of a complicated case. While on the one hand he was pushing for war, on the other, when war was actually becoming a very real possibility, he started backtracking. By that time though, the wrecking ball was not to be stopped.
Even after the war former Rad Army soldiers would die. If it had been known a soldier had surrendered and managed to live to be liberated or if any soldier had been deemed a coward that soldiers and others like him would be banished from society. This occurred a lot in the wide areas of Ukraine or in the forests that lay around Leningrad. These poor buggers were just ostracized from society and left to fend for themselves. They were called called ''The Men of The Forest''.
Clark does no such thing - his book is entitled "The Sleepwalkers" and I doubt the author of this has read it. He most certainly does not "exculpate" Germany. He does, however, remind us that Princip did not act alone.
This is a very old controversy with more points of view than a single reader can manage in a lifetime. It seems pretty well-established that Germany did have extensive war plans and a general staff eager to implement them, and a young Kaiser who was certifiable. Not exactly a peace and love society. It is also well-established that the Serbian nationalists wanted war - just not that kind and with that many players.
On the whole I would have to agree that Germany deserves the lion's share of the blame for the weird, snowballing set of circumstances that started the avalanche. But the entire story is fiendishly complicated. I'll look forward to seeing how Hastings does with it.
I think if we add stalins purge of his own people like the Ukraine, safe to say the citizens had a horrible century
The Soviets admitted to 20,000,000 in their official history, which is probably quite low. I have seen figures of 25 million as well and one Russian politician a few years back quoted 35 million which may be a bit high. Also note that the 54 million figure includes the Sino-Japanese conflict which was very costly.
If Iran tries first use and detonates a bomb in Israel the Israelis will probably flatten about two dozen carefully chosen targets. A few hard targets such as known command posts and weapon facilities would be hit. A few symbolic targets such as Teheran and Qom might be destroyed. And then they might take out the only gasoline refinery Iran has. And that reactor at Bushehr. Nasty mess, that last one.
Yes I agree with response scenario.
One reason I left libertarians soft on Iran, but don’t see much difference with bush and Obama
We should have taken irans word on there multiple threats and done a joint attack
My great grandfather fought (likely lied about his age) in the Spanish American War in Puerto Rico, and thought it fine sport. He was a Captain in the AEF and was part of an assault across a pontoon bridge in the face of machine gun fire in France. His opinion of war was decidedly different after that.
My Grandfather was in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery . He was gassed at the Somme and sent to England to recover. (And met my grandmother). After he recovered from the gas he had the chance to volunteer to go to Russia and fight against the Bolsheviks , and because of that , his war wasn’t over until the summer of 1919. 16th Brigade. Canadian Field Artillery
I once asked my mother why he volunteered to go to Russia. She said he had told her, Nothing could be as bad as France.
Actually as I recall it Serbia was compliant as you say, and things would have passed with Austria, but then Russia stepped in and guaranteed the safety of Serbia, so the Serbs backtracked which pissed off the Austrians.
At that point the dice were cast because of the interlocking system of mobilizations. Austria mobilized, so Russia mobilized (could have been vice versa), then Germany, then France, and there goes the powder keg.
Germany had absolutely no difficulty “taking its proper place in the world economy”, German industry and exports were thriving and sold freely around the world. If I am not wrong by the time war broke out Germany’s economy was either the second or third largest in the world so the Brits can’t have been very successful in restricting German businesses selling their goods.
Gramps must have had some problem with the the Brits.
You are aware that only a couple of weeks ago Hastings wrote a piece in the British Daily Mail in which he was absolutely scathing of the Republicans and the Tea Party for causing the US government “shutdown”? The piece read like it could have been ghostwritten by someone in the Obama White House so far up Barack’s fundament was Hastings.
hey niteowl try the books by lyn macdonald. believe there is one for every year of the war and focuses on the BEF with a lot of personal references. also keegan’s THE FACE OF BATTLE has a chapter on the somme.
Thanks for that, the campaign against the Bolsheveks is one of the more forgotten chapters of history.
Interesting family testimony!
The German military planners were better prepared for an outbreak of war, in the 1890s anticipating worse-case of being outnumbered 4:1 and fighting on two fronts; their response included the invention of modern field artillery and making a lot of it, more automatic weapons, and sending infantry out well-armed and carrying packs of ammo instead of food and cookware.
France was still smarting over the humiliation (and cost) of the Franco-Prussian War, and was threatening revenge. Bismarck had used three quick wars to construct the modern unified German state and a treaty system that diplomatically isolated France. The treaty system frayed and fell apart as the renegotiation dates passed; by that time Bismarck had been forced to retire, and refused to explain anything to anyone. His system had kept Europe largely peaceful for nearly 40 years, then the war came.
The Germans maintained their western fronts (which were quiet most of the time, while they waited for the British and French to prepare another offensive) with small numbers, allowing them to fairly rapidly shift their forces to places where they’d have overwhelming superiority. The British and French would attack, the German forces would give up the easy ground, and defend dug-in positions on stubborn terrain. And they always had superior firepower. After a shift of forces, the counterattack would shatter the Allied offensive and drive the Allies back across that same easy ground. By the time the French (first) and British (not sure they have to this day) figured this out, they’d fed millions to German guns.
The British “historians” still often claim that German losses were comparable in the First War, which is obvious nonsense — the war would have ended at least two years earlier otherwise, and just as obviously, Germany wouldn’t have had the manpower to raise for the Second. German casualty rates only rose to comparable levels after the US entered the war; by that time Russia had collapsed and German and Austrian forces were freed up for the western front, making final victory over France and the UK/Commonwealth (the British Empire fed a lot of Commonwealth soldiers to the guns as well) a mere matter of time.
Prior to that time, Germany and its largest ally had much of its capability deployed in the east, where the easy ground led like a highway right into Germany and up to the borders of Austria-Hungary.
Believing their own propaganda, the British and French were convinced that Germany was running out of manpower and kept trying to recruit new allies, to give that one last push that would bring victory. Romania was enticed, and got its ass handed to it. Italy was enticed, and seemed to make quick progress — then ran into the tougher defended terrain, came to a halt, and a bit later experienced that same overwhelming counterattack. That first collapse terrified the Italian gov’t, which demanded help from Britain and France, out of fear that the Central Powers wouldn’t be stopped at the Po.
I'll have to look for MacDonald's books; thanks for the tip!
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