Review: Infantry Attacks (Rommel)

Infantry Attacks.

Granted, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find appropriate period cover art that features the author, because pictures of Rommel during the Great War are almost non-existent, but the decision that was taken to plaster the cover of a First World War book with Second World War images was an error. It would have been better to have stuck with stock First World War photos, even if best ones are morphing from iconic to trite during these centennial years.

Using notes he took at the time, supplemented by later personal discussions he had with colleagues and visits to the old battlefields, Rommel wrote this book during the interwar period. The anecdotes go into so much detail that it’s unlikely that anyone could have remembered all of this information on his own. But throughout the book Rommel is unsparing of himself when it comes to mistakes he made back then, because he intended this to be a textbook for future warriors. The writing is very readable, communicating a good “you-are-there” feeling.

Available in both hardcover and paperback reprints, Rommel’s accounts of the warfare he experienced on both fronts helps round out the Great War memoir genre. Highly recommended.

 

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Review: Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War (Miller, et al.)

miller-et-al

Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War (Revised and Expanded Edition): An International Security Reader.

Straining at gnats and swallowing camels, most of the writers in this book join the throng of revisionist Great War Guilt theorists who overlook the obvious: that the First World War was exactly what Willy wanted.

Consisting of chapters by separate authors, the book includes much politically correct thinking about the Great War. Divided into two parts, it first examines “Offensive Military Doctrines and the Great War” in five essays which focus on aspects of the notion of military provocation, which, couched as “the cult of the offensive” is attributed to all of the belligerents on both sides.

Certainly, hostile “encirclement” was the favorite internal and international propaganda used by the Kaiser, to justify his invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium and France (events which were accompanied by baldfaced lies). But just because Germany’s emperor wholeheartedly believed in “might is right” and “possession is nine-tenths of the law” does not mean that the members of the Entente were driven by the same obsessions because they ended up in combat with him.

The Entente was made up of gentlemen (yes, even the French, who had grieved the loss of Alsace-Lorraine for more than forty years, yet throughout that time had done nothing belligerent about it), who chose to ignore the Kaiser’s rants, expecting him to get over himself, as any sassy but otherwise sane modern monarch should be able to do. But as most parents can tell you, there’s a limit to how long the warning “Don’t make me come down there” will silence the squabbling of a child who’s spoiling for a fight. The problem with the Entente was that they waited too long to do anything about the whiner: he had grown from a snotty kid to a burly adolescent bully who thought he could take what he wanted and get away with it.

The second part of the book, “Crime or Blunder? Inadvertence, Guilt, and Historical Responsibility,” consists of four essays that disagree in different ways and to varying extents with the military provocation theory, but the first three still largely sidestep the whole truth: Because the Entente’s efforts at diplomacy were ineffective to discipline the bully on the block, they were simply forced to resort to means and methods that the bully understood. Unfortunately, the Entente was not strong enough to settle his hash without help.

The saving grace of this book is its final chapter, “Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War.” This is where the rubber meets the road: Germany’s policy and procedures to deny its War Guilt, which even a generation after the fact took the form of persecution of those who tried to tell the truth (including Fritz Fischer, whose massive scholarly exposé of Germany’s war aims merits only a mere nod in the first part of the book). In this chapter we learn of the measures which Germany’s spin doctors took to alter the historical record that ever since have had a remarkably consistent effect on both public perceptions and political policies, worldwide.

Not for the Wilhelmine Reich, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, nor postwar Germany would be the kind of statement that later became the hallmark of terrorist behavior: the smugly issued announcement that they “take responsibility” (a positive-sounding euphemism for something I have always felt should be more accurately expressed by the press as “take the blame”) for what are nothing less than irresponsible acts of war. From the very first – even before the Sarajevo shot was fired – it was always part of Germany’s plan to protect its interests by lying about its intentions and denying its responsibility for prosecuting a genuine war of conquest that was inevitable only because it was what Willy wanted.

Recommended reading because the final chapter tells the truth about the origins of the First World War.

(My copy is a quality trade paperback issued by Princeton University Press, with a preface to introduce the studies, but no index.)

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Review: Germany’s Aims in the First World War (Fischer)

Germany’s Aims in the First World War.

This analysis of the truth about what Willy wanted (as formulated by his Imperial Chancellor) is only a fraction of its original size in the German language, but it’s still a massive effort. It examines in minute detail Germany’s evolving war aims from every possible angle, as the war progressed, and because of that approach it seems to be redundant, but invariably there will be different “Aha!” moments that make all those words worthwhile.

It’s slow going, because of the numerous names, dates and places involved in the structuring of the hegemony the German empire hoped to achieve, but Fischer is a good writer who knows how to bring all this information together into a readable whole. This book was written in the 1960s, but the reader can see the roots of the Second World War, and even the origin of much of the current political state of the world.

Post-war historical revisionism is always dangerous. Its proponents justify it on the basis of the popular belief that “history is written by the victors” (quote attributed to Winston Churchill), but it’s divisive, and it sets people up for future conflict. First World War revisionist history, as promulgated during the Wilhelmine Reich, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich, directly led to the Second World War, and it still makes up much of the teaching of history today. Fischer did everything he could to protect the world from revisionist thinking.

Many used copies of this book are available. It’s not for everybody (certainly not for the casual reader), but it’s a must for serious Great War researchers, who will recognize Fischer’s name in works by other authors, not all of whom agree with him.

Highly recommended.

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