World War One
A Short History
Norman Stone
World War One is our favorite war. Outside of the American Civil War and the two Opium Wars (where Victorian England forced China to open its ports to shipments of heavy drugs aimed at the peasants) ... WWI remains the star.

In the "Great" War, as usual, endless innocent blood was leeched into the grounds. Long after the fact, long after 1918, historians could not figure out exactly why Europe had gone to war. The English blamed the Germans; the Germans thought it was the foolishness of the Serbs, who in turn, laid it on the doorsteps of the aristocracy of Austria.

The Marxists said it was economic determinism, whatever that is, the Freudians blamed it on mother; Thomas Mann (and Freud) said it was probably a good thing --- to clear the pipes as it were --- and even Rilke was charmed by the potential purge ... at the very beginning, anyway. Historian Norman Stone, in this volume, blames Max Weber, of all people.

It was only after the battles of Loos and the Somme that people began to think that they had a disaster on their hands. By then, hundreds of thousands of young men, many of them poor peasants, had been laid in the grave (armies are usually set in motion to rid the homeland of the pre-revolutionary poor and the oppressed***); and before the whole mess was put to bed, another ten or twelve million would be gone.

And it didn't stop there: the massacre continued. World War One begot World War Two, which decimated not only the young of Europe, but with the arrival of Lenin, and through the aegis of the Bolsheviks managed, according to latest estimates, to do in more than 50,000,000 citizens of Russia.

As we said in our review of Michael Howard's The First World War, it didn't even begin in 1914.

    European powers had been fighting each other all over the globe for the previous 300 years, so those who were obliged to fight it called it simply "The Great War."

Pyrrus' "another victory like this and we are done for" was its theme. Too, it laid in the grave the elegant dance of distantly related cousins, brothers, aunts, grandfathers that had ruled England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Russia for the previous three centuries. It made possible the creation, the brief glory, then the ultimate pain of present day Israel. And it demonstrated for the first time the wonders of technology in blitzing non-combatants.

§     §     §

We picked up Norman Stone's volume hoping that he would give us some new insights about the sources of this conflict. However, we ran into a very large stone ... and a very heavy one. For Stone is a ghastly writer.

He is, the notes tell us, a bona fide historian, working out of Bilkent University, wherever that may be. But for all his theories ... that WWI all hinged on the idiocy of Kaiser Wilhelm II after the departure of Bismarck; that Russia, building new railroads to take their soldiers to the front, scared would-be belligerents into preventive war; that it may have been naked colonialism: the German needed places to ship their overflow.

What we have here is a potentially fascinating work one that falls in a muck of bad writing. Example: during the early battles of WWI, Lantezac's army "lost touch with the British whose commander, Sir John French, waxed irascible." (This reminds us of Groucho Marx' comic routine on "waxing" a man named Roth.)

Stone writes, "the straits between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara or the Dardanelles between the Marmara and the Aegean were vital: the windpipe of the Russian economy." [Our emphasis.]

Or this, about why, in 1914, the Germans had spades to start digging trenches while the French did not:

    Why, is a good question: the answer is probably the Germans, training their fewer men more intensively, could rely upon them not to panic, whereas the French, training more men with fewer NCOs, meant to keep them moving forward in simple, even crude, large formations (similar to the columns of the Revolutionary Wars a century before, which had also been far more costly in lives then the eighteenth-century linear formations.)

If you want a fine summary of the causes of WWI, read Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower. If you want a great summary of the folly of it all, pick up Gerard J. De Groot's The First World War. And if you want a true picture of the ghastlies, read Understanding the Great War by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker.

--- A. W. Wurn, PhD
***Thus the predominance of
young Blacks and Latinos in
the lowest ranks of the
U. S. military in Afghanistan

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