American Heritage History of World War I – S.L.A. Marshall
Not at all what I expected. This is one of the “American Heritage History” books. I had already read the one on the second World War, so I was basically expecting a carbon copy in terms of style. Not so. In the World War II book, it focused on the events at a much higher level. I recall it being a very quick read, outlining the major players, events and battles. That book also talked a lot about what was going on back at home as it related to the war, and shared a lot of significant insights about how those that weren’t directly involved had to make radical adjustments to their daily lives. This book is anything but high-level. It’s richly detailed and we dive deep into the conflicts and situations.
I would guess that most people aren’t nearly as familiar with the first World War as they are with World War II. When reflecting on this war, most people envision the soldiers of the conflicting super powers being firmly confined to their respective disease infested trenches while lobbing occasional gunfire across no man’s land over and over. And that’s about it. True, this was a huge factor of this calamity, but most are unfamiliar which much else about the war.
This book makes a strong foundation for one to learn much more. We read about the respective countries before the outbreak. The alliances, the squabbling, the marrying off of children between royalty to preserve alliances, and so on. When the archduke of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by a Bosnian Serb radical in 1914, the alliances quickly take up sides and begin the “War To End All Wars”. Both sides predicted a quick victory. Both sides were sadly mistaken.
We meet many key players, mostly on the German and French sides. These two were the predominant players. There’s so much political juggling, however, that it was easy for me to get a bit lost at times. Especially when the actual battles were described in meticulous detail. One must not try to read this book quickly. Instead, go much slower and ensure you can retain the names of the major political figures and generals. It will save you a lot of confusion when you’re knee deep in this thing.
As a citizen of the U.S., I enjoyed reading about how my country became involved. In case you’re not aware, the U.S. didn’t get involved until late in the game. Most citizens didn’t want us there at all. Why should we fight in a war on the other side of the world? Plus, as a melting pot, the country had many citizens that had relatives and/or ancestors on “both sides”. You could argue that the fresh blood of American soldiers helped racially turn the tide and end the stalemate. There were literally millions (think about that – MILLIONS) on both sides that had already been killed on the battlefield when the U.S. entered in late 1917.
I’ve referred to the conflict already as “The War To End All Wars” which it was commonly referred to at the time. What most people don’t know is that when the peace treaty was eventually signed, it was sardonically referred to as “The Peace to End All Peace”. I can’t think of a more accurate description. Essentially, Germany (the main loser) was punished so harshly and stripped of basically everything that it caused the country massive starvation, unbearable inflation and their pride so wounded, that it gave such an easy opportunity for a Bavarian water-colorist to rise to become the most blood thirsty lunatic of the twentieth century. The author argues that had the victors been somewhat more magnanimous at the conclusion, such a calamity that occurred twenty years later just might have been avoided.