The Guns Of August The Guns of August Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer prize-winning book about the start of World War I is a fascinating and detailed work that delivers the thoughts and actions of the belligerents and their previously mysterious leaders to life on every page.
This military history of the first month of the war is written in a way as to keep the reader interested because of the great detail. The author also manages to write about the events in such a manor as the reader sees them as they happened. Despite any previous knowledge about the historical events of the war, the book manages to keep you wondering if the Germans will succeed in its aims. In Chapters 5 through 9, Tuchman doesn’t discuss much about why Germany, France, or Russia progressed toward war, she pretty much describes it as more of an inevitability sparked by Austria’s affairs with Serbia.
She does manage to chronicle the key events, the people and their decisions of the preceding years and days of the war. Along with the key events of the first few weeks of battle, Tuchman provides a perspective into each of the belligerent’s strategic aims and goals. These forces that drive each country into war in 1914 along with a brief discussion of their backgrounds is what follows. It is possible that with no other country in the twentieth century clearly on the inevitable road to war has there been as much unpreparedness and complete lack of all comprehension than that of Russia prior to World War I. For the few years before 1914 and the start of the war, especially following the embarrassing loss to Japan, Russia recognized its eminent clash with Germany.The way with which it conducted its international relations and internal affairs is puzzling to say the least. It is amazing when looking back on the events and the Russian leaders complete lack of ability or concern, that revolution took as long as it did.
The actions of the Czar were clearly not in the best interest of his country or himself for that matter. The decisions he made clearly appeased his ego and were not made by a man who was experienced in leading a nation through a time of transition. His inability to help in Russian military development by allowing those who understood what needed to be fixed and what plans needed to be made are what eventually led to Russian ineffectiveness in the war and his own downfall.
Russian inability to recognize changing tactics and weapons of modern warfare is inexcusable but sadly explainable. Because the Czar tended to centralize power and surround himself with “yes men,” he missed the good advice of those in his country who could have helped guide Russia into war. Some of these choices can also be blamed on misconceptions of Russian capabilities, and of its military identity. The military reforms that were not completely halted by inept leaders were otherwise thwarted by the lack of details with which an army mobilizes and fights. Details were not an important aspect for Russian pre-war strategy or estimations. Though the Russian army had repeatedly been proven incapable, there still remained a myth of its invincibility.
This myth tended to be held on all sides based on the sheer masses of soldiers and not in any way on its tactics or technical proficiency. The government’s inability to effectively manage resources was never fully accounted for by any of the countries, enemy or ally. One of the reasons for French alliance with Russia and dependence on their assistance against a common enemy was miscalculated military might. France didn’t completely believe the claims quoted to them by Russia, but they did believe in the myth of invincibility and that even if they could conduct only a portion of their men to the front, the reality of a two front war was better than facing Germany alone.
Before World War I, the Germans, like Russia, prepared for an imminent conflict, but with much more skill and understanding. Germany’s position in the middle of Europe, or at least between its enemies, and its continued possession of territory that had once been part of France, was what guided its diplomatic actions and war preparations.German interests reflected both their history, and their hopes for the future. Unlike the Russians, German leaders had no misconstrued notions of invulnerability. It realized its position during war would be precarious, possibly having to face fighting on two fronts against several countries at once.
They understood that proper use of their forces and keeping England out of the war were key. Despite this knowledge though, Germany managed to take actions which guaranteed their having to fight simultaneously on two fronts and bring England into the war on the side of the allies. Numerous conditions and entanglements surrounded British involvement in a European conflict involving France, Germany, Austria, and Russia.While England was an tenuous ally to France, and Germany considered all actions in the light of preventing British agitation, England was only willing to interfere under certain conditions. The majority of British government and the populace were not interested in a European conflict. Their only consideration was for those who could not defend themselves, such as Belgium. The German violation of Belgium neutrality would be a key as long as France didn’t appear to spark it.
This fact was understood by all three of the principle counties and was the reason for the requests for guarantees of Belgium neutrality and the quick recall of mistakenly deployed German troops across the border.Another consideration for the British was their own problems at home. At the same time as the mobilization toward war was continuing, England was having its own problems with Ireland. Civil war was even a possibility and therefore it is understandable why so many found a war that appeared to have little benefit for them unappealing.
Tuchman helps us understand an interesting time in history when old ways clash directly with new means of communication and ways of fighting. These few years in world history are a unique time of unusual people and events that can only be explained in the context of understanding how much things for these countries had remained the same despite the changing world around them. After the strategy and plans, the following deployments and battles would demonstrate this very fact.The Guns of August is a superb narrative bringing us a key insight into the war that at the time had such great significance and today has such great historical value.