Thursday, February 5, 2009

Two books I've read recently about WW1

1. "Germany in the Great War," by Laurence V. Moyer. This book is written by an American scholar, but views the war from the standpoint of the German side. It covers the origins of the war, the military aspect, and the situation on the home front in Germany about which not much is known in the US. The end of the war and its political ramifications are also covered. The author has an incisive way of informing his reader about details, while weaving them into the whole of the history. He does not dwell on individual battles in WW1 except to demonstrate examples, but he does outline the changing thrust of German strategy in the war with explanations behind that strategy.

From the German perspective, here were the war aims:

1914: Opening of the war and the initial offensives

1915: Offensive against Russia in an attempt to eliminate the second front

1916: Offensive at Verdun in an attempt to defeat the French in a drive on Paris, causing the British to withdraw from the war

1917: Submarine offensive in an attempt to starve the British to the bargaining table

1918: After defeating the Russians in February, the spring offensive was the big push to defeat Britain and France before the weight of the US could be brought to bear in the war

1919: After the overthrow of the monarchy, the German republic sought to obtain the best possible peace terms with the Allies

This book is close to 400 pages long but the interesting material made me want to keep going at it to the finish.

2. "Storm of Steel," by Ernst Juenger. This book is based on a diary kept by the author as a German soldier in WW1. This is considered the vanguard work written by a participant on the German side, having been first published in 1920. In contrast, Erich Maria Remarque's famous work "All Quiet on the Western Front" wasn't published until 1929.

German soldiers who had fought in WW1 experienced something along the same lines as American Vietnam war veterans did. This parallel is that in the immediate years after the conflicts in which they participated, discussion and discourse about their experiences wasn't popular. It wasn't until the mid to late 1920's that German war veterans became "rehabilitated" and mainline literary efforts about the war were published.

Once the reader ploughs through an overly-lengthy introduction of this book that explains its publication history, then gets into the real meat of the book, it goes very quickly. The author started his military service not long after the start of the war. He enlisted as soon as the war started, and upon completion of his training was posted to the 73rd Infantry Regiment ("Hanovarian Rifles") with which he served throughout the war. His unit was moved up and down the western front, from Flanders, to the Artois, to Lorraine, back to Flanders, and to Cambrai. After his first furlough, he reported back to the home depot of his regiment and was sent to officer cadet training. Upon return to the line, he was in the rank of ensign which is a kind of officer apprentice in OJT beforming becoming a lieutenant. He was a well decorated officer at the close of the war, having survived four years of combat on the western front, a remarkable achievement with which the reader will surely agree after reading of the type of warfare in which he fought.

Juenger doesn't hold back on the horrors of combat in the trenches, but informs his reader in a matter-of-fact way that isn't disturbing if that reader is already aware of the nature of combat in WW1.

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