Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Kaiserreich's War


The title of Max Hastings’ new book, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War (2013), almost says it all. An estimated 9.5 million military personnel, along with close to 7 million civilians, perished as a consequence of the First World War; and to those figures can be added 20 million wounded. Paul Ham’s 1914: The Year The World Ended (2013) is, in some aspects, no less a tour de force than Hastings’ Catastrophe. His character portraits are often interesting if one-sided, his account of the Battle of Marne detailed, and the suffering of ordinary people clearly depicted. Nevertheless, the ultimate significance of the First World War eludes him. After such horrific carnage, the hope that it would be The War to End All Wars was dashed with the Second World War’s death toll reaching somewhere between 60 and 85 million. What went wrong? According to Hastings, it was failure to understand the lessons of 1914, a problem that haunts us still, an astonishing one hundred years later.

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