World War I May Finally Start Getting It’s Due

Here’s a book with a great title: Mud, Blood, and Poppycock: Britain and the Great War. From the description:

Laced with dry humour, this will overturn everything you thought you knew about Britain and the First World War. Gordon Corrigan reveals how the British embraced technology, and developed the weapons and tactics to break through the enemy trenches.

Now, I’ve already come upon the notion that the popular imagery of the Great War – idiot generals guilelessly sending millions of men to die because they didn’t grasp what machine guns did – was sketchy. Norman Stone’s World War One: A Short History conveyed very clearly that the generals understood that the tactics of the 1880’s had been rendered obsolete, but that knowing what would not work was not the same as knowing what would work. Thus, the entire war can be seen as coming to terms with war in the age of mass machinery, and all the grand “blunders”, such as the Somme, Passchendale, Verdun, were experiments to see how the victory could be obtained. That’s small comfort to the millions who died, but the generals were trying their very best to find the way forward.

The Russian general Brusilov hit upon something in his 1916 Eastern Front campain, and the Germans were generally successful (until they weren’t), but it was the British Army that found the solution. They essentially invented what became known as blitzkrieg (concentrate forces in a narrow space, penetrate that space with armor, rush through the gap) in the summer of 1918. The Germans studied British tactics at the end of the First War to discover the tactics that would upend the world in the Second.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Army came away from it’s brief experience in WWI with an entirely different lesson: that of the primacy of artillery. Artillery has always been an American specialty, going all the way back to the war against Mexico, but after WWI the Americans became fairly obsessed with it. As a consequence, the Americans and more and better heavy guns than any of their opponents in the Second World war, and those guns were integrated into the tactical space better (via the innovation of allowing Forward Observers to call upon “all guns within range”). This gave the Americans an edge against both Germany and Japan – which was needed, as our infantry training vis-a-vis both armies was inferior, and our armor always a generation behind the Germans. (Source: Dirty Little Secrets of World War II)

 

UJ9 Upcoming, Outlining LT6

In the past, I’d finish a chapter of something and let it marinate, let my juices recharge, get back to the next chapter when I’ve a mind to.

That approach, it no worky.

So the fifth Chapter of Void is finished. I’m not going to post a link to it, because Void chapters are spoken for by Unnamed Journal. When Issue 9 of UJ goes live on April 1st, Void 5 will be available for viewing.

The next issue will have some WW1-related shenanigans in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Doughboys going Over There. Plus, Scarecrows. Subscriptions, they are still free. So what have you got to lose?

So, that’s a deadline I’ve got to meet. I also am still holding to the deadline of getting Last Tomorrow finished/drafted by Easter. Which means I have two more chapters to write. Which means I really need an outline or some kind of methodology of getting me to the ending I want. So I’m working on that, or at least a collection of beats.

So that’s two chapters and a short story for UJ9. I can do that. That’s totally doable.

Did World War 1 Cause the Collapse of European Values? Or was it the Other Way Around?

A provacative reversal of conventional wisdom, discussed by John O’Sullivan in a long-but-worthwhile article at National Review.

Kimball raises the question of whether cultural, psychological, artistic, and social movements were, not the consequences of the Great War, but instead among its causes. Without going overboard on this — since the upsetting of Europe’s balance of power by Bismarck’s creation of the German Empire in 1871 and then by Kaiser Wilhelm’s bid for world power outside Europe were plainly important non-cultural causes of 1914 — Kimball makes a persuasive case that 1914 emerged in part from the explosion of radical cultural modernism that was symbolized especially by the riots of enthusiasm and rejection that greeted Diaghilev’s 1913 production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring ballet.

The earliest signs of this cultural revolution appeared in the late 1880s, but they gathered force and speed in the decade leading to the Great War with the Futurist movement in Italy, vitalism in French philosophy, Vorticism in Britain, Freud and Freudianism in Vienna, the emergence of Picasso and James Joyce, the huge enthusiasm that greeted Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes throughout Western Europe, and much else. Though these are very different phenomena — some self-consciously primitivist, others self-consciously complex and obscure — they all share a common sensibility: a rejection of the traditions, restraints, values, and standards that characterized the Victorian age in favor of spontaneity, instinct, and the breaking of barriers. “We want no part of the past,” said Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, whose “Futurist Manifesto” was inspired in 1909 by a night of reckless driving that ended with the car in a ditch and the poet calling ecstatically for the triumph of speed and machinery and the closing of museums.

This rebelliousness did not long confine itself to aesthetics. It soon manifested itself in a more general rejection of restraints and standards in morality, law, politics, business, and other aspects of life that had previously been regarded as distinct from the cultural realm. And though this sensibility and its accompanying movement spread throughout Europe, it found its most receptive audience in the cultural, bureaucratic, and even military classes of the new German Empire, which, since its foundation in 1871, had shown extraordinary progress both in industrial power and in technical innovation.

I like this thesis because War is something that is willed by people. This is true even of World War I, which often gets treated as some kind of odd political weather event. The ecstatic joy that could be found among people when the war broke out speaks to a yearning to destroy and to seek dominion. Certainly the German military that eagerly destroyed Belgian cathedrals had very little conservatism in it. The trouble with treating nothing as sacred, is that nothing becomes sacred.

It also gibes with the thrust of a book I have long admired, The First Total War by David Bell, which argues that the spirit of the French Revolution brought a totalizing spirit to the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent global conflict. The pre-revolutionary abandonment of values led not to justice but tyranny, not brotherhood but blood.


To be fair, it’s entirely possible that the Kaiser simply wasn’t able to fight the war like he wanted…

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