May 5, 2023Liked by Patrick Gourley

I loved this book, probably my first on WWI. I read it while stuck in an air terminal in Afghanistan for 3 days. It was wonderfully written.

[spelling grammar etc – sorry!]

i) The assassination of ADFF was not "essentially a random act." He and his co-conspirators set out that day to assassinate ADFF. It was coincidence that Princip was where the wrong turn happened, but not a random act of violence.

ii) The Schlieffen Plan wasn't the actual plan. It was Gen Helmut Von Moltke's (the junior) plan. Count Von Schlieffen outlined a massive right hook, taking Paris. Gen Moltke, operationalized the plan (i.e. filled in the details). It was the Moltke Plan.

iii) "German brutality" is probably more "victors history," than anything else. (Most of what I've read has been america-brit, and falls in this category – victors have less cause to be honest with themselves than losers do) Sure, you can adduce reports etc, but it's WHERE you shine the flashlight that matters, and you never point it at yourself! (Bad for propaganda). As for parallels between Imperial Germany and the Third Reich, I think they're overblown. However, they do alert us to a change that has taken place: that from Aristocracy to democracy. As Churchill less-famously said of democracy, its wars are terrible, exterminatory affairs. (Check out "The First Total War" by David Bell, he's the only normie I've seen write about the transition)

iii) Britain blockaded food from much of Europe. This is criminal, but what matters crimes in war? The "Good guys/bad guys" narrative is sub-childish. No good guys, ever. Just better propaganda/victors justice. Check out Woodrow Wilson some time. Also, in Niall Ferguson's "The Pity of War," he maintains that England would have violated Belgian neutrality had they started the war.

So... it turns out European history doesn't start in 1934. "Germany" – a Roman word for the region (Germania) – wasn't a thing until 1870. Prior to unification, it was hundreds of small duchies and principalities. The Napoleonic wars were disastrous for the many little German states. Moreover, many feared a consolidated and growing France on one flank and a growing Russia on the other. Plus Euro colonialism was leaving "Germany" in the dust. In the 1860s Bismarck began unifying German-speaking states in a series of wars and building up a centralized German economy that put the Prussians on top and kept Austria out (too powerful). Germany, as we know it today, is the result of this consolidation. One of those victories came over France at the battle of Sedan in 1870 (Franco-Prussian War). The new German Empire was declared and Prussian king Wilhelm I was declared emperor in the hall of mirrors at Versaille (I know, right?). They took Alsace and Lorraine,(The idea that they "belonged to France" is a partisan, static view of history – any history, not just European), and forced some indemnity, iir.

Then Bismarck got down to Progress (called "social liberalism" in England, "progressivism" in the U.S., "communism" in Russia): needing cattle to fight in wars he knew were coming, he grew the population and instituted a number of economic development programs. (They work in Germany, but nowhere else...) By the time WWI broke out Germany was brimming with capital and men (and they had thumos!). (Working class brits circa TurnOCent would bitch about dirty german channel crossers taking their jobs – and they were!) But when you brim with capital and men (as the 1920s and 2020s in US), you've gotta go to war.

It's an amazing story of the bourgeoning "democratic" (mass) era. We're still deep in Bismarck's world. He set up our college system. Well, we imported his. Our PhD programs come from the Bismarkian model and serve the same purpose: increase state power. (Every few years academic Anthropology will have a meltdown because someone reminds them that their job is, and always has been, state power (over little brown peoples)). Many early Progressive Era personalities and ideas came straight from Bismarck's Germany.

Expand full comment

Great points!

1) I should have been more clear that the ADFF assassination was planned, but the fact that it was successful was the result of random chance.

2) I'd still call it The Schlieffen Plan - based on Tuchman's telling the German military was deeply reluctant to change any of the key features even as the war began. The German military succeeded during the first month of the war because they were much more flexible than their opponents (especially Russia), but were very reluctant to deviate from the 1906 plan. Although to be fair, one of their main errors WAS deviating from the Schlieffen plan and moving divisions from the Western to the Eastern front when it appeared Russia was more organized than it actually was.

3) I totally buy "history is written by the victors". But anything Germany did to Belgium is several degrees worse because Germany had explicitly agreed to respect Belgium neutrality, so even peacefully occupying the country is worse then occupying France.

4) I agree that the British blockading food from reaching Europe would have been looked at differently from the perspective of the Triple Alliance. It also would have been very different if the British wouldn't have had the funds to make American farmers better off.

Great point about how young Germany is - it does answer the question about the relative lack of German colonialism.

Expand full comment

1) There's an element of chance ("luck" in moral terminology) in everything.

2) You're basing this all on Tuchman. I'm not.

3) Germany did nothing to Belgium that Britain wouldn't have done. Niall Ferguson maintains if the Germans hadn't violated Belgian neutrality, Britain certainly would have. I think he also said that he thought that had the UK not gotten into the war, the Third Reich may have been avoided, and Germany would have created an EU under their aegis. (i.e. a dying a sclerotic Great Britain just delayed the inevitable outcome of the German development project)

Also Check out Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian Wars. It's a splash of cold water to the face, a tonic. He's straightforward about whats/whys in a way you don't find much. The Melian dialogue in particular.

4) You've gotta remember that this war emerges out of a matrix of historical causes and whatfors. To me, the idea that some kind of blame can be shoveled on Germany, in either war, is simply an ideologically partisan understanding of the battle between european socialisms (democracies) that occurred in 1st half o'20thCent. I've even come across the terms first/second European civil war.

Expand full comment
May 3, 2023Liked by Patrick Gourley

One thing I found astonishingly awful about WWI was that military tactics (frontal infantry assaults) had not yet caught up to military weaponry at the time (Vickers Guns, 75mm artillery, mustard gas). I'll call it tactical-technical asymmetry.

The other asymmetry was information about what happening on the battlefield. The understanding of the war was vastly different between people at home reading newspapers to the generals in the distant HQs to the actual people in the trenches. The first two had no idea what was really going on, so people kept signing up and generals kept making the same dumb decisions.

Expand full comment
May 5, 2023Liked by Patrick Gourley

They ignored the American Civil War, which featured trains, machine guns, industrial production, electronic telecommunications, trenches, barbed wire, mass slave armies (e.g. Irish immigrants). But something that impressed me from watching The Great War series on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/@TheGreatWar) was the constant learning and change in the militaries themselves. They were constantly adapting. But generals are always good whipping horses for the politicians, who put them in those unwinnable situations. (Like, do we really think it was the generals who couldn't win Iraq?) Only in Rome can you actually blame the generals - because they're the political decision makers too.

Expand full comment

Great points, thanks for the additional context. You really know your stuff!

Expand full comment