The Guns of August and World War I

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    Professor Jewell,

    I am currently reading “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, which covers the events leading up to the Great War and the first month of the fighting in August, hence the title. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and my impression is that it is a well-researched book, but it also contains a great deal of editorializing, i.e. the author making declarations about a person’s attitude, opinion, or the motivation for their actions. This makes me cautious about accepting some of its implied conclusions. I am curious if you’ve read it and if so what your opinion is of it.



    Jason Jewell

    I read this book about 20 years ago, so my memories of it are not fresh, but I remember finding it a very engaging work that does a good job of sweeping the reader up into the drama of the first weeks of the war. You’re correct, though, in noting that Tuchman quite freely imputes motives for people’s actions that can’t be substantiated. As I recall, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., did this a lot, too. I also seem to remember that Tuchman pretty much follows the “blame Germany” interpretation for the war that (in my opinion) is not really tenable.


    I completely agree on the anti-German slant. I recall one of the chapters in which she outright states that behavior by the German military during their invasion of Belgium was an extension of German values and tradition. She also describes them as blinkered and narrowed minded when it came to understanding other cultures, painting the military commanders as barbaric Huns intent on conquest, when it’s pretty clear that all the countries involved had been preparing to fight for years before the war started. Nobody entered that war merely to defend their own land, as the Treaty of Versailles demonstrated.

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