The Guns of August – by Barbara Tuchman

It’s hard for me to believe that this book covered only the first 30 days of World War I. Not because of its length (or at least not only because of its length), but because of how many important events occurred during that single month – August, 1914. So much guns of augusthappened in such a brief time: a domino-effect of alliances and national pride plunged most of Europe into war; military leaders began to realize that sharpened swords, daring cavalry charges, and bright red uniforms were less than effective against machine guns and heavy artillery; German ruthlessness in Belgium brought a public outcry from the world at large; the initially optimistic French army was driven into retreat and the German army almost marched victoriously into Paris; hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. In a single month.

This is not a dry and technical book about military history. The writing style is fresh and engaging, and I came to know the people and personalities behind the events. From the first chapter, I could see why it won a Pulitzer. I was struck with its portrayal of the many ironies involved in this war – irony magnified with horror.

I came to understand the truth behind WWI’s moniker as “the forgotten war”: so many of its details have been eclipsed in my imagination by WWII. For instance, I had no idea of the brutality of the German army against civilians during the first world war – assembling Belgian villagers and executing every tenth person as a means of psychological domination. I had only associated those sorts of acts with WWII. I found this book enthralling in the same sort of way that a snake is enthralled by its charmer – I was entranced, yet at the same time wanted badly to look away from the seemingly inevitable march toward so much death and destruction.

world war i soldier

 

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