Document created: 20 August 02
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2002
The Great War and the Twentieth Century edited by Jay Winter, Geoffrey Parker, and Mary R. Habeck. Yale University Press (http://www.yale. edu/yup), P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-9040, 2000, 336 pages, $30.00.
The Great War continues to be fertile ground for historical analysis. Even after more than 80 years, the effects of that war shape the world geographically, culturally, politically, economically, emotionally, demographically, technologically, and militarily. Also after 80 years of analysis, attempts to understand the Great War and its effects still leave many unanswered questions, controversies, and speculation. The Great War and the Twentieth Century is an important part of the continuing inquest into this fascinating and unresolved story.
Setting a slightly different course than many World War I historical studies that tend to focus narrowly on familiar areas like the western front, this collection of articles looks through broader lenses to help the myopic student of history. Its intention is to explore different historical perspectives of the “causes, conduct, and consequences” of this near-total-war event. In so doing, the book effectively brings together important interactions of factors: war and society, strategy and politics, and personality and technology. Mary R. Habeck’s piece is a particularly interesting and entertaining treatment of that last pair.
The book’s broad perspective spans time as well, flaring into the atmospheric context of contemporary world geopolitics and returning full circle to bedrock elements of the war to end all wars. Editor Geoffrey Parker says the articles display presentmindedness—and they do. Fortunately, they do not display historicism as well.
As noted in the acknowledgments, it took six years for this book to come out. No doubt the editors struggled with trying to bring together a collection of articles and their corresponding themes into some coherent whole. They succeeded fairly well, but the delay was unfortunate. Perhaps by design, some of the book’s real gems, such as Holger Herwig’s “myths” piece, appear toward the back of the book.
Regardless of the particular topic of the Great War, the themes of tragedy and sacrifice haunt all others. This was a gruesome, hideous war. Yet, as Sir Michael Howard opines, considering the alternatives, the tragedy of the Great War was a worthy sacrifice for the future of Europe and the world. Hopefully so.
Col Eric Ash, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.