Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

World War I
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

World War I

by S. L. A. Marshall
American Heritage Press, 1964, 1971

Although now over 50 years from its original publication, Gen. S.L.A. Marshall's World War I remains a good survey study of the Great War from its inciting spark in Sarajevo through its controversial end with the Versailles Treaty. It consists primarily of narrative with black-and-white photographs of scenes and individuals involved and maps to aid the readers in understanding the course of battles. World War I is a lot to pack into 500 pages, but I feel that the significant facts of the war are covered.

U.S. 108th Field Artillery Firing During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Even readers well versed in Great War literature are likely to learn from this book. I think author S. L. A. Marshall does a good job in illustrating the modifications Moltke made to the Schlieffen Plan. The original Schlieffen Plan was devised while Russia was reeling from its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, but the plan was less suited against a nation that had improved its military in the intervening years and had not yet succumbed to the revolution that Schlieffen had foreseen. Marshall characterizes Moltke's modifications to the Schlieffen plan not as a modification but as a burial. The Kaiser's vacillation between seeking victory in the east or the west ruined his chances of finding it in either direction.

Marshall also claims that the lack of fertilizer was of greater importance to Germany than lack of food. He raises the continuing British concern of rebellion in Ireland after the Easter Uprising, and, finally, makes the peace process, both on the Russian Front and at the conclusion of the War, more understandable.

American involvement, both political and military, are afforded their due ink. Wilson's Fourteen Points are enumerated and his delays in dealing with initial German peace feelers are examined. The maps accompanying the 13  pages devoted to Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood and ten pages on Saint Mihiel and the Argonne Forest facilitate understanding of the battles. Citation of actions by Cols. George Marshall and George Patton illustrate the seasoning of the American officer corps that would bear fruit in a later war. I must note that I think that veterans of the Spanish-American War would take issue with the assessment that the engineering regiments rushed to the aid of the British Fifth Army were "the first American troops to know full-scale battle since the Civil War."

Admittedly, the author's writing style, as well as the setting of the photographs and the black-and-white maps and illustrations give this book a dated appearance. However, while I have found contemporary works to be more satisfying, Marshall's tome remains worthwhile for the well-read Great War student. Each historian interprets history through his own eyes, hence a more complete view is obtained by reading histories written over time. I have been trying to study World War I during its Centennial, and this book has served as a good refresher. I would recommend that readers start elsewhere, but after an adequate introduction to the Great War in some more specialized volumes, a book like this is helpful to pull it all together and put it into context.

James M. Gallen

1 comment:

  1. How does its coverage of non-Western fronts fare?
    It's been a while since I read it, but I recall a France focus.