Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Does War Have to Teach Us?

For a while, I've been searching for a good single volume history of what was known as The Great War. I'm mostly through Barbara Tuchman's celebrated The Guns of August (1962) and am finding it helpful, detailed, and insightful. The book was so influential in its day in its description of how one decision leading to another leading to another can result in a conflagration such as that of WWI, that JFK had his staff read it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it only focuses on the year 1914 and I have been looking for something more comprehensive. I believe that I have found that volume in GJ Meyer's A World Undone - The Story of the Great War, 1914 - 1918.

The drama that was the Second World War has eclipsed the memory of WWI in the modern mind. This is too bad as we have much to learn from this first great European outbreak. The results of that first war were staggering. Death estimates of military and civilian deaths in the WWI range from 9 to 16 million. The percentage of European populations lost was devastating. 3 out of every 4 Russion soldiers, for example, were killed, wounded, captured, or went missing. 10% of the Britain Expeditionary Force was killed. Nearly 45% of the Rumanian force died during the war.

At the same time I'm reading these 2 books on WWI, I'm also working my way through Shelby Foote's very engaging three volume The Civil War: A Narrative.

This is a new kind of reading to me as long-time readers of this blog know that I've focused my reading on historical biography, which I read for lessons of leadership. But studying these wars is giving me a better context to evaluate individual performance in these crises.

More to come.


Darrell said...

Interesting. Helpful. I've been meaning to bone up on WWI. Thanks Stephen.

- Darrell Griffith

Nu2Seattle said...

Stephen, I'm in the middle of a book about the end of Chamberlain's term as Prime Minister and the beginning of Churchill's in a book called "Troublesome Young Men." Astoundingly well-written book. Just FYI...

--Jane Takushi