Friday, March 10, 2023

Five books on the rise and fall of German militarism

Peter H. Wilson is the author of Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, an Economist and Sunday Times Best Book, and The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, winner of the Distinguished Book Award from the Society of Military History. He has appeared on BBC Radio and has written for Prospect, the Los Angeles Times, and Financial Times. President of the Society for the History of War and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Wilson is Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford. His work has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Wilson's new book is Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500.

[The Page 99 Test: The Thirty Years War; The Page 99 Test: Iron and Blood]

At Lit Hub he tagged five books that provide "insight into the diversity of the German experience of war, its conduct, societal impact, and human cost." One title on the list:
Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War

Campaign history has fallen somewhat out of fashion and is widely (if often unfairly) perceived as a “drums and trumpets” approach to the study of war. Michael Howard’s acclaimed account of the war of 1870-1 remains an example of how to do it well, even though it first appeared over sixty years ago.

The book makes no pretense of covering all issues with, for example, the causes and consequences covered only briefly, while the cultural dimensions disappear almost completely, as they do in much of the other scholarship of that era. Nonetheless, Howard was convinced that “military forces are shaped, not only by the weapons with which they are armed, but by the social backgrounds from which they emerge and the political function for which they are intended.” This broader context informs the entire book, as well as defining Howard’s approach to War Studies, an interdisciplinary line of enquiry which he did much to establish.

The conflict was central in establishing the belief that the German high command had a special “genius for war,” thanks to its spectacular initial victories over France’s regular army which, until then, had been considered the best in Europe. There are more recent accounts which correct Howard on some points, not least retitling the conflict as the Franco-German War to take more account of the contribution of Bavaria and the other (then still independent) southern states alongside Prussia. However, none can match the fluidity of his narrative or the balance in his assessments.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue