Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

By John Mosier.
My wife has a pretty astonishing collection of books about World War I, partly because she specialized in World War I poetry.  This book presets what was t the time a pretty radical set of ideas:

1. The Germans fought with not only greater technical skills than the French or British (because of their superiority in machine guns, poison gas, artillery, flamethrowers), but were much more careful in their use of lives, often losing 1/3 of the men that the Allies lost.

2. The German military was also more competent in planning battles, and a a result won nearly every battle against the French and British; hence, lower death rates.

3.  Many of the advances associated with blitzkrieg during World War II were descendants of tactical advantages developed during World War I.

4. The British and French generals consistently lied to the civilian governments because they lied to themselves about how the war was going.  They were convinced Germany was almost out of men, and would shortly need to negotiate a peace as early as 1915.

5.  The Americans really won the war because not only were our troops fresh, but our generals had superior tactics and superior intelligence services.

This is an impressive collection of primary sources, very well-wriiten.  There is a mass of technical information here about guns, artillery, and tactics, especially considering Mosier is a professor of literature.


  1. Definitely sounds interesting. going on my wish list to check out sometime.
    Your amazon link in the post is broken though.

  2. My great grandfather served in WWI. Family lore says he was gassed. I know his unit, but haven't had time to research it.

  3. Mosier has some interesting things to say in this book, and another one that he did from the same standpoint for WWII.

    Interesting, however, does not equate to "supportable", or even plausible, in some cases. He's staked out claims in both books that are entirely opposed to what other historians have made, and I don't know that he's done all that good a job of filling in the underpinnings. It's controversial, and highly useful for starting arguments with people on history bulletin boards, but he's gone so far over to "iconoclastic view against conventional wisdom" that I have to wonder if he's not trolling the historical world.

    That said, a lot of what he says makes good sense, and you can see the bare outlines for an alternative interpretation of the war. How far that can be taken, however? Something you have to decide for yourself.

  4. Having read previous works by him, I would not class this as history. Much of his 'thesis' has been culled from history buffs who have sought out non-standard interpretations created to amuse but not inform. He has, on occasion, mixed measuring units to obscure the lack of evidence supporting a conclusion. If he is able to explain how the AEF used superior tactics and intelligence, it would be a first; generally these conclusions are based on fluent imaginations.
    Despite his background as a Prof of Literature, his use of English is uninspired.