I finished Barbara Tuchman’s great book The Guns of August in completing the section she calls “Battle”. I admit that this was the more difficult section as the battles were described well, but in great detail. I have always had difficulty following narrative documentation of military engagements. Tuchman included several maps, but I found my own on the internet and even some old-fashioned paper ones to help me out. What I liked about this book and what I have alluded to in my previous posts is Tuchman’s readability. She makes this book different from a textbook – although it would be a great one- but does not turn it into a “story” in the sense of historical fiction. All of the characters and the battles are laid out based on what I can’t help but believe is actual documentation and evidence. And at the same time, this is also on what I feel her historical opinions are based.
Another brilliant aspect to this book about which I initially had questions is her inclusion of only the first month of the war. I felt I would somehow feel left hanging when I got to the Battle of the Marne. She uses this battle as the pivotal event that kept the war going longer than anyone ever thought. Germany was defeated in this battle and thereby not the automatic victor of the war; however, the Allies did not win the victory that could have ended everything. From 100 years in the future, I can’t help but think “hmmm…interesting”. And I need no other reason for her to have stopped the book at this point.
In Tuchman’s opinion:
When at last it was over, the war had many diverse results and one dominant one transcending all others: disillusion.
If I had to put the dominant theme of early twentieth century literature into one word, it would be “disillusion”. Tuchman quotes D. H. Lawrence on the book’s final page:
All the great words were cancelled out for that generation…