Voice of the Guns
Something for the weekend. In no war has artillery played a greater role than World War I. It was therefore appropriate that Frederick Joseph Ricketts, the British Sousa, under his pen name Kenneth Alford, wrote a march, Voice of the Guns, in 1917, his tribute to British artillerymen.
The song is featured in a sequence of Lawrence of Arabia where General Allenby, portrayed by Jack Hawkins, and Major T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O’Toole, are discussing strategy:
My co-blogger Darwin Catholic has a fascinating account of what he has read in the past year at his blog. Go here to read it. Many of the books he read were about World War I and I of course had to note some books I have read with profit on the Great War:
I sense a Great War theme in this list! World War I is a vast historical phenomenon that is still too recent in time for us to grasp.
You have probably already read these but my suggestions for further reading on this subject:
1. Goodbye to All That-Robert Graves’ memoir of his time as an infantry officer in France during the Great War is simply a marvel as he had a front row seat to the ending of an old world and the birth of a new.
2. Churchill’s World Crisis-The one volume condensed version should be passed by in favor of the multi-volume full work. Self-serving, the Gallipoli sections should especially be read with a skeptical eye, it is filled with insights that only a master politician and a master historian could provide.
3. Hew Strachan’s To Arms, the first volume of his exhaustive history of World War 1. His one volume history of the War is also worth reading as is anything he has written. Strachan is able to see both the forest and the trees in complex historical situations, a rare gift among historians.
4. Martin Gilbert’s First World War. The last major history of the War with lots of interviews with participants. Gilbert gives a compelling account of how the British Army went from a national police force army to a huge professional mass army in four short years.
5. Seven Pillars of Wisdom-Half crazy like its author T.E. Lawrence, but a classic erudite meditation not only on the War in Arabia, but also on war in general by a man who would have been much more comfortable in the 19th century than in the 20th.
6. Infantry Attacks-Erwin Rommel’s account of his time as an infantry officer in France and Italy. Fascinating portrayal of how the Germans overcame the defensive advantages of trench warfare with their development of stosstruppen infantry tactics.
7. The Real War, 1914-1918-B.H. Liddell Hart-The volume that changed perceptions about World War I and developed the thesis that most World War I generals were mindless cretins devoted to frontal attacks. I think the thesis is historically a worthless cartoon of what actually happened, but Liddell-Hart’s volume is invaluable for understanding how the War was misremembered by succeeding generations.
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great War that shaped the twentieth century and all subsequent histories. We are living in a world mainly created by that unprecedented conflict. The War began, in addition to original sin, because the great power arrangements set up after the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 were no longer an effective balance for maintaining peace in a rapidly changing world. There is much to learn from all this, especially by people who live in a world where seventy years next year will mark the close of World War II, and the globe bears little resemblance to that shaped by the victorious powers in 1945.