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. 

4 Responses to Voice of the Guns

  • Everyone wanted war in 1914

    1. Ever since the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Austria and Germany had been determined to prevent Russian expansion in the Balkans. Austria knew that, if she allowed herself to be humiliated by Serbia, she could not keep control of her minorities.
    2. Germany saw war with Russia as inevitable and wanted it before Russia completed her rail network and gained the ability to mobilise reserves quickly.
    3. With her prestige already damaged by her defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia knew if she allowed her ally, Serbia, to be humiliated, she could well face revolt in her Western provinces, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, from which the bulk of her tax revenue was derived.
    4. With her stagnant birth-rate and Germany’s growing one, France knew she could not wait another generation, if she were ever to recover the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and avenge the defeat of 1870.
    5. Italy wanted to incorporate Austria’s Italian provinces (Italia Irredenta).
    6. Tirpitz’s naval expansion and the consequent arms race with Germany was ruinously expensive for Britain.

  • At Thanksgiving, we visited family in Kansas, and went to see the WW I Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. Well worth the time to see side by side by side how the British, French, and Germans equipped their boys to go to war, and finally, the way in which we kitted out our own boys.

    The original dedication of the Memorial site, in 1921, with all five supreme Allied commanders present, was nothing if not aspirational.

    I think the most striking element of the Memorial are the

    Two Assyrian Sphinxes [which] guard the south entrance… “Memory” faces east toward the battlefields of France, shielding its eyes from the horrors of war. “Future” faces west, shielding its eyes from an unknown future.

  • The first sentence in the first comment sums pretty nearly sums it all up. Well, let’s not forget the bosses of all the big “defense industries” of that time. There’s nothing like that [other] profit principle to help a businessman develop a taste in martial music.

  • Without the German Empire, the dispute between Austria and Serbia probably would have remained a regional war in the Balkans. It was the German Empire that wanted a bigger war, and got what it wanted.

    If you trace its history, the German Empire was the successor to the Kingdom of Prussia. When Bismarck created the German Empire, Prussian militarism became German militarism. The original sin (if you can call it that) was planted when Frederick the Great of Prussia coveted Silesia which was owned by Austria, and fought the War of Austrian Succession. Prussia then coveted Alsace-Lorraine, and fought the Franco-Prussian War. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cadre coveted territory in eastern Europe, and turned what would have been the Austrian-Serbian War of 1914 into World War I.

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