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The First World War (2003)
Topic Started: Jan 7 2018, 06:15 PM (588 Views)
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The First World War (2003) Produced and Narrated by Jonathan Lewis
Based on the book by Hew Strachan

I've read the book, but hadn't cracked open the series until now (there are ten parts). Short version of the first episode, which is called To Arms (1914): tensions between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had only been officially around since 1867, and the ambitious and belligerent Serbians, whose army leaders secretly conspired against Austria-Hungary, led to the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in June, 1914. The Austro-Hungarians wanted to fight to punish Serbia, but didn't think they could win (they were right) so they got the backing of Germany, which stupidly didn't realize what they were getting themselves into (immediately after signing the pact, the Kaiser went on vacation). Seeing Germany aligned with Austria-Hungary against its allies the Serbs brought Russia into the conflict; the Russians figured the whole thing was a German plot. France was an ally of Russia and didn't like Germany, and so they got involved, and the British - the only country in Europe not involved in the least - also declared war, mostly to protect their overseas colonies. Do you know what a "clusterf*ck" is? Yeah, this is one, alrighty.

"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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The 2 or 3 books I read during the small WWI publishing flurry in 2014 would challenge some of your author's assumptions, I think. But everyone still seems to agree that none of the participants really knew what it was getting into.

I didnít see much domestic reporting after that, apart from some WWI battleground tours suggested in the NYT. I imagine this November we'll see some more thoughtful reflections, once more demonstrating that we as a species have learned very little.
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Mr Hale, I believe you recommended one of those WWI books, back in 2014. I remember expressing interest in it, but didn't get around to reading it.

To save me searching, do you remember which title that was?


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Frank Hale
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I remember the discussion, but at that point I hadn't read any of the books, so as I recall I didnít recommend them so much as point out that they were getting good notices in the book reviews.

The big one was "The Sleepwalkers" by Christopher Clark. He seemed to make a big splash by arguing that all of the countries simply blundered into the War, which I thought had been pretty much the consensus already.

He did seem to ascribe different-from-the-received-wisdom motivations for the various countries taking a hand, which is why I did the earlier post.

Overall, I'm glad I read the book because a lot of the stuff was new to me. As for recommending it, though, my opinion is that, from a time-invested standpoint, you might do just as well reading a good encyclopaedia article.

I also read Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" from 1962, and thumbed through Margaret MacMillan's "The War That Ended Peace" (2014), at which point I was pretty much trench-warfared out, at least for the time being.

Actually a book you might consider is Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory" which, while not a straight history, discusses, by way of the ensuing world literature, how WWI changed everything. It took me a while to get through it, but IIRC it was voted one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century in the Random House reader poll.
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Thanks, Mr Hale. My memory is getting worse every year.

Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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I picked up the Fussell book today. And bought it, too!
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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Now that I'm on the spot, I hope you enjoy the book.

Here's a link to the Modern Library non-fiction readers' poll for your edification.

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-nonfiction/

There's a similar fiction list which I'm sure you can find.
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ďEvery war is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends. In the Great War 8 million people were destroyed because two persons, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort, had been shot. The Second World War offers even more preposterous ironies. Ostensibly begun to guarantee the sovereignty of Poland, that war managed to bring about Polandís bondage and humiliation.Ē - Fussell
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Episode three is "Global War", and we learned that Germany attacked Britain around the globe, not so much for conquest as to keep the Brits off the Western Front and busy defending their colonies. The British liked to fight with surrogates (the Japanese attacked the German naval port in China, the Indians and South Africans attacked in Africa) and despite heavy losses was able to do enough damage to keep the Germans at bay. An interesting sidelight: involving Japan was the seed that grew into Japanese militarism in the 1930s.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Episode 4: "Jihad!" War in the Ottoman Empire; if Britain had one surety in 1914, it was that Turkey would be a pushover, although Germany courted her mightily as another way to tie up British troops and keep 'em off the western front. Turkey hated the Russians and attacked them on their mutual border - in the dead of winter. Score: tens of thousands of Turkish frozen. They blamed the Armenians in their midst, and genocide - up to 800,000 Armenians dead - followed. The Brits, meanwhile, landed a massive allied force at Gallipoli, and got their asses handed to them by the entrenched Turks, losing a quarter of a million men. Needing a victory to shore up morale, the Brits next sailed up the Tigris intent on taking Baghdad - and got surrounded and besieged at Kut, a devastating defeat.

Interesting that the British can be considered much more fighting a war of conquest that Germany is, but as we know, victors write history.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Episode 5: "Shackled to a Corpse" (how a German described his country in its relationship to Austria-Hungary)

This episode dealt with the racial war on the East, Germanic peoples against Slavs, including the first-ever use of chemical weapons and the targeting of Jews.

King Ferdinand of Romania leaned toward the German side, but Queen Marie knew better and worked out a deal for what Romania would get (including Transylvania) for joining the "right side". Similarly, the Italians - who were completely neutral - took the Triple Entente side in promise of tracts of the Ottoman Empire, and found themselves in some of the roughest fighting of the war, with many more men freezing to death in the Alps than dying in combat with Austria-Hungary.

Meanwhile, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria invaded Serbia; one third of the entire population was killed and the rest fled into Albania.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Episode 6: "Breaking the Deadlock 1915-1917"

A 500 mile long front and many troops that simply didn't see the point of fighting: "live and live let" - as the war rolled on. Their leaders, though, wanted a breakthrough, and Germany thought they found it at Verdun, where the battle raged from February until December, 1916, at terrible cost. Early German advantages were pushed back as the French held, led by Petain, of all people. 750,000 casualties.

The British tried their own breakthrough in late 1917 at Cambrai with the newest war weapon: the tank. Again, early victories ended up being pushed back, and the stalemate continued.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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You mentioned in the opening post that you had read the book by Hew Strachan. What did you think of it?

You are going to be a WWI expert after this 10-hour series.

It's not like I'm a deep scholar, but I've found it much more difficult to wrap my head around WWI than WWII, because of all the various fronts and conflicting, devious motivations.

As I recall, something like 16 million people died in WWI and another 55 million in WWII. We are now doing our level best to destroy planet Earth.

We are indeed quite a species.
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Indeed.

I loved the book, which is why I picked up the TV series that went with it. I didn't finish the book (yet), wanting to get caught up with the TV series, and ain't life complicated if you make it so?

I knew much about the second one, not so much about the first one except that it was a clusterf*ck and that Charley Chase sang four-part harmonies in it.

The TV series mentioned that it was the first large-scale war of the industrial age, and humankind had gotten frighteningly good at killing people.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Episode 7: "Blockade: 1916-1917"

Britain's great warships and Germany's submarine fleet battle for the North Sea and its trade routes; Germany is effectively bottled up and although the massive Jutland battle ends up inconclusive, the Germans remain entrapped. Germany takes reprisals by launching torpedo attacks against any ship it can find, including the Lusitania. This policy, along with the Zimmerman telegram, in which Germany encouraged Mexico to attack the U.S., finally brought America into the war in the spring of 1917. The Kaiser's opinion: he didn't care; the Americans wouldn't be ready to fight until 1919, and by that point, France and England would've sued for peace because of the submarine attacks.

Next: "Revolution"
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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