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W Brownell, D Dace-Brownell and A Rovt
This book covers an awful lot of events and individuals in and around WWI. So for those who contemplate tackling this very readable and entertaining book and are unfamiliar with the period, or who may have forgotten many facts, I’d highly recommend flipping through to the end of the book first and reading the two very helpful appendices there. One is a rough timeline of the events of WWI and the other is a “cast of characters”. That’s so that when they crop up in the narrative, you’ll be able to place them in their proper context without wondering what happened when or who they are and how they fit into the story.

The authors are from the US, so it’s understandable that they’re keen to continue the “we saved your arse” theme that has also come to define the US understanding of WWII. However, it goes far in explaining the typical German “stabbed-in-the-back” legend (Dolchstoßlegende) that was prevalent after WWI and where it came from. There’s also a rather tortuous attempt to link Adolf Hitler’s exposure to poison gas in WWI to his subsequent decision to use the same to solve the “Jewish problem”. It’s well known that Hitler, for all his very many faults, forbade the use of poison gas on the battlefield precisely because he was aware of the unpleasant consequences. With hindsight, it seems rather ironic that the gas used on the western front was invented by a Jewish chemist, Fritz Haber – as is explained in the book

Erich Ludendorff was an exception in that he rose to power in the German Army hierarchy despite his humble roots – in an age when the German High Command was very much the domain of the established aristocracy. It was probably because of that, that he attempted, and succeeded, in concentrating power in his own person and effectively bypassing his superiors, the Kaiser and Hindenburg – who, however grudgingly, acquiesced to his wishes and entered into WWI.

Ludendorff was the man pushing for the conflict and he got what he wanted. He was also the one who promoted the so-called “Schlieffen-Plan” in spite of the fact that it depended very much on a certain set of circumstances occurring at precisely the right moment and in spite of the fact that he was made aware of the fact that no military plan in existence has ever survived the light of day, and its actual execution.

I believe it’s fair to say that Ludendorff was the original warmonger. However, not in the modern sense that we regard Bush or Blair as “warmongers”, but truly and utterly a “warmonger” who stated that: “waging constant war is the true state of man and only in war can man find his true calling”. Now that’s real warmongering!

Ludendorff was not only a warmonger, he was also a very incompetent war leader. Not only was he largely responsible for Germany’s descent into war, but he was also almost the sole reason for Germany actually losing WWI, as strange as that may sound. He was so confident in his own abilities as a tactician, that he simply ignored other, more experienced, officers and pushed through his plans whatever the cost. And what plans they were!

From fomenting revolt in Mexico to invade and occupy the US, to spending millions on introducing phony money into France, his schemes knew no bounds. When he allowed Vladimir Lenin to travel unharmed to Russia in the hope that he’d end the war in the East, and even gave him millions to finance it, he couldn’t have envisaged just how successful Lenin would be. To Ludendorff’s dismay, Lenin used much of the money he’d been gifted to print millions of leaflets expounding Communism and spread them among the German soldiers on the eastern front. The Brest-Litovsk agreement that Ludendorff forced on the Russians, while delighting the German aristocracy because it gave them vast tracts of Russia, Ukraine, etc to lord it over, was also a major factor in losing the war: all those new areas had to be policed and occupied by German forces, who were then unavailable for the Western front. The final nail in the coffin for the German army were the so-called “Ludendorff offensives that failed mainly because they were badly planned and executed without using any follow-up forces. First the French, then the British and finally the Americans found that the large “bulge” pushed into their lines by offensives allowed them to slaughter the German forces from three sides.

However, even after the war, Ludendorff escaped any criticism, largely because he’d spent a lot of time blaming everyone else, but mainly the Jews, for the German defeat. The Allies were also, to a certain extent at fault for the subsequent events in that they disregarded the urgent advice of the generals Pershing and Foch to actually march to Berlin so that they Germans couldn’t maintain that they were never defeated. That, more than anything else fuelled the anger of the German population and immensely aided the rise of Adolf Hitler, who also used Ludendorff’s continuing popularity for his own ends.

Amazingly, even today, Ludendorff’s decisive role in kicking off WWI in the first place, and his active role in actually losing the war, is still not widely known. Hopefully, this book can spread the word and provide another valuable link in the chain of events that led up to the “war to end all wars”.

Definitely worth ten out of ten.

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