On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace
The First World War: A Complete History
Victory Must Be Ours: Germany in the Great War, 1914–1918
In his four-part novel of the First World War, Ford Madox Ford has his hero, Tietjens, say to another officer at the front:
“At the beginning of the war…I had to look in on the War Office, and in a room I found a fellow…What do you think he was doing…what the hell do you think he was doing? He was devising the ceremonial for the disbanding of a Kitchener battalion. You can’t say we were not prepared in one matter at least…. Well, the end of the show was to be: the adjutant would stand the battalion at ease; the band would play Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant would say: There will be no more parades…. Don’t you see how symbolical it was—the band playing Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant saying: There will be no more parades?…For there won’t. There won’t, there damn well won’t. No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me any more. Nor for the country…nor for the world, I dare say… None… Gone… Napoo finny! No…more…parades!”
Tietjens was wrong, of course. Despite the horrors of the First World War and the pervasive sense that it had all but destroyed the civilization that produced it, there would be other wars and other parades to go with them. The authors of all three of the books reviewed here make it clear that Tietjens’s war was gravid with the seeds of its successors.
Donald Kagan, who writes at length about World War I, inclines to the belief that war is part of the human condition and will always be with us. He has no patience with the kind of talk about a new international system and a pax universalis that prevailed at the end of the cold war and the conflict in the Gulf, and he cites people in the past—Tom Paine, John Stuart Mill, John Bright, Ivan Bloch, Norman Angell—who shared similar views and lived to see them confounded. The current condition of the world, he is sure, will not last. A reunified Germany will sooner or later regain military power equal to its economic strength. So will Japan, and eventually China, while the day when Russia will reassert itself as a major power is unlikely to be indefinitely postponed. Mr. Kagan believes it would be frivolous to suppose that such changes will not pose dangers to the status quo and thinks we would be better advised to study the ways war has originated in the past than to harbor the idle hope that it will not recur.
To encourage this, he has conducted what he calls an experiment in “comparative narrative history,” in which he has written accounts of the origins of four great international conflicts, the Peloponnesian War, the First World War, the Second Punic War (Hannibal’s long struggle against Rome), and the Second …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.