29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing and poorly researched,
This review is from: The Great War: Myth and Memory (Paperback)
I bought this book after having read the enthusiastic comments of previous readers but I have to say I was quite disappointed. The book promises a revolution in the interpretation of the Great War from the point of view of military history and cultural history, but does it manage to achieve that? I reckon it doesn't, as it has left too many things out of the picture, that is, those things that do not fit the author's thesis. For example, Todman strongly absolvitory idea that there is no relation between the rise of Nazism and the end of W.W.I is totally questionable. Surely he manages to sound persuasive because he leaves Fascism out of the picture, by the way ignoring all the researches carried out by important Italian historians like Mario Isnenghi and Giorgio Rochat, who have thoroughly analysed how W.W.I paved the way to Fascism (a political movement whish was mostly led by war veterans, like Mussolini and Italo Balbo, and which in turn strongly influenced Adolph Hitler--another Great War veteran). His exploration of the negative myth of the Great War is not complete, not at all, because he seems to suggest that it's the British war poets who created the negative image of the war, while, had he bothered to read e.g. A.D. Harvey's Muse of Fire, he might have understood that it's an international phenomenon, and that there are dozens of books which depict the great war as the hell it was--sure, if you stick to a parochial point of view which only takes into account British authors you may think that only a few malcontents complained about the war, but if you read also Dorgeles, Lussu, Hemingway, Renn, Remarque, O'Flaherty, Dos Passos, cummings, Kraus and many others you may see things differently (and I am mentioning the literary authors, to whom one should add dozens of diaries, memorials, etc.). Then the issue of how the commanders were judged by subsequent historians is oddly incomplete: no mention of such a key essay like Tim Travers' The Killing Ground, no mention of the fundamental essays by John Keegan. So I see no reason to extol this book, whose intentions may have been good (e.g. I do believe that a totally negative picture of the life led by soldiers in the treches is not totally acceptable, and other classics of war literature might be mentioned, such as Ernst Juenger or Blaise Cendrars), but whose achievemnets are limited and whose overall thesis ("the war wasn't that bad") is still disputable. Then, I absolutely disapprove of another smug argument that Todman seems to like so much, that is, what might be summarized as "we won the war, so what's all this fuss?" It seems that he ignores the story of Pyrrhus' victory--which, for a historian, is unforgivable.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Sep 2008 07:14:31 BDT
C. Spittel says:
Well, the book is concerned with the British myth of the war, so I find it acceptable that the author limits himself to British material. Also, I think you may be overstating the author's smugness. I do not for one moment think that he's an historian who endorses war. But he's fed up -- and rightly so -- with the simplified, and highly sentimentalised stories that Britons have constructed of their Great War.
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2009 09:37:56 GMT
Vittorio Caffè says:
If one reads British war historians he gets the impression that those stories are not so simplified and not so sentimentalised. Btw, Todman seems to ignore much of what has been written in English about W.W.I by British writers who fought in that war. As for the comparison with foreign writers, it is simply necessary because when you put those British writers quite superficially criticised by Todman in the larger picture of a European war, you discover that their depiction of the conflict had striking similarities to what people who fought it on the same front or different fronts, with different cultural backgrounds, told about it. I may excuse Fussell for his parochial choice to work only on British writers, as he was a pioneer, but in Todman's case I think it is simply unacceptable. Just compare this book with Jay Winters' Remembering War, and you'll see what is the point I'm trying to make.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Aug 2010 16:46:03 BDT
L. G. Hall says:
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Apr 2011 02:57:28 BDT
Revisionism vs. denial
Pulitzer Prize winning historian James McPherson, writing for the American Historical Association, described the importance of revisionism:
Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable "truth" about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past-that is, "revisionism"-is what makes history vital and meaningful. Without revisionism, we might be stuck with the images of Reconstruction after the American Civil War that were conveyed by D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation and Claude Bowers's The Tragic Era. Were the Gilded Age entrepreneurs "Captains of Industry" or "Robber Barons"? Without revisionist historians who have done research in new sources and asked new and nuanced questions, we would remain mired in one or another of these stereotypes.
Historians Deborah Lipstadt (1993), Michael Shermer, and Alex Grobman (2000), authors of critical studies of Holocaust denial, make a distinction between revisionism and denial. Revisionism, in their view, entails a refinement of existing knowledge about a historical event, not a denial of the event itself, a refinement that comes through the examination of new empirical evidence or a reexamination or reinterpretation of existing evidence. Legitimate historical revisionism acknowledges a 'certain body of irrefutable evidence' or a 'convergence of evidence'... Denial, on the other hand, rejects the entire foundation of historical evidence...." Denial is concerned with holding onto and promoting pre-conceived ideas, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jan 2012 16:48:04 GMT
Last edited by the author on 15 Jan 2012 16:49:39 GMT
A. W. Revell says:
"the biggest thing Britain as a nation could learn about the war is that it was fought by people other than the British.The bulk of the fighting on the Western Front was done by the French"
History don, or not, Dr Todman really should read more. He appears to know very little about the First World War. On the relative merits of the British forces and those of the French, I suggest he starts with the memoirs of the German generals.
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