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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overturns important myths about the causes of WW1, 8 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914 (Hardcover)
When I was at school I studied Medieval History with enjoyment because of the shortage of facts-this required the historian to fill in the gaps to a greater extent than with modern history. However, the military historian of the First World War is in some ways in the same position. The destruction of much of the German archive in bombing raids during of the Second World War means that whilst there is voluminous data from the Entente side, evidence on such crucial things as German casualty rates and war plans is limited. The historian has to fill in the gaps.

I remember first reading about `The Schlieffen plan' as a schoolboy (I think it was in a `Look and Learn' potted history of the War), and it was certainly portrayed as being the font of German militarism. Zuber claims that this plan was invented by the German General Staff in the 1920s to enable the blame for the failure to win the Battle of the Marne to be laid at the door of 3 conveniently dead officers: Moltke, Bulow and Hensch. In the 1950s the German historian Ritter found a manuscript written by Schlieffen describing what purported to be the German plan used in 1914 and used it a key part of his description of German militarism. According to Zuber, Ritter defined militarism as the one sided determination of national policy according to military calculations, rather than raison d'etat or rule of law, morality etc. National policy in 1914 was determined solely by technical considerations of mobilisation. Ritter initially wrote that this was true of all the European states, not just Germany, but later narrowed to being mainly a German issue. The Schlieffen plan dictated invasion of Belgium once mobilisation commenced.

Because the traditional view of the Schlieffen plan is so entrenched it requires an effort of will to think oneself into what Zuber is saying, but much of his argument is convincing. In particular, his argument that there was not a pre-conceived plan to march through Belgium and wheel round Paris in some vast plan of encirclement does appear valid, and Schlieffen's 1905 manuscript does not support the weight placed on it.

His wider arguments that the case for German militarism and war-guilt is weakened if not demolished are not so convincing, although he does make some valid points. In particular:-

1. The Russians mobilised first, and the conference held by the Russians & French was crucial to the road to war because the Russians committed to attack before fully mobilised (by the 16th day). This inclined them towards mobilising early to minimize their state of unpreparedness.
2. The Germans were aware of these aggressive war plans, and also the size and increasing preparedness of the Russian `steamroller'. It was unreasonable not to expect plans to be drawn up to counter this.

However, Zuber overstates his case, and in particular the following points are unconvincing:-

1. The attack on Liege is excused by the need to protect the German flank because, if Britain joined the war, which was likely `the Germans had to assume the Belgians would then side with the entente regardless'. This is a huge assumption and no evidence is presented for this.

2. Zuber argues that the French would have invaded Belgium anyway, the Germans just got there first. His only evidence for this is appears to be that the French plans required 3 armies to deploy near the Belgian border. Such a radical argument surely needs much greater weight of evidence than this!

One gets the feeling reading the book that Zuber is determined to rescue the reputation of the pre- WW1 German Army from the common view that it was the parent of Nazism and the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht as well as the SS in WW2. I don't think he fully succeeds. The recklessness and brutal cynicism of the invasion of Belgium is still there, and Ritter's characterisation of this as `Militarism' still looks right to me. But Zuber did convince me that the conventional view of the Schlieffen Plan needs to be revised.

Despite my misgivings I would say that this is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the history of the 20th Century, not just the origins of the Great War, given that German Militarism is central to the way the Modern World has been created. Even if you ultimately disagree with his broader claims, he does convincingly argue that the truth is more complex that the version of events handed down to us by Liddell Hart, & still widely believed.

The price of this book is obscene, clearly no-one except academics & those with access to a library are expected to read it. This is a shame as anyone interested in the Great War ought to read it.
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