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Customer Review

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book but some important question marks regarding Memory, 3 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: The First World War (Paperback)
I realize that it may seem unduly harsh to deduct 3 stars from the book rating because of objections to its treatment of only a specific aspect of WWI. However, I believe that in the current context of reappearance of extreme ideologies in Europe, of the persistence of incidents of Shoah denial at high levels and the rise of moral relativism, it is better to err on the side of stressing Memory rather than getting bogged down to hair-splitting arguments about technical aspects of large scale killings.

One of the most prominent examples of the way the book treats some of the more human aspects of the war is the reference to the Armenian Genocide: The book (e.g. on page 114 of the 2005 Penguin edition of the book) contains very compelling and concrete evidence for the designation of the massacres as "genocide", but, despite this, it hesitates to call it a genocide. What is worse, part of the blame for not settling the issue is cast on the "readiness of Armenians and others to use the word 'genocide'" while in the very next sentence it is stated that the number of dead was likely around one million! When we are talking about such massive scale of destruction of human life, it is incredible that the author would expect people (not just Armenians) to not feel strongly about these events and to not insist on such a designation of the killings.

The main cause of the author's uncertainty on the designation of the massacres is some doubts on whether the killings were centrally organized or spontaneously perpetrated by the majority population. However, the facts given within the discussion of exactly this question make such doubts sound like legalistic pedantry at best. Specifically, it is stated that "By this stage-late May 1915-the Turkish leadership was ready to give shape to the whole, to Turkify Anatolia and to finish with the Armenian problem." (page 114 of the 2005 Penguin edition of the book), suggesting that it is not an issue of "whether" but of "when" it was centrally decided to "finish with the Armenian problem". After all this information provided in the book itself, the frustration of its author with those insisting on the designation "genocide" becomes incomprehensible.

That said, the book gives is an extended account of WWI offering an alternative interpretation of the mechanisms leading to the war and to the way it was conducted. For instance, it suggests that, although the war became a "world-war" at a later stage, its roots were always international because they touched upon European colonies and the associated system of international relations. It is further suggested that, because of the internal developments in various European countries, WWI was not a war driven only by interests but also by conflicts of ideologies.
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Initial post: 2 Mar 2014, 10:29:44 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Mar 2014, 13:30:37 GMT
I have just watched on DVD episode 4 of the old channel 4 series based on this book, and which deals with the massacre of the Armenians. I was very unhappy with the failure to designate this massacre as a mass genocide, and to rub salt into the wound to leave the last word on the subject what the Turkish government said about the event in 1916 that the deaths were purely the unfortunate result of "bad officials". I specifically looked through the Amazon reviews of this book on which the channel 4 series was based to see if anyone had a similar disquiet to my own on this question, and I was very pleased to find the present reviewer's opinion, and therefore a big question-mark on Hew Strachan's take on the Great War. In this context it is worth reading the epic historical novel by the very good Jewish German writer, Franz Werfel, 'The Forty Days of Musa Dagh' which was the first genuine attempt, so far as I know, to bring to the attention of the West the true extent of the mass genocide of the Armenians in 1915. The book first came out in German in 1933, translated into English in 1934, and was based on Werfel's time as a traveller in the region of the genocide, much of it spent talking to many eye witnesses, and checking reports such as were available. The whole thing was a massive cover-up in which for some reason the Western powers seemed to want collude for some reason. The new 2012 english translation IBSN 978-1-56792-407-7 (all 924 pages of it!) is the book to get since it includes much material previously left out of all English editions. Currently though, for some curious reason, it is very hard to get hold of except for second-hand at absolutely exorbitant prices - I'm still trying to get a copy myself! But as regards Hew Strachan's 'First World War', I have found in the dvd series so far, (and therefore, presumably the book) on the Great War, the extensive coverage of the global side of the war, such as in Africa, other colonial regions and the Eastern front very valuable - so much of this neglected or dealt with too briefly by comparison in other series I have seen.
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