Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I

Gh domination not cooperation it soon slid into aggression To secure Germany for all imaginable time could not even in Bethmann s mind and certainly not for the hawkish elites around him mean merely a return to the unstable status uo of the last peacetime ears Instead it reuired permanent control of invasion routes and the subjection of dangerous neighbors France must be so weakened as to make her revival as a great power impossible for all time Russia must be thrust as far as possible from Germany s eastern frontier and her domination over the non Russian vassal peoples broken Watson notes rightly that German war aims were not the cause of the war That is Germany did not go to war in 1914 to secure these goals Rather they developed uickly as the war progressed It is also worth noting that while Germany s goals seem on paper to be the working paper of a DC Comics supervillain they are exactly what the Allies did to Germany once they won the war What the Germans planned the Allies did with only an arguable difference in magnitude Redrawing of national frontiers Check Creation of demilitarized buffer zones Check People forced from their homes or forced to get a new passport Check Reduction to a non great power Checkmate In all my reviews of WWI books I make reference to the fact that I m on a literary journey It s my way of leaving bread crumbs for those who are also interested in this mammoth subject and want some ideas about where to start or where to go next To that end I should note that this is second or third level reading It operates under the assumption that Einführung in die deutsche Sprache der Wissenschaften you have some structural framework inour mind that outlines the broad parameters of the war Watson does not take any time to catch The Defense (Eddie Flynn you up to speed He writes as thoughou already know the general history of WWI and proceeds to give Hai nhà you the GermanAustria Hungarian version of it This is a dense book Watson imparts of a lot of information Fortunately Watson is a decent writer For the most part he clearly expresses his thoughts and ideas and he never bogs down in subjects that are objectively uninteresting I m thinking of the chapter in Hew Strachan s book To Arms that is devoted to financing the war and spends time on bondields than I m comfortable with He s a PhD but I never felt like he was trying to keep me at arm s length as a reader Every once in awhile Watson will write one of those uintessentially British sentences that go on for a paragraph are dreadfully passive and are studded with clauses But for the most part I have no strong comments about the style which means that it imparted information without either frustrating me or causing my heart so soar at the poetry of its prose I think the highest accolade I can give is that a book with such complex arguments and nuance was such a breeze to get through A book like this with such a clear point of view can t help but go too far Does Watson oversell the Germans and Austro Hungarians Sure This would be a problem if it was the only book on World War I that existed It s not though and so it is an excellent way to balance the scales The Triple Alliance was not comprised solely of saints martyrs and lovers of small animals But neither was it the second coming of a barbarian horde It was a collection of people and Watson gives them their due as people Inside this giant of a tome is an average sized book crying to be freedI m fond of saying nobody cares about World War I That s because it s true Only strange people like me would first learn about the war at ten Harry Potter a Me Ka Pōhaku Akeakamai: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Hawaiian years old from a book in the school library It all began with an assassination in Sarajevo Hey that sounds exotic Exciting I m in Now let s learn about propaganda and trench warfare and poison gas and the Red Baron Awesome stuff for bookworm boysLittle did I know I d end up living in the city where the war officially began Belgrade Lastear a friend of mine visited and I took him to the place where the mighty Danube meets the eually excellent Sava Right there I pointed across the confluence On that side of the river was the Austro Hungarian Empire And here gunboats opened fire on the city Later my wife told me I d pointed at the wrong spotEven those who ve heard of WWI know only the popular version which goes something like thisThe evil Germans started the war in order to dominate Europe if not the worldOnly America stopped themA hundred Falling Through Clouds years later this remains the gospel among those in the know Lastear the inimitable mayor of London Boris Johnson went out of his way to write an editorial urging us not to be swayed by other historical facts In the end he said Germany was to blame and Germany got what it had coming to them Never mind that Germany which did declare war on Russia and France which did invade gallant little Belgium on its way to France nevertheless never declared war on Britain Britain sacrificed nearly a million of its own voluntarilyWhat s been needed for a long time is a history of our Satanic enemies Germany and the Austro Hungarian Empire Ring of Steel provides that Unfortunately it provides far too much of itI have mixed impressions and really want to give this important work stars but the fact is every time I read it I felt like I had to outrun an avalanche of information when really a uarter would have sufficed This is a shame because the writing is clear The writing is interesting The writing is well organized The writing is fair all of which I love about a good history But there s too much to consume It even got to the point where I d read the first sentence of a paragraph only to skim the rest because I knew one interesting detail was inevitably going to be followed by ten not so interestingAs I write this though I must admit I did read one section thoroughly There must have been 20 pages or so dedicated to the Germans who served on the submarine fleet I thought it was fascinating And The Art of Acquiring yet the detail was no less than it was for other aspects of the war recorded in Ring of Steel So perhaps I should say that this comprehensive history has something for everyone depending on what that something is Perhaps I should give it a future re read This is an outstanding work It speaks of Germany and Austria Hungary as surrounded by a ring of steel in World War I Great Britain France Russia Italy later the United States and some smaller countries They were outnumberedThis story is told from the perspective of Germany and Austria Hungary It is the story of government and the people It is less of a military history Ifou wish a detailed description of the masterful defeat of Russian forces at Tannenberg ou won t get it There are only four pages out of a volume of 566 pages that even mention this battle Of course there are other volumes that focus on the battles and campaigns in great detail eg Collision of Empires The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 and one can refer to them for that aspect of the warThe volume provides considerable information on how warfare affected the people back home Over time with the British blockade of sea lanes which Germany depended upon for food and other key goods there was a slow strangulation of Germany Austria Hungary Some of its bread basket was occupied by Russian forces for a time creating great hardship at home Indeed there is much discussion in this book of the interrelation of military issues and what was occurring in the two home countries There is also considerable discussion of the political conseuences in both Germany and Austria Hungary from the warWe learn a great deal about major figures in Germany from Hindenburg and Ludendorff and the Kaiser and Western generals to key political leaders The same with key players from Austria Hungary One immediate lesson military leaders in the German military were much able than their colleagues from Austria HungaryThis is a terrific book Sometimes reading becomes a bit tedious from the massively detailed discussion of various elements of the conflict But persevering is very much well worth the effort History is written by the victors This is why I found the idea of writing about World War I from the point of view of the losers Germany and Austria Hungary fascinating by its uniueness Ring of Steel is one of the best history books I have ever read Watson s elouent writing and his intellectually satisfying analysis of causality are all the captivating thanks to his attention to defusing certain long standing historical myth. H empires were flooded by genuine mass enthusiasm and their troubled elites were at one with most of the population But the course of the war put this under impossible strain with a fatal rupture between an ever extreme and unrealistic leadership and an exhausted and embittered people In the end they failed and were overwhelmed by defeat and revoluti.

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R in the warThe soldiers on the front line and the war are also examined in detail German soldiers faced the same hardships as those they fought with terrifying artillery bombardments suicidal charges into machine gun fire and trench life dominating Psychological strain and physical harm befell them everyday and many fought bravely in a conflict that was deemed to be defensive by the citizens of the Central Powers The war aims of the Central Powers are also examined They originally started off as small with Austria wishing to teach Serbia a lesson and possibly set up a puppet government or even directly annex the state German war aims were much modest off the bat however Germany originally wanted France to destroy her border fortresses and possibly set up a puppet state in Belgium They also wanted to move Russia as far away from our borders as possible which was ambiguous enough but probably entailed freeing the Baltic states and possibly creating a sovereign state of Russian controlled Congress Poland However as the war expanded their war aims grew Security became the watchword and Germany wanted to dismember both France and Russia to ensure security for all time Watson takes a look at all of these things using an unbiased lens and tone He does not fall for the history of the victors but looks at the Central Powers for what they were European states that had their own aspirations insecurities and social racial and class issues This can be said of all powers at the time including Entente Russia who collapsed in 1917 due to class strife France with its multi ethnic colonial Empires and class issues and Britain ditto with France Watson s take on this is refreshing The book itself is an interesting social history of the Central Powers during WWI It is a side of the conflict that is rarely scene and the deep examination of German and especially Austro Hungarian society is fascinating as it is rare in modern history books A small criticism would be the lack of economic information on the Empires at this time Although Watson examines the crop ields of Germany and Austria Hungary and comments briefly on the inflation experienced during the war he does not go into detail on the economic background of these issues Although some would find that dry it would have tied the whole book together neatly and would have helped to offer a background on some of the monetary issues faced by the Central Powers Alas another book maybeAll in all a great read and a refreshing take on WWI that is often unheard of in Western historical literature Worth a read for WWI buffs and those interested in Germany and Eastern Europe An excellent and comprehensive history of the Austrian and German war effort during the First World War One of Watson s main arguments is that the history of these nations from 1914 1918 played a major role in Europe s l If A Menagerie of Heroes you ve run across any of my other reviews of World War I related booksou will know that I have spent approximately the last three and a half Mr. Fix-It years trying to learn everything I can about the Great War I can pinpoint the date because this was a conscious decision I made when I learned that my wife with pregnant with our first kid I thought to myself Selfou re about to lose a bunch of The Complete Photo Guide to Slipcovers your free time You better choose one thing besides wine as a hobby and go with it I chose WWI for a couple reasons One the centenary was coming up now of course we re in the midst of it and two I didn t know anything about it Also I had been told that World War I pairs well with Yellow Tail chardonnay Things I knew about WWI three and a halfears ago 1 It started because one guy shot another guy in Sarajevo 2 Snoopy shot down the Red Baron thereby assuring Allied supremacy of the blue Nazo no Kanojo X, Vol. 1 yonder and 3 The Americans won it because AMERICA You re welcome as always Europe It s taken awhile and a lot of books a lot of wine a lot of money spent on books and wine and a lot of time reading those books and drinking that wine but I ve just started to grasp how that Sarajevo assassination precipitated a world crisis and a bit about how that crisis played out As we all know a little bit of knowledge and that s what I have a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing It has me putting on airs I now have strong opinions on things that I never knew existed only a short while ago It has given me a bit of a contrarian streak And in that spirit I purchased Alexander Watson s Ring of Steel This small child of a book 566 pages of text another hundred plus pages of notes this book is nothing if not well cited not only tells the story of the First World War from the perspective of Germany and Austria Hungary but it dares to take an apologist s stand At every point where Germany and Austria Hungary are to blame Watson offers up a defense Well at just about every point There is no one on earth who can logically defend Austria Hungary s bungled diplomacy following Franz Ferdinand s assassination It was just so bad This is one of the strong and obvious opinions I have formed Ring of Steel starts where every WWI book is legally obligated to begin with the July Crisis Austria Hungary attempted to use the death of its unloved heir as a pretext for going to war with Serbia which had been fomenting a dangerous pan Serbian nationalism that threatened the integrity of the Habsburg Empire But instead of just going to war Austria Hungary tripped over its untied shoelaces and fell flat on its face Germany needing to prop up its main ally gave Austria the infamous blank check a historical moment that feels like one frat boy accepting a dare from another frat boy than it resembles dead serious international diplomacy In any event Austria Hungary proceeded with extreme self defeating slowness assured of Germany s support while Germany s bellicose bipolar Kaiser tried to shove all the toothpaste back into the tube The end result obviously was Germany invading France via Belgium After the July Crisis Ring of Steel moves onto the war itself But it does this in a uniue way It does not present a chronology of battles battlefields and overmatched generals It is not interested in the positioning of Army A vis vis Army B Instead Ring of Steel tackles the war using a topical thematic approach The chapters present a series of discussions rather than a series of seuential events The chapter on the opening stages of the war for instance does not present the usual narrative It does not move methodically from the siege of Liege to the Battles of the Frontier to the climactic conflict on the Marne Instead it devotes a great deal of time to examining claims of German atrocities Contemporary Allied propaganda depicted the Germans as Huns bent on rape murder and the bayoneting of infants Directly after the war many of these claims were debunked and thus German brutality came to be seen as mostly myth Recently there has been a pushback against this position with certain historians I m thinking of Max Hastings here treating the Imperial German Army as proto Nazis engaged in a dry run of World War II war crimes Watson pushes back against the pushback in a somewhat but not entirely successful effort to re contextualize alleged atrocities Similarly in the chapter on the war on the Eastern Front Watson steers clear of recapitulating the mistakes and movements that led to the crushing defeat of the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg Instead Watson focuses on the invasion of Prussia by Russian troops I thought this was a neat inversion of the typical WWI narrative which focuses on the victimization of Russian and French civilians Hereou see things from the point of view of a German civilian just as innocent and shabbily treated as their Allied counterparts Later sections of the book detail the plight of German civilians as a result of the Allied blockade a blockade that considered food to be contraband One of the most interesting chapters takes on the notion of German plans for Europe following victory against the Allies As Watson writes Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg s war aims programStated boldly that the general aim of the war was securityfor all imaginable time This disarmingly simple aim was to be the basis of German policy throughout hostilities While it was defensive in conception the intention to achieve everlasting security was extraordinarily ambitious When combined with a world view that regarded security as a zero sum game to be won throu. Despite local successes and an apparent triumph in Russia Germany and Austria Hungary were never able to break out of the the Allies' ring of steelIn Alexander Watson's compelling new history of the Great War all the major events of the war are seen from the perspective of Berlin and Vienna It is fundamentally a history of ordinary people In 1914 bot.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though the subject material was a little dry I particularly enjoyed the use of diary entries and letters from homethe front which the author used to illustrate his points with a human touchIt explores the societal effects of the war on the populations of the main Central Powers Germany and Austro Hungary It shows how initial enthusiasm turned to disappointment and dejection as the war dragged on and the loss of men and materiel mounted This was not helped by the dastardly English blockarding ports so that the civilians on the Home Front were slowly starvedThe loss of support amongst the civilians at home set up a feedback loop when the wave of troops released from the Eastern front in early 2018 failed to provide the knockout blow to France and England as had been anticipated In the end the German army was barely holding on and Austria collapsed from within as its constituent nations voted with their feetStupidly the victorious Entente imposed a swinging peace leading to resentment and rancour which all but guaranteed a re match This duly occured in 1939 as a populist orator exploited the myth that the undefeated armies at the front were betrayed by treasonous civilians the stab in the back dolchsto legende to lead an aggrieved nation back to war Not that it worked out any better for the GermansWell worth a read Most books about the First World War are in one thing clear Germany and Austro Hungarians were the bad guys and their opponents were the good ones This is why we often see things from the side of these good people often overlooking what happened on the other side This lack is trying to supplement this book and I think it does in an impressive and historically correct way It does not of course take their place nor the writer try to overlook their responsibility for the start of the war and the very great crimes they have done during the war what it does is to show us their own perspective the suffering of their peoples but also the crimes of their opponents who shaped their thoughts to a certain extent He does this by presenting us a comprehensive chronicle of the participation of these two countries in the first World War the causes that made them engage in this armed conflict until the causes of their final defeat After reading I can say that I feel that I have a complete picture of the First World War so that is a book that I recommend to those who are interested in this issue There isn t much popular history available which provides an internal view of the Central Powers during WW1 so this book is a worthwhile read on that basis This is a survey history so it necessarily covers a great deal of ground at a high level However the prose is readable and Watson provides enough details to keep it interesting for example a sentence about a Steiff playset of a French POW transportIt s greatest value lies in its description of how the multi ethnic communities of pre war Central Europe became over the course of 1914 1918 a preview of the bloodlands of WW2 and of how the slave labour economy of the WW2 Third Reich was rehearsed in 1914 1918 They did not spring ex nihilo from the mind of Adolf Hitler It may in some ways explain why Ludendorff found Hitler s ideas congenial enough to join him in the failed beer hall putsch of 1923 and why Hindenburg accepted Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 In that regard there is a lamentably short discussion of how the German army developed skills in propaganda and indoctrination in the latter stage of WW1 Hitler was a great beneficiary of this in his transition from army indoctrination cadre to Bavarian politics in 1919 We are still seeing aftershocks of this today in the Eastern Ukraine I thought this would be a slog at 800 pages but found it a surprisingly readable and a thought provoking bookRing of Steel tells the story of World War 1 from the other side of the hill and claims to be the first modern history from this viewpointBeing a World War 2 devotee this book really opened my eyes to the GermanAustro Hungarian viewpoint and decision making in World War 1 It really is a fascinating read telling the story of how Germany and Austria Hungary initially mobilised the support of their populations to but as military losses mounted and Allied blockades caused hunger and hardship on the homefront doubts set in Whilst politics are key to understanding the GermanAustro Hungarian position social and economic effects of the war are covered extensively tooSome nuggets from the book that I hadn t necessarily realisedRussia mobilised before Germany sparking German fears of invasion from the East that unified support across all political divides of the German and most of the Austro Hungarian populaceThe general belief in Germany and Austro Hungary that the war was purely a defensive reaction contrary to the Allies view of GermanyAustro Hungary as the aggressorHow complex the Austro Hungarian Empire was with its collection of separate nationalities and eleven spoken languages creating no ethnic language or national unity as in GermanyThere s many but I d recommend buying the book for thoseWhilst a lot of books are currently being produced from the Allies point of view Alexander Watson has filled a vacant space in our knowledge of the German and Austro Hungarian viewpoint Highly recommended Ring Of Steel Germany and Austria Hungary in World War I by Alexander Watson is just as it sounds A gigantic tome of information on the life and times of the Central Powers excluding Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire as they fought in World War I Germany and Austria Hungary are often maligned as the evil empires that started WWI I much of the Anglo Saxon world and as both powers lost the war history continues to be written mostly by the victors Watson takes the opposite approach looking at the Central Powers perceptions of the war and its beginnings To be sure the Austro Hungarian and German governments did wish a war to commence especially against the alarmingly powerful Tsarist Russia Germany also had a bit of a grudge against France which had been ongoing for than a century Austria Hungary had a beef with Serbia as wellSo when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand heir to the throne of Austria Hungary was assassinated by a terrorist group with either tacit or explicit support from the Serbian government and the Russians began to mobilize a bit to much for their liking the German and Austrian high command thought it a good opportunity to act France and Russia themselves seemed to want a war as each coveted territory held by Germany or Austria Hungary Britain became involved as the narrative goes after the implementation of the Schliffen plan a German offensive through neutral Belgium that would circumvent the massive fortifications on the German France border However Britain seemed poised to attack Germany at any time as well calling on their age old policy of divide and conuer in Europe to keep any one nation from getting to big This book follows these issues from the German and Austrian perspective Serbia had a long history of antagonism toward Austria and vice versa and France had been looking for white hot revenge on Germany for the latters victories in 1871 and 1898 Russia had racially motivated claims on Austrian Galicia Britain wanted to contain German power on the continent and expand its colonial holdings at both Germany and the Ottomans expanse Clearly the evil empire theory can be expanded to include all combatants Watson also examines the viewpoint of the German and Austro Hungarian people at this time The food shortages that hit the Central Powers due to mismanagement hostile blockade and poor ields was devastating for most people War fervour loyalty and national hegemony are examined This period also saw the rise of racially motivated cleansings perpetrated by the central powers and a few of the Entente members as well targeting those deemed disloyal Predictably Jews Polish Ruthenian and Czech subjects of both Empires were targeted with deportation and sometimes martial violence often unfairly Watson notes that Jewish volunteers in both Empires came out in droves at the beginning of the conflict and racial minorities in the Hapsburg domains often came out to try and curry favour for greater autonomy This autonomy was suspect to the ruling German and Hungarian landed gentry and was often met with outright hostility late. For the empires of Germany and Austria Hungary the Great War which had begun with such high hopes for a fast dramatic outcome rapidly degenerated as invasions of both France and Serbia ended in catastrophe For four ears the fighting now turned into a siege on a uite monstrous scale Europe became the focus of fighting of a kind previously unimagined.

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My new book The Fortress The Siege of Przemyśl and the Making of Europe's Bloodlands is out in the UK with Allen Lane and in the US with Basic Books It tells the moving story of the First World War's longest siege a dramatic campaign that opened the horrors which would ravage twentieth century East Central Europe The Times newspaper UK calls the book 'a masterpiece' 'Vividly writte