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This is supposed to be a revisionist book about World War I. Around page 1 the author, Niall Ferguson, announces that he is going to correct 10 major myths about the war. (Or, at least, provide a final refutation of those myths.) Although the book is well written, and the arguments clear, I am not certain that the goal of the author is obtained. First, scholars have recognized some of those myths as myths for decades. These certainly include the first two: The myth that war was inevitable due to economic rivalries, imperialism, secret military alliances, or an arms race; and the myth that Germany started the war because the German government felt strong relative to other European powers.
Second, while his attack on some other myths are analytically convincing, Mr. Ferguson fails to provide convincing non-analytical explanations for why his numbers come out the way they do. For example, he argues that contrary to the standard myth, the German army was tactically and operationally superior to the armies of Britain, France and the United States clear through to the end of the war in 1918. His evidence essentially is that - ignoring surrender - the average German soldier killed or wounded more than 1 enemy soldier before he himself was killed or wounded. I believe the authors numbers, but I really didn't learn why they turned out the way they did. Yes, the German's developed better tactics for both attack and defense in trench warfare than their enemies, but why? Certainly their enemies tried hard to come up with good answers to those same problems, but failed. Again, why? Class structure is one reason on the part of the British is one reason cited, but I suspect that there must be more to it than that.
Third, at least the one myth I completely believe Mr. Ferguson demolished, is sort of a "so what?" While not one of his ten big myths, the author proves through quotes from letters, memoirs, and from other sources, that many soldiers from both sides who tried to surrender were killed (read "murdered") after surrendering. This really should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the military history of this century. There are many documented cases of how dangerous surrender could be during World War II and the Anglo-Boer war. (Try Paul Fussells' Doing Battle, or one of Stephen Ambrose's books about World War II for example, or any first-person account of the World War II eastern front. Or, just talk to a Vietnam era veteran who was in the infantry.)
Actually, there is a 11th myth that Dr. Ferguson attacks in "The Pity of War" that has received the most attention from other historians and reviewers. That "myth" is that Great Britain had to participate in the war to prevent Germany from dominating continental Europe, and thereby destroying its role as a great power. Ferguson argues that the original war aims of Germany in the west were relatively benign, and that after quickly defeating a France unaided by Great Britain, the Germans would have imposed heavy monetary reparations of France, and then restored independence to both Belgium and France. At worst, Germany would have forced both countries, along with much of central Europe into an economic union, not much different and not much more dangerous to Britain than the German-centered European Union that exists today.
In defense of this 11th myth, Ferguson points out that German plans for serious annexations of territory, such as all of Belgium and the Northwest of France, were not formulated until the war was a couple of months old. There are problems with this argument. The most obvious to me, is that although France would have lost the war without the aid of Great Britain, the logistic problems encountered by the German army during the opening phase of the war meant it would have taken France several months to lose. Those several months would have given the Germans plenty of time to decide that they deserved both territorial and political rewards for their war against France. So, even a short war won by Germany would have left them as the type of people you don't want as neighbors. Especially if you are the center of an empire based on sea power, and your new neighbors are going to control ports just on the other side of the English Channel.