The Guns of August
Overview
 
The Guns of August, also published as August 1914 (1962), is a military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

 book written by Barbara Tuchman
Barbara Tuchman
Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American historian and author. She became known for her best-selling book The Guns of August, a history of the prelude to and first month of World War I, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1963....

. It primarily describes in great detail the events of the first month of World War I, which for most of the great power
Great power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...

s involved in the war was August 1914
Participants in World War I
This is a list of countries that participated in World War I, sorted by alphabetical order.-The Entente Forces:Note: The Entente Forces are sometimes also referred to as the Entente Powers or Allies of World War I....

. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction has been awarded since 1962 for a distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in another category.-1960s:...

 for publication year 1963.

The focus of The Guns of August is to provide the history of the early stages of World War I, from the declaration of war to the start of the Franco-British offensive
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

 that stopped the German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 advance through France
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

.
Encyclopedia
The Guns of August, also published as August 1914 (1962), is a military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

 book written by Barbara Tuchman
Barbara Tuchman
Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American historian and author. She became known for her best-selling book The Guns of August, a history of the prelude to and first month of World War I, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1963....

. It primarily describes in great detail the events of the first month of World War I, which for most of the great power
Great power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...

s involved in the war was August 1914
Participants in World War I
This is a list of countries that participated in World War I, sorted by alphabetical order.-The Entente Forces:Note: The Entente Forces are sometimes also referred to as the Entente Powers or Allies of World War I....

. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction has been awarded since 1962 for a distinguished book of non-fiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in another category.-1960s:...

 for publication year 1963.

The focus of The Guns of August is to provide the history of the early stages of World War I, from the declaration of war to the start of the Franco-British offensive
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

 that stopped the German
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 advance through France
French Third Republic
The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

. The book provides a brief history of the plans, strategies, world events, and international sentiments prior to and during the war.

Tuchman covers the two most widely known theatres in Europe and the Mediterranean, the European (or Western) front and the Russian (or Eastern) front. The war in the Balkans is largely omitted, excepting one chapter discussing the pursuit
Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau
The pursuit of Goeben and Breslau was a naval action that occurred in the Mediterranean Sea at the outbreak of the First World War when elements of the British Mediterranean Fleet attempted to intercept the German Mittelmeerdivision comprising the battlecruiser and the light cruiser...

 of the German battle cruiser Goeben
SMS Goeben
SMS Goeben was the second of two Moltke-class battlecruisers of the Imperial German Navy, launched in 1911 and named after the German Franco-Prussian War veteran General August Karl von Goeben...

 by Allied forces in the Mediterranean. In addition, this chapter explains how the events of the pursuit helped trigger the Ottoman Empire's entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers, and how this in turn led to the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.

Tuchman would later return to a subject she had touched upon in The Guns of August, the social attitudes and issues that existed prior to World War I, in a collection of eight essays published in 1966 under the title The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
The Proud Tower
The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 is a 1966 book by Barbara Tuchman, collecting essays she had published in various periodicals during the mid 1960s. It followed the publication of the highly successful The Guns of August...

 (1966).

Outbreak

These chapters discuss from June 28, 1914 (the assassination in Sarajevo of
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot dead in Sarajevo, by Gavrilo Princip, one of a group of six Bosnian Serb assassins coordinated by Danilo Ilić...

 Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
Franz Ferdinand was an Archduke of Austria-Este, Austro-Hungarian and Royal Prince of Hungary and of Bohemia, and from 1889 until his death, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His assassination in Sarajevo precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia...

, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 throne, and his wife Sophie) through August 3, 1914, and play out the opening days of the war—the commencement of France's offensive Plan XVII
Plan XVII
Plan XVII was the name of a "scheme of mobilization and concentration" that was adopted by the French General Staff in 1913, to be put into effect by the French Army in the event of war between France and Germany but was not ‘a prescribed narrative for the campaign’ or battle...

, the struggle by Russia to ensure her ally (France) would join in the war, and France's attempts to win a guarantee from Britain of her involvement, as well as Germany's ultimatum to Belgium.

Battle

The remainder of the book is essentially devoted to the battles and tactical planning on the two fronts. Intertwined with this are the effects of leaders' egos and insubordination, as well as the perceptions of the rest of the world, including the events that cemented these views.

Tuchman continues by covering the two major theatres of war, the Western Front and the Russian Eastern Front, but starts the section by covering the search for the German battle cruiser Goeben
SMS Goeben
SMS Goeben was the second of two Moltke-class battlecruisers of the Imperial German Navy, launched in 1911 and named after the German Franco-Prussian War veteran General August Karl von Goeben...

 by Allied forces in the Mediterranean. The Goeben finally took refuge in the Dardanelles
Dardanelles
The Dardanelles , formerly known as the Hellespont, is a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with its counterpart the Bosphorus. It is located at approximately...

 while Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

 was still neutral, which precipitated its entry into the war on the side of Germany, cutting off Russian import/export through the year-round ports of the Black Sea.

Front in France

As they crossed the Belgian frontier into France, the German armies were engaged by seven French armies and four British divisions known as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The French were labouring under the delusion that Gallic élan and derring-do would prove decisive in countering any action the Germans might mount against them. The French High Command had made few plans for dealing with such a large massed attack quickly bearing down on them. It was only through the actions of one corps commander, who (without permission from Joffre, who repeatedly ignored his frantic pleas) withdrew his forces from certain envelopment and redeployed them into a more tenable position, that the entire French line was saved from complete collapse.

The Battle of the Frontiers was brutal, and the Allies were forced to slowly retreat under the German onslaught until finally the Germans were within 40 miles of Paris. The city was saved through the courage and verve of a semi-retired territorial general, Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Simon Gallieni was a French soldier, most active as a military commander and administrator in the French colonies and finished his career during the First World War. He was made Marshal of France posthumously in 1921...

, who brilliantly marshaled his limited resources and saved the day. The city was preparing for siege and possible complete destruction and the government had fled south, when two divisions of reserves suddenly arrived and were rushed to the front by the city's fleet of 600 taxi cabs. Tuchman cynically notes that Joffre later took complete credit for saving Paris and the French army—after having the commander who ordered the tactical retreat, Charles Lanrezac
Charles Lanrezac
Charles Lanrezac was a distinguished general of the French army at the outbreak of World War I.-Early life:...

, relieved of duty, and the older commander and his former superior, Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Simon Gallieni was a French soldier, most active as a military commander and administrator in the French colonies and finished his career during the First World War. He was made Marshal of France posthumously in 1921...

, pushed back into obscurity.

Tuchman is also careful to point out that, although many of Joffre's actions were shameful, when he was finally pushed into action he showed great skill in guiding the hastily improvised counter-blow that crashed into the invader's flank. The Germans greatly contributed to their own undoing by out-running their supply lines, pushing their infantry to the point of physical collapse, and deviating from the original invasion plan, which called for the right flank to be protected from counterattack. Both sides were plagued by poor communication and general staffs that were heavily invested with politics and sycophancy. Dire warnings from commanders in the field were ignored when they did not fit preconceived notions of quick victory at low cost (a recurring problem that has beset armies up to this day).

Tuchman carefully introduces us to all the key players, both the Allied (French, Russian, and British) and German commanders. With her characteristic attention to detail, we learn of their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Joseph Joffre
    Joseph Joffre
    Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre OM was a French general during World War I. He is most known for regrouping the retreating allied armies to defeat the Germans at the strategically decisive First Battle of the Marne in 1914. His popularity led to his nickname Papa Joffre.-Biography:Joffre was born in...

    , the French General;
  • Lord Kitchener, the British War Minister;
  • Helmuth von Moltke
    Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
    Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke , also known as Moltke the Younger, was a nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke and served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. The two are often differentiated as Moltke the Elder and Moltke the Younger...

    , Chief of the German General Staff;
  • Alexander von Kluck
    Alexander von Kluck
    Alexander Heinrich Rudolph von Kluck was a German general during World War I.- Military career :He enlisted in the Prussian army in time to serve in the seven-week Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War, where he was wounded twice in the Battle of Colombey-Neuilly...

    , commander of the German far right wing.


Some of the names remain familiar to the average reader: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, French President Raymond Poincaré
Raymond Poincaré
Raymond Poincaré was a French statesman who served as Prime Minister of France on five separate occasions and as President of France from 1913 to 1920. Poincaré was a conservative leader primarily committed to political and social stability...

, Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, and a young soldier named Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 who fought for France (given only honorable mention), among others.

Front with Russia

Only two chapters are devoted to the Eastern Front. These chapters center on the Russian invasion of East Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

 and the German reaction to it, culminating in the battle of Tannenberg
Battle of Tannenberg (1914)
The Battle of Tannenberg was an engagement between the Russian Empire and the German Empire in the first days of World War I. It was fought by the Russian First and Second Armies against the German Eighth Army between 23 August and 30 August 1914. The battle resulted in the almost complete...

. Tuchman further completely ignores the front between Austria and Russia and Austria and Serbia: in her original author's note, she explains that a review of events on these fronts would have taken the work beyond its intended chronological scope of the first thirty days of the war.

In these chapters, Tuchman covers the series of errors, faulty plans, poor communications, and poor logistics which decidedly helped the French by causing the Germans to transfer two corps (yet another error) to defend against what the book refers to as the 'Russian Steam Roller'. It only hints at the follow-on misery of the eastern front.

Flames of Louvain

Woven into the section on battle are threads of the later formation of world opinion that Germany had been the aggressor nation, with implications that would greatly affect the future involvement of the United States. In the chapter The Flames of Louvain, Tuchman uses a variety of sources to convey the aims and desires of the German Empire and what appears to be the majority view of its people. She cites the writing of Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

 [page 348], saying the goal was "the establishment of the German idea in history, the enthronement of Kultur, the fulfillment of Germany's historical mission". Further on she recounts reporter Irvin S. Cobb
Irvin S. Cobb
Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb was an American author, humorist, and columnist who lived in New York and authored more than 60 books and 300 short stories.-Biography:...

's account of an interview with a German scientist: "Germany [is] for progress. German Kultur will enlighten the world and after this war there will be no other."

This chapter continues to detail the "German theory of terror" [page 350] inflicted on the citizens of Belgium in a failed attempt to suppress the franc-tireur. The factual account leaves little doubt of the ferocity for which the world would condemn the reprisals of the German forces.

The book ends with the beginning of the First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

, as the French and British forces, united at last, fall on von Kluck's
Alexander von Kluck
Alexander Heinrich Rudolph von Kluck was a German general during World War I.- Military career :He enlisted in the Prussian army in time to serve in the seven-week Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War, where he was wounded twice in the Battle of Colombey-Neuilly...

 exposed right flank, in what would be the first successful offensive by the Allies. In the subsequent attack, the Germans were forced back north, with both sides suffering terrible losses. While Paris had been saved, the war took on a new cast, with both sides settling into a defensive trench system
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 that cut across France and Belgium from the Channel to Switzerland. This became known as the Western Front, and over the next four years it would consume a generation of young men.

Critical Analysis

Throughout the aforementioned narrative, Tuchman constantly brings up the numerous misconceptions, miscalculations, and mistakes that she believed resulted in the tragedy of trench warfare. Among these were:
  • Economic miscalculation. In Tuchman's view, both European intellectuals and leaders overestimated the power of free trade
    Free trade
    Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

    . These individuals believed that the interconnection of European nations due to this trade would stop a continent-wide war from breaking out, as the economic consequences would be too great. However, this assumption was incorrect. For example, Tuchman noted that Moltke, when warned of such consequences, refused to even consider them in his plans, arguing he was a "soldier," not an "economist."
  • Unfounded belief in quick warfare. Except for a very few politicians (who were at the time ridiculed and excluded because of their views), all the leaders of the major combatants believed the war would be concluded in a matter of weeks, by the end of 1914 at the absolute latest. Tuchman recounted the story of a British statesman who, after he warned others that the war might last two or three years, was branded a "pessimist." This false assumption had disastrous effects, especially on logistics (see below).
  • Over-reliance on morale and the offensive. Tuchman details, in depth, how the leaders of the major powers, before the war, developed a philosophy of warfare
    Cult of the offensive
    Cult of the offensive refers to a strategic military dilemma, where leaders believe that offensive advantages are so great that a defending force would have no hope of repelling the attack; consequently, all states choose to attack...

     based almost entirely on morale
    Morale
    Morale, also known as esprit de corps when discussing the morale of a group, is an intangible term used to describe the capacity of people to maintain belief in an institution or a goal, or even in oneself and others...

    , a constant offensive, and retaining the initiative. Joffre, in particular, refused to consider going on the defensive — or even to slow the offensive — even when the realities of the battlefield demonstrated that this approach was not working.
  • Failure to consider political backlash. Many war planners did not take into consideration the political and treaty-based consequences of their offensive actions. As Tuchman argues, the German leaders in particular refused to consider the consequences of moving their armies into Belgium, despite that country's neutrality. Despite Moltke's concerns, German generals insisted on moving through Belgium because they needed to maneuver. They failed (or refused) to realize that by invading Belgium they effectively forced Britain to declare war because of existing treaties and national honor.
  • Outdated forms of wartime etiquette. Although the technology, aims, methods, and plans of World War I were drastically different from earlier wars, military leaders continued to insist upon a form of martial etiquette
    Etiquette
    Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group...

     from civilians which increased resentment between the countries. To illustrate, Tuchman regularly quotes from the diaries
    Diary
    A diary is a record with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. A personal diary may include a person's experiences, and/or thoughts or feelings, including comment on current events outside the writer's direct experience. Someone...

     of German generals who commandeered the homes and supplies of civilians. One recurrent theme within their diary entries was that they simply couldn't understand why the property owners refused to fully cooperate, in line with past wartime courtesy. In a somewhat comical passage, Tuchman even quotes from a general who criticized the master of a Belgian house for failing to sit with him at dinner
    Dinner
    Dinner is usually the name of the main meal of the day. Depending upon culture, dinner may be the second, third or fourth meal of the day. Originally, though, it referred to the first meal of the day, eaten around noon, and is still occasionally used for a noontime meal, if it is a large or main...

     and observe proper mealtime etiquette, despite the fact that the Germans had violated his country's neutrality, taken over his house, and stolen or destroyed much of his property.


Overall, Tuchman argued that none of the war's major combatants wanted a prolonged war, but the above factors caused it nonetheless. Likewise, she argued that even successes, such as the First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

 (a French victory), were to some extent accidental victories that were won despite, not because of, military leadership or strategy.

Cultural Effects

The book was an immediate bestseller and was on the New York Times best-seller list for 42 consecutive weeks. The Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

 nomination committee was unable to award it the prize for outstanding history because Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer April 10, 1847 – October 29, 1911), born Politzer József, was a Hungarian-American newspaper publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World. Pulitzer introduced the techniques of "new journalism" to the newspapers he acquired in the 1880s and became a leading...

's will specifically stated that the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for history must be a book on American history. Instead, Tuchman was given the prize for general non-fiction.

According to the cover notes of an audio version of The Guns of August, "[President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

] was so impressed by the book, he gave copies to his cabinet and principal military advisers, and commanded them to read it." In One Minute to Midnight on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Michael Dobbs notes the deep impression Guns had on Kennedy. He often quoted from it and wanted "every officer in the Army" to read it as well. Subsequently, "[t]he secretary of the Army sent copies to every U.S. military base in the world. Kennedy drew from The Guns of August to help in dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation among the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War...

, including the profound and unpredictable implications a rapid escalation of the situation could have.

The British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963....

, who had served on the Western Front during the First World War, was also profoundly affected by the book. In his diary for Monday, 22 October 1962, he wrote:
Graham Allison, a political scientist who covered the Cuban Missile Crisis in Essence of Decision
Essence of Decision
Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis is an analysis, by political scientist Graham T. Allison, of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Allison used the crisis as a case study for future studies into governmental decision-making. The book became the founding study of the John F...

, noted the effect of the Tuchman's book on Kennedy, but also its implications for the proper study of decision-making and warfare. Allison created an entire model of decision-making, which he called the "Organizational Process Model," based on such issues as those covered by Tuchman, a model which directly countered game theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

and other rationalistic means of explaining events.

Barbara Tuchman's Personal Involvement

While she did not explicitly mention this in The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman was a witness to one of the pivotal events of the book: the pursuit of the German battle cruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau. In her account of this pursuit she writes: "That morning [August 10, 1914] there arrived in Constantinople the small Italian passenger steamer which had witnessed the Gloucesters action against the Goeben and Breslau. Among its passengers were the daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren of the American ambassador Mr. Henry Morgenthau." As she was a grandchild of Henry Morgenthau, one suspects that she is referring to herself. This is confirmed in her later book Practicing History, in which she tells the story of her father, Maurice Wertheim, traveling from Constantinople to Jerusalem on August 29th, 1914, to deliver funds to the Jewish community there. Thus, at age two, Barbara Tuchman was a first-hand witness to the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, which she documented 48 years later.
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