An American veteran, military historian and a genius, S. L. A. Marshall has written the history of World War I with a special emphasis on the role played by the United States during the “Great Power war” (Marshall 33). In his book, World War I, the author describes the causes and consequences of deadly decisions made through this war. The book explains World War I from its very beginning in the complex political landscape of prewar Europe until its very end with negotiations of peace in France, the failed attempt of Woodrow Wilson to get Senate to ratify the Versailles Treaty in the year 1919, and the birth of the horrific Nazi Party. Being a veteran, Marshall explains military strategies through World War I to boot, allowing readers to understand options available to all those who played important roles through the war. What is more, as an individual who had participated in World War I, the author is able to explain the motivations of participants, thereby bringing them to life as no modern historian can.
In fact, Marshall tells the story of World War I as a chain of inevitable events with political motivations of evil individuals as the metal that built the chain. According to the author, the story of World War I begins thus:
In the Bosnian town of Sarajevo on the morning of June 28, 1914, a chauffeur misunderstood his instructions, made the wrong turn, tried too late to correct his blunder, and so doing delivered his passengers to a point where a waiting assassin did not have to take aim to gun them down.
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Two rounds from one pistol and the world rocked. The crime was the small stone that, loosened, brings the avalanche. There followed four years of universal violence. Millions met untimely death. Many mistaken instructions, wrong turnings, and belated tries to redress error went into the making of World War I. The ambush of an Austrian couple was the precipitating incident. (Marshall 7)
The “murder mob” consisted of nationalists from Serbia (Marshall 7). Their target was Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Regardless of how the murderers learned to develop fanatic rage in the name of nationalism, the fact remains that this incident started the chain of events that killed approximately ten million people between June 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918, when the armistice was eventually signed. Marshall is clear about facts surrounding World War I. For this reason, perhaps, readers of his book, World War I should find it relatively easy to question bureaucratic systems that brainwash people and corrupt human judgment. After all, ordinary people who were led into the war by such systems at the time did not have such history books to explain how human judgment can be corrupted enough to lead to at least 10 million deaths in the course of four years.
Hence, Marshall can be said to have rendered service to humanity at large by explaining all that happened during World War I. The author describes the industrial capacities of the great warrior nations and how these capacities influenced their respective performances on the battlefield. As industrial capacity is developed by human beings, Marshall’s analysis offers food for thought to readers who are conscientious enough to ponder over correct uses of modern-day technologies so as not to repeat the mistakes of previous peoples. The author also describes master warrior plans devised by the likes of Schlieffen, Ludendorff, Joffre and Haig. Regardless of such evil geniuses, the reader realizes that at times of war, it is for the people to essentially decide whether or not they would participate in the killing of millions of innocent souls. Hindenburg, Foch and Pershing could not get very far in the pursuit of power with brute force if majorities of their respective peoples had opposed them. Then again, it takes lessons of history to teach humanity at large that weapons used in World War I, for example, the Austrian 88, German howitzers and the French 75-mm. guns, as described in Marshall’s book, in addition to modern-day weaponry are virtually meaningless in the presence of human beings that insist on peace and would not allow themselves to use them.
Indeed, the story of World War I is one of misfortune of humanity. The war engulfed all major states of Europe in addition to Turkey and Japan. It spread to the imperial domains of Germany, Britain and France on the continents of Asia and Africa, as well as Pacific islands. World War I was fought on the high seas. It further involved colonial people from Indochina, Australia, India and Canada. Even the United States was compelled to participate. In the understanding of a modern-day reader of Marshall’s book, everybody involved in the war was completely foolish at the time. Yet, the author claims that there were millions fighting for their respective nations. Twelve million
Russians, eleven million Germans, eight million each of French, British and Austro-Hungarians, five million Italians, four million Americans and three million Turks – all had been brainwashed by their respective governments in a show of power. The good news is, of course, that our world may never have such a war again. After all, Marshall’s book has allowed humanity to learn lessons from history once and for all.