THIS IS A book about human and institutional responses to technological change. It deals with times of peace and times of war. The institution in question is the German Army. The peacetime in question is 1871 to 1914. The people in question are the German officers who faced a dizzying succession of new technologies that challenged their notions of how men should fight. The wars in question are those that created the German Kaiserreich before 1871 and the Great War that finally destroyed it in 1918.
The German Army was so successful by 1871 that other powers feared it. It was still highly respected in 1914, but the planning legacy of Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the Prussian-German General Staff from 1891 to 1906, did not produce another victory. Contemporaries, followed by historians, have debated the reasons for this ever since. A favorite explanation of Schlieffen's disciples was that his successor, Helmuth von Moltke (the younger), botched the master's work by weakening the armies that were to sweep through Belgium and surround French forces. 1 They did not mention the violation of Belgian neutrality or the provocation of both Belgium and Britain or the dubious diplomacy that landed Germany in a two-front war. Another scholarly hypothesis assumes recklessness and failed diplomacy but focuses on the unreadiness of a German Army allegedly too weighted down with aristocratic traditions to adopt expeditiously mechanical devices of destruction. 2 This thesis, associated mainly with Bernd Schulte, has come under the fire of