Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918

By Fahey, John E. | Military Review, September-October 2014 | Go to article overview

Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918


Fahey, John E., Military Review


VERDUN: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918

John Mosier, New American Library/Penguin Group, New York, 2013, 400 pages, $26.95

As the centennial of the Great War approaches, historians have been hard at work revising conventional understandings of the war, its processes, and its significance. John Mosier is no stranger to revisionist history, and though occasionally overstated, his Verdun is an excellent examination of the battle and its broader context. Mosier argues that the battle is largely misunderstood, thanks to geographical ignorance of this part of the French frontier, as well as propagandistic myths made by the French high command to cover for their distressing battlefield performance in 1914 and on.

Though Mosier focuses on Verdun, he has much to say about the French high command and government, which utterly failed to provide strategic leadership or tactical and technical innovation before and during the war. They did succeed on the information and public perception front and managed to hide the extent of casualties and other failures from the French people for years. As often happens, wishful thinking was compounded into an article of faith that the Germans were losing more men than the French, and thus the French army was actually succeeding. Mosier argues that this belief explains much of French (and British) behavior during the war.

Perhaps Mosier's most significant revision is his reevaluation of German Gen. Falkenhayn's goal for Verdun. He is remembered as wanting to "bleed France white" at Verdun, but Mosier, a Falkenhayn apologist, makes a good case for a more subtle goal. Falkenhayn planned to take Verdun before French Gen. …

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