The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

By Stephenson, Scott | Military Review, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I


Stephenson, Scott, Military Review


THE MYTH OF THE GREAT WAR: A New Military History of World War I, John Mosier, HarperCollins, New York, 2001, 381 pages, $30.00.

In both title and introduction, John Mo si er's The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I promises a significant revision to the accepted view of World War I. In making such a promise, Mosier exhibits considerable temerity; he is a literary historian and film critic, not a school-trained military historian. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, one concedes that there are no historical issues that would not benefit from a fresh approach. Perhaps Mosier's background will lead him toward an important new interpretation of the events of 1914-1918. Alternatively, one fears such a book will end up as an amateur's unhappy exercise in hubris, which is my conclusion.

The myth the title alludes to is actually two myths: that France and Great Britain "won" the war and that the United States had a secondary role in achieving the Allied victory. Mosier believes contemporary and postwar British accounts have deceived students of World War I and that French accounts have intentionally obscured the fact that the Germans consistently outperformed the Allied armies on the battlefield. Only the intervention of the Americans saved the Allied armies, which were spent by mid-1918.

Mosier offers these points as a new revelation but, in fact, he is one or two revisions behind the current historiography. The "butchers and bunglers" school of World War I research has pilloried Allied ineptness since the 1960s. See, for example, The Donkeys by Alan Clark (Award Books, New York, 1965) or Leon Wolff's In Flanders Fields: Passchendaele, 1917, Penguin, New York, 2001). More recently, Bruce Gudmundsson, Timothy Lupfer, Martin Samuels, and David Zabecki have explored German tactical expertise during World War I and shown that the Kaiser's army held the clear edge through most of the war.

The latest trend has been to rehabilitate the Allied armies, as in, for example, Amiens to Armistice: The BEF in the Hundred Days' Campaign, 8 August-11 November 1918, by J. …

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