How a war started

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress
In 1914, in the early days of August, Germany mobilized seven armies. Their plan – which took years in strategic planning – was to sweep in a giant arc across Europe, and by the end of the month, descend on the heart of their longtime enemy, Paris.

The events of August 1914 were the opening salvos of what that generation called The Great War.  The next generation later had a reason to rename it World War I.  It is in this single month that Barbara Tuchman focused her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Guns of August (1962).

A military history book, The Guns of August primarily describes the events of the first month of World War I.  From the declaration of war to the start of the Franco-British offensive that stopped the Germans to advance through France, the book also provides a brief history of the plans, strategies, world events and international sentiments prior to and during the war.

Although an immediate bestseller, the Pulitzer Prize nomination committee was unable to award it the prize for outstanding history.  This was because Joseph Pulitzer’s will specifically stated that the recipient of the prize for history must be a book on American history.  Instead, Tuchman was given the prize for general non-fiction.

Critics considered The Guns of August as one of Tuchman’s best works, but historians generally contest the thesis of the work – that the outcome of the war was decided during the first month, August.

In spite of questions about it, one of the readers of the book was US President John F. Kennedy, an amateur historian himself.  In fact, Kennedy even encouraged members of his cabinet to read The Guns of August, to help in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  Also, in Roger Donaldson’s film Thirteen Days, which showed a truthful dramatization of the crisis, Kennedy mentions the book and compares the situation with the chain of misjudgments that led to tragedy nearly 50 years earlier.


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