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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: Prewar Military Technology & Military Thought

By Frederic Krome

Prewar Military Technology & Military Thought

As with the diplomatic origins of the war, recent historical research has devoted greater attention to understanding developments in prewar military technology and ideas about future wars among military intellectuals.  A very good starting point for students is Eric Dorn Brose’s The Kaiser Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany during the Machine Age, 1870-1918, which integrates political and economic considerations with a discussion of technology.  The book also has one of the best explanations of the impact of Kaiser Wilhelm’s notorious personality quirks on military technology.  Antulio J. Echevarria, in After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers before the Great War, provides a listing of German military theorists and their ideas in the generation leading up to 1914.  His work demonstrates that German military thought was a fascinating combination of dynamism with regard to new technology and ideas and an intense conservatism in operational practice.  Robert T. Foley’s German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition is a revisionist approach that places the controversial chief of staff in historical context, and shows the development of the strategy of attrition that dominated German planning after 1915.

On the other side of the English Channel, Matthew S. Seligmann’s The Royal Navy and the German Threat, 1901-1914: Admiralty Plans to Protect British Trade in a War against Germany is an insightful analysis of both the British navy’s understanding of the potential threats emanating from Germany and how the British developed plans to counter that threat.  While the admiralty gathering of intelligence and concern about supply lines played an important role in pre-1914 planning to defend British trade routes, Nicholas A. Lambert, in Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War, shows how the British government prepared to bring the war to Germany.  Lambert reveals that the British government understood that the next war would be fought on the home front as well as the war front; strangling German trade and industry was a vital part of strategy.  Such revelations challenge the conventional wisdom that the British government was ideologically unable to conceive of total war prior to 1915.

Works Cited