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New Scholarship on World War I, 2000–2014: Biographies

By Frederic Krome


In Douglas Haig and the First World War, J. P. Harris very skillfully addresses the major controversies surrounding Haig.  The figure that emerges is not the stereotypical “butcher” who was careless with his men’s lives, nor a military genius.  Harris does not so much rehabilitate Haig as provide a sense of the education and experiences that shaped him and his contribution to the war.  Another figure who was highly regarded during his life but who in death has engendered a great deal of controversy is the subject of Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson: A Political Soldier, explored by Keith Jeffrey.  As chief of the Committee of Imperial Defense, Wilson played an important role in shaping and implementing British strategy.  The Irish-Protestant Wilson was also a Francophile and worked closely with Ferdinand Foch, who in 1918 was named supreme commander of the Allied armies in France.  The stereotype of Foch as an officer addicted to the cult of the offensive is countered by Elizabeth Greenhalgh, whose Foch in Command: The Forging of a First World War General dispels many of these images.  Foch was, in fact, a military intellectual who learned important lessons from the debacles of 1915-16 and evolved his strategic and operational thinking accordingly.

In Hitler’s First War: Adolph Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War, Thomas Weber challenges almost all of Hitler’s claims about his wartime experiences, and historians’ willingness to accept them at face value.  Weber also challenges many of the conventional assumptions about the relationship between the wartime experiences and political radicalization of World War I veterans.

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