Essay on Guns of August

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The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
A predilection for the high drama of war stories and an appreciation for history as narrative led me explore Barbara W. Tuchman’s The Guns of August , a dramatic, comprehensive and painstakingly detailed account of the beginnings of World War One. Having read her history of fourteenth century Europe, A Distant Mirror, I was eager to see how she would apply her style of taking important individuals of the period and showing how events unfolded through the prism of their experiences, to the subject of the First World War. Moreover, the period is one in which I have long been interested, having been introduced to it through the World War One poets, T. S. Elliot’s The Wasteland and All Quiet on
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Certainly the best known short-term cause listed for the outbreak of hostilities was the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists, the “damned foolish thing” that Bismarck had foreseen would ignite the next war (71). This act triggered a domino effect of related causes. Due to the complex web of treaties laid out in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when Austria took advantage of the assassination to absorb Serbia, Germany was required to support her, even as Austria’s aggression brought her into conflict with Russia. Russia had her own alliances with France and England, both of which were seen as threats by Germany and both of which were objects of envy and hatred, France for the brilliance of her culture and beauty of her civilization - despite her decadence - and England for her naval power – along with her “selfishness and perfidy”( 311). “Envy of the older nations gnawed at him,” Tuchman says of the Kaiser (6).

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