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Manfred F. Boemeke, Roger Chickering and Stig Forster, eds.
Anticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences,
1871-1914.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1999. 473 pp.
Index. $64.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-6229-4.
Reviewed for H-WAR by David Silbey <>,
Department of History, North Carolina State University
This book of essays, the second in a series of five, continues to
compare and contrast the paths that the United States and Germany
took through what might be termed the century of total war,
1861-1945.  This work specifically covers the period from the end of
the German wars of unification to the beginning of World War I.  The
essays are loosely organized into four sections.  The first,
consisting of two essays, takes a methodological and
historiographical approach to the concept of total war to plumb the
concept's strengths and weaknesses.  The second, eight essays, looks
at "War and Society."  The third, six essays, covers "Memory and
Anticipation: War and Culture." Finally, the fourth, four essays,
looks at the "Experience of War."
The purpose of the book is explained and examined in the leading
essay. Roger Chickering's "Total War: The Use and Abuse of a
Concept" leaps feet-first into an analysis of how the concept of
total war has been historiographically deployed.  He finds there to
be fundamental problems with its use.  Chickering argues that the
rise of total war has become a "master narrative" that locks
military historians into a interpretive straitjacket and forces them
to ignore nuances in the development of war in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries.
His argument is strong and well-founded, most particularly when he
calls for a concerted attempt to reach a fundamental definition of
total war. Chickering makes a number of curative suggestions which
are usefully provocative while also remaining admirably restrained.
There are, nonetheless, some flaws. His analysis of the previous
historiography presents perhaps too much of a black-and-white
portrait.  I would argue that previous historians have been more
aware of the subtleties than Chickering allows.[1]
Chickering could also widen his view a trifle by looking at the
reasons why historians had such an attraction to the master
narrative of total war.  Did larger political and social concerns
affect them?  How did the Cold War influence the reception and
dissemination of a unified framework of total war? Did Soviet
historians have a markedly different take on the evolution of war?
Given that we are concerning ourselves with the metahistory of a
master narrative, should we not then examine the historians
themselves?  A follow-up essay to Chickering, examining the works of
the dominant military historians of the post-war world (Howard,
Keegan, Kennedy, et al) would do much to reinforce Chickering's main
points.  In the end, however, these are minor caveats.  Chickering's
essay is a call to arms that we should heed.
I have the space to examine only a few of the essays that follow.
They range widely among topics and methods. We are treated to a
sterling example of traditional history by Stig Forster, "Dreams and
Nightmares:  German Military Leadership and the Images of Future
Warfare, 1871-1914,"  which deftly rewrites the traditional
conception of what kind of war the German generals thought they were
getting in 1914.  At the other end of the methodological spectrum,
Thomas Rohkramer paints an insightful picture of how generational
tensions within German veterans' and reservists' associations led
the younger generation, lacking experience in war, to feel the need
to prove itself.  Nor is the United States neglected.  David Trask
offers a well-reasoned analysis of how American leaders viewed
future wars in "Military Imagination in the United States,
1815-1917,"  though his acceptance of 1914 as a fundamental dividing
line may be a bit uncritical.  John Whiteclay Chambers III covers a
similar topic when he examines "The American Debate on Modern War,
1871-1914," if through the lens of more popular sources.
But though the variation is large, there remain some general
criticisms that apply across the board.  First, the conjunction of
Germany and America does not always seem concretely justified.  As
Chickering and Stig Forster point out in the introduction, there
were some "difficulties in comparison"  between the two countries
(p.1).  Especially in the era dealt with in this volume, America
simply does not seem as central to the total war equation as it does
in World War II.  Derek S. Linton's essay "Preparing German Youth
for War," cries out for a comparative look at British youth or, even
more critically, French youth.  The essays that deal with the
results and the memory-construction that followed the Franco-German
war of 1870-1 positively beg for a concurrent analysis of French
myth-making.[2] It is perhaps an unfair point to criticize the book
for something it is avowedly not attempting.  Nonetheless, by the
end of the book, I found myself thinking of the French and British
as the ghosts at the banquet, uninvited but unavoidable.
My second criticism also concerns an omission.  Absent throughout
many of the essays, and this time culpably so, are the words of the
people of Germany and the U.S.A., most critically the working
classes.  They did, after all, make up the great majority of people
of the two countries. They did, later on, make up the great majority
of soldiers in both World Wars.  It is not an overstatement to see
the near-universal popular support of the World Wars as one of the
central factors making them "total."  Without such implicit and
explicit support, both military and economic mobilization would have
been impossible.  Until we fully explore its roots, we understand
rather less about the wars of the twentieth century than we think.
This has not been an uncommon neglect in the military
historiography.  In my particular subfield of British military
history, for example, the working classes have frequently been
assigned ideas, thoughts, and viewpoints -- whether patriotic or
Marxist -- by overly-solicitous historians.  As a result, we still
do not really understand what underlay the popular support in
Britain for World War I, a support that translated most noticeably
into millions of volunteers.
Some of the same problems exist here.  The emphasis for the most
part is on propagation, rather than reception.  Essays such as
Alfred Kelly's "Whose War? Whose Nation? Tensions in the Memory of
the Franco-German War of 1870-1871," Derek Linton's "Preparing
German Youth for War," and Jean Quartaert's "Mobilizing Philanthropy
in the Service of War: Female Rituals of Care in the New Germany"
examine the creation and dissemination of a particular set of values
without looking at how those values were received.[3] Instead, they
assume that the values were accepted uncritically.  This may be a
reasonable assumption, but until we examine the words of the workers
themselves, we cannot and should not jump to it. There are
exceptions to this.  David MacLeod's "Socializing American Youth to
Be Citizen-Soldiers" nicely interweaves the beliefs of both the
young men and the elders inculcating them.  This insightfulness
needs to be the rule, rather than the exception.
But this is too gloomy a note on which to end the review.  Both the
project, the conferences, and the volumes produced are immensely
valuable. The authors and organizers have undertaken the immense
task of deepening our understanding of modern war. In that, they
deserve our support and, indeed, our participation.
[1].  Russell Weigley, for example, acknowledges and explores some
of the issues that concern Chickering in his The Age of Battles:
The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo.
Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1991.
[2].  Rohkramer, "Heroes and Would-Be Heroes," 189-216; Alfred
Kelly, "Whose War? Whose Nation?  Tensions in the Memory of the
Franco-German War of 1870-1871," 281-306; Volker R. Berghahn, "War
Preparations and National Identity in Imperial Germany," 307-326.
All in Boemeke, Total War.
[3]. Respectively, pp. 281-306, 167-188, 217-240 in Ibid
Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 06/06/2000
S D Stein

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