This book is written for the General reader and gives a very complete overview of the Great War It briefly explains the causes and sentiments of the war, along with a comprehensive overview of the battle strategies. The author observes that the vast scale of the war, and the fact that simultaneous battles occurred on various fronts makes a full comprehension of the war difficult, but then proceeds to provide an engaging, but thorough review.
The justification for this book must be found in a remark once made to me by an Oxford professor. I had made a seminar report and had "demonstrated" that nothing adequate could possibly be known about the subject until elaborate research had been prosecuted. "Yes, yes," said the professor. "Very good, but what are we going to think in the meantime? Just tell us something brief and probable." That is exactly what I have tried to do in this book.
It would be idle to pretend that an adequate history of the war can be written so soon after the event or within such brief compass as this volume. But it is equally idle to suppose that we who have lived and fought the war can afford to wait before we think something about it until the historians can complete any portion of the monographs upon which any truly scientific notion of the war must rest. Surely, it is scant comfort to us to know that our grandchildren may understand the war. We need to know something about it now, for our opinion of its origin and course will be significant elements in every relevant decision we reach on statecraft and reconstruction. Nor am I at all prepared to admit that the generation who fought the war is entirely in error as to why and for what it was fought. Over the details of battles and diplomacy future students may wrangle to their hearts' content, but the spiritual truth about the reasons for the conflict, and the spiritual forces which won it, I feel sure we correctly apprehend now. One of the most essential facts to make clear, I feel, is this very spiritual purpose with which we fought the war. Any future impartiality—so called—or present (assumed) idealism which leaves out of the story such spiritual elements will falsify it, however numerous the details they correct.
It was tragic that the men and women who fought the war were too busy to study it. The greatest peril of the new era is that they will still be too busy with reconstruction to devote even casual attention to the great event itself, in the light of which alone can the decisions be made by which the new era is to be shaped. People are weary of working and weary of reading. Yet there was never a time when effort was more necessary nor when a little would have such significant results upon national and international events.
I hope that this volume may serve the purpose for some at least of those who have neither the time nor the inclination to read more detailed accounts, and who are not among those hypercritical gentry who will reject all present attempts as unscientific and necessarily unsuccessful. I have tried to make text, maps, and illustrations tell their lesson at a glance, to make that glance reveal something important and interpretative, to pack into these few pages the gist of the view about the war which has cost me much time and effort and which would be the core of any account I might write, however lengthy and technical. To say so much so briefly meant inevitably the possibility that some portion might not be clear and that other parts might be misunderstood. The narrative had to be reduced rigidly and much material often included in brief texts had to be left out in order that the interpretative material might find place. There was danger that the latter might fail to carry conviction without a greater area of facts about events and people. Such a decision meant in particular the complete subordination of the process by which I achieved my conclusions and the omission of the whole panoply of qualifications so dear to the professional historian. But I felt the gain more than commensurate.
I shall not be disturbed if reviewers and correspondents point out that Mr. This and General That differ from me. I am already aware that the witnesses are as numerous as the sands on the seashore and the divergencies in their accounts are like unto the leaves on the trees. A great deal of water must run under the bridge before these controversies can be authoritatively settled.
I have devoted almost as much research and thought to the selection and preparation of the illustrations and maps as to the text itself. They represent a comprehensive survey of French, Italian, and German as well as of British and American illustrated periodicals and official photographs. They will, I hope, repay study. They tell much that the reader will want to know, which I felt could be better told in this way than by direct description. So far as I know, this book is the first to contain any number of illustrations from German sources. I have particularly attempted to show how the various nations sought to rouse patriotism and stimulate endeavor by graphic methods. Many of the illustrations are therefore in themselves historical material, and show better than mere description can the spiritual attitude toward the war of the various combatants.