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Wiz-begging for assistance

I've tried to live by a few rules in my time here at Wizbang, and the time has come to put them to the test. Specifically, the ones about "if you want to appear smart, only write about things you know a bit about," and "I might be smarter than any given reader, but I'm nowhere near as smart as all of them put together."

With that in mind, I'm going to ask for a bit of help.

I'm working on another essay, and I find that to prove my point, I need some rather esoteric knowledge.

I've always been a World War II buff, but I am woefully ignorant on the First World War. It's always seemed a bit muddled and, well, primitive to me, so it's left me cold. But now I need someone who has as much fascination with The Great War as I do about the sequel.

More specifically, I need information about the geopolitics both leading up to the war and in the aftermath. The elements I need are about just how the nations chose sides, with a bit of special attention paid to the Ottoman Empire.

If anyone knows a bit about this, or knows of a good online source, or can refer me to some good books, please e-mail me or mention something in the comments. I've already made plans to get my hands on a copy of Massie's "Dreadnought."

And thanks, in advance. Naturally, anyone who helps me will get full credit (unless they want full deniability -- which I accept is a distinct possibility.)

Update: No, Bernard Higgins is not unnaturally prescient. I intended this piece to publish itself at 5:00 a.m. Saturday, but neglected to change the date to the 17th. Bernard made his comment between I hit "scheduled" and when I went back and changed the date, "un-publishing" the piece for about 6 hours.

Comments (24)

"The First World War" by Jo... (Below threshold)

"The First World War" by John Keegan (see Author's Notes for chapters #1, #2 and #3). I write this suspecting you already have the book, as it's a seminal work.

"The Guns of August" has an... (Below threshold)
jd watson:

"The Guns of August" has an interesting perspective.

In general, pre-WW1 allianc... (Below threshold)

In general, pre-WW1 alliances were of course leftovers of the 19th century, IMHO with the newly-united Germany as the central focus. Either you were worried about the rise of Germany, and formed alliances to protect yourself against them, or you wanted to catch a rising star, and so allied with them.

That is, of course, a) painting with an overly broad brush, and b) just my opinion.

As to the Ottomans, well, they could really have gone either way, but I think they opted to ally with the Central Powers as a hedge against Russian expansionism, and to protect their interests in the Balkans. An Ottoman Empire on the Allied side stood to lose everything west of the Dardanelles to the Austro-Hungarians. (I must admit that the notion of Constantinople back in western hands after 500 years is a mighty tasty historical "what-if" to chew on.)

Again, that's just my take on the matter. I was a history major, but WW1 was not my area of focus.

I also recommend Keegan's work. My copy of An Illustrated History of the First World War is already pretty well-worn, though I haven't yet finished coloring all the pictures....

Dreadnaught and Keegan's wo... (Below threshold)

Dreadnaught and Keegan's work are both outstanding works. You may also want to look into "War Plans of the Great Powers" by Paul Kennedy. It is a good guide of just how each country planned to prosecute a war, but more importantly it lays down many of the assumptions that they had when formulating the plans.

I would say that generally, allies were chosen based in part on family ties (when you get Massie's book, check out the similarities between Tsar Nicholas and King George...scary) and common military historical ties (France and Russia vs. Germany, especially).

The Ottoman Empire had a natural antipathy toward the Russian Empire, as well as to Serbia (former province), for that matter. Plus, and any Euro history major will get a chuckle out of this, Russia's historical goal over many centuries was to obtain access to a warm-water port. Istanbul was an obstacle for them. Likewise, the Ottomans wanted to expand their territory eastwards into Armenia, and that was their primary reason (as I understand it) for agreeing to ally with Germany in early-1914. I do know that during the war the Ottomans did invade Russia with disasterous results, not to mention the first true genocide campaign in modern history.

Ok, too much info and probably overly simplistic/obvious, but once I got started, my inner history geek ran rampant.

I recommend Paul Kennedy's ... (Below threshold)
Tokyo Tom:

I recommend Paul Kennedy's "Rise and Fall of the Great Powers". He does a good job of explaining how factors like relative strengths in trade, industry, population, military investment and geography affected the lead up and conduct of the war.

You must read "The Peace to... (Below threshold)

You must read "The Peace to end all Peace". A little dry, but absolutely amazing, all our problems today were setup by the British and French in 1917...

Massie's "Dreadnought" is t... (Below threshold)

Massie's "Dreadnought" is the best work on the runup to WWI in the last generation.

Winston Churchill's account is also quite excellent.

I don't know how much time ... (Below threshold)

I don't know how much time you have for deep background, but for an true understanding of the Ottoman Empire and the effect it had (has still) on the Balkans and Europe, you might try "The Bridge at Drina" - a Nobel Prize winner translated from Serbo-Croat, I think.

It is a novel and a quick and compelling read, but well researched and accurate say reviewers and experts. I have found nothing like it to reveal the effects of the Ottomans, and other influences, over centuries.

Well I recommend something ... (Below threshold)

Well I recommend something more obscure: The Submarine – A History by Thomas Parrish. (ISBN 0-14-303519-3) – only part 2 of this book deals with WWI, but there are some interesting insights into the whys and how’s. It’s not long, so a couple of hours in the library would be all that it takes.

How fascinating, all the ab... (Below threshold)

How fascinating, all the above! I'll add to my 100+ list of books to be read :)

Here's one I found interesting re the social and political milieu just prior to the Great War: "The Proud Tower - A Portrait of the World Before the War: 1890-1914" written by Barbara W. Tuchman. Amazing similarities then and now: there were calls for disarmament by the Russian Czar (because Russia was behind in its arms race with Germany at the time), radical peace movements, etc. That era even had its very own (pre-war) Cindy Sheehan by the name of Baroness Bertha von Suttner (one-time secretary to millionaire explosives manufacturer Alfred Nobel) !

"Guns of August" for sure, ... (Below threshold)
bill m:

"Guns of August" for sure, but also by Tuchman: "The Zimmerman Telegram" (What finally pushed Wilson to abandon his neutrality policy.)

Also "The Myth of the Great War", on the Allies use of propaganda -- To make to USA look bad!

what a coincidence.<p... (Below threshold)

what a coincidence.

i'm reading "europe in the 19th century" by brison d. gooch. covers from about 1789 to 1914. i'm up to about 1850.

one sentence summary: Upheaval caused by the vast majority of people in europe wanting more political power vs. the monarchs/aristocracy.

These books were both assig... (Below threshold)

These books were both assigned to me at the history graduate level for courses on WWI: "The Origins of the First World War" ed. by James Joll and "Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War", ed. by Steven E. Miller et. al.

Too bad knowledge of WW1 is... (Below threshold)

Too bad knowledge of WW1 is to be considered ESOTERIC.

I applaud you for studing up. This period and its lead up is pivotal

to understanding PALASTiNE and the current world. This is where

Ottoman empire went down by sideing with the Germans.

Jay Tea,I was a Hi... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea,

I was a Histiry major in college, but by no means a WWI buff. I do remember my Prof talking about WW2 being a continuation of WW1. Perhaps, since you are a WW2 buff, you can tie it in together.

I agree with the recommenda... (Below threshold)
R. Young:

I agree with the recommendation above regarding Tuchman's "The Guns of August."

I also highly recommend Winston Churchill's "The World Crisis." It's several volumes are a great read and provide an inside appraisal by one of the prinicpal actors in the British government at that time.

Matin Gilbert's "The First World War" is also well worth reading.

as was said - "Guns of Aug... (Below threshold)

as was said - "Guns of August"

"The Long Fuse" by Laurence... (Below threshold)

"The Long Fuse" by Laurence Lafore. Nothing about the war itself, but an excellent investigation into the geopolitical machinations that led up to it.

Let me also recommend "Cast... (Below threshold)

Let me also recommend "Castles of Steel," which is Massie's sequel to Dreadnought and covers the naval history of World War I, along with the strategies that lead up to the war. The first few chapters cover the flight of the German battlecruiser (cruiser?) Goeben from the Mediterranean to Istanbul.

I would also recommend "The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire" Which takes them from the gates of Vienna to their dismemberment following WWI.

Well thats my $0.02, or about $45.00 at Barnes and Noble.

Jay, you might want to get ... (Below threshold)

Jay, you might want to get yours hands on the bio of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). There is also a whole wing of the British Empirial Museam pertaining to WW1. The film Lawrence of Arabia (starring Peter O’Toole in the title role) is also a good source of mateiral for what you need. It does not quite follow the life of Lawrence and some the stuff is a little sexed up for dramatical purposes, but all in all a fairly decent insight into what happened in the Middle East.

Hey Jay Tea,The st... (Below threshold)

Hey Jay Tea,

The stuff listed above is great, but here's a few links if you need quick-n-easy facts:



Jay here is few details abo... (Below threshold)

Jay here is few details about the Ottoman Empire, that maybe you would like to peruse.


My recollection of the geop... (Below threshold)
Joel Franklin:

My recollection of the geopolitics immediately preceding the war, with the caveats that I have no recollection of where or why the Ottomans fit into this, and that its even more simplistic than Russ's post:

Germany and Austria, sharing common ethnic groups, are allies. A member of a Serbian terrorist group, some of whose members are part of the Serbian government, assasinates the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary threatens war with Serbia. Russia, a Slavic nation, promises to defend Serbia, a Slavic nation. Germany and Austria-Hungary threaten Russia. France has a mutual defense treaty with Russia against Germany, since the two nations bracket Germany. England, long concerned about Germany's recent attempts to usurp British naval supremacy, joins the French. (The Americans, sharing an ethnic bond with the British, join England several years later.)

Germany attacks France, attempting to secure its western border so that it can safely attack Russia and prevent Russia from coming to the aid of Serbia when Austria-Hungary attacks Serbia for sponsoring the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungaran throne.

And that is the opening of WWI in a nutshell.

NetFlix has a 10-part docum... (Below threshold)

NetFlix has a 10-part documentary titled The First World War; it is excellent and includes a few colored photographs.






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