The Great War of 1914-1918 is at last a respectable field of study for British professional historians. There has been no lack of monographs on specialised aspects of that gigantic tragedy: what have been lacking are serious synoptic studies. The highly emotional arguments over the tactics and strategy of the Western Front, initiated during the war itself by the conflicts of 'Easterners' versus 'Westerners', and continued thereafter in the battles of the memoirs, were renewed after the Second World War by the defenders and detractors of Douglas Haig: arguments which for fifty years produced a great deal more heat than light. Only a few works by quiet specialists like Shelford Bidwell and T.H. Travers indicated the true problems and achievements of the commanders on the Western Front. Over naval affairs the exchanges of heavy fire between Arthur Marder and Stephen Roskill reduced all others to awe-struck silence. On domestic politics Lord Beaverbrook and his acolyte A.J.P. Taylor gave us plenty to be going on with, even before younger specialists like Cameron Hazlehurst began to dissect the minutiae of Cabinet crises. Arthur Marwick boldly opened up the whole question of war and social change. Recently a number of younger historians - Kathleen Birk, Keith Neilson, and David French in his first book British Economic and Strategic Planning 1905-1915 - have begun to consider some of the key questions of finance and economics. But until now nobody has tried to put all this specialist work together. The last oeuvre de synthèse was Sir Llewellyn Woodward's competent but pedestrian Great Britain and the War of 1914-18 (1967). A study taking all the new work into account was just about due.
LRB 23 April 1987 | PDF Download