On July 1st 2016 we will commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the start of the bloodiest battle in human history, the 141-day Battle of the Somme that claimed 1 million lives. Therefore, this week at Brontë’s Page Turners we will be looking at a range of books that get under the skin of the trauma of the First World War, from the perspective of the ordinary men and women who rarely choose war, but are disproportionately caught in its web.
To start with, though, a book that sets the context for the First World War by tracking the development of the characteristics of warfare from early Norse invasions until the present day. First published in 1976, War in European History demonstrates the way in which man’s destruction of fellow man has changed over a thousand years, from the emergence of the wars of the knights in medieval times, to the wars of the nuclear age today. It’s particularly interesting in showing how wars morphed from private affairs waged by individuals into public affairs waged by nations; the evolution of the vehicles of war from knights, to mercenaries, to the modern concept of a professional army funded by the state; and how society, politics and economics change the face of war, and vice versa. A recently updated edition brings it into the 21st century by including a section on the Iraq War and the ‘war on terror.’
It’s not a cheerful book, and in reading about the energy that has been expended on refining the ‘art’ of warfare over the ages, you may find yourself breaking into a bit of Edwin Starr and asking yourself, in an extremely funkified fashion – War – HUH -What Is It Good For? However, at under 150 pages, it’s an extremely readable introduction to military history and lends some coherence to an aspect of human history that seems utterly irrational.