4.09.2009

Historical Revisionism

Recently I picked up a book entitled Cross of Iron: The Rise and the Fall of the German War Machine by John Mosier. Notice how a lot of WWII books happen to start with Rise and Fall, probably in sincere flattery to the classic by William Shirer. I began reading the introduction, and about 4 pages in I tossed the book on the floor.

The Book
Let me begin by mentioning I have a very open mind ,and I don't think I have ever put down a history book even if I didn't agree with all of the views. But after four pages of revisionism, exaggerated claims and disconnected logic I could not read anymore. To paraphrase, he essentially claims there is no reason not to believe that the United States won WWII by itself at one point. He also mentions that Allied: German casualties in the first world war were equal, then on the very next page claims they were three to one. The whole style of writing struck me as bitter and sloppy. It reminded me of a man who is trying to win an argument by yelling louder than everyone else, rather than by substance.

Why Revisionism is Good
Historical revisionism is without a doubt essential to the historical process because it challenges entrenched schools of thought, lest historians be blindsided by new thinkers like Gamelin was against Guderian and Manstein. Even if a piece of revisionism is ultimately wrong it can be very helpful. In essence the method of a scientist is to provide a theory that fits the facts (often what historians do) and then attempt to prove himself wrong to prove himself right. The only way we can boil history down to its pure facts is by attacking what we already know.

Problems with Revisionism
As long as an argument has a solid logical base and fits to the facts it is wortwhile. It is often better to take a look outside of the seminal texts on a subject rather than running the risk of wasted time. When I look at most historical texts I can often sense the trains of thought of other authors that I recognize inside the particular book, and when I look at the footnotes I often find that I was right. Military history is a very small community, and we are sometimes at fault for circular references between authors back and forth to reinforce our points.

As for the novel by Mr. Mosier, I do not recommend reading it unless you are capable of separating historical fact and historical fiction, because he does make some interest points. One of the best is "why if France so good in WWI did they get beat so easily in WWII?" The point he makes, which I agree with, was not that Germany was so bad in WWI, but that they were very good and got even better twenty years later.

Should be a new post upcoming this weekend, might be about gaming. I have been flying the ME-109 a lot lately in simulators and I want to post my impressions of it.

Format Note: I have noticied that re-reading my blog that a long series of paragraphs can be daunting to read and does a disservice to my readers. Therefore from now on I will try to develop sub headings and edit my old posts the same way.

13 comments:

David said...

Historians, particularly academics, are like gunfighters. Someone is always coming along trying to outshoot the big gun. In the case of history, a new gun will always come along with a position and an argument no matter how weak.

I am curious about the comparisons you refer to between Germany and France during the world wars. I suppose that without the UK in the picture, Germany would have prevailed over France in 1914 so one could say that Germany was better. But that's speculative. Ultimately Germany began to starve to death and sued for peace.

I suppose that Germany got better at the time of World War II, but again failed and again at great cost to its soldiers and citizens.

Now we are getting into interminable exchanges about which tank or which airplane was better.

Chase Morrison said...

I wouldn't say its a question of who had the better equipment, which tank was better or plane etc.

It is the intangible qualities of leadership and doctrine, which the Germans had in abundance in WWII that more than overcame their deficiencies. Without a doubt each french division was much better equipped than its German counterparts.

Even late in the war the Heer could create counter-attacks against the Americans with virtually no equipment, and any veteran can tell you how good many of those efforts were (in fact one historian described them as just short of miraculous).

Without the aid of Britain, could they possibly have won WWI? It's likely. Would Germany have been defeated militarily if the war dragged on? Also possible.

In the end really it was their own internal problems that ended the war, and would have again in WWII had Hitler not maintained an absolute grip on the German people until his grave.

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David said...

You bring up a good point about German tactical competence. They put up amazing resistance into 1945. What did they have going for them? Surely it was more than a totalitarian government. What was it about the training?

More importantly, did any of the Allies learn from this and apply it to their post war military organizations?

Rex, the Wonder Blog said...

I've enjoyed the comments between you (Chase) and David. Some terrifically astute and cogent points have been made. I've learned quite a bit, and especially enjoy the tactical matters. Ultimately, any government bent on aggression will fail its populace for expanionistic agendas never return what their adherents claim.

I've written and published some pieces on particular veterans from WWII. They're written for the general population and rarely extend into complex subject matter such as this. I would love to hear your comments. Also, how about discussing that Mt Everest of military strategy and tactics: Little Big Horn? Thanks very much.
http://shutuptheblog.blogspot.com/

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Mats said...

Mosier has perhaps some wrong arguments in small details but generally he got some good point of view: germans had generally better military skills than allies, including americans and englishmen. I know that this hurts people there in USA and UK, but that's the way things were during 1914-45. German lost both of these wars coz their enemies had much bigger resources, material, war production, rawmaterial and manpower.

American and british ability of making war has never been extremely good though not bad. History has always been written by winners so i hope people can just relax and read what mister Mosier has to said.

I'm reading now his newest book "Deathride" and as a citizen of one of these countries took involved that huge battle (Finland) i've found some very wellknown facts about problems Red Army had even in 1944. One is that moral and so called fighting spirit of that huge army was actually rather poor even during the latter part of WW2. There were lots of dissiters and executions. Finns captured red army frontline soldiers age of 50+. One of the most unknown facts in west is that e.g Finnish armed forces won the last 5 battles during that summer 1944 in Karelian Isthmus and Karelian Front: Ihantala, Bay of Viipuri, Vuosalmi-Äyräpää, battle of U-line and the last one battle of Ilomantsi.

Red Army attacked with over 50 divisions with over 1500 aircraft and with 1000 APV - and didn't manage to destroy finnish armed forces at all. Instead Red Army faced enourmous material and men losses and were forced to stop that offensive.

After that war they started that same old stalinist propaganda and jargon with "limited target" or "remove troops to main front". Actually they hadn't much for remove. Their combat soldiers were mostly lost.

That's why mister Mosier has indeed some good point of view. What people really need when they read his books is just open mind. That's it.

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Chris said...

Doctrine superiority is a force multiplier, but you still need soldiers with equipment, in order to act as that force. The Germans had superior doctrine/training (so we are told); but generally were lacking in industrial capacity.

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Kenneth Gibbons LLC said...

Great points about German tactical competence. They put up amazing resistance into 1945. Strong people that also developed the rocket. However what did they have going for them? What was it about the training?

Most important, did any of the Allies learn from this and apply it to their post war military organizations? Thanks, Kenneth Gibbons LLC

CE Patrick said...

It is a combination of all things. The amount of manpower, the quality and quantity of material, the quality of published doctrine, the individual character and talent of leaders. So many variables that will not ever be accounted for as well.

Anonymous said...

Any military history written by John Mosier is likely to be junk. Try "The Blitzkreig Myth" for some utter trash.

For those of you who think the German Wehrmacht was so great - why did they lose so badly?

Yes, they excelled at the tactical level. But it wasn't numbers or production alone that beat them. They truly did get outgeneralled.