‘The Guns of August’: Barbara Tuckman’s Classic Tale of How Europe Stumbled Into WWI

Opening Line of this classic history: “So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens–four dowager and three regnant–and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Buhramm: “The Guns of August is a documentary that follows the book by the same title by author, Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989), an eminent American historian. She received the first of her two Pulitzer prizes for this 1962 masterpiece on World War I. The documentary was made in 1965. Barbara Tuchman was highly respected for her ability to present complex subjects and present them with clarity. Until I read the previous review, I have never heard of anyone accusing her of hating Germany or its people or of her book being anti-German propaganda. But there are pictures of shot civilians and movies of smoldering ruins. Then again, there are people who claim the Holocaust never took place and is just anti-Nazi propaganda… Facts: On August 3 1914, Germany declared war on France. The German invasion plan for France called for an attack through Belgium, instead of through the heavily defended Franco-German border. Belgium was neutral and its neutrality was protected by treaty with Great Britain. The Germans attacked on August 3rd. The next day, August 4th, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Germany warned Belgium that they only wanted to reach France and if Belgium complied, there wouldn’t be any trouble. Despite its small army, Belgium chose to protect its sovereignty and its honor and paid for it. Liège, Aarschot, Andenne, Tamines, Dinant, and Leuven, where the worst of the German depredations occurred.”

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