Max Hastings. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. New York, NY: Knopf, September 24th, 2013. 672 pp.
This is a massive work on the work up to World War One and the first year of the war, authored by a famous military historian named Max Hastings. Earlier I have read the book Guns of August before I started listening to this audio book. I was interested in this work after hearing it referenced several times during different episodes from the Youtube channel on the Great War, which gives a weekly account of the war a hundred year ago. I figured it was worthwhile given how it’s a resource for the producers.
There is a lot of information in this audiobook. The part of this book that stood out the most to me is Hastings’ discussion of German’s military cruelty against civilians in the territories they occupied. Hastings informs the readers that there are those who had downplayed the cruelty of the German army but he also noted that reports of atrocities committed by the Germans were higher than the Allied Powers in terms of actual incidents documented and actual lives lost. I thought Hastings was rather fair in how he acknowledged the fact that soldiers can do outrageous things on either side of the conflict but what made the German atrocities worst than that of the Allied Powers was the quantities committed and also the systemic approval of these acts by the German military establishment. Hastings cited German newspapers as examples of how they didn’t even denied these atrocities but instead sought to justify them. At least twice in the book Hastings also argued that the historical revisionist might not be correct to say that the Allied Powers were too harsh against Germany after the war with the conditions they set and how it led to the second world war. We must remember the war in its context. Hastings argues that if the Allied Powers lost, the Germans themselves would have also set harsh conditions upon their enemies. Western Europe would have been in a far more terrible situation if the Germans won than if the Allied Powers were the victors. Furthermore, the aim of Germany’s military expansion during World War One was also the same aim of Nazi Germany during World War Two. This is an important to remember in understanding German’s involvement in the first World War, and why Germany choose to escalate the conflict rather than de-escalate the tension their Austraian-Hungry ally had with the Serbs and Russia who saw herself as the protector of Slavic people. I enjoyed this work.