Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guns of August, Chapters 7-8

This short section covers the first days of the First World War in Paris, London, and Brussels.  As democracies, French and British faced the risk of entering the war with divided governments and populations.  This necessarily had an impact on how they entered the war.  Adding to the complications was the status of Britain and France’s relationship as entente powers rather than allies.  France counted on British support, but there was no guarantee that Britain would come in on their side.  Hence the nickname, “perfidious Albion.”

Then there was Belgium.  The only way Germany could guarantee that Britain would fight them was to invade Belgium, which they proceeded to do anyway.  Pay attention to the decision making process in Belgium in the face of certain invasion and conquest.  I have always been an admirer of King Albert I, a far cry from his infamous predecessor Leopold II.

Chapter 7

Why was it vital for France that Britain come into the war as an ally?

What potential political divisions existed in the French government on the eve of war?

What differences arose between France’s military and civilian leadership about the process of mobilization?  Why were French troops pulled away from the border with Germany?

What were the major political divisions in the British Cabinet?  What was Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill’s foreign policy stance?

Why was it significant that Britain only had an entente with France, not an alliance?

What were Churchill’s actions on the eve of war?

Chapter 8

What effect did Belgium’s neutrality have upon its planning and preparedness for invasion?

What divisions concerning defensive strategies existed between the Belgian military and King Albert?

Assess King Albert of the Belgians as a political and military leader?  How well did he do in facing the prospect of German invasion?

What impact would Belgian resistance have on German strategy?


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Guns of August, Chapters 4-6

Good afternoon,

This week, you should be reading chapters 4-6 in Guns of August.  These are fun chapters, especially concerning Russia.  Tuchman provides fun foreshadowing about Tsar Nicholas’ problems as a wartime leader which would eventually spell his doom.  I was thinking that it is bad enough to be an autocrat, but Nicholas’ problem was that he was an incompetent autocrat.  By the time you are in chapter 6, the First World War has begun, and German armies are about to roll into neutral Belgium.  Note that much of what Tuchman argues in that chapter has been superseded by more recent research.

Here are some questions to consider as you read:

Chapter 4

What were the differences between the war plans of the British Army and Navy?

What aspects of Britain’s commitment to Belgium’s defense might have caused the French to worry?

Chapter 5

What were the weaknesses of the Russian Army?  Why did it fail to reform following the humiliating defeat of the Russo-Japanese War?

Assess Nicholas II as a ruler.  How might his characteristics as a leader have an impact on Russia’s progress in the war?

Chapter 6

Was a two front war inevitable for Germany?  What opportunities were available to avert the onset of the First World War?  Why were they not taken?

Based upon the information provided in the chapter, what do you believe is Tuchman’s thesis to explain the immediate causes of the First World War?

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Guns of August, Chapters 1-3

Dear students,

I hope you are all enjoying your summer, and making good progress on all of your summer projects.  Somewhat later than I intended, I am going to begin posting weekly reading guides for your book, Barbara W. Tuchman’s The Guns of August.  The book has 22 chapters, and my recommended reading pace would have you read three chapters per week for the next two weeks, followed by two chapters every week afterwards.  This would allow you to finish the book by the beginning of the school year.  It would also allow you to have enough time to read deeply and thoughtfully, something you cannot do if you wait until August 20 to start the book (not that anyone was going to do that, right?)

So, for the first installment, you should read chapters 1-3 this week.  In the first chapter, Tuchman demonstrates her gifts as a descriptive writer.  She begins with the funeral of Victoria’s son, Edward VII, painted as the last hurrah of Europe’s great emperors and monarchs.  She goes on to describe the war plans of Germany and France, and the national insecurities and dreams of grandeur leading to these plans.  Consideration of the following questions while reading should prove helpful.  These will be a useful guide in preparing for the essay test and discussion on the book at the beginning of the school year.

Chapter 1

Why does Barbara Tuchman begin her narrative with the funeral of Edward VII?  Edward died four years before the start of the First World War.  Considering this, why is he such a presence at the beginning of the book?

Why does Tuchman focus on monarchs in general?

How does Tuchman characterize Nicholas II?  George V?  Kaiser Wilhelm II?  What significance do their interrelationships with each other hold?

What was the thesis of Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion?  Why was it significant?

Chapter 2

Who was Alfred von Schlieffen?  Why was he significant?

What were the dangers of violating Belgian neutrality?  Why were the Germans willing to risk them?

Contrast German policy and strategy under Bismarck with German policy and strategy on the eve of the First World War.

Chapter 3

What were the effects of the Franco-Prussian War’s outcomes on French war planning?

Compare French war plans with those of the Germans.  What problems can you foresee facing France at the beginning of the First World War?

How does Tuchman assess French military planning?  What does she consider its key aspects?

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IA Second Drafts Ready for Pickup

Dear rising seniors,

I have finished the comments on the IA section A, C, and F drafts for students continuing on to next year.  I will be at school until about 2pm today.  I will also be here Thursday 7 June for a department work day, and I may be coming in tomorrow and Wednesday morning.

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