Advanced Search
Michael Howard
Michael Howard
The First World War
ISBN: 0192853627
The First World War
—from the publisher's website

The First World War is an insightful narrative history, focusing on why the First World War occurred, how it was fought, and why it had the consequences it did. It examines in turn the state of Europe in 1914 and the outbreak of war; the onset of attrition in 1915 and the extension of the war; the 'crisis of the war' (1917-18), the collapse of Russia and the weakening and eventual surrender of the Central Powers; the making of peace; and the historical controversies surrounding the causes and conduct of war.

The First World War
Program Air Date: March 16, 2003

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Howard, author of "The First World War," you say somewhere in your book that at the American entry into the war, that we had only 6,000 officers and 100,000 men in our entire military?
MICHAEL HOWARD (Author, "The First World War"): As I understand it, yes.
LAMB: How many did we eventually put into World War I?
HOWARD: Five million, I think, as I recall it.
LAMB: And at what point in the war did we get in?
HOWARD: Well, you got in in the spring of 1917, when it looked as if the allies -- that is to say, the British and the French -- were on their -- on the ropes and that the Germans were winning hands down.
LAMB: What got us in?
HOWARD: What got you in was the sinking of a large number of American ships, in defiance of international law, by the Germans, who were anxious to interrupt the traffic between the New World, including Canada and Latin America, and the British and the French, which was what was effectively winning the war. The Germans had no access to material outside Europe, and there wasn`t all that much there. It had turned into a war of attrition. It had turned into a war of guns and of lives and of overall strength. And the Germans reckoned that the only way in which they could win was to stop the supplies which were coming from the New World, which were keeping the British and the French going at all.
LAMB: We got in in 1917. How many Europeans had already died in the war?
HOWARD: At a rough guess, I should say about two million on the Eastern Front and possibly a million or so on the Western Front -- three million.
LAMB: What was considered the Eastern Front?
HOWARD: Eastern Front was the front where the Russians were the main adversaries of the Germans, where the Germans and the Austrians were fighting against the Russians and a few of their Balkan allies.
LAMB: What was the Western Front?
HOWARD: The Western Front was the -- basically, the frontier of Belgium and of France, although the Germans had, by this time, penetrated about 100 miles into France. It was a line between the English Channel and Switzerland, and it was there that virtually all the British were fighting, virtually all the French were fighting.
LAMB: When did you start in your life studying the First World War?
HOWARD: In a way, I`ve been studying it all my life. I was born in 1922, which was four years after the war came to an end. And my relations had been involved in it and some had been killed in it. And as with almost all Englishmen of that generation, the war overshadowed our childhood. And the fact that it did overshadow our childhood affected our attitude towards the possibility of another war, which was coming along the line in the 1930s.

And one cannot understand the British and even nor the French attitude towards a possible new war with Germany unless you look at the number of especially the French but also the British who died under horrible circumstances in the trenches in France and Flanders. And for us, war was something which one could not bear to look at again.
LAMB: In 1922, you were born. What year was the war over?
HOWARD: The war ended in 1918.
LAMB: Can you remember the first time in your life that you had a sense that there was something called the First World War?
HOWARD: Oh, yes. Well, it was called the Great War then. And for my generation, it still is the Great War. It`s really over -- almost overshadowed the Second World War, which was a kind of aftermath. But the Great War was something which I remember my parents talking about in terms of awe and horror and the phrase, "Yes, he died in the Great War," or "He was terribly wounded in the trenches," or "No, she never got married after her fiancé was killed on the Somme." This was, as it were, the staple conversation which one was having in the 1920s.
LAMB: What did you learn about it in what we would call high school?
HOWARD: It wasn`t taught in high school. History was something that had happened in the remote past and probably came to an end with the death of Queen Victoria. But I lapped it up from the -- there were illustrated books about it. There were films about it. In the boys` stories, the young hero was always somebody who was a dispatch rider behind the lines or spying for the Belgians or something of that kind. It was the scene in which macho fantasies were set the whole time, derring-do in the trenches.
LAMB: By the way, where were you during World War II?
HOWARD: In World War II, I was on the Italian Front, which was a very much more agreeable place to be.
LAMB: Were you in the military?
HOWARD: I was in the military, yes. I was in the infantry, and I spent most of my time commanding a platoon, though I did end up commanding a company fairly briefly.
LAMB: You say in this volume, called "The First World War," that there are still major endless controversies. What are some of them?
HOWARD: Well, the chief one which goes on in Britain is whether our generals on the Western Front were butchers or lunatics or people simply out of their depth with a new form of war. The overall picture in England of the war was of our young heroes going out and dying on the Western Front like lemmings because of the stupidity of their commanders.

Now, this is something which historians now are quarreling with, maintaining that the problems on the Western Front were so great that nobody solved them until the very end, that we were dealing with a new kind of war which had been unimaginable before, as a result of the total transformation of weapons systems -- machine guns, quick-firing artillery, quick-firing rifles, which made attack always difficult, as we had seen in the American Civil War. One had to expect heavy casualties.

But the casualties were so great as a result of these new weapons, as a result also of the Germans being able to sit behind their own defenses on the Western Front and force us to attack, that by the end of the war, the last relics of heroism, of the belief that war was something splendid, which was something very general in 1914 -- all that had gone. And there was just this sense of butchery, of failure, of a stupid disaster which really brooded over a great deal of the history written at the time.

Now there is a new generation of historians coming along who are saying it was terrible, but it was not as a result of anybody`s stupidity, it was the way that it had to be. That is one of the arguments.

Another is why was the peace such a disaster? Why was the Treaty of Versailles such a failure in making a peace -- new peaceful world? Was it because we didn`t treat the Germans toughly enough, or was it because we treated them too toughly?

Another one was about the Gallipoli Campaign, which was when the British tried to get `round, escape the need for a frontal attack in France by using their sea power to get `round through the Mediterranean, into the Black Sea, and knock out one of Germany`s allies, which was the Ottoman Empire. And we believed that because we were able to land our forces anywhere, we would be able to get through the Dardanelles, land at Constantinople, as it was then called -- Istanbul -- knock the Turks out of the war, get aid to the Russians.

Now, in fact, it was a disaster. We were able to just to get some troops on shore, mainly Australians. They were able just to hang on by the skin of their teeth or the tips of their fingers for a few months, and then eventually decided to withdraw. There was no achievement there.

Now, how stupid was this? Who was responsible for it? Was it the statesmen? Was it the generals? At what level of generalship? You can imagine the kind of thing which goes on.
LAMB: Who are some of your favorite -- I probably shouldn`t use the word, but -- characters out of World War I, people that you would either like to sit down today and talk with or you`ve written a lot about?
HOWARD: Well, one of the major figures was Winston Churchill, but who did not emerge from that war particularly -- sort of particularly successfully because he was running the people who were behind that disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.
LAMB: Where is Gallipoli?
HOWARD: Sorry?
LAMB: Where is Gallipoli?
HOWARD: Gallipoli is on the Adriatic coast of Turkey -- I`m sorry, the Aegean coast of Turkey. If you can imagine, there is the bit of -- there is a channel which runs between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, very narrow, which is called the Dardanelles. And Gallipoli is a village on the Dardanelles, which is where we attempted to attack. I need a map to show it, but...
LAMB: Well, we`ll show the...
HOWARD: People can read the book.


LAMB: And when you say -- and you did something in the book that I`ve not seen done before.
LAMB: When you talk about the Ottoman Empire, you put in parentheses Turkey.
HOWARD: Yes. That`s right.
LAMB: Is that basically what it -- that`s what it is today, or what...
HOWARD: It is what it is today. The Ottoman Empire then extended over what is now Turkey, but what is also now Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the whole of the Middle East, virtually, including, really, Egypt, nominally speaking.
LAMB: Why do you say Winston Churchill -- and that he was somewhat responsible for the Dardanelles?
HOWARD: He was one of the senior members of the cabinet at the time. He was secretary of the navy, first lord of the admiralty, and one of the very few statesmen who was interested in war, who was interested in strategy, who had some idea about how the war ought to be conducted. And he being him, more or less took charge of the conduct of the war -- he was only, I think, 37 at the time -- because all of his colleagues were civilians. He had been a professional soldier, and therefore reckoned that he knew all about war. And he came up, as he did in the Second World War, with all kinds of wonderful ideas about how the war ought to be conducted.

But at a fairly early stage, in 1915, he was associated with this disastrous landing and was then thrown out of office, more or less. Being Churchill, he then went to the Western Front to take command of an infantry battalion and therefore had some experience in that. He then went back to civilian life and to being a politician, but ended up as minister of munitions, and again, a major figure in the shaping of the conduct of the war. So he would be one of my favorite people, as he is anyway.

The other is the leader of France at the end of the war, whose name is Clemenceau, who was a wonderful fire-eater. He became prime minister of France in 1917, when France looked as if it was just about to surrender. And like Churchill in 1940, he really put led in their pencil. He inspired them. He was a wonderful, inspiring fighter who galvanized the whole country.
LAMB: Did you ever meet either one of those gentlemen?
HOWARD: Clemenceau was dead before I became really conscious. Churchill I did meet two or three times because I was a very junior officer on the detachment which was defending his country house, Chequers, and he invited the young officers of this detachment to go to the movies which he showed every evening that he was there. Churchill, like Hitler, like Stalin, liked sitting up very late at night watching very, very bad movies.

And my personal sort of recollection of him is him coming in very late in the evening, about 9:00 o`clock, about half an hour late, accompanied by the suite of people who were staying the night with him. They were probably people like Alan Brooke and Harry Hopkins -- great men, but I didn`t recognize any of them. And he`d settle himself down in a comfortable seat in the front row and showed the most appallingly bad movies I have ever seen in my life, and entered into the spirit of the thing totally.

One saw his head bobbing up and saying, 'Look out! Look out! He`s behind the door! Oh, you fool! He`s a bad-looking guy, isn`t he!' And this went on and on. They showed two of these movies. And then at the end of it, he got up, collected his suite, lit a new cigar, went out and, 'Good night, gentlemen,' and went downstairs to go on planning the war. Great man.
LAMB: At what age would you have been?
HOWARD: I was then 21, 22.
LAMB: Now, how many years of your life have you taught?
HOWARD: Oh, my God! From 1947, I got my first job, and I finally retired in -- from the chair at Yale which I ended up in, in 1993. So it is, what, 45 years.
LAMB: How much did you teach at Yale?
HOWARD: I taught for four years. I taught a course, basically, on modern European history -- that is, history from the 18th century until World War II.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
HOWARD: My name is, I think, to about 17 or 18. I`m not quite sure. But some of them are just collections of essays, and some of them are jointly edited with other people.
LAMB: Now, I would assume that this Oxford University Press book that I`ve got here is the smallest book you`ve ever written.
HOWARD: No. I think I wrote a smaller and even more ambitious one called "The Invention of Peace," which came out a year or so ago.
LAMB: But this is a small book, and...
HOWARD: It is. I pride myself on it being a small book.
LAMB: And I wanted to ask you what -- it`s about 150 pages.
HOWARD: About 150.
LAMB: What did you want to do with this book? Who do you want to read this?
HOWARD: Well, it was commissioned by the publishers as part of a series called "A Very Short Introduction to Very Large Subjects." And I was delighted to do it because although there are innumerable books on the First World War, they are most of them very big. And I wanted a book which could be put into the hands of the average person or the average student or high school person which would give them the basic essentials about the First World War if that was the only book about it they were ever going to read. And I tried to describe not only how the war was fought but why the war broke out, what people expected it to be like, why it was fought in the way that it was, who were the principal people in it, how important they were, what was the interaction between the actual fighting on the front line and what was happening at home domestically.
LAMB: Is it harder or easier to write a book this short?
HOWARD: Depends how much you know about it already. I already -- I knew quite a lot about it already because I had been lecturing on it off and on for about 30 years. And so it was really a matter of getting together my lecturing notes, reading them through and then sitting down and writing.
LAMB: Well, go back to the very beginning. And you point out Archduke Franz Ferdinand...
LAMB: Who was he, and why is he always the object of where the war started?
HOWARD: Well, he was the heir to the throne of the Habsburg empire -- Austria-Hungary -- which was one of the great powers. And he was assassinated by a terrorist. It was a nationalist terrorist from -- basically, from Serbia. And he was backed by -- covertly by the Serbian army and possibly by the Serbian government.
LAMB: You say he was 19 years old, the assassin?
HOWARD: About that. I think he was 17, actually. I don`t quite know. But he was a typical young, idealistic terrorist who wanted to see Serbia free from the dominance of the Austrian empire. The Austrian empire was multi-national. It prided itself on having about 12 different nationalities under the imperial rule. Some of them were Serbs. Just outside the Austrian empire, there was an aggressive, ambitious Serbia that wanted to sort of have all the Serbs under its command in Belgrade, including a number of them who were in Austria.

Now, when this terrorist assassinated the heir to the throne, this created a shock comparable, in its way, to 9/11 here. It was regarded as something so outrageous, so abominable, that some kind of revenge had got to be taken. And for the Austrians, this seemed the moment to crush the Serbs for good. There was a general feeling throughout the Austrian empire that We`ve got to finish with these people. They`re bad guys. And they knew, however, that if they did declare war on Serbia, Serbia had a patron, who was Russia, and Russia would try to deter the Austrians from attacking Serbia. And if they went through with it, then the Russians were likely to declare war on Austria.

The Austrians would have been deterred from attacking Serbia because of this if they did not have the Germans behind them. And they therefore turned to the Germans and said, "If we get involved with a war in Russia, will you back us?" And the Germans said, "Yes, we will." And then one thing led to another. The Austrians did declare war on Serbia. The Russians then did declare war on Austria. The Germans then did declare war on Russia. And Russia`s ally, France, declared war on Germany. It was one of these awful -- escalation. Something which looked sort of fairly small and fairly local escalated into a -- not simply a European war but because the British came in, it then became a world war fought all over the globe.
LAMB: 1914, when it started -- was it August of `14? Yes.
HOWARD: Well, end of July, beginning of August.
LAMB: OK. I`ve jumped to the back. You have in the appendix "War Casualties."
LAMB: Austria-Hungary, 1.2 million dead.
LAMB: Germany, 1.8 million dead.
LAMB: France, 1.4 million dead.
LAMB: And Russia, 1.7 million dead.
LAMB: And Britain, 740,000 dead.
HOWARD: That`s right. Yes. It was not fought on our soil, thank heavens. And it was not simply British, it was British empire. And this is something which the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders were very conscious, that this was a war which made them nations, which brought them to the attention of the world as a whole.
LAMB: You say that the United States lost 115,000.
LAMB: Men and women, I assume.
HOWARD: I don`t know about women, actually, because I don`t know whether many women were actually involved in the American expeditionary force. And of course, there were no air raids on the United States.
LAMB: There was another note in here -- there was an interesting note about voting. At some point, you talk about...
HOWARD: Oh, yes.
LAMB: ... Brits jumping from 7 million eligible voters to 21 eligible voters, that the voting cut-off age was 30?
HOWARD: The cut-off age -- well, before 1914, the 7 million voters were limited by age and to some extent -- and the fact there were no women voting. I`m ashamed to say I don`t know what the previous thing was. But the transformation was the result of the total involvement of the whole population in the war. Women had been agitating for the vote before the war, and they weren`t getting it. But thanks to the part which they played during the war, it seemed absolutely absurd not to give them the vote, and at the same time, to equalize the vote for men at the age of 21. Women at that stage were only given the vote up to the age of 30, I think, or above the age of 30, on the assumption that these flibberty-gibbet girls couldn`t be given a vote. But then in 1927, there was equalization down to 19, 21.
LAMB: Go back to the United States` involvement.
LAMB: The war starts in 1914. We get into it 1917.
LAMB: How long are we involved, fighting?
HOWARD: Well, the first American troops got over in the fall of 1917, with the famous cry, "Lafayette, here we are," going back to -- I need not tell you the importance of Lafayette, the great French soldier who fought in the American Revolution, and therefore the Americans coming back into France said, We`re repaying the debt. By about April, 1917, there were perhaps a couple of -- they were getting on for a couple of divisions. They did not get put into the line until July, 1918. And then because -- for obvious reasons, they wanted -- they had to train. They had to become acclimatized. And above all, President Wilson and General "Blackjack" Pershing, who was in charge of them, was not prepared to put them under the control of either the French or the British. So they didn`t actually get involved in fighting until they had formed divisions under their own commanders.

Then in the summer of 1918, in late sort of May and June, the Germans were attacking so strongly, so successfully, that it looked as if the whole line was going to break. And the Americans then did start putting in their troops. Cantigny was the great battle of the Big One, 1st Division. And then increasing number of troops until when the war ended in November, 1918, there were then two full American divisions, with a lot coming up behind. And that was when they had their casualties. It doesn`t look as if they had very many, but if you consider that those casualties they suffered were all suffered within about six weeks, you realize how much they were actually not only involved in the fighting but suffering from the fighting and getting mown down by German machine guns.
LAMB: In the recent discussion about our relationship to Europe in the middle of all the Iraqi situation, our callers on our call-in show often say the French just don`t get it. We bailed them out in World War I and in World War II. If it wasn`t for us, they wouldn`t be free today. Is that a fair thing for an American to say?
HOWARD: World War I -- it`s a little more difficult there. The French had already lost whatever it was, a million, a million-and-a-half, when the Americans came in. The French riposte to that is if only the Americans had come in a little earlier and hadn`t been skulking in the background, we would have won the war a great deal earlier, thank you very much. So I think, really, that that kind of international insult doesn`t help a great deal.

World War II -- well, I think there`s a very much better case there, in that the French were absolutely flattened and the British would have been flattened if the United States had not come in, but also if the Soviet Union hadn`t come in, which is something that is sometimes overlooked.
LAMB: The Soviet Union got out of World War I when?
HOWARD: Well, it was then Russia. It was the Russian empire under the czar, very old-fashioned, backward, undeveloped country. And it sustained itself against the Germans, who were the most advanced, the most modernized, the best army in the world, without any doubt at all. Somehow the Russians were able to resist them, to defend their own country until the summer of 1917, the autumn of 1917. Then they just collapsed. It`s astonishing that they have survived at all.

They had inadequate armament, inadequate staff officers, inadequate logistics. There was a stage during the war when even the Russian infantry did not have any rifles that they went into battle without rifles and were told pick up a rifle from the first wounded or dead man that you come across.

So, they collapsed and in the fall of 1917, they just couldn`t fight any longer. The regime collapsed. The empire disintegrated and they made the best peace which they could at the beginning of 1918.
LAMB: So, the revolution, the Russian revolution...
HOWARD: That was when the revolution began and there would not have been a Russian revolution but for the first World War which destroyed the old empire. The old empire wouldn`t have survived in the same form for very much longer but it was already becoming democratized. It was already becoming modernized. It was already beginning to sort of hold its own in industry and commerce in 1914.
LAMB: You say the word terrorism comes out of that revolution.
LAMB: The actual word?
HOWARD: Oh, no, the word terrorist actually comes out of Russian history because the first people to call themselves terrorists were Russian revolutionaries going back to the middle of the 19th century, and the acts of terror which they perpetrated, exactly like terrorism now, they did in order to show that they were fighting in order to shake the morale and the self confidence of a government and, above all, because they have no other way of fighting at all.

So, their form of terrorism was a bomb, throwing bombs at members of the royal family, at local functions, creating as much havoc as they could. It wasn`t very much, but above all to cause terror and to be proud of causing terror, and they`ve been the model for people ever since.
LAMB: You have a photograph, a lot of photographs in the book, and who is this fellow?
HOWARD: That is Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kaiser Bill, who was the emperor of Germany in 1914 and who embodied everything which people saw and disliked about the German empire before 1914.
LAMB: What`s his relationship to the British?
HOWARD: He was Queen Victoria`s grandfather - grandson and the second cousin therefore of King George V. It was so - it was very peculiar and ironic that all the heads, the crowned heads of Europe were all related to one another in 1914 and the last time that they all came together was at the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901.
LAMB: What was this guy like?
HOWARD: He was, as President Reagan would have said, he was flaky, that is to say he was very intelligent, not nearly so intelligent as he thought he was. He second guessed all the decisions and recommendations made to him by his generals and by his civilian officials.

He was very anxious to live up to the image of a great warrior emperor, a great warlord, which was what impressed the Germans and the German culture of that time. In fact, he had a withered arm. He was rather neurotic. He over acted terribly and he - well, look at that picture. Who could take something like that seriously?
LAMB: What happened to him overall in the end?
HOWARD: What happened to him was eventually when the war was lost he went into exile into the Netherlands and there was a great cry which went up both among the victorious allies, "Hang the Kaiser. Try him for war crimes."

He was not tried for war crimes because the Dutch to their credit said we`re not going to give him up. We`ve given him safe conduct. It would have been silly to try him for war crimes. He was the titular head of a very complicated government. He lost and one now looks back on him and thinks that he was a disaster for his country and for the world but a rather pathetic figure.
LAMB: Who are these two gentlemen?
HOWARD: Those two, well you may call them gentlemen, they were certainly soldiers and officers. On the left-hand side was Field Marshal Von Hindenburg who was the commander-in-chief of the German armed forces, and beside him that even uglier looking guy was General Ludendorff who was his chief of staff and the brains behind him.

Now, they started off by being the commanders-in-chief of the army. They ended up by being virtually the dictators of the country because as the war went worse and worse and there was greater and greater need for some kind of dictatorial leadership, they simply took over the country and conducted not only the campaigns at the front but decided exactly how the country was going to be run.
LAMB: Who are these gentlemen?
HOWARD: Those gentlemen are the French and the British commanders and the opponents of Hindenburg.
LAMB: Far left, who is the gentleman on the far left?
HOWARD: The gentleman on the far left, the fat one that is Marshal Foch, commander-in-chief of the French armed forces. Talking to him, looking rather pathetic was the commander-in-chief of the British forces at the time since 1914.
LAMB: Over here?
HOWARD: Sir John French and the one looking rather sardonic on the right-hand side is Field Marshal Lord Haig who took over from French at the end of 1915 and then became the symbol of the British will to war, determination to attack at all costs, was seen by many people as being an absolute disaster because of a number of people who got killed under his command, and by others as being probably about as good as one was likely to get from that generation of English soldiers, who after all, you know, very important to remember about the British army.

The British Army of 1914 numbered 300,000. The German army must have been something like four or five million. The British army consisted entirely of volunteers or virtually of volunteers and men of consequence. They were all learning on the job and they weren`t very good at it, and the same applied to their generals as much as anybody else. They simply had to learn as they went along how to conduct this kind of appalling war.
LAMB: You start off at the beginning talking about a man named Carl von Clausewitz.
LAMB: And you suggest that he has written in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars that war was a trinity composed of one, the policy of the government; two, the activities of the military; and three, the passions of the people. First of all, who was he?
HOWARD: He was a German - a Prussian general who has fought during the Napoleonic wars. He has seen Prussia being totally defeated and overrun by the French army. He then played his part in organizing it for - eventually for counter attacking and saw them, the French Napoleonic armies, collapsing.

And, he was wondering basically why did we get it so wrong that the Prussian army at the end of the 18th century was the greatest army Europe had ever seen, commanded and trained by the great Frederick the Great.

Then, it just crumbled in front of the French people at arms commanded by Napoleon. Why? What had gone wrong? Well, I`ve written quite a lot of books trying to describe it all but fundamentally he said there`s a new element which has come into the nature of war. There`s always been governments making war for political purposes. There have always been the generals conducting war with as much skill as they can.

Now that this new element is the people. Before the end of the 18th century, the people played very little part in a war which was conducted by professional armed forces at the behest of princes, quite often commanded by princes like Frederick the Great.

Now there is this new element which is the passion which the French revolution has evoked in the French people so that their army now is the people in arms and they fight not simply for professional pay or glory.

They fight from sheer patriotism and it`s very, very difficult when you get a people in arms like this, very difficult to beat them, and when you have two armies consisting basically of patriotic citizens, you`re going to have a very different kind of war from the one which you had in the old days just between professionals.
LAMB: You mentioned a battle and I think you even indicate that it`s not often talked about but you call it possibly one of the greatest military battles, victories, of all time, the Battle of Tannenberg.
LAMB: Where is it and why is it one of the greatest military victories of all time?
HOWARD: Tannenberg is in the far east of Prussia and of Germany and when the war began the Germans had reckoned that sandwiched as they were between two enemies, the French and the Russians, the French were the people who`ve got to be defeated first.

In the same way as when America came into World War II they reckoned that the German have got to be defeated before the Japanese because if you defeated the Germans, you would then be able to defeat the Japanese.

In the same way the Germans reckoned that if we can defeat the French, the Russians are going to be patsies. So, what was it, I think seven-eighths of the German army were on the French front or on the Western Front. One-eighth was left to defend Prussia against the Russian attack, and sure enough the Russians did attack.

I can`t remember the disparity of numbers but it was huge and they were defeated by a skillful strategy and extremely sort of courageous fighting the Germans at this Battle of Tannenberg where they were - the two Russian armies were encircled and annihilated by very, very much smaller German forces.

The people who commanded the Battle of Tannenberg were Hindenburg and Ludendorff and they then became the great heroes of Germany and that is why they then became great political figures as well as military ones.
LAMB: This may be kind of a crazy question but how did most people and there are millions that did, die in World War I? Physically how did they die, what was it?
HOWARD: Most of them from artillery fire because the German - after the initial encounter battles where the lines were more or less dug and especially on the Western Front could not be budged much, what really determined the outcome of any battle or anything else was weight of artillery, and all sides piled up as much as they could in the way of artillery, heavy artillery, medium field artillery in order to batter their opponent into annihilation, into destruction.
LAMB: You talk about at some points to get ready for a battle they would fire millions of rounds.
HOWARD: Millions of rounds.
LAMB: Nine hours and two million rounds.
HOWARD: That`s right for a week. Before the Battle of the Somme there was a week`s ceaseless bombardment.
LAMB: What are they firing actually for two million rounds of, what would it be?
HOWARD: Well, it would be everything from very, very heavy guns firing at a range of some 20 miles or so with an explosive force which would very nearly demolish this building, down to light artillery very much more accurate which would kill anybody in this room. So, it was impossible really to say exactly what the yield was going to be.
LAMB: You have battles that you discuss briefly in here, the Battle of Marne.
HOWARD: The Battle of the Marne was when the German attack, which I`ve spoken about, well the Germans decided that in order to deal with the French they must launch a -- what we`d now call a preemptive attack.

They launched it through the neutral territory of Belgium which was why the British came in to defend the rights of small people among other reasons and going through Belgium failing - they could not be stopped by either the Belgians or the small British force or the French which gave ground over about 50 or 60 miles and then turned on the Germans and stopped them and drove them back. Now, it was a...
LAMB: Was this early in the war?
HOWARD: This was at the very beginning of war in September, 1914, and that disrupted all the German war plans. The Battle of the Marne was really the French and British counter attack which pushed the Germans back to the lines on which they stood for the rest of the war and it was seen in France and elsewhere as one of the great decisive battles in history.
LAMB: You have this picture of the Belgian refugees.
HOWARD: That is a picture of Belgian refugees.
LAMB: And what`s the purpose of the picture? How does that fit into the story?
HOWARD: Well, the purpose of the picture is this. When the Germans invaded Belgium which they shouldn`t have done anyway because it was neutral and they have absolutely no cause to invade Belgium except military necessity, the Belgians had nothing to do - the Belgian civilians were driven in front of the German armed forces and those refugees were, I described them I think in the book as being the first drops of the huge floods of refugees which were to characterize warfare throughout the rest of the 20th century.

And, it was the picture, that kind of picture circulated widely in Britain and in America together with the reports of the atrocities committed against civilians by the German troops of which there were far too many that really prejudiced the minds or, that`s not quite the word, will set the mindset of a very large number of Americans, perhaps the majority of them against Germany.

At the beginning of the war the Americans were pretty well neutral between the two opposing forces. Above all they wanted to keep out of the war. It was no business of theirs. But the way in which the Germans behaved, particularly towards Belgium and then sinking American ships made the Germans appear increasingly the bad guys to the United States.
LAMB: What was the Battle of Verdun?
HOWARD: Battle of Verdun, 1916, after there had been fighting for over a year and nobody seemed to be getting anywhere, everybody had prepared for a rather short war. They hoped they would be able to win it within a matter of months because they simply could not visualize a war going on for more than a year or so but by the end of 1915 it had been going on for a year. Nobody was winning.

The Germans, the German commander-in-chief there, a man called Erich von Falkenhayn reckoned that the only way in which he could actually win was by attacking the French line in the west and attacking at a point which the French had to defend because it was of such strategic or historic importance they could not lose it, and the fortress of Verdun was judged to be exactly such a place.

And so, the Germans at the beginning of 1916 fired the first of these multi million barrages in order to capture this fortress and then to force the French to attack in order to get it back. That he hoped was going to bleed the French army so severely that the French people just could not carry on with the war. They`d be so demoralized. It was in a way a kind of terror attack that they would give up.
LAMB: How close did the Germans get to Paris?
HOWARD: I think 60 miles off the top of my head, not that particular attack but the first one when they got pushed back by the Battle of the Marne. And then at the very end of the war in the spring of 1918 when they were making one more desperate effort to win before the Germans came in, they launched - before the Americans came in, they launched another great offensive and I think that that got even closer to Paris but I wouldn`t swear to it off the top of my head.
LAMB: You know you describe how, you know, thousands of people would be killed in the battle.
LAMB: How did the British government and the French government or the American government keep people there when - I mean and what was the worst battle of all where the most number of people were killed over what period of time?
HOWARD: Well, the worst battles were in 1916 and 1917 starting with the Battle of Verdun in February, 1916, and then going on to the so-called Battle of Passchendaele in the autumn of 1917 when the British were put in last desperate attacks largely in order to try to relieve the pressure on the Russians who were then crumbling that they felt the only way in which they can be stopped from giving up is by holding the Germans on the Western Front.

And then there were these appalling battles which were etched into the memory of the British, battles in thick mud in which men if they strayed off their duck boards on which they moved just sort of sunk and could not - drowned and could not be rescued, something going on for weeks at a time.

How did the government keep people going? First of all, patriotism, an emotion which was very much stronger now than it is, I`m afraid, now, and then ultimately we don`t want to lose. This is pretty bloody awful but is it more awful than if we gave up and the Germans were to win?
LAMB: This is a photograph from Berlin and you say that these are the German people in a queue lined up. What are they lined up for?
HOWARD: They`re lined up for food.
LAMB: What time of the war would this have been?
HOWARD: I`m not quite sure when that particular photograph was taken but it was probably in 1917 or 1918 when the combination of the British blockade on Germany and the sheer effort of running the war, the priority given for military affairs, for all the goods of life.

There were desperate shortages behind the line of everything and the Germans were beginning, although their armies were still fighting very bravely, they were beginning to weaken on the home front and especially after the Russian Revolution where the example had been given, well one way of getting out of the war is to have a revolution and there were still socialist elements within Germany which were greatly strengthened by the Russian Revolution and by the beginning of 1918, there was great pressure within Germany to make peace.
LAMB: How did this thing end?
HOWARD: It ends by a combination - well, in the first place the Germans effectively won on the Eastern Front.
LAMB: They beat the Russians?
HOWARD: They beat the Russians. Their ally, Austria/Hungary, the Habsburg Empire where it all started, were almost as shattered as the Russians were and had the Germans not been there propping them up, the Austrians probably would have collapsed about the same time as the Russians did.
LAMB: By the way you say that in 1914 that there were 40 million Brits. Today there are 60 million.
LAMB: Oh, this is 1910?
HOWARD: 1910, yes.
LAMB: But it didn`t change much though.
HOWARD: Didn`t change much, no.
LAMB: France there were 35 million.
LAMB: And today there are 60 million.
HOWARD: That`s right.
LAMB: Germany there were 65 million, today there are 81 million.
LAMB: Russia there was 164 million, today there are 149 million.
HOWARD: That`s fascinating. That`s never struck me before.
LAMB: There are fewer people in Russia today than there were then.
HOWARD: Well, they had two bloody awful wars and they had a bloody awful regime and they`re not doing too well at the moment.
LAMB: So, I interrupted but you were talking about how this thing ended.
HOWARD: Well, it ended with the Germans entirely victorious on their Eastern Front.
LAMB: Did they know it? Did everybody know it?
HOWARD: Well, everybody knew it. Really until the last few weeks of the war it looked as if the Germans had won because they launched this great attack in the spring of 1918 to try to preempt the Americans getting there and they had enormous success. They penetrated even deeper behind - into France than they had in 1914 before there was - but then the Americans did come in and were able to join in a counter attack, which would push the Germans right back.

What was happening on the German home front at the time was increasing restiveness, increasing starvation, and then the realization that Germany was not winning the war on the front because...
LAMB: On the Western Front?
HOWARD: On the Western Front because from the very beginning of the war right up until the end of 1917 the Germans had been able to announce success after success, victory after victory. They had virtually won every battle on both fronts that they`d been involved in.

And so, the German government was able to say hang on a bit longer, just a bit longer, another winter, get through another winter, and we`ll have won, and they got through another winter. The Russians collapsed, almost won, and then suddenly the realization that they were losing on the Western Front.

And, even more, the Americans are now in the war and they are on the other side and everybody realized, I should think there couldn`t have been anybody even in Germany who didn`t realize that if you`re taking on the Americans in addition to the French who were practically defeated and the British who were not doing too well, that plus the Americans no way in which we can carry on.
LAMB: How did the United States and Britain for that matter do at sea eventually once this war was over? What kind of report card would you give us, you know?
HOWARD: Once the war was over?
LAMB: In other words, how - because we started you say with 6,000 officers and 100,000 men.
HOWARD: Oh, well...
LAMB: And then we were at five million, but I mean how many ships did we all build in order to take on the Germans?
HOWARD: Oh, I can`t give you the statistics but what was important was that the Germans, first of all their high seas fleet, was vis-a-vis that of the British so weak that they sensibly did not come out to fight until the middle of 1916 when there was almost a mutiny.

We`ve built up all these vessels. We must go and challenge the British and they did and there was just one great naval battle in the war, which was the so-called Battle of Jutland, which both the British and the Germans claimed as a victory.

The Germans because they sent more ships than the British did. The British because in spite of their success, tactical success, the Germans then went back into harbor and never appeared again, so the British still commanded the seas and the Germans turned to submarine warfare, which was not sufficient to blockade the British in the same kind of way.

And, this was another point that by 1918 it was quite clear that submarine warfare, which the German government had sold to the German people as being the victory winning weapon, that was not working -- very largely because the Americans had come into the war and they were now helping to convoy vessels from America and also to build ships which the Americans do do remarkably quickly as you may have noticed.
LAMB: Let me read what you wrote about why all these countries got in the war and then you can wrap it up by telling us what worked and what didn`t. You say "The Austrians were fighting for the preservation of their historic multi-national empire against disintegration provoked by their old adversary Russia. The Russians were fighting for the protection of their Slav kith and kin, for the defense of their national honor and to fulfill their obligations to their ally France. The French were fighting in self defense against totally unprovoked aggression by their traditional enemy. The British were fighting to uphold the law of the nations and to preempt the greatest threat they had faced from the continent since the days of Napoleon. The Germans were fighting on behalf of their one remaining ally and to repel a Slavic threat from the east that had joined forces with the jealous rivals in the west to stifle their rightful emergence as a world power."
HOWARD: I think that...
LAMB: Who got what they wanted out of all of this?
HOWARD: That`s a jolly good question, nobody really. Well, the French succeeded, did succeed in clearing their old enemy out of their territory and restoring their territorial integrity, and temporally weakening the Germans, but ultimately no. The British succeeded in repelling the German threat to their command of the sea and that was about it.
LAMB: The Austrians?
HOWARD: Well, the Austrians disintegrated. The people who did get what they wanted out of it were the subject nationalities of Austria, the Czechs for example, the Serbians who became Yugoslavs, the Romanians.

In that area there is in the map a book -- in the book there is a map which shows Europe before the war showing a few large blobs, a Russian empire, Austrian empire, Ottoman empire, German empire, and in 1918 another map showing much smaller blobs -- Romania, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland.

The previous where subject nationalities did get their nations and it`s arguable whether they were happier as a result of having them, but certainly what did happen was that a lot of new nation states established themselves and also I would say that the Americans got what they wanted.

Well, I don`t say they necessarily wanted it but they gained the advantage that the nation which was most threatening, America`s subsequent growth or nations including Britain were reduced to the status of secondary powers and it was in a very good comic history of England called "1066 And All That" it said at the end of the great war, the Americans had won and history came to a full stop.
LAMB: Michael Howard, what are you doing now?
HOWARD: I am now a visiting professor at the Library of Congress, at the Kluge Center for historical studies and having a very agreeable time for the next five or six months in studying - well, I`m trying to find the answer to the question which was put after 9/11, "Why do they hate us so much?"

What are the roots of the dislike of not simply America but of the western world, the dislike of modernity, the dislike of so-called progress, and I trace it back to the 18th century when you`ll find in Germany and in Russia much the same hostility to all the developments of modernity, civilization which we pride ourselves on, a development of human rights, people who think that`s a bad thing and that we`re all going to hell in a hand cart.
LAMB: We`ve been talking about this rather small book, 150 pages, published by Oxford Press. Michael Howard has been our guest, the book called "The First World War" and we thank you very much.
HOWARD: My pleasure.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2003. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.