In 1917, two empires that had dominated much of Europe and Asia teetered on the edge of the abyss, exhausted by the ruinous cost in blood and treasure of the First World War. Read more...
In 1917, two empires that had dominated much of Europe and Asia teetered on the edge of the abyss, exhausted by the ruinous cost in blood and treasure of the First World War. As Imperial Russia and Habsburg-ruled Austria-Hungary began to succumb, a small group of Czech and Slovak combat veterans stranded in Siberia saw an opportunity to realize their long-held dream of independence.
While their plan was audacious and complex, and involved moving their 50,000-strong army by land and sea across three-quarters of the earth's expanse, their commitment to fight for the Allies on the Western Front riveted the attention of Allied London, Paris, and Washington.
On their journey across Siberia, a brawl erupted at a remote Trans-Siberian rail station that sparked a wholesale rebellion. The marauding Czecho-Slovak Legion seized control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and with it Siberia. In the end, this small band of POWs and deserters, whose strength was seen by Leon Trotsky as the chief threat to Soviet rule, helped destroy the Austro-Hungarian Empire and found Czecho-Slovakia.
British prime minister David Lloyd George called their adventure "one of the greatest epics of history," and former US president Teddy Roosevelt declared that their accomplishments were "unparalleled, so far as I know, in ancient or modern warfare."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-14
- Reviewer: Staff
In this captivating narrative history, foreign policy scholar McNamara reveals the obscure yet grand story of how a small, motley, and hastily organized army ushered in the founding of the nation of Czechoslovakia. The Czech and Slovak ethnic groups had for centuries been second-class subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, enduring harsh oppression within the expansive and divided domains of the anachronistic monarchical regime. The upheaval of WWI provided opportunities to act on long-held nationalist yearnings. Tomá Masaryk (1850–1937), a resolute philosophy professor and protagonist in this story (aided by Edvard Beneš and Milan Rastislav Štefánik), embarked on an ambitious effort to organize a Czech-Slovak army from POW camps in Russia, aiming to support the Allied war effort in return for support for a postwar independent state. Masaryk successfully united Czechs and Slovaks abroad, cultivated international support, raised funds, and recruited military volunteers, while the Czech-Slovak forces—despite plenty of difficulties, particularly amid revolutionary tumult in Russia—won a long series of victories that galvanized their struggle. McNamara proves to be a great storyteller as he very effectively weaves together newly translated firsthand accounts of Czech-Slovak soldiers with secondary historical sources. Maps. (Apr.)