For the Central Powers the war now became a siege on a monstrous scale. Britain's ruthless intervention cut sea routes to central Europe and mobilised the world against them. Germany and Austria-Hungary were to be strangled of war supplies and food, their soldiers overwhelmed by better armed enemies, and their civilians brought to the brink of starvation. Conquest and plunder, land offensives, and submarine warfare all proved powerless to counter or break the blockade. The Central Powers were trapped in the Allies' ever-tightening ring of steel.
Alexander Watson's compelling new history retells the war from the perspectives of its instigators and losers, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. This is the story not just of their leaders in Berlin and Vienna, but above all of the people. Only through their unprecedented mobilisation could the conflict last so long and be so bitterly fought, and only with the waning of their commitment did it end. The war shattered their societies, destroyed their states and bequeathed to east-central Europe a poisonous legacy of unredeemed sacrifice, suffering, race hatred and violence. A major re-evaluation of the First World War, Ring of Steel is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the last century of European history.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-08-18
- Reviewer: Staff
University of London historian Watson (Enduring the Great War) makes a major contribution to the ever-growing historiography of WWI with this comprehensive analysis of the war efforts of the primary Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. Watson makes a strong case that “fear, not aggression or unrestrained militarism” impelled them to war in 1914. Fear fueled the unexpected popular consent that sustained both Hohenzollern and Habsburg empires in a “war of illusions” that devolved into a “war of defense” and finally into a war for survival. From the beginning, the Central Powers were overmatched and overextended. They answered the resulting “desperation and alienation” with failed policies of “compulsion and control,” a series of disastrously bad policy decisions such as the U-boat war, and a doubling-down on autocracy and repression at the expense of peace and reform. In 1917, both empires suffered from a deep “crisis of legitimacy”: only the possibility of “quick and total victory” sustained the foundering alliance. A series of desperate offensives produced military, political, and above all social collapse. Watson concludes that the “suffering, and the jealousies, prejudices, and violence that spawned or exacerbated” in Central Europe laid the foundations of WWII far more than anything decided at Versailles. (Oct.)