Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-speaking Peoples Since 1500
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Wilson's narrative considers everything from weapons development to recruitment to battlefield strategy. Why I started this book: Interesting approach to German military history, by including all German speakers from 1500 to the present. The focus is on the consciousness of the German people now citizens about their military past, present, and future. The author of definitive books on the Holy Roman Empire and the Thirty Years War, Peter Wilson has with Iron and Blood written his masterpiece. Keep in mind that most books examining the evolution of German military thought and practice virtually ignore Switzerland and give equally short shrift to the Holy Roman Empire.
Recovering the complexity of German military history gives us a fresh perspective—one that is especially welcome at the current moment, when Germany is debating what its role should be as cannons fire and bombs drop yet again in Europe. The primary aggressor in Central Europe was not Prussia but the Austrian Habsburg monarchy, yet Austria’s strength owed much to its ability to secure allies. Why I finished it: This book was a chonker, and Wilson did an excellent job of keeping the pace, interest and details clear and consistent throughout the entire book. The book deserves all the plaudits heaped upon it is important and fascinating, the centrality and importance it gives to the Holy Roman empire between 1400 and 1700 and also Hapsburg/Holy Roman Empire/Swiss relations will probably be a revelation to most Englsih language readers as will the continuities over the centuries and the role of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian empire within the story.
Wilson is the author of Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, an Economist and Sunday Times Best Book, and The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, winner of the Distinguished Book Award from the Society of Military History. Broken down into five sequential eras of military history, Wilson introduces the era, supplies extensive details embedded in a general telling of the history, and then closes the section by examining themes previously introduced along with analysis. Context is often crucial and it is quite possible that some broad stories have not been told linking military history in German to military history in the broader European context. Granted I am more of a Modern European History student, so the early material was largely new to me.
However if you’re looking to experience the history, the people and compile a working understanding of the interwoven strands then look elsewhere. The country now seen as a bastion of peace spends heavily on defense in comparison to its peers and is deeply invested in less kinetic contemporary forms of coercive power. But nonetheless I enjoyed reading through some of the trivia, especially around the late medieval and early modern eras, as well as the longstanding German obsession in the 20th century with a quick victory to stave off an extended two-front war. Some readers might find the vast amount of information overwhelming, and at times, the narrative might meander into minute details that could have been condensed. Granted, air power is not a factor before the 20th century, but sometimes, the in-depth breakouts aren’t consistent.A work of first-rate scholarship, rooted in broad and deep knowledge of the period and literature… Iron and Blood will become the starting point for all students of military history, not only of Germany but of Europe as a whole.
In 1939 the German General Staff chose not to learn from the mistakes of the First World War, still looking back to the decisive victory against France seventy years earlier. Wilson's focus examines the development of weapons, and the logistical evolution that supports the growth of standing armies through this period. A very comprehensive tour of German military history from the Middle Ages to modern times (including GWOT). The whole book, at 900+ pages, serves as a massive and clear counterpoint to received wisdom — that there is no special "German way" (Sonderweg) — and that the historical analogies that remain are, as the saying goes, both convincing in their simplicity and completely wrong.His book’s geographical scope is similarly vast, encompassing all that once was German-speaking central Europe – lands which extended through and beyond modern Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Wilson delves into literature, art, and philosophy, exploring how these expressions of German identity evolved over time. From the author of the acclaimed The Thirty Years War and Heart of Europe, a masterful, landmark reappraisal of German military history, and of the preconceptions about German militarism since before the rise of Prussia and the world wars. The concluding chapter didn't really bring the tome's major themes together and seemed an abrupt ending.
It begins with the early modern period, a time of great political fragmentation and religious upheaval. Wilson’s fascinating and comprehensive chronicle reminds us that the country’s vaunted reputation was of recent vintage anyway and failed to encompass the many Germanic traditions that had little to do with Prussia, which was dominant for only a limited period. Wilson’s point that German history, seen over the long term, consists of more than an endless series of wars. There was no long-term plan for how to wage war if the initial strike did not achieve immediate victory. Violence had stamped the German state since unification in the late 19th century and Heuss’s own republic had emerged in 1949 from the ashes of two devastating world wars instigated by German governments.German people and culture are not inherently more militaristic than other European nations, even if the years 1865-1945 might suggest otherwise. If there is one constant it has been the sense of being beset by seemingly more powerful enemies - France or Russia or Turkey - and the need to strike a rapid knockout blow to ensure a favourable result. Professor Wilson's work suggests very convincingly that this leads to a kind of myopic focus on Prussia to the detriment of the much bigger historical forces in play. His book - “Iron and Blood” is a history of all things military for German-speaking peoples since 1500.