Month: October 2015

Very Short Reviews: Geoffrey Wawro’s _A Mad Catastrophe_

Wawro a mad catastrophe

Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (New York: Basic Books, 2014)

  1. In this very opinionated and highly convincing book, Wawro argues that in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a failing state, unwilling to surrender its status as a great European power and incapable of doing what was necessary to maintain that status, but recklessly determined to go to war in a futile bid to solve its domestic and foreign problems; in Wawro’s view, World War I did not destroy the empire, rather, the conflict exposed the state’s fundamental rottenness.
  2. Wawro refers to a number of the empire’s difficulties, but the most important one, he argues, was the nationalities problem, particularly the relationship between Austria and Hungary that resulted from the Ausgleich (which made for unwieldy government and allowed the Hungarians to stall any of Austria’s reforming initiatives).
  3. Domestic conflict undermined Austria-Hungary’s military preparations, leaving the empire’s diplomats with a very weak hand to play in European and particularly Balkan affairs; for example, in 1912, when Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Montenegro annexed Macedonia from the Ottoman Empire after the First Balkan War (territory that Austria-Hungary had been eyeing for years), Vienna found there was nothing it could do and wisely refrained from getting involved in the conflict—something it should have considered in 1914.
  4. The imperial leadership compounded its difficulties with very bad decisions (Wawro has harsh words for Emperor Franz Joseph and Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Chief of the General Staff): it did not fully think through its war plans (with their relatively small army, they thought they could invade both Serbia and Russia); it never seriously figured out how it would cooperate with Germany in a coming war (attacking the Serbs and holding the Russians at bay would be impossible without German help, but the Germans were committed to throwing all of their forces westward against France); it showed much dilatoriness in reacting to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, and in waiting a month before delivering an ultimatum to Serbia, it forfeited most international sympathy; and Conrad tried to change the disposition of his forces in the middle of mobilization which caused untold confusion and ensured that Austro-Hungarian forces would be insufficient to fight in both Serbia and Russia.
  5. In the opening battles of the conflict, against ill-supplied but better-led enemies, the Austro-Hungarian army showed itself deficient at every level of war: strategically, it betrayed no ability to match means with ends, never realizing that the Russian threat warranted many more troops than the invasion of Serbia or that Austria-Hungary’s course of action depended completely on German decisions; operationally, it proved totally inconsistent, pointlessly shuttling forces hither and thither (exhausting its soldiers in the process) while in ignorance of the enemy’s location and numbers; and tactically, it launched frontal assaults in dense formations badly supported by obsolete artillery.
  6. In addition, the rank and file of the army did not fight well, Wawro argues, because many soldiers had little sympathy for the government under which they fought or interest in the cause they defended while mismanagement only led to more profound alienation.
  7. Austria-Hungary’s performance in the initial clashes of the war was appallingly bad—after some initial but bloody successes against the Russians in Galicia, the army suffered 444,000 casualties before being pushed back against the Carpathian mountains, while along the Drina River, Austro-Hungarian forces lost 80,000 men after making almost no headway against the Serbs.
  8. The army was hollowed out by these defeats which were the prelude for further disasters: two more invasions of Serbia in 1914 led to utter failure and a total of 300,000 casualties on that front (for reasons of prestige, the Austro-Hungarian army could not let the Serbs have the final word); in October, while covering the right wing of a German drive against Warsaw, the Austro-Hungarian army suffered a thrashing at the hands of the Russians; in November, a series of battles along the San River led to another 40,000 casualties to no effect; in December, during another German-led drive against Lodz, Austro-Hungarian forces were defeated near Cracow; and during the same month, a Russian attack on Austro-Hungarian positions in the Carpathians led the loss of 800,000 soldiers (three-quarters of them from illness) and the surrender of the Przemsyl fortress complex along with its garrison of 150,000 men.
  9. Many historians point to Austria-Hungary’s survival up until 1918 as proof of the regime’s essential toughness, but Wawro argues that this just wasn’t the case; by the end of 1914, after having suffered almost a million battle casualties, Austria-Hungary had become a “vassal” of Germany’s (something that was highlighted by the Sixtus Affair in 1917), and all subsequent military successes on the Eastern Front, in the Balkans, or in Italy were due to German power.
  10. Count Ottokar Czernin, the empire’s last foreign minister, observed “we were bound to die; we were at liberty to choose the manner of our death and we chose the most terrible”—had he seen into the future, he could have understood that this choice would also have significant and horrible implications for the 20th-century Balkans.

Stunning Fact: By 1917, the Austro-Hungarian army had suffered 3,500,000 casualties; a full half of these were POWs in Russia, something that seems to indicate a serious lack of will.

Hugh Dubrulle

Very Short Reviews: Eri Hotta’s _Japan 1941_

Hotta Japan 1941

Eri Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (New York: Vintage Books, 2013)

  1. The main question Hotta seeks to answer is why Japan decided to attack Pearl Harbor when most of its leaders did not want war with the United States and believed they could wage such a conflict with only a slim hope of success.
  2. The short answer is that the Japanese leadership’s own decisions brought it to the point where it felt it had no choice but to go to war: “It was as if Tokyo had gotten stuck in the thin end of a funnel” and war seemed to provide “the quickest and surest way of breaking free of that constricting situation.”
  3. Hotta takes into account the great historical forces that made Japan an aggressive power—the role of Western imperialism in stimulating Japan’s own expansionism, the fraught and ambivalent Sino-Japanese relationship, the drift of various Japanese governments that allowed army officers “on the spot” to seize the initiative in China, the unwillingness of Japanese civil society (especially the press) to check the ambitions of the military, and so on—but she is mainly interested in the activities of Japan’s leaders in 1940 and particularly 1941.
  4. One particular problem was the way in which Japanese leaders brought out the worst in each other; for example, Prince Konoe (prime minister from July 1940 to October 1941) provided unassertive leadership that gave free rein to people like the ambitious Matsuoka Yosuke (foreign minister from July 1940 to July 1941) and the inflexible Tojo Hideki (army minister from January 1939 to October 1941) to pursue their own goals.
  5. The Japanese occupation of southern Indochina (July 1941) was the great turning point in the relationship with the United States as it focused American concerns on Japan like never before (concerns inspired by Japan’s adhesion to the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, by Japan’s endless war in China, and by fears about what Japan might next do in southeast Asia), led to important sanctions being imposed on the Japanese, and provided the impetus for the fevered diplomacy that eventually led to war between the two states.
  6. Many of Japan’s leaders engaged in wishful and confused thinking; to name one just one example, the Cabinet believed it needed to go to war with the United States to achieve what diplomacy could not, but it also felt that once the war had started, it would need diplomacy to bring the conflict to a swift end before the United States could crush Japan in a protracted war.
  7. In this context, the bakuryo, the junior officers responsible for strategic planning, played an enormous role—since the civilian leadership did not provide much diplomatic or geo-political guidance, war plans shaped by the bakuryo became the default policy of Japan.
  8. The army and particularly the navy were divided over the wisdom of a conflict with the United States, but neither armed service wanted to sound defeatist and take responsibility for having been the “weak” link that stopped a potential war with the Americans.
  9. In this particular context, the Japanese cultural practice of switching from private to public personas, known as hone to tatemae—“true voice and façade”— led to a great deal of confusion and double-talk as the Japanese Cabinet tried to reach a decision about what to do with the United States.
  10. Although this book is not quite as groundbreaking as the blurb on the back cover would have you believe, Hotta makes a very convincing case that the war was not at all inevitable and that it flowed largely from incompetent Japanese leaders who had become desperate because an endless war in China was impoverishing Japan and threatening to close off its diplomatic options, who failed to communicate well with another, who were committed to saving face, who misinterpreted the international situation, who proved incapable of making a realistic assessment of their nation’s capabilities, who could not understand how the Americans perceived their actions, who pitched their terms far too high when negotiating with the United States, and who imposed a completely unnecessary time limit on negotiations with the Americans.

Hugh Dubrulle

Very Short Reviews: Donald Stoker’s _Clausewitz: His Life and Work_


Donald Stoker, Clausewitz: His Life and Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  1. Although he is almost unknown outside of military and academic circles, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Prussian soldier and intellectual, has exercised an enormous influence on military thought, mainly through his unfinished magnum opus, On War.
  2. Many works have analyzed or evaluated Clausewitz’s work, but Stoker is primarily interested in connecting Clausewitz’s thought to his military experiences, something that this book does quite successfully.
  3. Scholars have tended to emphasize Clausewitz’s experience as a staff officer while neglecting the fact that he saw a great deal of combat in various capacities throughout the French revolutionary wars and the subsequent conflicts against Napoleon.
  4. Clausewitz’s military experience was substantial and varied: he joined the Prussian army as an officer cadet in 1792; first saw combat in 1793 along the Rhine (participating in the siege of Mainz); fought in the disastrous 1806 war that saw Prussia crushed by Napoleon; was indispensable to the post-1806 reform of the Prussian army (to make it more like the French); served as a staff officer in the Russian army during Napoleon’s catastrophic invasion of that country (1812); helped negotiate the Convention of Tauroggen (1812) which played a major role in turning Prussia from an ally into an enemy of Napoleon’s; became quartermaster general (the chief executive officer) of a multinational army corps charged with clearing north Germany and the Low Countries of the French (1813); and then won an appointment as chief of staff of the Prussian III Corps during the Waterloo campaign (1815).
  5. As Stoker shows, Clausewitz learned a great deal from his own experiences, but even more important, Clausewitz was an acute observer of military events taking place in other theaters of war.
  6. Clausewitz was such an acute observer not only because of his natural intelligence, but also because he had the good fortune to receive an excellent (although late) education, participate in some of the intellectual currents associated with the German Romantic movement, and benefit from the tutelage of thinking soldiers like Gerhard von Scharnhorst, the great Prussian general.
  7. From Scharnhorst, his mentor, Clausewitz learned the value of historical study, not so much because it gave him answers (military situations do not repeat themselves), but because it taught him how to think analytically about war.
  8. And thus, as he surveyed the events taking place around him, Clausewitz was able to arrive at his great insights about the relationship between war and politics, the connections between the various elements of war (his famous “paradoxical trinity”), the concept of Schwerpunkt (“center of gravity”), and so on.
  9. A picture of Clausewitz the man also appears very clearly in this work—we see his sometimes melancholic personality, his sharp intellect, his profound respect for learning, his oft-thwarted ambition, his deep love for his wife, and his sincere patriotism.
  10. For many reasons, On War is difficult to read and easy to misinterpret—General Gunther Blumentritt once claimed that giving On War to the military was like “allowing a child to play with a razor blade”—but Stoker’s biography along with some of Peter Paret’s work on Clausewitz would provide a reader with a good preparation for tackling Clausewitz’s classic work.

Hugh Dubrulle

Muzzy: From American Studies to New Hampshire Law

Katie Muzzy

Many people don’t realize that the relatively new American Studies major is housed within the History Department. Katie Muzzy ’15 was one of the first American Studies majors to graduate from Saint Anselm College. Aside from her major, Katie also minored in Gender Studies as well as Sociology and was a Presidential Scholar. She is now enrolled at UNH Law School as a Warren Rudman Fellow. One Thing after Another asked Katie about her experiences at both Saint Anselm College and law school.

Q: You are from Henniker, NH, just down the road from Saint Anselm College. Why did you choose St. A’s?

A: I chose St. A’s for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. None of the other colleges I looked at had anything close to the NHIOP’s hands-on opportunities for students to get involved in politics.

Q: When you entered St. A’s, American Studies was a new major to the college. What made you choose that as your major?

A: I actually applied to St. A’s as a politics major. About a month before freshman year, I went on the first ever Passages trip. We traveled to Gettysburg, and it was amazing. Fr. William went to Philadelphia with us, and he helped me realize that I wanted to study history. Right away, when I got home from Passages, I did research into the different majors at St. A’s. I had no idea that American Studies was a new major, but I was interested in the flexibility and variety of courses. I changed my major on the first day of freshman orientation.

Q: You had several internships while you were a student at St. A’s. Tell me about those. Did you have a favorite? How did your coursework prepare you for the internships?

A: I had quite a few different internships while I was at St. A’s.

My freshman year, I spent a week interning for ABC during the presidential primary debate. I was lucky enough to be the stand-in for Diane Sawyer while the crew set up the stage and lights for the debate. For several days, the student stand-ins held mock debates in front of several producers for ABC.

The summer before my junior year, I interned for New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange. I met Laura Knoy, the show’s host, and Keith Shields, the show’s producer, during a congressional debate while I was working as a student ambassador down at NHIOP. As an intern, I did research, learned about production, and screened calls during the show.

The summer before my senior year, I interned at the New Hampshire YWCA’s domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center. The opportunity stemmed from a sociology class I took called Family Violence, for which I started volunteering on the YWCA’s crisis line. I completed thirty hours of training on domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy. I found my work on the crisis line so rewarding that I decided to interview for a summer internship in the office. As a crisis center intern, I assisted clients over the phone, in the office, at the courthouse, at the police station, and in the hospital.

During the spring semester of my senior year, I interned for the Public Policy Team of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. This was the internship that all of my other internships and classes prepared me for. Specifically, I wrote my senior thesis about the first federal legislation that provided funding for domestic violence shelters. My research fueled an interest in the public policy aspect of domestic violence and sexual assault. As the legislative intern, I spent the semester in the State House attending hearings, researching legislation, and even testifying in front of the House and Senate finance committees about the importance of domestic violence legislation.

I loved all of my internships but my favorite one was with the Coalition. It helped reaffirm my life path and led me to where I am today.

Q: You are now in your first year of law school at UNH. Why did you choose to attend law school? You (unless I am mistaken) were named a Warren Rudman Fellow at UNH Law; that’s a very prestigious award. Tell us about that.

A: I have wanted to go to law school since I visited the Massachusetts State House on a field trip in eleventh grade. During college, I refined my passions and realized in what area of the law I want to practice. My initial instinct, perhaps encouraged by my American Studies major, was to go to law school far away from New Hampshire, in a totally new region of the country. During my internship with the Coalition, I realized how much I love Concord and the New Hampshire State House. When I finally visited the UNH School of Law, which is located within walking distance of the State House, I loved it right away.

As part of my application to UNH, I applied for the Warren B. Rudman fellowship, which is awarded to two incoming 1L students with a demonstrated interest in pursuing public interest law after graduating law school. I did not think I had a chance of obtaining this recognition, but several months later I got called for an interview. On the day of my interview, I was driving straight from the law school to go to a round table on human trafficking with Senator Jeanne Shaheen for my internship. I will never forget that day because it’s the day I knew that I would be staying in New Hampshire for the long haul.

I’m in law school because I want to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence. I do not yet know exactly what type of law career I will have, but I am excited to take advantage of every opportunity I can while I’m at UNH Law.

Q: How do you think your St. A’s education prepared you for law school?

A: The most influential part of my St. A’s education was my experience on the debate team. My coach, Dave Trumble, taught me everything I know about being confident and competent, being a good researcher and writer, and being a poised and eloquent speaker. Ironically, I never even considered joining the debate team until I heard about it during the pre-law information session of my freshman orientation. I genuinely do not think I would have made it through college without the support of Dave and my teammates.

Q: Are you enjoying law school?

A: I really am! I try to think of school as a job. I’m either in class or doing homework at least from 9-5 every weekday, plus a solid weekend day of studying. It is completely different from college but it’s a very exciting time of my life.

Q: I’m sure law school is hard work, but surely you have to relax sometime. What do you do for fun?

A: I just got a kitten! Also I am newly engaged. Additionally, I try to do yoga as often as I can, and I am learning how to cook now that I live in my first apartment.

Corbett Interned on Appledore Island

Katie Corbett

Last summer, Katie Corbett ’16, a History major and English minor from Reading, MA, obtained an internship that placed her on Appledore Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. The position required her to split time between the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, and the Shoals Marine Laboratory (on the island), which is run jointly by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. One Thing after Another asked Katie about her unusual experiences this summer.

Q: How did you get interested in public history—that is, history presented to the general public outside of an academic setting?

A: I first got interested in public history after I volunteered last summer as a historic roleplayer at the Andover Historical Society in Andover, MA. As a volunteer, I would speak to visiting third grade classes and talk about the differences between what daily life was like in the 1820s and what it’s like today. I was already interested in teaching history after taking ED 130: Principles of Teaching and Learning at Saint Anselm College, and it was neat to see how much the students, even at their young age, learned on this field trip experience.

Q: How did you find out about the internship at Strawbery Banke? Why did you decide to apply there?

A: I first found out about the position at Strawbery Banke when I was looking for a summer internship. I hoped to interact with the public on a larger scale than at the Historical Society. I also wanted a setting where the visitors would learn about what life was like in various eras as well as experience the actual atmosphere of each one as featured in a historic house. I had a lot of fun doing this type of thing at the Historical Society, and I wanted to experience what that would be like in a larger museum setting.

With this in mind, it is actually kind of a funny story of how I ended up working at a marine laboratory as a Garden Interpretation Intern. Initially, I had applied to the Education Department at Strawbery Banke, and I actually was passed over for the position there when the internship’s start date conflicted with when I would be returning to the US after participating in a summer study abroad session at the University of Limerick in Ireland. However, my application was then found by another person in the Education Department who had been charged with finding someone to intern at the Shoals Marine Laboratory as the “Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden Interpretation Intern.” Knowing that I had made it far in the application and interview process for the Strawbery Banke position, she recommended me for a position at the marine lab on Appledore Island. This internship was actually shared by Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) and Strawbery Banke. Every Sunday, I would travel by boat to Portsmouth to live on the museum property at Strawbery Banke, and then I would return to the island every Wednesday.

Q: What was the job description for your internship at Strawbery Banke? What was a typical day like?

A: At SML, my responsibilities consisted of extensively researching the life and legacy of Celia Laighton Thaxter, who was a prominent literary figure in the late 19th century. In addition, I also looked into the significance of her garden, the subject of her most famous book, An Island Garden (1894). I would also participate in the guided tours that came to the island to learn about Appledore’s natural and cultural history. Using the information I had gathered from my research, I would speak to groups about Celia’s garden and its significance as well as answer any questions that groups had about Celia, her family, and their impact on island life as a whole.

At Strawbery Banke, I did a variety of things. When I was initially conducting my research on Thaxter, I used the resources available at the Portsmouth Public Library and the Portsmouth Athenaeum. After awhile, I started to observe aspects of the Education Department, shadowing a camp for teenagers interested in historic roleplaying. I also observed how the adult historic roleplayers studied to develop their characters and how they interacted with visitors as these characters.

Q: What was your favorite part about this internship?

A: There were so many things that I loved about this internship. It was really neat to be involved with the marine lab because almost every other intern there was doing scientific research and, through our intern meetings, we each got to learn about what everyone was studying and how they were progressing throughout the summer. Appledore Island is one of nine islands among the Isles of Shoals, located off the coast of Portsmouth, NH, and it was interesting to find out more about the other islands there. I was also interested in learning about what it takes to live on an island, especially when you have to be aware of conserving fresh water and electricity.

I would have to say though that my favorite part was being able to use everything that I have learned at Saint Anselm College about the application and analysis of history in a real world setting. This experience really put into perspective what I was capable of doing—particularly in terms of teaching a specific aspect of history to people who were generally interested in learning about it.

Q: You grew up in Reading, MA. Tell us something interesting about your hometown that outsiders might not have already known.

A: Growing up in Reading, I was fortunate enough to live really close to Boston and other towns of historical significance, so that it was really convenient to go visit a different town for the day without traveling any longer than 30 minutes to an hour out of my way.