Last Four Months, by Little, Brown & Co. 1919. 8vo, vi+245 pp. With two maps. $2.50., K.C.M.G., C.B. Boston:
AMONG the various phases of the Great War the first and the last are by far the most interesting. The struggle began as a war of movement; it continued through the greater part of its course as a war of positions; and only in the last few months did it evolve into open combat once more. In an earlier book General Maurice described the dramatic happenings of ‘The First Forty Days’; in the present volume he sketches the rapid progression of events on the western front, from the second battle of the Marne to the signing of the Armistice.
While the author is a soldier by profession, he is not oblivious to the great importance of political factors in the determination of military policy. He constantly keeps his eye on these factors, in a way which differentiates him from most writers on campaigns and battles. The question of a unified command, for example, presented no great difficulties save those of a political nature. Left to themselves, the military authorities would have settled it in a twinkling. But it was not settled until Ludendorff’s sledge-hammer blows in the spring of 1918 forced the Allied statesmen to accept what should have been recognized from the first as an essential of sound strategy. General Maurice does not deem it his duty, however, to berate the prime ministers of France and Britain for their failure to get together at an earlier date on this issue of a unified command. He realizes that war is an act of policy, and that it is the business of the statesman to define policy in time of war to the same extent as in time of peace. Ultimate responsibility rests with the civil and not with the military authorities in any country that possesses a system of free government.
Was the Armistice premature? This question has been so widely discussed on both sides of the Atlantic, that General Maurice’s views upon it not only are interesting but ought to carry weight. From his intimate knowledge of the situation which existed behind the Allied line of advance in the early days of November, he argues that the refusal of an armistice would have been very unwise. The German forces, he agrees, were retreating in bad order, with their morale shaken and their transport in collapse. But the Allies were also having their troubles. Their rapid advance had tremendously stretched their lines of communication, which now lay across territory in which the Germans were destroying everything.
On the day of the Armistice some of the British forces were operating nearly fifty miles ahead of their railroad bases, and the task of bridging this gap by motor-transport over shell-pitted roads was rapidly becoming insuperable. The Belgian, French, and American armies were in the same predicament. Had hostilities been continued, the entire group of armies would have been forced to halt within a few days, from sheer inability to keep themselves supplied with rations and ammunition. This delay would have given the Germans a chance to reach the line of the Meuse, from which only another great battle could have dislodged them. Such procedure would have involved a large addition to the casualty lists; it would also have entailed the utter destruction of the great Belgian industrial district, which covers the valley of the Meuse from Charleroi to Liege. It is no wonder, General Maurice thinks, that statesmen and generals were alike disinclined to take any such responsibility.
The author writes convincingly; he has a good sense of proportion, and he draws his evidence from first-hand sources throughout. His tributes to the American soldier are frequent and generous. The reader who wants the story of the great triumph in its broad outlines will find it here.
W. B. M.