A Guide to the Military History of the World War, 1914-1918

by Thomas G. Frothingham. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1920. Cr. 8vo, xx+367 pp. With maps and diagrams. $2.75.
IT will be a long time before the world can hope to have a complete and accurate history of all the events which took place during the years 1914 - 1918 on land, at sea, and in the air. An enormous mass of data must first be gathered from innumerable sources, and winnowed by expert hands. Even then there will be chaff among the wheat. But there is no good reason why the world should not now get a clear idea of the main currents, which in all essentials are well and reliably known. The future may change our perspective; but the events it cannot change. It may be many years, for example, before the German historians get to the bottom of that collapse in morale which made August 8, 1918, the ‘ black day in the annals of the German army,’ as Ludendorff calls it; but the military operations of that pivotal day are about as well known now as they ever will be.
Captain Frothingham’s book is a narrative of military events — not an attempt to explain them, or to tell why they happened. It, is, as its title indicates, a guide and not a commentary. The author does not concern himself with the home-land activities of the war, such as the making of munitions, the conservation of food, and the recruiting of man-power. Ilis function, as he conceives it, is to follow the sinuosities of the farflung battle-line; in other.words, to give his readers an intelligible survey of strategic and tactical operations on all the fronts of the war. This task, and it is no easy one, he has performed with considerable skill.
It is no disparagement of the text, however, to say that the maps and diagrams are the best featureof the book. They accompany the author’s account of every major operation, and are so clear that they literally spell out their own story. The veriest tyro in military map-reading could not fail to grasp the situations which these maps and diagrams portray. True enough, they do not disclose the relative positions of the opposing forces in accurate detail; but that does not detract from their value to the general reader; and, indeed, it is very doubtful whether any attempt to include such details would have had other result than to muddle the maps and render them inaccurate. Such as they are, the diagrams are intended to present a visual narrative of successive tactical situations in broad outline, and this purpose they fully achieve.
Writers of military history, taking them as a class, are prone to be influenced by preconceived ideas of warfare, Moltke’s history of the war of 1870-1871 affords a notable example. Grant’s Personal Memoirs also illustrate the tendency, though not so conspicuously. The lesser lights of military history have rarely been free from it. Captain Frothingham, although he wore an army uniform during the war, has not forsaken the attitude of the civilian, and this has helped him to make a pretty fair appraisal of the various military achievements. The book is written in a clear, readable style, with no waste of energy in the pursuit of literary embellishment. A supplementary chapter on ‘American Tactics in the World War’ is an interesting feature,and a chronological table of dates enhances the value of the volume as a work of reference.
W. B. M.