Saturday, February 14, 2015

eReadings 20 -- World War I

No, I didn't stop reading since the last eReadings post. I've actually read a LOT of things since then. Of course, I'm talking about on my Kindle, not other reading, of which I do a lot also.

What I fell or drifted into in the last year or so was a series of books about World War I, written at the time. What follows is a somewhat ordered list of what I have read so far.

My Four Years in Germany
James W Gerard

Mr. Gerard was appointed the US ambassador to Germany in 2013, before there was any inkling of war breaking out. To be sure, there was a lot of militarism in the world, especially in Germany.

This is a personal account of his time there, which of course ended when the US declared war on Germany. He describes in great detail the structure and operation of the Kaiser's court, and of Germany in general. Once war was finally underway, he became the representative for Britain and several other countries.

This was very interesting to get this insider's view of the prelude and beginning of the war.

From October to Brest-Letovsk
Leon Trotsky

This is Trotsky's account of the Russian revolution, going on of course as Russia was involved in World War I. As the communists come to power, they have more pressing things to do, and sue the Germans for peace.

What I found interesting was how rapidly Lenin and his followers adopted totalitarianism, control of the press, and created a ruling group. There was never any plan to give any real power to the proletariat, who were supposedly those for whom the revolution was carried out. An interesting item in the negotiations with Germany was that both sides formally agreed there would be no independent Ukraine.

What is Coming? A Forecast of Things After the War
H. G. Wells
Wells describes himself as a futurist, and aside from the various novels we are more commonly aware of, he also published works describing things as they were and trying to predict where they were going. This book was written as WWI was being waged, and as such contains some interesting insights.

He anticipated that Germany would lose the war, though how confident he was at the time is hard to gauge. He nonetheless expected that Germany would not be seriously damaged by this war, and would be able to wage war again, and thus felt an important outcome should be removing the Kaiser from power. He was a strong advocate of a world government and saw that England needed to reach out to learn more about other important countries. At a time before the Russian revolution, he was suggesting that England should become closer to Russia, even teaching Russian in English schools.

There is therefore a lot of his predictions which were quite off base, but considering they were written in 1914, very interesting in that context.

Mille et un jours en prison à Berlin
Henri Severin Beland
Ok, showing off a bit. This book is in French (1001 Days in Prison in Berlin). I've spent some time with my Kindle working on my French (e.g., simultaneously going through Candide by Voltaire in French along with its English translation), and a couple of years ago translated a French book on Scribus to English at the site. Somehow I was able to read this book pretty comfortably (with the occasional help from Google Translate), perhaps because this is a chronicle rather than a novel.

This is the story of a French Canadian physician, who was travelling through Belgium as WWI broke out. Initially he offered his services to a local hospital as it began to treat war casualties. As conditions worsened with the German occupation he tried to be allowed to travel to Holland so that he could go back home. The Germans initially sounded like they might acquiesce, but eventually higher ups had him sent to detention in Berlin, in a former prison, which by then had a number of people from various countries.

Repeated petitions for release to return home were ignored, though he did manage to get some privileges due to the fact that he assisted the prison's physician in taking care not only of the other prisoners, but also the German soldiers who worked there.

Mr. Britling Sees It Through
H.G. Wells
When I started this one, I had no idea that it would have anything to do with the war. After some preliminary chapters describing Mr. Britling as an essayist, perhaps something like Wells was himself, suddenly the war is upon Britain.

Mr. Britling was too old to fight in this war himself, but there are close friends and his son who do get involved.

Much of the book purports to be his ruminations about the possibility of war, the onset of war, and its conduct plus the effect on British society. As such, his ruminations seem entirely too wordy to be believable even for someone of high intellect.

Aside from this, it offers an interesting glimpse of wartime in England from the perspective of those not directly involved with it, yet having to deal with a variety of the war's effects and side effects.