I was not going to post again until August. I have been staying out of the man cave in order to do some painting, yard work and house repair. But the approach of August and a planned visit to the Liberty Memorial WWI museum in Kansas City has me reminiscing.
From 1970-73 I was in seminary. I read what they told me to read. So I had not really read any novels since before that. (Well, I had read Larry McMurtry’s Last Picture Show, but that was a pastoral necessity. Yes, that’s right, I read McMurtry for a pastoral purpose. I will do a post about that soon just because it is an interesting story.)
I was eager to do some elective reading. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 was newly published. So it was the first book I read after seminary. This was the first and shorter edition. Solzhenitsyn added to the already huge book later.
This is the centennial of the beginning of Word War I so August 1914 has been on my mind. It is a historical novel about the Battle of Tannenberg when the German and Russian armies faced off in Prussia. In 1973 the Cold War was fully on and Solzhenitsyn was still trying to work in the Soviet Union. His book outwardly criticized the poor preparation of the Czarist army and the cowardice of most of its officers. But there was irony. Was the ridiculous situation in 1914 really any different from the inefficient Soviet bureaucracy and the craven Soviet officials of the 1970s?
The irony is what I best remember about this book. He portrays the German army as efficient and highly organized. Orders were carried out precisely. Not so the Russian army. Orders were taken as mild suggestions. So the Germans got into trouble when they tapped the Russian telegraph lines and intercepted orders. The Germans assumed the Russians would follow orders as the Germans would do. So they wasted a great deal of effort countering Russian maneuvers that never happened.
You should not misunderstand novelistic character of this book. It is mostly real history. Scott Yenor, in the video below, compares what Solzhenitsyn was trying to do with what Thucydides, the Greek historian, was trying to do. Soltzhenitsyn was trying to show the sickness of nations that led to the startling violence and bloodshed of World War I. There might be something to help us in 2014.