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The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich.

The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich. By Robert Citino. (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 2005. Pp. xix, 428. $34.95.)

The reviewer was intrigued by the title of this book. As a historian of national identity and nationalism, he asked himself: can there be a national way of fighting wars, or is such thinking itself part of the invention of national traditions? Of what then does this German way of waging war consist to Robert Citino? Somewhat disappointingly, the author comes up with only two characteristics. First, German wars were short wars, involving an element of suddenness and surprise. And second, German wars were characterized by the independence of mind of operational-level commanders, whom Citino refers to as resembling "attack dogs" rather than rational strategists. These two characteristics seem to be somewhat thin to establish a peculiarly German path of warfare. All the more so as the establishment of national peculiarities must include an element of comparison.

In this book, Citino does not compare the German way of war with, say, the French, Russian, or English ways of war. In fact, as he himself is willing to acknowledge, he focuses single-mindedly on what would be more aptly described as the Prussian way of war. Prussian warfare, Citino argues, came to stand as a shorthand for German warfare, but this still raises the question whether the Badenese or Bavarian way of waging war was different from the French, Russian, or English ones. Ironically, of course, Prussia never aspired to become a nation. It was content with being a state, and Prussians identified emotionally not with a Prussian nation but with a region, such as Ostpreussen or Mecklenburg.

If historians of national identity will be disappointed by the conceptual shallowness of the volume, military historians might be allowed an altogether different verdict. This is, after all, mainly a book about the operations of war, and it explores the operational mentality of Prusso-German army leaders. Citino analyzes in chronological order the wars of the Great Elector and Frederick II, the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War, and both world wars. Such long duree allows the author to relativize claims to novelty. Thus, for example, he can show that the Blitzkrieg was by no means an invention of the 1930s. But the book will appeal most to those readers who are fascinated by the details of operational warfare and who like deft descriptions that border on the heroic and stereotypical on occasion. So, for example, fighting is always "raging," divisions are "trudging," generals are "hard-charging and hard-drinking" or "hell in the saddle." Soviet tactics were primitive against a "battle-hardened Wehrmacht," and the Red Army was "getting clobbered." The reviewer wonders whether such tone is appropriate, even in a popular military history written by a professional historian. But no doubt the tone, like the substance of this eminently military history, will find its audience.

Stefan Berger

University of Manchester

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Author:Berger, Stefan
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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