What Surprised You While Writing Haig’s Enemy? | Jonathan Boff


I think there were three things that I
found really surprising. The first was my attitude to Rupprecht it itself changed.
You know, I thought one of the reasons this might be an interesting book to
write would be because he kind of stood for a whole generation of aristocrats
and royalty in Central Europe, that get washed over by the forces of
modernity and are unable to adapt and keep up and get, sort of made a footnote of
history, effectively. But actually, as time went on, I realised that in many cases
the decisions that he and those people had made had contributed to their own
downfall and therefore, in a sense, they were much more
responsible for their own destinies than I had perhaps assumed. They weren’t as
powerless at all times, as I had kind of thought. So that’s the first thing. The
second thing I think is, I was surprised by the German
attitude to the British, a little bit. In two ways.
First of all, politically it comes through very strongly in Rupprecht’s
writings, his diaries and letters, that he sees the British as being the political
glue that holds the whole alliance against Germany together. That she’s
really the the evil genius, if you like, behind the war from the German
perspective and I was surprised by that. And the second side of this is kind of the opposite of that. It’s that militarily, as far as the
British Army is concerned, not so much the Royal Navy, but so far as the
British Army was concerned, how little attention they paid to all the things
that British military historians tend to obsess about, when they’re looking at the
First World War. It just wasn’t that important for the Germans. There were more Frenchmen
and they were better at their job as far as they were concerned. And the third
thing is that I was surprised by quite how poor the German army was and
how internally divided it was and how poor decision-making processes were. I
think the perception that many of us had of the German army, in the first 50
years of the 20th century anyway, is that you know, kind of regardless of
the political objectives to which it was put, which are clearly abhorrent, that
actually as a technical machine it was very efficient and very effective and
man for man perhaps better than the British, French, or American armies that
ends up fighting, or perhaps the Soviets for that matter, as well. That doesn’t
seem to be the case. The German army seems to be
suffering from all the same problems in exactly the same ways as the British and
the French are struggling with and they’re equally poor at coming up with
solutions. So I suppose in a sense what I’ve ended up feeling, is that
this was not a war that was won by any stroke of genius, or even by
any combination of clever decisions put together, it was as many wars are, decided
by the those who made the fewest mistakes.

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