Friday, June 30, 2023

Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples Since 1500 (Peter H. Wilson)

History is often not as clean or easy as many who teach it or read about it want it to be. Peel away the outer layer of conventional wisdom and you often find conflicting views that challenge narratives and provide multiple perspectives. In regards to Germany’s history, the idea of a nation founded on militarism and military might is not as clean a narrative as once believed. Peter H. Wilson, an Oxford historian, offers a strong challenge to the conventional wisdom of Germany’s military past in Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples Since 1500.

It’s important to note that this history features more than the components of modern-day Germany, which was dominated by Prussia and Bavaria among a host of smaller kingdoms and feudal states. Before the German Empire was established in 1871, a series of confederations and the Holy Roman Empire preceded it. In Austria, The Habsburgs were in charge of a large multilingual empire that was dominated out of Vienna. Wilson talks about these smaller states, with Austria and Prussia vying to be the strongest voice within the German-speaking world, and how their own constituent armies varied in technology, strength, and military technique…and how they each helped innovate each other. Iron and Blood traces back to the Reformation and shows the slow, uneven evolution of Germany over centuries as these states gradually coalesced around the stronger Prussia as Austrian influence waned.

Wilson challenges some of the historical narratives of German military might, particularly around strategy and leadership. The author cites several examples of wasted resources in World War II by the German military and paramilitary within the Nazi regime as some very strong examples to this. However, one narrative Wilson hasn’t challenged has been modern-day Germany’s aversion to spending heavily on military in the wake of the country’s defeat in World War II.

Iron and Blood is a comprehensive and at times technical read. For military historians, it’s a great bit of research into one of Europe’s historical powers.