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Committed to Fight Whether the Cabinet Likes It Or Not – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman

March 30th, 2012 · No Comments · Nuclear Weapons, Politics, Security Policy, War

Echoes of the secret meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence angered the Cabinet members who had been left out and who belonged to the sternly pacifist wing of the party. Henry Wilson learned he was regarded as the Villain of the proceedings and that they are ‘calling for my head’. At this time began the split in the Cabinet which was to be so critical in the ultimate days of decision. The Government maintained the disingenuous position that the military ‘conversations’ were, in Haldande’s words, ‘just the natural and informal outcome of our close friendship with France’. Natural outcome they might be; informal they were not. As Lord Esher with a certain realism said to the Prime Minister, the plans worked out jointly by the General Staffs have ‘certainly committed us to fight, whether the Cabinet likes it or not’.

The Guns of August is an extraordinary example of the role that good history can play in policy making. In an extraordinary historical coincidence, The Guns of August won the Pulitzer Prize in the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, allowing President Kennedy to learn practical lessons about the relationship between the military and political leaders in the lead up to war that might literally have saved the world. According to Wikipedia:<blockquote>“[President <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy” title=”John F. Kennedy”>John F. Kennedy</a>] was so impressed by the book, he gave copies to his cabinet and principal military advisers, and commanded them to read it.”<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guns_of_August#cite_note-3″>[4]</a> In <em>One Minute to Midnight</em> on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Michael Dobbs notes the deep impression <em>Guns</em> had on Kennedy. He often quoted from it and wanted “every officer in the Army” to read it as well. Subsequently, “[t]he secretary of the Army sent copies to every U.S. military base in the world.<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guns_of_August#cite_note-dallek-4″>[5]</a> Kennedy drew from <em>The Guns of August</em> to help in dealing with the <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis” title=”Cuban Missile Crisis”>Cuban Missile Crisis</a>, including the profound and unpredictable implications a rapid escalation of the situation could have.<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guns_of_August#cite_note-5″>[6]</a><a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guns_of_August#cite_note-6″>[7]</a></blockquote>

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