A prize-winning, magisterial history of World War I from the perspective of the defeated Central Powers
For the Central Powers, the First World War started with high hopes for an easy victory. But those hopes soon deteriorated as Germany's attack on France failed, Austria-Hungary's armies suffered catastrophic losses, and Britain's ruthless blockade brought both nations to the brink of starvation. The Central powers were trapped in the Allies' ever-tightening Ring of Steel.
In this compelling history, Alexander Watson retells the war from the perspective of its losers: not just the leaders in Berlin and Vienna, but the people of Central Europe. The war shattered their societies, destroyed their states, and imparted a poisonous legacy of bitterness and violence. A major reevaluation of the First World War, Ring of Steel is essential for anyone seeking to understand the last century of European history.
University of London historian Watson (Enduring the Great War) makes a major contribution to the ever-growing historiography of WWI with this comprehensive analysis of the war efforts of the primary Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. Watson makes a strong case that "fear, not aggression or unrestrained militarism" impelled them to war in 1914. Fear fueled the unexpected popular consent that sustained both Hohenzollern and Habsburg empires in a "war of illusions" that devolved into a "war of defense" and finally into a war for survival. From the beginning, the Central Powers were overmatched and overextended. They answered the resulting "desperation and alienation" with failed policies of "compulsion and control," a series of disastrously bad policy decisions such as the U-boat war, and a doubling-down on autocracy and repression at the expense of peace and reform. In 1917, both empires suffered from a deep "crisis of legitimacy": only the possibility of "quick and total victory" sustained the foundering alliance. A series of desperate offensives produced military, political, and above all social collapse. Watson concludes that the "suffering, and the jealousies, prejudices, and violence that spawned or exacerbated" in Central Europe laid the foundations of WWII far more than anything decided at Versailles.