Quotes from The Guns of August

Barbara W. Tuchman ·  606 pages

Rating: (42.2K votes)


“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens - four dowager and three regnant - and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Honor wears different coats to different eyes.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“in the midst of war and crisis nothing is as clear or as certain as it appears in hindsight”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



“Human beings, like plans, prove fallible in the presence of those ingredients that are missing in maneuvers - danger, death, and live ammunition.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Arguments can always be found to turn desire into policy.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Of the two classes of Prussian officer, the bull-necked and the wasp-waisted, he belonged to the second. Monocled and effete in appearance, cold and distant in manner, he concentrated with such single-mindedness on his profession that when an aide, at the end of an all-night staff ride in East Prussia, pointed out to him the beauty of the river Pregel sparkling in the rising sun, the General gave a brief, hard look and replied, 'An unimportant obstacle.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“When at last it was over, the war had many diverse results and one dominant one transcending all others: disillusion.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



“No less a bold and pugnacious figure than Winston Churchill broke down and was unable to finish his remarks at the sendoff of the British Expeditionary Force into the maelstrom of World War I in Europe.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Belgium, where there occurred one of the rare appearances of the hero in history, was lifted above herself by the uncomplicated conscience of her King and, faced with the choice to acquiesce or resist, took less than three hours to make her decision, knowing it might be mortal.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“It was a “severe” disappointment to Henry Wilson who laid it all at the door of Kitchener and the Cabinet for having sent only four divisions instead of six. Had all six been present, he said with that marvelous incapacity to admit error that was to make him ultimately a Field Marshal, “this retreat would have been an advance and defeat would have been a victory.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Although the defects of the Russian Army were notorious, although the Russian winter, not the Russian Army, had turned Napoleon back from Moscow, although it had been defeated on its own soil by the French and British in the Crimea, although the Turks in 1877 had outfought it at the siege of Plevna and only succumbed later to overwhelming numbers, although the Japanese had outfought it in Manchuria, a myth of its invincibility prevailed.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Fateful moments tend to evoke grandeur of speech, especially in French.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



“What is it about this book—essentially a military history of the first month of the First World War—which gives it its stamp and has created its enormous reputation? Four qualities stand out: a wealth of vivid detail which keeps the reader immersed in events, almost as an eyewitness; a prose style which is transparently clear, intelligent, controlled and witty; a cool detachment of moral judgment—Mrs. Tuchman is never preachy or reproachful; she draws on skepticism, not cynicism, leaving the reader not so much outraged by human villainy as amused and saddened by human folly. These first three qualities are present in all of Barbara Tuchman’s work, but in The Guns of August there is a fourth which makes the book, once taken up, almost impossible to set aside. Remarkably, she persuades the reader to suspend any foreknowledge of what is about to happen.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Thereafter the red edges of war spread over another half of the world. Turkey’s neighbors, Bulgaria, Rumania, Italy, and Greece, were eventually drawn in. Thereafter, with her exit to the Mediterranean closed, Russia was left dependent on Archangel, icebound half the year, and on Vladivostok, 8,000 miles from the battlefront. With the Black Sea closed, her exports dropped by 98 per cent and her imports by 95 per cent. The cutting off of Russia with all its consequences, the vain and sanguinary tragedy of Gallipoli, the diversion of Allied strength in the campaigns of Mesopotamia, Suez, and Palestine, the ultimate breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent history of the Middle East, followed from the voyage of the Goeben.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“To be right and overruled is not forgiven to persons in responsible positions, and Michel duly paid for his clairvoyance.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“They were twelve days in which world history wavered between two courses and the Germans came so close to victory that they reached out and touched it between the Aisne and the Marne.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“SOME DAMNED FOOLISH THING in the Balkans,” Bismarck had predicted, would ignite the next war. The assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914, satisfied his condition.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



“Clausewitz, a dead Prussian, and Norman Angell, a living if misunderstood professor, had combined to fasten the short-war concept upon the European mind. Quick, decisive victory was the German orthodoxy;”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Character is fate, the Greeks believed. A hundred years of German philosophy went into the making of this decision in which the seed of self-destruction lay embedded, waiting for its hour. The voice was Schlieffen’s, but the hand was the hand of Fichte who saw the German people chosen by Providence to occupy the supreme place in the history of the universe, of Hegel who saw them leading the world to a glorious destiny of compulsory Kultur, of Nietzsche who told them that Supermen were above ordinary controls, of Treitschke who set the increase of power as the highest moral duty of the state, of the whole German people, who called their temporal ruler the “All-Highest.” What made the Schlieffen plan was not Clausewitz and the Battle of Cannae, but the body of accumulated egoism which suckled the German people and created a nation fed on “the desperate delusion of the will that deems itself absolute.” The”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“German soldiers, posted as informers, were found dressed as peasants, even as peasant women. The latter were discovered, presumably in the course of non-military action, by their government issued underwear; but many were probably never caught, it being impossible, General Gourko regretfully admitted, to lift the skirts of every female in East Prussia.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“The impetus of existing plans is always stronger than the impulse to change. The Kaiser could not change Moltke’s plan nor could Kitchener alter Henry Wilson’s nor Lanrezac alter Joffre’s.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“If it was not intended as a veto, then it must have been intended for commanders to interpret as they saw fit, which brings the matter to that melting point of warfare—the temperament of the individual commander.

When the moment of live ammunition approaches, the moment to which all his professional training has been directed, when the lives of men under him, the issue of the combat, even the fate of a campaign may depend upon his decision at a given moment, what happens inside the heart and vitals of a commander? Some are made bold by the moment, some irresolute, some carefully judicious, some paralyzed and powerless to act.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



“the Home Secretary, a young man of thirty-seven, impossible to ignore, who, from his inappropriate post, had pelted the Prime Minister during the crisis with ideas on naval and military strategy, all of them quite sound, had produced an astonishingly accurate prediction of the future course of the fighting, and who had no doubts whatever about what needed to be done. The Home Secretary was Winston Churchill.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Now according to German logic, a declaration of war was found to be unnecessary because of imaginary bombings”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Eventually the United States became the latter arsenal and bank of the allies, and acquired a direct interest in allied victory that was to bemuse the post war apostles of economic determinism for a long time.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“Believing themselves superior in soul, in strength, in energy, industry, and national virtue, Germans felt they deserved the dominion of Europe.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August


“To think meant to give room for freedom of initiative, for the imponderable to win over the material, for will to demonstrate its power over circumstance.”
― Barbara W. Tuchman, quote from The Guns of August



About the author

Barbara W. Tuchman
Born place: in New York, New York, The United States
Born date January 30, 1912
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