Besides watching the “The Guns of August” movie, I’ve glanced at a few parts of the book, those that are available on Google Books. I understand that people find this to be compelling literature, but it’s not exactly¬† slant-free. Rather than dwell on this, I wanted to mention the way the Schlieffen Plan is referred to. Specifically, the planner himself is criticized by the author as “mesmerized” by Hannibal’s victory over the Romans at Cannae. Also, Clausewitz was blamed for instilling the desirability of a short war into German military thinkers.

There is nothing wrong with the desirability of a short war. The problem wasn’t that a short war was bad; it’s that it wasn’t achievable. Or, more to the point, the Germans would’ve done wonderfully had they achieved a knockout blow against France; they failed. When push comes to shove, that’s really all it comes down to.

More broadly, Hannibal achieved his double encirclement with cavalry; he did not achieve this maneuver with infantry. To attempt the same maneuver in an era where cavalry had been nearly completely eliminated as an effective battlefield force was reckless to begin with, depending on absolutely perfect timing. This timing was foiled; the effects were predictable.

Once tanks restored the role of cavalry, such strategies became useful again, as demonstrated by the later success of blitzkrieg. The idea wasn’t the problem. The means, and the execution, were the twin problems that condemned the plan to failure.

More to the point, the plan relied on the idea the French would attack where the Germans wanted them to. There would be no false German retreat such as the caving of Hannibal’s center while his superior heavy cavalry cleaned up on the Roman wings; the plan relied on the hope that the French would cooperate, rather than compelling the French to do so. At any rate, everything had to go perfectly; that didn’t happen.

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