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"Zuber's Moltke Myth" Topic

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Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2012 5:26 p.m. PST

I discovered in early February that my college has a decent library in terms of history books, and since there won't be any graduate assistantships available until the fall and my coursework isn't too heavy I will have some time to read for fun. I just started reading Terence Zuber's The Moltke Myth, and I am really put off after reading the first few pages. His preface claims that various professors are trying to silence him through the publishing companies, and then goes on in the first chapter to claim that Prussia won at Sadowa because of the superior Prussian Infantry, "in spite of Moltke" and in spite of the hero worshiping professors. After reading Gordon Craig's and Geoffrey Wawro's accounts of the battle of Sadowa (and Howard's Franco-Prussian War and Adriance's The Last Gaiter Button), I am not inclined to believe that there is such a pure hero-worship of Moltke in the scholarship of the past 50 years. It almost seems that the only person who engages in a sort of hero worship is Zuber in his anti-worship and his belief that his efforts are being sabotaged. Will it be worth my leisure time to continue reading this, or will it be an exercise in futility and annoyance? In an ethics class that I am taking this semester, I am reading about historical revisionism and its impact on public history and museum interpretation (particularly American Civil War revisionism), and I am wary about someone setting himself up as a martyr against the supposed mainstream.

John Leahy Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Apr 2012 5:29 p.m. PST

According to a previous post here it was stated that Zuber's statement that there was no Schliffen plan had been disproved. It would seem he may have an axe to grind.



Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2012 6:16 p.m. PST

If the author has written questionable material in the past, then this book is probably suspect. Perhaps I should just return it to the library. I think there is a copy of Showalter's Railroads and Rifles floating around somewhere.

74EFS Intel02 Apr 2012 7:12 p.m. PST

I'm very interested to see the comments of others. I love the author's chosen topics, but I've found his academic paranoia to be off-putting enough to not yet buy one of his books.

Lentulus02 Apr 2012 7:30 p.m. PST

Showalter's Railroads and Rifles

That book is well worth the time.

Mapleleaf Inactive Member02 Apr 2012 9:59 p.m. PST

As a scholar it is often your duty to read books that you would otherwise find boring or against your perceptions of how something happened. This way you become familiar with their point of view and are thus more able to counterattack and develop your own methodology. Continuing reading only what you agree with is not a good idea. You have to see alternatives.

Throughout history going back as far as Socrates and Galileo scholars have rebelled against the current way of thinking and what was accepted. They were castigated and seen as crackpots but sometimes they were right.

I am mot saying that Zuber is right and I am always suspicious of those authors who claim that they are being "sabotaged" but as a "professional" historian you have to at least give him a fair read. This means that reading just a few pages may not be good enough.

Personal logo Natholeon Supporting Member of TMP02 Apr 2012 10:18 p.m. PST

I agree with Mapleleaf. I like reading histories where the theories they put forward make me think through arguments against them. It keeps you intellectually honest – and sometimes alters your perception a little.

artaxerxes03 Apr 2012 3:28 a.m. PST

There is a series of scholarly exchanges on this in successive issues of the journal *War in History*.

Lentulus03 Apr 2012 5:15 a.m. PST

Actually, I'm thinking Mapleleaf has a good point. Not that I am a scholar, but I am well read enough in the mainstream literature on the Wars of German Unification that an alternative view should be interesting if only to see if I can sort out the fallacies.

I have the impression that the performance of the German army was oversold after the war; but enough of that trend of thought is mainstream now that I am not sure how much myth their is to demolish.

Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2012 6:21 a.m. PST

As a scholar it is often your duty to read books that you would otherwise find boring or against your perceptions of how something happened. This way you become familiar with their point of view and are thus more able to counterattack and develop your own methodology. Continuing reading only what you agree with is not a good idea. You have to see alternatives.

I agree, but the preface and the first chapter really turned me off because of his persecution complex. I will finish reading it, but I don't think I will like the author by the time I am done, especially since there are 250 more pages to the book.

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2012 6:51 a.m. PST

"I have the impression that the performance of the German army was oversold after the war;"

I'm not sure about that, many of the shortcomings in the Prussian Army which would later be the downfall of Germany in both 1918 and 1945 are highlighted by other authors such as Wavro.

They did go on to cement Prussian hegemony over Germany, conquer France twice, defeat Russia (something not even Napoleon the Great managed) and almost conquer the world so clearly had something going for them.

There was a reason the British Army started wearing Picklehaubes in the late nineteenth century.

Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2012 9:06 a.m. PST

I luckily have no morning classes on Tuesday-Friday.

Moltke's failure to conduct strategic reconnaissance has not been recognized by modern military historians because they substitute "little maps, big arrows" for the study of doctrine, training and operations.

That is just flat-out wrong in multiple ways. First, almost every account of the APW and FPW that I've read has pointed out the fact that Moltke didn't use his cavalry correctly in the APW, although the cavalry patrols in the opening weeks of the FPW had some success beyond their psychological effects. Secondly, Zuber's idea of the historiography of military history is just off. In the military history classes that I took, nobody taught his "little maps, big arrows" idea. Outside of Osprey general history primers, nobody limits their study of particular wars to such simplicity. Almost everything has a touch of Keegan's sociological approach. What sort of history are they teaching at the University of Würzburg?


I do agree with others that the performance of the Prussians was oversold, in part because it is easier to look at one side as being superior than it is to break down the events and consider the possibility that luck combined with a little less incompetence on the part of the Prussians gave them their victories. Adriance's account of the mobilization of the French was eye-opening, and it is hard to consider the Prussians to be so superior when their opponents made so many crippling mistakes.

Dynaman878903 Apr 2012 9:09 a.m. PST

> His preface claims that various professors are trying to silence him through the publishing companies

Like you say, I would almost always throw out a book that starts like that…

Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2012 9:15 a.m. PST

Like you say, I would almost always throw out a book that starts like that…

It is like the popular-history styling that some authors use, those that write books that "the professors/historians don't want you to read". Mainly that falls under the pseudo-history that includes the false ideas of the "Black Confederates". I think Zuber is just being overly-defensive and perhaps a bit paranoid, but I don't think based upon reviews that I've seen that he has a specific disinformation agenda (a bit like Gavin Menzies, actually: a retired military man turned questionable historian, who tries to show the superiority of the host-nations of his military bases. Menzies in south-east Asia, Zuber in western Germany).

Lentulus03 Apr 2012 2:48 p.m. PST

are highlighted by other authors such as Wavro

Oh, I mean in the immediate post-war period – the 1870s and 80s. Modern analysts get at the deficiencies so well that I find myself wondering what the myth is that Zuber is talking about.

Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP03 Apr 2012 9:06 p.m. PST

What a book. I just finished chapter 3, and yet I cannot wait to continue on and see what he will do next. In chapter 2 Zuber goes over the staff rides and other war games, and calls Moltke on the fact that the staff rides proved that his initial war plans were failures (although the war games were nothing more than war games to test the line, command and staff officers on their abilities). Next chapter Zuber states that Moltke's written exercises that were distributed through the army were irrelevant to the discussion of Moltke's plans, although they seem to be equally as relevant (or irrelevant) to the discussion. And while Zuber seems to find room every few pages to include verbiage as "adulation", "myth" and so forth, he spends most of Chapter 3 bringing Friedrich Karl up to the pedestal that Moltke doesn't deserve (because Moltke was an advocate of positional warfare and the defense). Overall it seems so far that Zuber considers that battlefield tactics won the wars, not strategy, logistics and other high-level considerations incorrectly formulated by an "anonymous staff officer". (page 73 from the 2008 edition)

So much of it seems to be the attitude of "Moltke's plans fell apart during the campaign, therefore Friedrich Karl is automatically president of the German Wars of Unification".

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP04 Apr 2012 6:21 a.m. PST

I rather think Moltke expected his plans to fall apart, hence 'Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified'.

Given the degree of insurbordination, incompetence and stupidity demonstrated at all command levels in both the APW and FPW, I do sometimes wonder if unit actions should not simply be decided by dice rolls while the players watch (or not, in the case of Benedeck at Koeniggratz).

Hmm, that might actually not be a bad idea. Players could still control the initial deployment and the release of reserves.

Lentulus04 Apr 2012 9:15 a.m. PST

I do sometimes wonder if unit actions should not simply be decided by dice rolls while the players watch

Might be fun as a computer game; a screen saver maybe.

Still, I think Moltke's accomplishment that was *not* oversold was in setting up a situation where wars would be won "in spite of" the impossibility of generalship.

custosarmorum Supporting Member of TMP04 Apr 2012 12:49 p.m. PST

To get a sense where Zuber fits into the historiography of the subject, you might check out the series of articles (and seemingly endless rebuttals) that appeared in a number of journals over the years, especially _War in History_ and most recently, _the Journal of Strategic Studies_.

I have not read his book on Moltke as these articles have not given me much confidence.

Rebelyell2006 Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2012 7:04 p.m. PST

That was a hell of a book.

I almost feel bad for Zuber, as it obviously took him a lot of time and effort to write the book, but after stripping away the paranoia, snark, obvious infatuation with the Prussian infantryman and the invented anti-hero worship, and one is left with a book that would have been groundbreaking about 60 years ago. Most of what he says that is true has been understood for a long time, that proper use of artillery and reconnaissance wins battles. But Moltke did not particularly concern himself with such low-level details because that was not his job and Zuber seemed to lose sight of that.

jbfrage10 Apr 2012 5:46 a.m. PST

Hey Rebelyell,

I think you nailed it right on the head in your last post. From what I remember from Zuber's talk at Historicon last year, I remember thinking the same thing in regard to his theories about the Schlieffen Plan. After asking a few questions about what he actually meant by the statement, "there was no Schlieffen Plan", he explained that there was a plan but it was changed over time, and that when WW1 began the Germans carried out their orders correctly. He claimed that they purposely swung inwards with their right wing hook rather than brush the channel as Schlieffen wanted. I remember thinking about some of what he said as, "how is this groundbreaking? Don't we know most of this already?" Of course the Schlieffen Plan was changed over time and it became a watered down version of itself. I was also left thinking that his claim about the right wing hook as being pretty off. In just about every account I personally have ever read, most attribute the failure of the right wing hook to be due to von Kluck and his decision making. It seemed odd to me at the time that every other major historian was completely wrong, and that he was somehow cutting against the grain with his theories. All that being said, I did enjoy his lecture enough to remember what was said.


Ramming11 Apr 2012 6:05 a.m. PST

Moltke was a very brilliant man … he was also very fortunate in his opponents.

efredbar Inactive Member22 Apr 2012 7:11 a.m. PST

I'm not a professional historian but, I've got a couple of history degrees from Millsaps College and Yale University. I have to say I find some of the comments here a little disturbing.

History is not what happened in the past but what is written about the past. More than any other school in the humanities, it is susceptible to cultural and political pressures…never mind the professional and personal.

Take the issue of Black Confederates…what does it mean to say the subject is a matter of pseudo history?

Were there no Blacks in the Confederate army?
Was their service not genuine?

The first question is simple enough to answer….the second not at all.

All I know about the subject at hand I learned from Howard and Waro…so I'm no expert but, I do know something about history and historians.

The potential for certain ideas to be favored and protected at the expense of others is very real.

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