In This Review

Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War
By Robert A. Doughty
Harvard University Press, 2005, 592 pp.

These days it is almost historical revisionism to suggest that the Western democracies actually won World War I; so great was the carnage and so lasting the scars that the war has become a byword for nihilistic futility. Doughty's masterly, starkly titled account, although not denying the victory, reinforces the sense that any gains were outweighed by monumental loss. (France, with over 1.4 million dead and its countryside devastated, suffered as much as any country.) Yet it also conveys the French determination to win and describes the strategic judgments made by politicians and those in higher command that kept French forces going -- despite the disastrous offensives of Generals Joseph Joffre and Robert-Georges Nivelle, in 1915 and 1917, respectively. As the war drew to its close, it was unclear which side would collapse from exhaustion first. Doughty confirms that it was only the British and the Americans who kept the French staggering forward. Pyrrhic it might have been, but it still felt like a victory to the French -- unlike 1940, which, despite far fewer casualties, was a defeat.