Railways and the Russo-Japanese War: Ttransporting War.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Brooks, Jeffrey
Pub Date: 12/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Railways and the Russo-Japanese War: Transporting War (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Patrikeeff, Philip; Shukman, Harold
Accession Number: 248907040
Full Text: Railways and the Russo-Japanese War: Ttransporting War. By Felix Patrikeeff and Harold Shukman (London: Routledge, 2007. 176 pp. $39.95).

Sometimes a seemingly narrow study has great scope and broad interest. This volume in the Cass Military series is a case in point. Patrikeeff and Shukman cover military events and much more. With respect to the military, they compare the two officer corps, the rank-and-file experience, the two armies' conflicting strategies, and the impact on the home fronts. They also explain what Russian imperial expansion meant at the time and what the war entailed for each society. The first two chapters concern Manchuria and railroads in the Russian imperial project. The authors argue that despite the stupidity of the war, the Russian involvement had centuries of momentum behind it. They show, against a canvas of rising opposition to the tsarist regime, that the effort to annex portions of Manchuria was linked to the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and plans to unite the empire by rail. In this respect, the Russo-Japanese War was a turning point in the history of the Russian Empire. In the mid-1890s, they note, "Russia appeared to be gaining ground on the other powers ... which were similarly seeking advantage in China" (p. 17). Defeat in the war, of course, brought this project to an abrupt end. A lot more than simply the idea of a Russian Manchuria was lost in the defeat. The authors stimulating and concise treatment of this global issue alone makes the book worth having.

The authors explore many broad aspects of the war and related events. The Trans-Siberian, as they demonstrate convincingly, was more than simply a means of shortening travel between several points. It served as the basis for a string of multicultural settlements linked to the lines and the various stations. The result was an incipient "melting pot" in the Russian Far East and in Manchuria as well. This two constitutes an important chapter in the history of the Russian Empire. From this standpoint, Russia's very success in the endeavor sparked opposition not only from Japan and Britain but also for a time from the US, Germany, and France.

In discussing the war itself, the authors point up the Russians' military shortcomings, particularly in strategy. They also show the war's modernity and the tremendous scale of the fighting as a foretaste of WWI. The Battle of Mukden, they observe, involved nearly 600,000 combatants' the greatest number of any single battle until that time (p. 67). The authors make some very interesting observations when they contrast the orientations of the rival officer corps, the motivations of rank-and-file soldiers, and how the war was promoted at home. As they note, "The quality of command was an important factor," and one that did not work to Russia's advantage (p. 81). The go on to observe that in almost all respects, "The strategic advantage was unquestionably with the Japanese" (82). What stands out perhaps most remarkably was that although Russia built one of the most technologically advanced railroads in the world its military was inept in utilizing modern means of warfare.

The book is particularly revealing of the impact of the war on Russian opinion and on Russian intellectual life. Drawing L. K. Erman's pioneering study of the intelligentsia in the first Russian Revolution (1966) (1) and other sources they show how the war changed the way many Russians thought about their society and its future. They also show the direct impact of the war on Russian literary life. They cite, for example, Andre Bely's essay in 1905 on "the Apocalypse in Russian Poetry" published in Vesy (Scales) during the spring of 1905. They might well have cited in addition Chekhov's famous story, "Gusev," about the death of a wounded soldier returning by ship from the war. In short, this is a book on an important topic that makes a wide ranging contribution to our understanding of Russia at the dawn of the twentieth century.


(1.) L. K. Erman, Intelligentsiia v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii (Moscow, 1966).

Jeffrey Brooks

The Johns Hopkins University
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