This book was originally published in four large volumes which appeared at intervals and at a cost that was necessarily beyond the means of many whom I would have been glad to reach. It is therefore particularly gratifying to me to know that arrangements have been made for its appearance in a form that will appeal to the large public of average means who could never have put the earlier edition upon their shelves.
Since the publication of that issue I have submitted the work to considerable revision, and in doing so I have been able to profit by not a little new knowledge. In especial I have been able to give a more correct account of the circumstances attending Lord Fisher’s resignation and a much fuller narrative of the great opening battles in France. All this new matter, which includes all the pages devoted to the Battle of the Marne, has hitherto only appeared in a one-volume edition which was of necessity very considerably abridged. In the present edition, therefore, it takes its place for the first time in the complete work. The reader thus obtains a narrative that not only appears in a form far less costly than its earlier issues, but is also fuller and more correct.
This book, as I have elsewhere pointed out, strives to follow throughout the methods and balance of Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier. It is a contribution to history strung upon a fairly strong thread of personal reminiscence. It does not pretend to be a comprehensive record; but it aims at helping to disentangle from an immense mass of material the crucial issues and cardinal decisions. Throughout I have set myself to explain faithfully and to the best of my ability what happened and why.
I write this new Preface in a day of extraordinary difficulty and danger. So strange indeed is the present international situation that it passes the wit of man to say what new portent will have appeared in the European sky by the time these words see the light. Armed to the teeth and feverishly adding to their armaments, the nations of Europe are asking themselves, “Is this the peace for which we fought? What have all our sacrifices brought us? What is coming next?” Is it possible that the appalling drama with which this book is concerned was enacted in vain? Is it conceivable that in our own day the hand of Destiny will raise the curtain on a tragedy of even greater horror?
These are gloomy questions, but History’s answer need not be gloomy. The attainment of a genuine peace should not be beyond the reach of human wisdom inspired by human goodwill. But if we are to escape a cataclysm fatal to civilization itself let us lay to heart before it is too late the lesson, writ large in these pages, of the tragic years 1914–18, a lesson that the events of this Autumn have only too bitterly emphasized—the paramount necessity of preparedness.
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL.
November 22, 1938.