Book review: “The Long Shadow”

abac077From WW1HA President Len Shurtleff:

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of The Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds, W. W. Norton, 2014, 544 pages, maps, illustrations, index. $32.50 hb. Also available in Kindle and CD. The author is a Cambridge University historian.

This is a monograph that would have pleased scholar-diplomat George Kennan, who labeled The Great War “the seminal tragedy of the 20th century.” Much of the ground plowed here in elegant prose will be familiar to students of WWI. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman monarchies; the German Revolution of 1918 and 1919; the rise of Fascism and Communism, the twin scourges of the 20th century; major if short-lived expansion of the victorious British and French empires at the expense of the losers; the creation nine states, among them Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, that did not exist prior to the war; the emergence of Japan as an expansive great power, and of the United States as a global power house whose economic and financial might humbled that of Great Britain.

The aftermath of the conflict was hardly peaceful. Fighting broke out in newly independent Finland and along the Baltic coast in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Soviet Union fought a civil war and reconquered Ukraine even while it invaded Poland in an abortive bid to expand Communism into Central and Western Europe. The Ottoman Sultan was replaced by a Turkish republic, led by Ottoman war hero MustafaKemal Atatürk, which fought a short, bloody war with Greece to regain much territory lost on The Great War. Nationalists from Egypt to Korea took Woodrow Wilson at his word and attempted unsuccessfully to throw off their colonial yokes.

Many of the leaders of World War II — Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt, DeGaulle — were active participants in WWI and carried their experiences into the next great conflict. Veterans’ movements like The American Legion got their start as a result of The Great War. While the Legion was dedicated to democratic principals; other similar groupings in Europe were not and achieved their ends – particularly in Germany – by paramilitary means. Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations was the result of Wilson’s inability to field a professional diplomatic corps, and The American Civil Liberties Union had its origins in wartime American patriotic excesses.

In all, while France and Great Britain had won, they felt less secure and were less secure in 1919 than in 1914. France, irreparably scarred by her vast human battle losses, was unable to elicit British and American support for the creation of a Rhineland buffer zone against Germany. The result was the Maginot Line. British finances were crippled by the war and never really recovered until well after 1945. She was obliged to accept naval parity with America and later during WWII to transfer her gold stocks to Fort Knox. Only America and Japan stood up as overall winners. Thus, the whole thing had to be refought all over again as the inimitable Yogi Berra might say.


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