The 20 year armistice

by John Quiggin on February 14, 2021

One of the striking discoveries of the Internet age for me is that, no matter how original and idiosyncratic you imagine your thoughts to be, someone else has already thought them[1].

My book-in-progress, The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic is largely about the mistakes made between 1919 and 1939, and what we can learn from them. This period is usually called ‘interwar’, going along with the conventional naming of World War I and World War II, implying two separate conflicts.

I’ve long thought of these conflicts as one long war, with the Cold War that followed as a falling out between the victors. In this context, it struck me that the ‘interwar’ period 1919-39 would better be described as a 20-year armistice.

In formal terms, the Armistice of 1918 was ended by the signing of peace treaties between the Allies and the defeated Central Powers, most importantly the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, signed on 28 June 1919, five years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The starting point of my book is Keynes’ critique of the Treaty of Versailles, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Given the failure of the Treaty to secure peace, it makes sense to regard the subsequent 20 years as one long armistice, ending in a renewal of the same war. Going to Wikipedia to check info on some technicalities of the Versailles Treaty, I found the following statement attributed (as usual, dubiously [2]) to French Marshal Ferdinand Foch “”this (treaty) is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” So, Foch (or whoever actually coined the phrase) was way ahead of me. Foch’s view was that the treaty was not hard enough on Germany, and would therefore not remove the threat of German aggression

Whatever its provenance, I’m adopting the term[3], even if I can’t claim credit for it.

fn1. As with most things attributed to the Internet, this idea was around much earlier, a notable example being Merton’s discussion of multiple discoveries

fn2. The quote can’t be traced back before 1939 suggesting a case of what I would call prophetic hindsight (the technical term, it appears is vāticinium ex ēventū Foch’s position directly opposed to Keynes who was concerned with the economic part of the peace, notably reparations, rather than with the military and territorial clauses) . Both saw the Treaty as unlikely to secure peace.

fn3. It follows, I think that the best term for the entire conflict from 1914 to 1945 is The Great War, the name originally given to what is now called World War I.

{ 53 comments }

1

DCA 02.14.21 at 6:30 am

I wouldn’t disagree, but offer two points. First, the civilian governments of the main agressor (Germany) couldn’t have been more different in 1914 and 1939–the great similarity being the highly professional army that both governments could use. But secondly, a counterfactual: had the Nazis not taken power in 1933 (at least possible), how likely is it that there would have been a major war in Europe a few years later?

2

J-D 02.14.21 at 6:32 am

The quote can’t be traced back before 1939 suggesting a case of what I would call prophetic hindsight (the technical term, it appears is vāticinium ex ēventū

Will Dyson’s cartoon ‘Peace and Future Cannon Fodder’, however, dates all the way back to May 1919. (The unfamiliar can find it on many websites.)

Foch’s view was that the treaty was not hard enough on Germany, and would therefore not remove the threat of German aggression.

If that is what Foch thought, was he wrong?

The starting point of my book is Keynes’ critique of the Treaty of Versailles, The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

Will you refer to his reported later repudiation of it?

3

John Quiggin 02.14.21 at 7:34 am

“Will you refer to his reported later repudiation of it?” Substantially less credible than the Foch quote, in my view – I’ll probably add a footnote saying this.

Keynes’ line during 1939-45 phase of Great War was entirely consistent with views formed in 1914-19, and validated by the success of the peace in Western Europe. That’s one of the things Keynes’ critics never respond to. They compare Versailles to the Treaty of Frankfurt, not to the Marshall Plan.

4

J-D 02.14.21 at 8:40 am

“Will you refer to his reported later repudiation of it?” Substantially less credible than the Foch quote, in my view – I’ll probably add a footnote saying this.

Fair enough. I haven’t read Keynes’s book and have no view on its merits one way or the other. Its merit, of course, is determined by its content, and is unaffected one way or the other by whether the story of his later repudiation is true. I just can’t help thinking it’s a good story (even if it isn’t true).

Keynes’ line during 1939-45 phase of Great War was entirely consistent with views formed in 1914-19, and validated by the success of the peace in Western Europe. That’s one of the things Keynes’ critics never respond to. They compare Versailles to the Treaty of Frankfurt, not to the Marshall Plan.

Sometimes they compare it to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

I’m not clear on whether you’re suggesting that Allied treatment of Germany after 1945 was less harsh than Allied treatment of Germany after 1918, but if you are it seems a position that would require considerable work to defend. If you do want to compare the two settlements, I don’t think you can fairly take the Marshall Plan in isolation from the Potsdam Agreement.

5

bad Jim 02.14.21 at 9:00 am

From a discussion of Zola’s novels in a recent issue of The New York Review:

The punishing final pages of Nana make clear how entangled these assignments were. The year is now 1870. Nana lies dead, and a crowd of people, chanting “To Berlin!,” agitates for war with Prussia. Readers of the novel upon its 1880 publication would have felt choked by the irony of a jingoistic mob: still fresh in their memory were the ignominious defeat to the Prussians and the resulting collapse of the empire.

As far as I can tell, continuous warfare has been the European norm. The Hundred Years War and The Thirty Years war were not in themselves exceptional; their names delimit the scope and range of their respective endeavors, but such conflicts were practically endemic at the time. It would be a stretch to liken them to sporting events, but it’s worth noting that battle back then wasn’t nearly as lethal as it has since become.

Perhaps there was a common opinion that war was good clean fun. Up to a point it was an elite obligation; nobles were necessarily trained combatants, armored and well equipped, no match for a disorganized rabble. Machiavelli and Cromwell demonstrated the superiority of disciplined commoners, but it wasn’t until the advent of industrial technology that an agreement was reached that this wasn’t fun any more.

Mark Twain foresaw the mayhem of WWI in “A Connecticut Yankee”, describing dynamite turning combatants into “homogeneous protoplasm”, and of course the horror of the ensuing mayhem did not discourage its survivors.

Faulkner:

;For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…

6

bad Jim 02.14.21 at 9:21 am

(apologies for the fracture the formatting of my last comment, and earnestly beg the courtesy of its trivial repair)

Warfare has historically been considered necessary, desirable and commendable, despite the escalation of casualties as the lethality of weapons improved. Nuclear weapons have clearly not taken the option off the table, unfortunately, but they have certainly set limits to our customary sorts of games.

7

Matt 02.14.21 at 10:13 am

I’ve long thought of these conflicts as one long war, with the Cold War that followed as a falling out between the victors.

There’s some value in this line of thought, of course, but only so much, I think – for one, a lot of the parties change sides mid-term, on this version – Italy, most obviously, but Turkey/Ottoman Empire drops out completely, Japan enters, etc. And, there is an earlier peace with the Soviet Union that needs to be dealt with. Japan then ends up on the side of the US after the war, w/ Germany split. So, I think looking at it this way is helpful for some aspects and obscures a lot of others. This suggests that it, at least, shouldn’t be taken as the whole truth or the central thread. (I suspect it’s very heavily a British way of looking at things. That’s not necessarily a bad way, but certainly a partial way.)

8

nastywoman 02.14.21 at 1:51 pm

and once upon a time there was this –
OP
on
CT
about the role of ”luck” -(which I called ”random”)
and as I know that the main reason why the peace was broken –
and WW2 because Hitler was for good reason -(because he was a terrible ”painter) rejected by the Wiener Kunstakademie – we can’t learn anything from WW1 or ”armistice” –
or only if Keynes would have known about ”the rejection” too…

9

a lurker 02.14.21 at 3:19 pm

So with the American Civil War, which I now refer as the Slaver’s Rebellion… it didn’t end in 1865 nor did the Civil Rights Era of 100 years later end it. It seems to be a general agreement that the USA won the war but the CSA won the peace, influencing the course of history in defeat right up to the present. Maybe an end is in sight but given the schismatic nature of the 2020 election and the recently concluded second impeachment trial, I have my doubts.

10

Tim Worstall 02.14.21 at 3:36 pm

There’s another way of looking at the continuity. It was the Allies, more specifically the British, who finally got combined arms offensives to work properly in 1918 – the 100 days. Air, armour, artillery, infantry, all being able to work together properly.

1939 and 1940 in Poland and France were a continuation of this just it was the other lot who’d gone on to work out how to use it better. The varied claims that blitzkrieg was based upon the analysis of Liddel Hart and de Gaulle could even be true even if some suspect they’re the addition of some irony to vāticinium ex ēventū.

11

LFC 02.14.21 at 4:27 pm

E.H. Carr famously referred to the period 1919-1939 as “the twenty years crisis” in his (somewhat controversial) book of the same name. There is a lot of literature on Carr and on that book in particular, but for a short overview, which doesn’t take into account the recent lit. (but you don’t need that), see the chapter on Carr in Michael J. Smith, Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger (1986, pb 1987).

Although he doesn’t use the phrase “20 year armistice,” Eric Hobsbawm treats the two world wars as basically one long war in The Age of Extremes (1994).

12

Walter R. Moor 02.14.21 at 4:36 pm

Foch was right, but the resumption of war was preventable – this is the central theme of Churchill’s The Gathering Storm. The Allies lost all the safeguards they’d won in the treaty one by one, but! The French could have faced Hitler down with a battalion in the Ruhr in 1936. The allies could have either kept Italy as an ally (by staying silent while it destroyed Ethiopia) or humiliated Mussolini by closing the Suez. They could have honored their agreements with Czechoslovakia in 1938 and fought with Russia as an ally.

I have heard the 20-year Armistice term all my life.. there’s a book you may enjoy by D. J. Godspeed (what a nom de plume!) -> The German Wars 1914-1945.

13

Barry 02.14.21 at 4:37 pm

Bad Jim: “Perhaps there was a common opinion that war was good clean fun. Up to a point it was an elite obligation; nobles were necessarily trained combatants, armored and well equipped, no match for a disorganized rabble. Machiavelli and Cromwell demonstrated the superiority of disciplined commoners, but it wasn’t until the advent of industrial technology that an agreement was reached that this wasn’t fun any more.”

I think that you are assuming that there was not a massive amount of death and destruction visited on everybody in the zones of those wars.

14

LFC 02.14.21 at 4:37 pm

For a different view, see G. John Ikenberry, After Victory (or just find a review of it somewhere).

15

Kenny Easwaran 02.14.21 at 4:43 pm

I’ve also sometimes seen it described as “The Second Thirty Years War”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Thirty_Years%27_War

I’m not sure how many rulers might have switched sides between the two major parts of the first Thirty Years War, but it certainly wasn’t the same set of belligerents throughout the whole thing, and there was a moderately long peace in the middle.

16

LFC 02.14.21 at 5:31 pm

One last (for now at any rate) suggestion: Enzo Traverso, The European Civil War 1914-1945.

17

LFC 02.14.21 at 5:38 pm

Correction: I think I left out the main title of the Traverso, which is Fire and Blood.

18

John Quiggin 02.14.21 at 7:30 pm

DCA @1 That will be a central part of the argument. The proximate cause of Hitler’s rise was the austerity policy of the Bruning government, which worsened the Depression. Mark Blyth’s Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea is the best source here.

To sketch the argument of this part of the book, it’s that the economic failures of the 20-year armistice reflect the dangers both of austerity and of the idea that a sovereign government can finance its operations by unlimited money creation (as in the 1923 hyperinflation).

19

Alex SL 02.14.21 at 9:42 pm

Given that it is the only constant on the axis side of the two wars, these contemplations would have to be about Germany and Austria, specifically. IMO the problem then becomes not so much one of whether post-WWI Germany was treated too harshly, leading to a reaction that ultimately brought the Nazis to power (as was at least implied by some of the history I learned in school), or too leniently, leaving it strong enough to have another go, but instead one of governance.

At least to my understanding one of the key problems of the Weimar republic was that the administrative, economic, and military elites of the second Empire was left untouched in 1918-1919, when moderates allied with reactionaries to defeat communist uprisings, which they saw as the greater threat. Perhaps understandable under the immediate impression of Russia, but long-term fatal because those elites were able to undermine democracy.

The most obvious exemplar of this was Alfred Hugenberg, who controlled half the German media and fed the population a steady diet of antisemitic and nationalist propaganda, but others are police and judges systematically biased towards nazi activists and against unionists and left-wing activists. Point is, if the centre-left had been a bit more far-sighted in 1918-19, a proper revolution in the sense of exchanging elites could have taken place, Germany might have been set on a completely different course, and there may not even have been a WWII, not least because many people already tried to build institutional stabilisiers (e.g. League of Nations).

Admittedly, that leaves Japan, and it may be naive to think that the course of history could have so easily been changed. But my point is that institutional change may be underappreciated by the Fochs of the world.

20

RobinM 02.14.21 at 10:03 pm

“with the Cold War that followed as a falling out between the victors”

That’s one way of describing it, I suppose. But then there’s Gabriel Kolko’s view of it in his “The politics of war”: The victors–the USSR, the British Empire (which GK too often refers to as “England”), and the USA–were already at war of sorts with each other even while they were at war against Germany, Japan, etc. I.e., they’d never quite fallen completely in with each other in the first place and they all harboured aims to the severe detriment of each other all along.

21

nastywoman 02.14.21 at 11:17 pm

@
”The proximate cause of Hitler’s rise was the austerity policy of the Bruning government, which worsened the Depression”.

and isn’t that a lot like the idea that –
”The proximate cause of Trumps’s rise was the policies of the Obama government?
While history has proven –
that with ”a little bit of luck” –
the Germans AND the Americans –
instead of choosing some ”Right-Wing Madmen STUPID – as their so called ”Saviors” could have picked completely different… and very peaceful ”Saviors” –

22

Alan White 02.14.21 at 11:59 pm

I’ve said this before but please John keep posting this kind of stuff. Really stimulating. FWIW your Great War thesis seems right to me.

23

bad Jim 02.15.21 at 4:37 am

Barry, I’m certainly not suggesting that wars weren’t miserable for the rabble, but it’s my impression that the decision-makers rarely lost their enthusiasm for the game.

24

Peter T 02.15.21 at 7:28 am

It’s worth repeating that the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars killed as large a percentage of European populations as World War I, albeit over a longer time. War was never a game that was costless either to elites or to the masses – despite its apparent popularity.

World Wars I and II are best thought of as another great European civil war. The 80 Years/30 Years Wars – and associated civil wars in the British Isles and France – were over the breakdown of the western European consensus on religion. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were over the transition from the early modern to the modern state. The wars of 1914 to 1945 were over the transition from pre-industrial politics to industrial politics (the Kaiser was very much pre-industrial politics; fascism and Nazism tried to marry pre-industrial political forms to industrial power).

Whatever the proximate cause of Hitler’s rise, the underlying cause was the entrenched power of pre-industrial elites in Germany and their determination to resist change.

25

Tm 02.15.21 at 8:34 am

AlexSL 19: You are mostly correct, but: “the administrative, economic, and military elites of the second Empire was left untouched in 1918-1919”

If they really had been left “untouched”, why did they hate the republic so passionately? They certainly didn’t feel “untouched”, to the contrary they felt threatened and supported the fascists in the hope of being able to turn back the clock.

26

nastywoman 02.15.21 at 9:49 am

AND furthermore –
if the ”Kapp Putsch” in Germany in 1920 would have been… ”successful” –
Germany could have gotten a ”monarchy” again – and NOT –
”Hitler”.
And thusly NOT ”the Autobahn”
and –
perhaps – ”Bridgerton” in Germany?

And these…
perhaps –
”insane” possibility just prove – AGAIN – the theory that ”with a little bit of luck” – ”trump” -(the Worlds Words for: ”Evil Stupid”) could have been… avoided?

So – please read:
”The Kapp Putsch, also known as the Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch, named after its leaders Wolfgang … It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr, as well as nationalist and monarchist factions.

The Putsch, also known as the Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch, named after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, was an attempted coup against the German national government in Berlin on 13 March 1920. Its goal was to undo the German Revolution of 1918–1919, overthrow the Weimar Republic, and establish an autocratic government in its place. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr, as well as nationalist and monarchist factions.
Though the legitimate German government was forced to flee the city, the coup failed after a few days, when large sections of the German population followed a call by the government to join a general strike. Most civil servants refused to cooperate with Kapp and his allies. Despite its failure, the putsch had significant consequences for the future of the Weimar Republic. It was one of the direct causes of the Ruhr uprising a few weeks later, which the government suppressed by military force, after having dealt leniently with leaders of the putsch. These events polarized the German electorate, resulting in a shift in the majority after the June 1920 Reichstag elections”.

27

derrida derider 02.15.21 at 10:32 am

Foch’s quote is supposedly a comment reported in Le Monde at the time of the signing. Certainly that’s the cite in most of scholarly history books; the earliest I know of, though, is in Churchill’s 1948 “The Gathering Storm” (and hence certainly unreliable – as the old warmonger said “history shall be kind to me, for I shall write it”). Churchill knew and admired Foch and was citing him in the context of denouncing appeasement.

Apocryphal or not its more interesting for the more specific prophecy of the rest of the quote:
“The next time, remember, the Germans will make no mistake. They will break through northern France and head for the Channel Ports, using them as a base against England”. (Williamson Murray; Jim Lacey (2009). The Making of Peace: Rulers, States, and the Aftermath of War, p209)

28

Keith 02.15.21 at 10:37 am

Arno Mayer wrote about the “second Thirty Years War”. Some good perspectives too on the continuities, including across the ideological spectrum, in Mazower’s Dark Continent. Tooze’s The Deluge pivots on the role of the US.

29

LFC 02.15.21 at 5:09 pm

Matt @7 suggests that “the one long war” view is “a British way of looking at things.”

Though I’m not at all sure about this, I think that may be right, at least to some extent. It prompts the further speculative thought that the British experience in the First World War, more than a century later, may still occupy a place in the cultural imagination of the Anglophone world that the French, German, Russian, Australian (despite the 1981 movie Gallipoli), American, Austrian, Italian, Serbian, etc., experiences of that war don’t. This has something to do with the British poets of World War I and, perhaps, with the especially heavy impact the war had on Britain’s upper class. (“One quarter of the Oxford and Cambridge students under the age of twenty-five who served in the British army in 1914 were killed.” – Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes, p.26)

In terms of seeing the two world wars as “one long war,” this could cut two ways, depending on the temporal perspective. At the time, i.e. in 1918 and immediately after, it probably seemed as if the experience that had just passed was unrepeatable — and in fact, for the British and for others, the experience of the Second World War was different in some important respects from the first. On the other hand, from a longer perspective, it’s not hard to see how 1914-1945 appears, at least from the Western or Anglophone view, as one destructive block of time, explaining the popularity of the references to the “thirty years war” or, as Hobsbawm puts it a bit more accurately, “the thirty-one years world war.”

30

Max Sawicky 02.15.21 at 7:15 pm

There’s a roughly similar idea in Niall Ferguson’s “War of the World.” I read it a few years ago and have hardly any memory of it, except for noticing some dubious statistical reasoning and all sorts of obscure ethnic groups. It was very long but absorbing enough. After seeing him in action for the past five or ten years, I wouldn’t touch anything else he wrote with a ten-foot pole.

31

nastywoman 02.15.21 at 8:45 pm

AND –
doesn’t it make y’all… wonder?
That unlike in the US in the 21 Century –
IN 1920 in Germany – die Putschisten even managed to overthrow the government –
and forced it to flee the Capital?

AND only ”after a few days, when large sections of the German population followed a call by the government to join a general strike and most civil servants refused to cooperate with Kapp and his allies – and ”the Coup” finally failed –
it became possible that the Weimar Republic survived –
and that a very, very untalented Austrian Painter –
after getting rejected by the Wiener Kunstakademie –
and full of hate for the Jewish Professor who rejected him –
could become the ”Monsterous Führer” –
who broke ”the peace”

Ahem? –
The… the… ”armistice”?

32

J-D 02.15.21 at 10:15 pm

To sketch the argument of this part of the book, it’s that the economic failures of the 20-year armistice reflect the dangers both of austerity and of the idea that a sovereign government can finance its operations by unlimited money creation (as in the 1923 hyperinflation).

Those two could be linked to some extent if the austerity policies of the Brüning government were motivated at least in part by fear of a return of hyperinflation.

33

Gazelle 02.15.21 at 10:55 pm

For many centuries, war was the only alternative to monastic life to prove you were a 100% committed Christian. No wonder Arabs called the Christian lands the Realm of Warfare.

34

MisterMr 02.15.21 at 11:20 pm

Muty two cents:

UK: won the war, but was broke and heavily indebted to the USA. Was trying to mantain a huge empire but it wasn’t anymore as dominant economically as it was before.
France: I have no idea, though I suppose economically was in a similar situation than the UK.
Italy: won the war, had huge economic and social problems, went close to a bloshevik revolution, then into a fascist dictatorship with explicit imperialist aims.
Germany: lost the war and also had huge economic problems, largely due to the war loss.
Spain: had a civil war between commies and fascists.
Russia/USSR: had a civil war during WW1 that resulted in a communist revolution, had huge economic problems.

To me it seems a powder keg.

35

RichardM 02.16.21 at 12:37 am

War was never a game that was costless either to elites or to the masses – despite its apparent popularity.

Perhaps relevant is that, while Everest has a 4% fatality rate for climbers, it is only the 10th deadliest. The two two, Annapurna and K2, have something like a 30% fatality rate, and have each been climbed by a few hundred people.

All activities, including war, have to be very deadly indeed before a certain type of person stops considering them a valid form of recreation.

https://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/8000MeterPeaks

36

Peter T 02.16.21 at 1:28 am

I don’t think the ‘long war’ view is a specifically British way of looking at things.

World War I re-shaped all the countries of Europe: it ripped into rural France (see the memorials in every French village), broke apart Austria-Hungary, destroyed the old regime in Russia, where the Civil War added another 9 million dead, stripped the Ottoman Empire back to its Turkish core at the cost of the Armenians and Anatolian Greeks.

These things have some common themes: most of the states of Europe became more explicitly national in their composition (following the British and French leads – the interesting exception is the USSR, which became less Russian national), the dominance of the landed interest was ended, the politics of the industrial working class came to the fore. The issues the war raised: the position of minorities, the place of unions and their social democratic agenda, the new role of the state – shaped the politics of the 20s and 30s. And, as always, the domestic and international were tightly connected – as one example you can’t understand inter-war French or British or German politics without reference to the existence of the USSR as a communist state (and the Bavarian, Hungarian and later Spanish civil wars).

These issues were raised by the first war, largely unresolved, and key to the second. In this sense, they were like previous major pan-European issues: they led to conflicts which were episodic but continuing until some wide modus vivendi was reached.

37

bruce wilder 02.16.21 at 3:17 am

Was the Weimar Republic trying to finance its operations by unlimited money creation (in the 1923 hyperinflation)? I thought they were trying to undermine expectations that agreed reparations could be financed and paid to the allies, who in turn were obligated to service enormous debts to the U.S. (A neglected sidelight is the role of India in financing British war debt in both wars.)

Ambivalence about the barbarous relic of the gold exchange standard played a large part in the economic catastrophes of the interwar years. Wasn’t the need to pay reparations in gold marks a factor in the hyperinflation? Not to mention the General Strike in Britain that followed trying vainly to restore the pound to its pre-war gold value and the suffering induced in France by sticking so long to gold.

Austerity may have made the Depression worse, but what made the Depression in the first instance was a sustained deflationary spiral in the dollar associated with the mechanics of the gold exchange standard.

38

bad Jim 02.16.21 at 5:49 am

An oblique comment on the American perspective: I recall seeing a monument, possibly at the University of Virginia, listing the names of graduates who had died in various wars. Rather few had died in the first world war. The list for the second world war was much longer, but the casualties of the Civil War went on and on and on.

The first world war had little impact on American memory. The second we recall with a sense of triumph. The American war left one section of the country devastated and defeated, and its memory continues to menace us.

39

Tim Worstall 02.16.21 at 9:13 am

“The wars of 1914 to 1945 were over the transition from pre-industrial politics to industrial politics (the Kaiser was very much pre-industrial politics; fascism and Nazism tried to marry pre-industrial political forms to industrial power).”

There’s another link too. That concept of “lebensraum”. Wasn’t, by any means, a Hitlerian invention. Had been around in late 19th cent.

The logic even seemed sound. Military power comes from population thus military size. Population is limited by food supplies. Therefore more land is required to grow more food to have more people and a larger military. Germany didn’t have/couldn’t overseas colonies so look out Poland and Ukraine.

That’s very much a cod version of the argument.

The thing is that once there are artificial fertilisers then the logic doesn’t work. Fertilisers are, in one squinted view, the invention/creation of more land. The Haber Process, that even allowed Germany to fight WWI, largely destroyed one of the arguments for both wars.

40

G. Branden Robinson 02.16.21 at 9:24 am

I’ve seen it claimed that World War I was responsible for the most intense episode of monarchy destruction in human history.

The major powers were gearing up for the Cold War even before Hitler was dead and Japan defeated. See, e.g., the theory that the bombing of Nagasaki was meant a threat to the USSR and a spur for a swifter Japanese surrender, since the Soviets were invading Manchuria and threatening to win a claim of the spoils for the Empire’s defeat. More concretely, we have the Dekemvriana in Greece, with the spectacle of the excited Churchill, Harold MacMillan, and Anthony Eden sponsoring the slaughter of the Greek resistance fighters only days after the Battle of the Bulge.

One could then view the larger Great War (1914-1945) as the process by which the West confronted the communist threat to the ruling class and, after flirting with fascism as the tool by which to suppress it, settled on neoliberalism, a system within which there were plenty of job openings available for fascists who were willing to demonstrate pliance.

41

Alex SL 02.16.21 at 12:19 pm

Tm,

I don’t see a contradiction between untouched and threatened. In my view they remained in power and wealth as they were pre-1918 but felt threatened by the rise of the labour movement (in all its forms) and wanted to remove the risk of being dislodged from power and having to share more of their wealth.

Power here meaning “we own the media” or “we run the police force”, not “no social democrat ever gets to be chancellor while we run the media, universities, army, administration, courts, and police force”.

42

Aardvark Cheeselog 02.16.21 at 3:14 pm

J-D @4:

I’m not clear on whether you’re suggesting that Allied treatment of Germany after 1945 was less harsh than Allied treatment of Germany after 1918, but if you are it seems a position that would require considerable work to defend. If you do want to compare the two settlements, I don’t think you can fairly take the Marshall Plan in isolation from the Potsdam Agreement.

Can you somehow take the Marshall Plan separately from the “Allied treatment of Germany after 1945?” It seems to me that suggesting that the “Allied treatment of Germany after 1945 was not considerably less harsh than Allied treatment of Germany after 1918″ is asinine in the extreme.

43

Doug 02.16.21 at 3:24 pm

I’m not sure how much it affects your thesis, but the Armistice in Europe’s west did not stop a lot of fighting in its east. Poland and Soviet Russia were fighting nearly as soon as the German army left the front; the Russian Civil War ran through 1921; the fighting in Anatolia that set up the Turkish Republic did not end until 1923.

44

steven t johnson 02.16.21 at 3:46 pm

I think WWII is misdated. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 was the first high point of fascist aggression. The Spanish Civil War in 1936 was a proxy. The Japanese invasion of China proper (outside Manchuria) in 1937 I think is the latest date that should be given for the beginning of world war. Even the custom of dating WWII as a European war from the German invasion of Poland is badly-supported. The Italian invasion of Albania already marked the return of war to the continent in spring. And the Soviet-Japanese war in the east climaxed in Japanese defeat even before the Polish war.

If you do not misdate WWII, the sense in which it is notable for not being a civil war between Europeans England and Germany stands out. Mussolini bombing Ethiopians has nothing to do with that. Accepting the Italian conquest is pretty much incompatible with any civil war thesis, I think. Nor do I think there is any case to be made that the rape of Nanjing is just business as usual in the wild, wild East. The de facto support of the Spanish rebels (aka “fascists,” though by modern standards Franco was no more a fascist than the Kyiv government today,) via an unusual formal “neutrality,” the Munich collaboration, the Sitzkrieg/Phony War, the attempt to begin war with the USSR over Finland, the rapid acceptance of defeat by the French rather than fight a long war, the long-standing refusal of a second front…none of this even suggests Europeans were fighting each other for the same reasons as in the Seven Years’ War or WWI.

In terms of the bulk of fighting in Europe, WWII was a fascist anti-communist crusade.
(Some have instructed us that anti-communism is not rightwing, but left. I disagree.) The supposed enemies in the European civil war rather than fighting a civil war collaborated as much as possible with the purported enemies, with the refusal of England to negotiate something of a surprise. In terms of the bulk of the fighting worldwide, it was the Pacific war that had nothing to do with any supposed European civil war.

45

Matt 02.16.21 at 8:57 pm

I’d disagree with some of characterizations that Steven t Johnson makes in 44, but think that the points themselves are useful for understanding how perspectives on the war(s) are often ultimately parochial. My favorite example was from a early post-Soviet Russian history textbook I looked at in 2000 or so (for kids around 12 years old, I think), that talked about how, in 1939, Germany invaded western Poland, and the Soviet Union “expanded its sphere of influence” into eastern Poland, as if by a coincidence.

46

J-D 02.16.21 at 11:17 pm

Can you somehow take the Marshall Plan separately from the “Allied treatment of Germany after 1945?” It seems to me that suggesting that the “Allied treatment of Germany after 1945 was not considerably less harsh than Allied treatment of Germany after 1918″ is asinine in the extreme.

J-D, nothing more here either, please. I don’t have time for this kind of thing. I’ll leave the above as representing my response also, and request no further responses to J-D on this point. – JQ

47

bad Jim 02.17.21 at 6:10 am

RichardM @ 35, “All activities, including war, have to be very deadly indeed before a certain type of person stops considering them a valid form of recreation.”

made me laugh out loud.

“Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

48

Adam Roberts 02.17.21 at 6:46 am

To read H G Wells’s journalism in the immediate aftermath of WW1 (for instance: the London Daily Mail sent him to the USA to cover the Washington Naval Conference on disarmament, Nov 1921 – Feb 1922), alongside his anticipation-syle prophetic pieces as to where he thought Europe was going through the 20s and 30s, is to be struck by how little he feared German resurgence. He saw other dangers. In particular, French Prime Minister Aristide Briand’s refusal to disarm prompted Wells to warn that France was planning ‘to over-awe Europe’, to dominate the Continent: ‘France is maintaining a vast army in the face of a disarmed world and she is preparing energetically for fresh warlike operations in Europe and for war under sea against Great Britain.’ Olaf Stapledon also predicted war between England and France. My sense is that Foch’s apocryphal comment is bogus with the bogosity of hindsight, and that actual on-the-ground Europeans didn’t start thinking of a ‘renewal’ of WW1 against Germany until well into the 30s.

The Pacific arena is a different matter: as early as 1924 (in A Year of Prophesying) Wells was saying: ‘I do not see how a war between Japan and the United States can be avoided’. That, though, is a more logical extrapolation of conflicting spheres of influence, I’d say.

49

Tm 02.17.21 at 3:01 pm

Adam 48: Relevant in this respect seems the Soviet attitude towards Germany. I don’t know whether this is a consensus view but some historians say that Stalin was so unprepared towards Germany because he considered Poland (let that sink in!) the greater threat for the SU. And in fact Poland had given the Red Army a bloody nose in the 1920s and territorial disputes betrween those countries were far closer to home than the perceived German expansionist ambitions of the 1920s and early 1930s. It seems that Stalin really didn’t expect Hitler to break the treaty and move against the Soviet Union after the division of Poland between Hitler and Stalin.

50

Tm 02.17.21 at 3:44 pm

From the point of view of the Western allies and of Germany, both wars appear similar:
both were driven by German hegemonic ambitions, both times the allies won and Germany lost.

But from almost everybody else’s perspective, they look quite different. The outcome of the first war was the disintegration of the land empires. The second war revised that outcome and resurrected the Russian Empire in even stronger form. That revision was itself revised in the 1990s. Today, the map of Europe looks a lot more like it had in 1918 than in 1945.

51

nastywoman 02.17.21 at 5:35 pm

and about:
”it struck me that the ‘interwar’ period 1919-39 would better be described as a 20-year armistice”.
– while the period 1919-39 would better be described as a 20-years: ”Hedonism, sex and fear” –
(as the Guardian once titled)
explaining why ”Weimar Republic” is STILL ”en vogue”…
and as we just prepare another film about ”the Roaring Twenties” –
who in the world? –
besides a 74 year old French ”Marshal” – would call Josephines ”Un vent de folie” dancing in a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace –
in 1927 –

”armistice”???!

52

Tm 02.18.21 at 7:56 am

24: “World Wars I and II are best thought of as another great European civil war.”

How does the civil war concept apply to WWI? Where is the ideological, intrasociety component of that war? It would make more sense to apply that concept to the Napoleonic wars – liberal intellectuals across Europe sympathized with Napoleon – but nobody seems to have done that.

53

Peter T 02.18.21 at 11:34 am

@52
“How does the civil war concept apply to WWI?”

Two domestic factors driving Berlin, Vienna and St Petersburg in particular to war in 1914 were nationalism and ‘socialism’ (the demands of the industrial working classes – sometimes allied with rural labour). The socialists of the Second International thought that working class solidarity across boundaries would prevent war – and elites feared that they were right. More immediately, in Vienna – and even more in Budapest and Berlin – war was seen as as a way of consolidating existing power structures sufficiently to enable a staatsstreich’ an internal coup against the socialists. The Kaiser was fond of scribbling “First the French, then the Socialists” on memoranda (sometimes he reversed the order). In St Petersburg, the regime was shaky, and could not afford to alienate the slavophile and fervently nationalist urban middle classes – small in number but very influential – which it saw as its bulwark against peasant and proletarian discontent. Hence its refusal to back down against German demands (Dominic Lieven is very good on this). And, of course, the minority nationalist demands cut across boundaries, and were often in mutual sympathy – where their claims did not conflict.

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