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The Great War and the Twentieth Century

The Great War and the Twentieth Century

Jay Winter
Geoffrey Parker
Mary R. Habeck
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    The Great War and the Twentieth Century
    Book Description:

    World War I, the first "total war" in history, set in motion profound changes in the economies, demographics, and philosophies of the warring states. In this book, leading experts on the Great War discuss its causes, character, and legacy. Their writings show that to study World War I is to encounter not only the dissolution of the four defeated empires-Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey-but also the collapse of the optimistic assumption of progress that had defined the nineteenth century. The analysis of the Great War, in fact, provides an essential framework for our understanding of the entire twentieth century. The book draws together military history, international history, and cultural history to offer a wide-ranging summary of current knowledge and debate regarding the First World War.Contributors to this volume:Modris Eksteins, Gerald Feldman, William C. Fuller, Jr., Mary R. Habeck, Holger H. Herwig, John Horne, Michael Howard, A. S. Kanya-Forstner, Leonard V. Smith, Zara Steiner, David Stevenson

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14761-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Jay Winter, Geoffrey Parker and Mary R. Habeck

    To this day the First World War remains contested territory: people still care passionately about it and hotly dispute its causes, its character, and its legacies. Studies of the war have therefore grown exponentially. Part of the fascination arises from a general sense of finde-siècle: the events of the early twentieth century are close enough for us to touch, both through our family histories and in a host of more public ways. Moreover, the great ideological and national conflicts ignited in 1914–18 dominated the rest of the century. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the war itself seems both...

  5. Part I The Framework

    • CHAPTER 1 The First World War Reconsidered
      (pp. 13-29)

      Outside Woolsey Hall at Yale University there stands a cenotaph, an empty tomb, bearing the inscription:

      In Memory of the Men of Yale

      Who, True to Her Traditions,

      Gave Their Lives That Freedom

      Might Not Perish from the Earth


      In a nearby corridor the names of the hundreds of young men who gave their lives are inscribed on the walls. Most of them died within a space of three months: September, October, and November 1918. It is as if they had been lining up to get killed, much as their British contemporaries two years earlier had lined up...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Eastern Front
      (pp. 30-68)

      The past twenty years or so have seen an explosion in historical writing about the First World War. In addition to studies of strategy, operations, tactics, and technology there have been examinations of the experience of front-line soldiers, drawing on insights from social psychology and anthropology. There have been investigations of the pressures that war placed on civilians at home and of the social transformations it provoked. And there have been studies of how the war was understood, remembered, and invested with significance. Yet there is a curious feature of much of this distinguished literature: most of it has concentrated...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Politics of the Two Alliances
      (pp. 69-96)

      The First World War was not over by Christmas. If, as in 1870, the war had lasted months rather than in years, 1914 would still have been a benchmark date. But it is hardly likely that it would have signified “the end of the European era.”¹ Despite the German chancellor’s prediction of a “violent, but short storm,” the storm was violent and long. It grew into the first general war, involving all the strongest countries of the day since the fall of Napoleon, and the first ever such war to be fought between industrialized powers. It came closer than any...

  6. Part II The Waging of War

    • CHAPTER 4 Technology in the First World War: The View from Below
      (pp. 99-131)

      The First World War has entered our collective imagination as theMaterielschlacht,the war of machines, a conflict in which the individual soldier was dwarfed by a technology of unparalleled destructiveness. The exponential growth in the lethality of combat came directly from the application of smokeless gunpowder, the machine gun, TNT and other high explosives, heavy artillery, the quick-firing breech-loaded infantry rifle, the submarine, and, not least, the airplane. During the war itself grenades, trench mortars, poison gases, flamethrowers, and tanks were added to this long list of technical “achievements.”¹ Whereas horses and men required the bulk of supplies in...

    • CHAPTER 5 Narrative and Identity at the Front: “Theory and the Poor Bloody Infantry”
      (pp. 132-165)

      A good fifteen years after its inception, the “literary turn” of historical analysis has succeeded to the extent that most historians will now agree that history is about narratives that structure the reality of the past. At the same time, most would agree that historical narratives contain within them an explicit or implicit statement about the makeup of the individuals whose lives history recounts. Historical narratives show what makes individuals function as such, and what they can and cannot do to shape history. It is my purpose here to explore the cultural history of battlefield experience in World War I...

    • CHAPTER 6 Mobilizing Economies for War
      (pp. 166-186)

      In undertaking the task of discussing the economic mobilization of the great belligerents during the First World War, I could not help but remember that this was the subject of the first undergraduate seminar I taught at Berkeley in 1963. I had just finished my dissertation, which was to be published asArmy, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914-1918three years later.¹ I emerged from my work, a genuineFachidiot(that is, a specialist to the point of idiocy) who had forgotten most of what he had studied and who huddled insecurely in the scholarly trench that he had inhabited...

    • CHAPTER 7 Labor and Labor Movements in World War I
      (pp. 187-228)

      World War I occupies a place apart in the history of labor. Site of the defining revolution of the twentieth century, source of the great socialist schism, it has generated charged historiographies in the competing traditions of the left. Many of the issues that feature in those histories remain central—such as the collapse of the Second International, socialist “pacifism,” industrial protest, the two Russian revolutions in 1917, and revolutionary potential elsewhere. Yet it is only recently, thanks to a generation of detailed and less partisan studies of these and other questions, that it has become possible to reintegrate labor...

  7. Part III The Shadow of War

    • CHAPTER 8 The War, Imperialism, and Decolonization
      (pp. 231-262)

      The First World War, Lenin wrote in 1920, had indeed been “imperialistic (that is, an annexationist, predatory, plunderous war) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies, ‘spheres of influence’ of finance capital, etc.”¹ This may have been pitching it a little high; but Lenin’s claim was not totally unfounded. No power, not even Germany, went to war in 1914 specifically for the purpose of expanding its colonial empire.² By then the principal objectives of GermanWeltpolitikwere continental: the creation of a German-dominated economic...

    • CHAPTER 9 The War, the Peace, and the International State System
      (pp. 263-298)

      The peace treaties of 1919 have a bad press.¹ From the time of the peace conference contemporaries and historians have been harsh in their criticisms of the peacemakers. John Maynard Keynes’Economic Consequences of the Peace,it could be argued, had far greater influence on interwar European opinion than his theories had on economic practice. When compared to the Vienna settlement of 1815, the devices contrived for maintaining peace after 1918 have been condemned by all schools of theorists, idealists, realists or neorealists, by anti-theoreticians like the late Sir Harry Hinsley and by historian-practitioners like George Kennan and Henry Kissinger....

    • CHAPTER 10 Of Men and Myths: The Use and Abuse of History and the Great War
      (pp. 299-330)

      Weber’s comment regarding the “poor condition of the logical analysis of history” refocused my thoughts on my article “Clio Deceived,” wherein I posed the question of whether a perverse law operated whereby those events that are most important were hardest to understand because they attracted the greatest attention from mythmakers and charlatans.¹ It also brought to mind John F. Kennedy’s commencement address at Yale University on June 11, 1962, wherein he warned that the “great enemy of truth” all too often was the “myth— persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

      I use the term “myth” not in Joseph Campbell’s sense, whereby myths...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Cultural Legacy of the Great War
      (pp. 331-350)

      While serving in the front line of battle in 1916, Colin Ross, Scottish in name though German in nationality, reflected, “A poet will come who will write the history of this world war, after a few decades, perhaps after a few centuries.” He of course had the existing literary canon in mind: Homer on the Trojan war, Tolstoy on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and perhaps Zola on the French debacle of 1870. Without saying so outright, Ross was suggesting that, despite the contributions of historians, only the poet-artist would in the end be able to cut through the shibboleths of...

  8. Index
    (pp. 351-356)