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Europe in the Era of Two World Wars

Europe in the Era of Two World Wars: From Militarism and Genocide to Civil Society, 1900-1950

Volker R. Berghahn
Copyright Date: 2006
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7rngt
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rngt
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    Europe in the Era of Two World Wars
    Book Description:

    How and why did Europe spawn dictatorships and violence in the first half of the twentieth century, and then, after 1945 in the west and after 1989 in the east, create successful civilian societies? In this book, Volker Berghahn explains the rise and fall of the men of violence whose wars and civil wars twice devastated large areas of the European continent and Russia--until, after World War II, Europe adopted a liberal capitalist model of society that had first emerged in the United States, and the beginnings of which the Europeans had experienced in the mid-1920s.

    Berghahn begins by looking at how the violence perpetrated in Europe's colonial empires boomeranged into Europe, contributing to the millions of casualties on the battlefields of World War I. Next he considers the civil wars of the 1920s and the renewed rise of militarism and violence in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929. The second wave of even more massive violence crested in total war from 1939 to 1945 that killed more civilians than soldiers, and this time included the industrialized murder of millions of innocent men, women, and children in the Holocaust. However, as Berghahn concludes, the alternative vision of organizing a modern industrial society on a civilian basis--in which people peacefully consume mass-produced goods rather than being 'consumed' by mass-produced weapons--had never disappeared. With the United States emerging as the hegemonic power of the West, it was this model that finally prevailed in Western Europe after 1945 and after the end of the Cold War in Eastern Europe as well.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3261-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    On 31 December 1899, the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century were celebrated all over Europe. The decades that had just come to a close had brought a turn for the better in large parts of the European continent and the British Isles. This at least was how it appeared to newspaper columnists and essayists, to the speakers and audiences at the New Year’s celebrations. There were splendid fireworks and church bells rang in the new century.

    There was much that the Europeans could look back on with some pride. Industrialization had advanced impressively....

  2. CHAPTER ONE Europe before World War I, 1895-1914
    (pp. 7-32)

    Considering its political, economic, and sociocultural consequences, it is no surprise that World War I has been called the “primordial catastrophe” (Urkatastrophe) of the twentieth century.¹ In the light of what happened during the war and in the two decades after its end in 1918, the escalation of physical violence presents historians with great problems, and to this day they are struggling to find plausible explanations. Europe had not seen mass death on such a scale since the Thirty Years War of the seventeenth century. Millions of people perished, not to mention the destruction of material assets in a wave...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Violence Unleashed, 1914-1923
    (pp. 33-57)

    Scholarship on the outbreak of World War I had long been dominated by the view that all European nations slid over the brink into the abyss almost without realizing what was happening to them. In the 1960s, the Hamburg University historian Fritz Fischer once again raised a question that had been asked soon after 1918 by scholars on the Allied side: should the German government bear exclusive responsibility for the outcome of the July Crisis of 1914? His arguments triggered a vigorous international debate and stimulated a wave of fresh and in-depth research. Feeling that the Fischer debate focused too...

  4. CHAPTER THREE Recivilization and Its Failure, 1924-1935
    (pp. 58-81)

    The years of relative stability that, from 1924 onward, followed the world war and subsequent civil wars indicate that twentieth-century European history was not a one-way street of escalating violence. As before 1914, there were two avenues along which the region might develop. The first one led to a society geared toward the production of the weapons of industrialized warfare and the creation of a warrior regime whose campaigns devoured millions of human beings; at the end of the second road lay a society which, within a civilian constitutional framework, peacefully consumed the goods that its industries mass produced.

    There...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR Violence without Bounds, 1935-1945
    (pp. 82-129)

    Ernst Jünger’sDer Arbeiterof 1932 was preceded two years earlier by his “The Total Mobilization,” an essay that anticipated many of the positions underlying the book. In the essay the author first discussed “a few data. . . that differentiate the last war—our war, the greatest and most lasting event of our time—from other wars whose history has been transmitted to us.” In that war, he continued, “the relationship which the individual partners had to technology had to play a decisive role.” Indeed it is here that “the actual moral factor of this period is to be...

  6. CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 130-142)

    The Defeat of the Axis Powers first appeared on the horizon in the winter of 1941–42. The lightning war against the Soviet Union that was supposed to be won by the fall ran up against the determined resistance of the Red Army, while the U.S. entry into the war with its superior industrial potential shifted the balance of forces so decisively that an Allied victory was assured. Moreover, there was also an element of self-defeat, certainly with respect to Germany, whose leaders pursued their racist reordering policy with a fanaticism that undermined the purely military war effort.

    It is...