The vanquished Why the First World War failed to end

Robert Gerwarth

Book - 2016

"A pathbreaking account of the continuing ethnic and state violence after the end of WWI-- conflicts that more than anything else set the stage for WWII"--

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2nd Floor 940.314/Gerwarth Due Jun 11, 2022
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2016.
First American edition
Item Description
"Originally published in 2016 by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, Great Britain"--Title-page verso.
Physical Description
446 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Robert Gerwarth (author)
  • Defeat. A train journey in spring ; Russian revolutions ; Brest-Litovsk ; A taste of victory ; Reversals of fortune
  • Revolution and counter-revolution. No end to war ; The Russian civil wars ; The apparent triumph of democracy ; Radicalization ; Fear of Bolshevism and the rise of Fascism
  • Imperial collapse. Pandora's box : Paris and the problem of empire ; Reinventing East-central Europe ; Vae victis ; Fiume ; From Smyrna to Lausanne
  • The "post-war" and Europe's mid-century crisis.
Review by Booklist Reviews

On November 11, 1918, the "guns fell silent" as an armistice officially ended the fighting in what was then called the Great War. But, as historian Gerwarth illustrates, the slaughter and massive dislocation continued well into the following decade in central, eastern, and southern Europe. By 1918, the great European empires—Russia, Austro-Hungary, and Ottoman Turkey—had collapsed. These multiethnic, multilingual anachronisms were oppressive and inherently unstable, yet they kept the lid on a welter of seething hopes, resentments, and hatred that now boiled over. The most massive of these explosions of violence was in Russia, where civil war pitted Whites against the Bolsheviks. Greeks, Turks, various southern Slavic groups, and German-speaking communities also went after each other, motivated by religion, ultra-nationalism, or political hostility, both with conventional armies and, more commonly, within small towns and villages where mixed ethnic and religious populations fought each other. Sadly, the end of these struggles was no end at all as WWII loomed. This is difficult, often horrifying reading, but Gerwarth provides an essential contribution to our understanding of the interwar years. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

In this thoroughly researched, well-organized book, Gerwarth (Univ. College Dublin) contends that the phrase "interwar years" is grossly misleading as applied to Europe between the two world wars. Rather, the continent, and, more specifically, those nations on the losing side of the war, suffered continuing bloodshed, destruction, and dislocation on a scale that made these regions "the most violent place on earth" between 1918 and 1923. Rebutting Churchill's dismissive contention of these conflicts as merely "wars of the pygmies," Gerwarth notes that "well over four million people" died during these years. This catastrophe, Gerwarth asserts, grew out of three types of conflict: battles between national armies in the successor states, widespread civil wars, and the political violence growing out of social and national revolutions. Postwar violence was increasingly unrestrained because those involved saw these conflicts as existential. Gerwarth also challenges the traditional understanding of the "brutalization thesis," arguing that Europeans were "brutalized" not so much by the horrors of trench warfare as by the circumstances in which the war ended for the losers. Defeat, imperial collapse, and revolutionary turmoil provided the grounds for the appalling inhumanities of these years. Though the violence receded between 1924 and 1929, the issues that spawned it remained unresolved. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.--B. T. Browne, emeritus Broward CollegeBlaine T. Browneemeritus Broward College Blaine T. Browne Choice Reviews 54:08 April 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Historian Gerwarth (modern history, Univ. Coll. Dublin; Hitler's Hangman) writes an accessible and astute account of the interwar period, specifically the post-World War I years between 1918 and 1923. The author effectively details changes in violence after the end of World War I as postwar Europe devolved into interstate wars between Poland and the Soviet Union, Greece and Turkey, and Romania and Hungary along with several civil wars (e.g., Finland, Ireland, and Germany). The result of this bloodshed emerged in the 1920s as two radically different ideologies, Bolshevism and Facism, both of which led to violence in several countries such as the Red Terror in Russia and the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy. Gerwarth succeeds in describing the sectarian violence, economic insecurity, and blame of "the other" (more often than not, Jewish communities) that was born out of the Great War and led to an even bloodier battle. Readers of European history will find much to contemplate. VERDICT This work does not have the glamour of World War theater, but it adequately provides an important bridge between two massive conflicts that still resonate with us today.—Keith Klang, Port Washington P.L., NY. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this controversial, persuasive, and impressively documented book, Gerwarth (Hitler's Hangman), professor of modern history at University College Dublin, analyzes a war that was supposed to end war, yet was followed by "no peace, only continuous violence." The war's nature changed in its final years: Russia underwent a revolution, and the Western Allies committed themselves to breaking up the continental empires. The postwar violence was "more ungovernable" than the state-legitimated version of the preceding century. Gerwarth establishes his case in three contexts. The Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, enjoyed a taste of victory in the winter of 1917–18, only to suffer the shock of seeing their military, political, and diplomatic positions quickly collapse. Russia's revolution immersed Eastern Europe in what seemed a "forever war" of only fleeting democratic triumphs. Fear of Bolshevism in turn stimulated the rise of fascism. And the Versailles negotiations proved unable to control the collapse of prewar empires, much less guide their reconstruction along proto-Wilsonian lines. The period of relative stability after 1923 was a function of exhaustion rather than reconstruction, Gerwarth ruefully notes, and by 1929 Europe was "plunging back once again into crisis and violent disorder" that set the stage for the Great War's second round. Maps & illus. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A pathbreaking account of the continuing ethnic and state violence after the end of WWI--conflicts that more than anything else set the stage for WWII"--Provided by publisher.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An account of the ethnic and state violence that followed the end of World War I explores how countries on both sides of the original conflict suffered major military clashes that cost millions of lives.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A groundbreaking account of the ethnic and state violence that followed the end of World War I and shaped the course of the 20th century explores how countries on both sides of the original conflict suffered revolutions, pogroms, mass expulsions and major military clashes that cost millions of lives.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Winner of the Tomlinson Book Prize
A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2016

An epic, groundbreaking account of the ethnic and state violence that followed the end of World War I—conflicts that would shape the course of the twentieth century.

For the Western Allies, November 11, 1918, has always been a solemn date—the end of fighting that had destroyed a generation, but also a vindication of a terrible sacrifice with the total collapse of the principal enemies: the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. But for much of the rest of Europe this was a day with no meaning, as a continuing, nightmarish series of conflicts engulfed country after country.

In The Vanquished, a highly original and gripping work of history, Robert Gerwarth asks us to think again about the true legacy of the First World War. In large part it was not the fighting on the Western Front that proved so ruinous to Europe’s future, but the devastating aftermath, as countries on both sides of the original conflict were savaged by revolutions, pogroms, mass expulsions, and further major military clashes. In the years immediately after the armistice, millions would die across central, eastern, and southeastern Europe before the Soviet Union and a series of rickety and exhausted small new states would come into being. It was here, in the ruins of Europe, that extreme ideologies such as fascism would take shape and ultimately emerge triumphant.

As absorbing in its drama as it is unsettling in its analysis, The Vanquished is destined to transform our understanding of not just the First World War but the twentieth century as a whole.