The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923
'This war is not the end but the beginning of violence. It is the forge in which the world will be hammered into new borders and new communities. New molds want to be filled with blood, and power will be wielded with a hard fist.' Ernst Junger (1918) For the Western allies 11 November 1918 has always been a solemn date - the end of fighting which had destroyed a generation, and also a vindication of a terrible sacrifice with the total collapse of their 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 this highly original, gripping book 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 which proved so ruinous to Europe's future, but the devastating aftermath, as countries on both sides of the original conflict were wrecked by revolution, pogroms, mass expulsions and further major military clashes. If the War itself had in most places been a struggle purely between state-backed soldiers, these new conflicts were mainly about civilians and paramilitaries, and millions of people died across central, eastern, and south-eastern Europe before the USSR and a series of rickety and exhausted small new states came into being. Everywhere there were vengeful people, their lives racked by a murderous sense of injustice, and looking for the opportunity to take retribution against enemies real and imaginary. Only a decade later, the rise of the Third Reich and other totalitarian states provided them with the opportunity they had been looking for.
This narrative of continent-wide chaos makes it easier to understand why order came to seem a supremely desirable objective in 1930s Europe, trumping freedom ... it helps us understand why few wars reach tidy conclusions: once a society has suspended its instinctive, social and legal prejudice against killing, it often proves hard to restore. -- Max Hastings The Sunday Times Gerwarth fills The Vanquished with illuminating quotations and stories that pull together a complex narrative about the uneasy peace of the late Twenties and shine a piercing light into darkened corners of history ... The Vanquished is an unnerving reminder of how stubbornly some geopolitical fault-lines endure -- Sinclair McKay The Telegraph A mixture of fast-paced narrative and fluent analysis of the turmoil that unfolded in the lands of the four shattered empires, as well as Greece and Italy, either side of the November 1918 armistice on the western front. Gerwarth demonstrates with an impressive concentration of detail that in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe the carnage of the first world war by no means came to an end, as it did for the British and French, in late 1918. -- Tony Barber Financial Times Gerwarth has synthesized an enormous range of primary and secondary sources in half a dozen languages. Combining a big-picture overview with close-up detail - we hear the voices of soldiers, politicians, civilians - Gerwarth has written a vivid if disturbing account of a crucial period in 20th century history -- Matthew Price National Searing and vivid ... a timely reminder that the roots of century-long violence can be traced back to the cataclysmic end of the Great War -- Richard Overy Literary Review A thorough explanation for the rise of the nationalist and fascist groups who set the stage for World War II. Kirkus Reviews Gerwarth's fascinating and finely crafted book is a rich combination of military, political, cultural and social history. He makes good use of literary sources and witness testimony to bring the events he narrates to life ... an impressive work of highly accessible scholarship -- Geoffrey Roberts Irish Times This is an important and compelling book with a fascinating and chilling narrative ... Gerwarth reveals how the forgotten postwar violence comprised a key step on Europe's descent into darkness. -- Alexander Watson BBC History Magazine While Gerwarth's warfare theories are cogent and convincing, he never loses sight of the human dimension. He skillfully avoids the danger of getting bogged down in a mass of detail, livening up his narrative by using contemporary quotes from politicians, soldiers and writers. One mark of a good history book is that it allows the reader to see familiar events from a new perspective. In this respect, The Vanquished is an exceptional history book. -- Andrew Lynch Sunday Post Business Magazine [Gerwarth] shines a light on what is, from a western European point of view, a somewhat obscure and relatively short period of time ... from the layman's vantage point, it is so well written that it reads like a novel. Tragically, for the people killed, wounded and forced to flee from their homes, it is not. This book is well worth the read. -- Frank MacGabhann Irish Independent This fine and timely study makes a compelling case for the argument that the bloody aftermath of the war did more to destroy European civilisation than the declarations of war in 1914 ... at a time when Vladimir Putin seems intent on regaining Tsarist Russia's frontiers, and the map of the Middle East drawn by the victorious powers becomes ever more blurred, we might well ask whether the First World War has ended yet. -- A.W. Purdue Times Higher Education Supplement A clear and excellent account of the abrupt break-up of the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Ottoman and Romanov empires and the difficult birth of their successor states during 1917-23 History of War Reviews This is difficult, often horrifying reading, but Gerwarth provides an essential contribution to our understanding of the interwar years. -- Jay Freeman Booklist
Robert Gerwarth is Professor of Modern History at University College Dublin and Director of its Centre for War Studies. He is the author of The Bismarck Myth and a biography of Reinhard Heydrich. He has studied and taught in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.