Legitimate Violence

James Sheehan

  • The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-23 by Robert Gerwarth
    Allen Lane, 446 pp, £10.99, June 2017, ISBN 978 0 14 197637 2

The First World War was decided on the Western Front where, after the failure of Ludendorff’s spring offensive in 1918, the German army’s ability to fight finally collapsed under the combined weight of Britain, France and the United States. But while the war was won (it might be more accurate to say, lost) in the west, its immediate origins and most lasting consequences were in the east, where the echoes of this great calamity can still be heard. We need only compare Europe’s geopolitical landscape in 1914 with the present: the map of western and northern Europe has not substantially changed (the exception is the creation of the Republic of Ireland), whereas east of the Rhine a new set of states has emerged, many of them created in the aftermath of the war. This was the political order made by and for the war’s losers, the vanquished who are the subject of Robert Gerwarth’s fine book.

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