The Never Ending War
Irish historian Robert Gerwarth certainly proves George Kennan’s notion that World War I was “the seminal catastrophe of this century.” To most of us in the West World War I ended on November 11, 1918. However in the East the war would rage on through 1923 and even today nearly a century later we remain prisoner of the forces it unleashed.
He also confirms the view of Ian Kershaw in his “To Hell and Back…..” that the Russian Revolution, an outgrowth of the war, paved the way for fascism by dividing the Left and hardening the Right. We see that at the outset where communists under the leadership of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht die in their attempt to seize power in 1919 Berlin. Similarly an attempt to form a Munich Soviet fails in that year as well. Put simply the Social Democratic government relied on the rightest Freicorps to put down the rebellion. In its aftermath Munich would become the festering ground for the rise of the Nazis. In Hungary Bela Kuhn, a communist, temporarily takes power only to be put down by a counter action from the Right. All the while the Russian civil war rages and within that there are the Russo-Polish and Russo-Finnish Wars, so much for the end of violence in November 1918.
For the Jews of Eastern Europe and Germany the situation turns from bad to worse. On top of the latent anti-Semitism that already existed we have the conflation of Jews with communism as much of the communist leadership in Russia, Germany, Austria and Hungary are Jewish. Thus the way was paved to broaden the appeal of anti-Semitism to much of the middle-class.
Where I think Gerwarth breaks new ground I think is in his discussion on the role of Mustapha Kemal’s success on Mussolini and Hitler. Kemal defeated the Greeks in Turkey and undid the toughest settlement against the Central Powers in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres which made Turkey a vassal of the Allies. In Kemal both Hitler and Mussolini saw his success in the ethnic cleansing of the Greek population in Eastern Anatolia by force and his willingness to stand up to the allies so much so that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne completely undid the Treaty of Sevres. By the 1930s those lessons were well learned.
There is much more to Gerwarth’s book. He discusses why Italy ended up on the winning side; it still felt like a loser. And he discusses the chaos in the Balkans that we relived once again in the 1990s. Yes, World War I is still not over. Just look at the Middle East.
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