A unique look at the end of World War I from a vast array of nationalities.
The war was fought by empires and their subjects in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. From the Czechs desperate for their own homeland to the Arabs who gained freedom from the Ottoman Empire, the end of the war delivered fulfillment, postponement, and desperation. Schönpflug (History/Free Univ., Berlin; co-editor: Gender History in a Transnational Perspective: Networks, Biographies, Gender Orders, 2014, etc.) offers a cogent, illuminating narrative based on an astounding amount of research. He includes minutiae such as the birth of the poppy as well as the end of a host of empires—Ottoman, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German—and he deftly incorporates numerous individual reactions to the first days of peace, including that of Harry Truman. As the author ably demonstrates, the conceptions of peace among the Allies were widely varied. France demanded draconian reparations, as opposed to Woodrow Wilson’s lofty ideals. The English and other Europeans, constrained by traditions and their vassals, proposed more viable solutions. Wilson’s Fourteen Points, particularly national self-determination, encouraged people like the Irish, Vietnamese, Indians, Czechs, and Syrians and frightened the empires who guarded their holdings—however, their hope was to be postponed. Germany was without a viable government, and the Allies refused to supply food until there was a democratically elected government. Since Berlin was rife with revolutionary movements, this was nearly impossible. The author also checks in on contemporary artists and writers such as Paul Klee, Georges Grosz, and Virginia Woolf, who all expressed disappointment and rage at the circumstances around them. “Instead of bringing about the peace so passionately longed for,” writes Schönpflug, “the bitter struggle for a better future only brought new violence and claimed millions of new victims.”
A highly thorough yet refreshingly concise examination of the follies and failures of the great peace of Nov. 11, 1918. A must for World War I collections.