A scholar who has written often about 20th-century warfare (In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War, 2005, etc.) returns with a comprehensive account of the many effects of World War I.
Reynolds’ (International History/Cambridge Univ.) theses are more intriguing than complicated. Although he reminds us continually of the dire human costs of the Great War—tens of thousands of soldiers died in the initial hour at the Battle of the Somme—his focus remains on how the war affected the principal combatants, especially his native England. England, he argues, entered the war not due to any threat of invasion or attack but for what he characterizes as moral reasons. He also reminds us that the United States entered the war very late (the spring of 1917) and did so not out of fear of attack (though some did occur on the seas) but also for moral reasons. Reynolds shows how the great prewar empires imploded during and after the war; the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, for example, and the consequent redrawing of maps in the Middle East have had enduring effects to the present moment. Reynolds also looks at the arts during and after the war—poetry (especially those wonderful British poets like Sassoon and Owen), fiction and film. Similarly, he examines how the various combatants honored their warriors, fallen and otherwise, and shows how countries dealt with the recent deaths of the war’s final veterans. He charts, as well, the involvement of Australia; shows how the war affected relations between England and Ireland (and Northern Ireland); and examines how the war affected the writing of history in various countries. We also see how the term “Great War” became “World War I.”
A lifetime of scholarship informs this highly readable analysis of what the author calls “the forgotten conflict.”