Thoroughgoing study of the year that gave at least a hint of promise that World War I would indeed be the war to end all wars.
By 1917, writes Stevenson (International History/London School of Economics; With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918, 2011, etc.), the fighting on the western front had bogged down into mutual slaughter. In the battles surrounding Verdun alone, for instance, there were well over 1 million casualties, and the generals kept throwing bodies at the other line without a hope of winning. Even so, the German kaiser and British prime minister, among others, kept at it. Two signal events occurred to shake things up in 1917: the Russian Revolution occurred, soon to remove Russia from the fight, and the United States entered the conflict, pouring men and materiel into combat and ending the stalemate. Before this happened, however, the Central Powers and Allies were desperately seeking ways out of what Stevenson calls the “war trap”—“on one level the story of 1917 is of their efforts to escape it.” But there was no real way out, leading to “the collapse of initiatives for a compromise peace” and the slaughters at Verdun, Caporetto, Passchendaele, and elsewhere. Ironies were attendant; by Stevenson’s account, the U.S. might have done better to continue supplying the Allies with war goods than enter the fight itself, since the war industry lifted the country out of recession into an economic boom, and things might have turned out very differently in the Middle East had German overtures to the Zionist leaders been successful. American entry—which Woodrow Wilson took pains to say was to help France, not Britain—intensified at least some of the slaughter, too, since the German army was determined to break the European Allies before American troops could enter the theater.
Stevenson examines the deeper implications of strategic and diplomatic decisions during the penultimate year of the conflict, casting a new light on events. Of considerable interest to students of the war and its tortuous aftermath.