The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End

The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to EndThe Vanquished by Robert Gerwarth
ISBN: 9780374537180
on November 7, 2017
Genres: History, Europe, General, Military, World War I, Modern, 20th Century, Tomlinson
Pages: 464

Times Literary Supplement Best Book of 2016

If it is true, as they say, that the victors write the history, then our understanding of World War I and the century that followed is at the very least incomplete. Take, for example, the seemingly basic question of when the war ended. The standard date–November 11, 1918–privileges the experiences of the victors, most notably France, Great Britain and the United States, all of which use it as a time for national holidays based on war memorialization.

At issue is more than simple semantics or the preferences of pedantic historians. … Robert Gerwarth cites German veteran and writer of Storm of Steel Ernst Jünger, who said in 1928, “This war is not the end but the beginning of violence.” Thus, we can understand the “First World War” as not having truly ended until at least 1945 or perhaps even 1991 when the Soviet Union, itself a product of the war, finally collapsed. Even discussing the war in terms of winners and losers misses the point. With the possible exception of the United States and Japan, all states came out of the war far worse off than when they went in—and the people of Europe knew it.

In his epilogue, Gerwarth notes that by the late 1930s only two of the new post-1918 states, Finland and Czechoslovakia, looked anything like the liberal democracies that were once supposed to be the basis of Europe’s future. By 1939 there were, in fact, fewer people living under democracies than had been the case in 1914. Violence and dehumanization (with Jews as a particular target across central and eastern Europe) had become the norm in many of the new regimes. Thus does Gerwarth make clear the need to understand two often forgotten legacies of this period: that the process of ending World War I was just as traumatic as the war itself and that even in total wars, the vanquished still play a critical role.

Abridged from the review by Michael Neiberg published on October 4, 2017 on the Lawfare: National Security and Law website

Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I

Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War IPershing's Crusaders: The American Soldier in World War I by Richard Faulkner
ISBN: 0700623736
Published by University Press of Kansas on March 17, 2017
Genres: Tomlinson
Pages: 784

Richard Faulkner’s incredible work on the doughboys of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) is imminently timely. …an extremely well researched and detailed account written by an Army veteran and World War I scholar…. It is based on the models of Bell Irvin Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank, which makes it very readable and interesting…

Faulkner traces the steps of soldiers from their basic training until their discharge from active service. What should be readily apparent is that two million men of the AEF had two million perspectives of their experiences. While there are commonalities, the reader finds that each doughboy experienced something different as units were formed, broken apart, reformed, deployed, retrained, committed to action, committed to occupation duty, and then redeployed in different situations. Amazingly, most of this happened in the span of just over two years.

The Herculean efforts to raise, train, deploy, operate, and redeploy a huge force on very short timelines is a tribute to American know-how and ingenuity. What is also apparent is the total unpreparedness of the U.S. Army to fight in a modern, industrialized war. Faulkner covers the “down-side” of the doughboys’ experiences as well. The lack of trained leaders, the reliance on British and French trainers, the use of British and French armaments, and the complete unpreparedness to deal with chemical warfare are but a few of the issues covered….

Pershing’s Crusaders superbly adds to the body of knowledge regarding American soldiers and marines in World War I.

Abridged from the book review by Lt. Col. Edwin L. Kennedy Jr., U.S. Army, Retired and is reprinted with the permission of Military Review, the Professional Journal of the US Army, Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was originally published in the June 2017 Military Review Online Book Review.