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

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War

The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World WarThe Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War by Samuel Hynes
ISBN: 0374278008
on October 21, 2014
Genres: Aviation
Pages: 336

My initial impression of this book by its cover, was pretty skeptical. Was it one more book about famous aces, rehashing the stories that have been told many times before? Was it one of the flood of books written quickly to cash in on the WW1 centennial? After reading just a couple dozen pages, however, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I had been. This is an incredibly insightful overview of what it was like to be an American pilot in the First World War. It is not simply a repeat of war stories. Using the writings of many individuals, Hynes describes the pilots’ prewar lives, their civilian and military flight training, their reactions to living in foreign countries, their time in combat, and how their experiences affected their lives afterward if they survived.

The author takes full advantage of his experience as a young pilot in WW2 to describe what the WW1 young men went through and what they thought about it. This level of understanding enables him to share these insights with his readers.

One example among many will suffice to illustrate this. Hynes comments (p.212) on the common phenomenon of pilots being disgusted by their hometown newspapers’ exaggerated accounts of events in which they participated: “Pilots know that the newspaper version will miss the important details: the roles the other pilots on the patrol played, and what the Boche did, and the weather, and the way luck enters in, and fear, and nerves. Civilians won’t get it right… And so pilots at the front withdraw into their pilots’ world, where there are other young men like themselves who understand the contingencies of combat….”

One of the other joys of this book is how Hynes puts the actions and attitudes of these young pilots into their historical, cultural, and socio-economic contexts. In reading it, you start to understand for the first time how their views were shaped by such factors as contemporary concepts of manhood; an upper-class, Ivy League background (for many); grandfathers who were Civil War veterans; etc. Hynes submerges you in the American life of the turn of the last century and the result is fascinating.

The raw material for this excellent book consisted of the first-person writings of over 60 individual pilots. As I was reading, it occurred to me that a hundred writers could have started with the same raw material but that probably none of them would have interpreted it with the same insight and brilliance. Whether this will be your first exposure to World War One aviation or you’ve already read dozens of books on the subject, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA. This is only the second time he has awarded a book five stars on an review.

New York Times: “…both thrilling and poignant…

The Washington Post: “A terrific book.”

Kirkus Review: “…a marvelously fluid narrative.

First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power

First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World PowerFirst Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power by Warren Zimmermann
ISBN: 9780374179397
on 2002
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Reference, History, Military, United States, 19th Century
Pages: 562

Len's Summary: The author was a Foreign Service officer, our last Ambassador to Yugoslavia. He passed away in 2003. Zimmermann analyses America’s emergence onto the world stage through the careers of five friends and political allies: Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge. All but Mahan (a naval officer) were involved in national politics. the firm basis for the internationally activist administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and their successors that marked the American Century. Stongly Recommended.