The Troubling Legacy of World War I

Book Review:  The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, Robert Gerwarth, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 464 pages.

By John C. McKay - Posted at The American Conservative:


Image from Wikimedia Commons


A hundred years ago this month, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war against Wilhelmine Germany. Two pivotal events, dire in their execution and pernicious in their consequences, bracketed U.S. entry into the First World War: the Russian Revolution of March 8, 1917, resulting in the abdication of Czar Nicholas II; and later that year, Vladimir Lenin’s nearly bloodless coup d’état against the newly formed Provisional Government, an event ever since immortalized as the October Revolution. The ruinous burdens of fighting an unwinnable war, increasingly crippling social unrest, the despoiling of the norms of civic order, and disintegration of the Czarist conscript military compelled Lenin to accept the Armistice of Brest-Litovsk on December 15, 1917, effectively ending Russia’s role in World War I.

Robert Gerwarth succinctly describes howthese three events precipitated in no small part the end of the First World War. The armistice of November 11, 1918 (based significantly on President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points”) led to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference—described elsewhere by Lord Bryce as “where negotiations might have done so much good, and have done so much evil”—and the signing the same year of a peace treaty with Germany. The effects of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and follow-on draconian peace settlements with the other defeated belligerents, continue to linger still with less than salubrious consequences.

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