World War I: The Global RevolutionBy Lawrence Sondhaus, Ph.D.560 pages, 49 illustrations, 14 mapsCambridge University Presswww.cambridge.org
Newswise — A small-scale act of terror sparks conflict around the world, with great empires racing to perfect the technology of mass homicide. In the end, the global power structure is subverted, and longstanding cultural patterns undergo a seismic shift.
The 1914-1918 conflagration we now call World War I may be overshadowed by more recent conflicts, but it remains a crucial turning point in human history, a catalyst for the sweeping social changes of the 20th century, and the root of tensions that still trouble us today.
Professor Lawrence Sondhaus, chair of the Department of History & Political Science at the University of Indianapolis, offers a fresh and wide-ranging look at the war and its ongoing impact in his new book, "World War I: The Global Revolution," published by Cambridge University Press.
What distinguishes this effort from most accounts of the war is Sondhaus’ expertise in the military history of Germany and Austria-Hungary, the once-mighty imperial powers at the heart of the conflict. His previous books, for example, include two volumes on the Austrian navy alone.
Therefore, while most English-language histories of World War I focus on the Western Front and grueling battles in the French countryside, this book – accessible to the general reader – gives equal weight to the war’s Eastern Front and its long-distance fallout in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, where battling nations attacked each other’s colonies and forced the locals into service as porters and combatants.
“You have enormous numbers of people fighting and dying in Africa,” Sondhaus says. “Darfur is in the book. Somalia is in the book.”
Among other surprising facts that emerge in the narrative:• Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, later targeted for extermination by the Nazis, actually welcomed German troops as liberators during World War I.• Vietnamese conscripts fought for the French army on the Balkan front, and Ho Chi Minh emerged on the world stage during the Paris peace talks. The failure of the Allies to grant more autonomy to their colonies led him to embrace Leninist communism.• The Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918, spanning the last seven weeks of the war, remains the bloodiest battle in U.S. military history, with 117,000 American casualties including 26,000 killed.
World War I was the first to be fought by land, sea and air, using tanks, trucks, ships, submarines, airplanes and even zeppelins, which the Germans used to conduct high-altitude raids on French and British targets. The indiscriminate bombing of London, along with well-documented massacres in the European countryside, signaled that even civilian communities were part of the modern battlefield.
“That was a new moral barrier that was crossed,” Sondhaus says.
An often-overlooked player is the tiny kingdom of Serbia, whose territorial ambitions fueled the assassination that sparked the war – an unsophisticated effort involving a 19-year-old triggerman. In the wake of the conflict, Serbians came out on top as leaders of the new, larger nation of Yugoslavia.
“Terrorism pays off for Serbia,” Sondhaus says. “There’s this very ambitious small country that’s setting the whole place on fire to achieve its own goals.”
The “revolution” of the book’s title refers to the cascade of change that touched nearly every field of human endeavor in the war’s aftermath.
In terms of political geography, the conflict ended powerful European and Turkish empires, fueled the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, spawned a wave of colonial independence movements and left the United States as the world’s top military and economic power.
In terms of everyday life, the war had a transformative impact on labor issues, race relations and gender roles in the Western world. In its immediate wake, for example, American women gained the right to vote and tested social mores as the flappers of the Jazz Age.
One aspect of the story that lingers in Sondhaus’ mind is the horror of ill-prepared soldiers encountering poison gas, machine guns and other frightening new tools of industrialized war. He disputes the tendency to blame the bloodshed on stubbornness and incompetence among the war’s generals, saying that the pace of technological innovation was simply too fast for anyone to keep up.
“The thing that fascinates me about World War I is just how much of the carnage is trial-and-error warfare,” he says. “They were just making it up as they went along.”
Advance praise for "World War I: The Global Revolution":
“Here is a global history of a global war. This volume is particularly useful on the Central Powers, and on the way in which the revolutionary currents unleashed by the war swept away all three of the empires – German, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish – who challenged Britain, France, Italy and Russia for dominance of the international order. The fact that the Russian empire followed the path to collapse reinforces Sondhaus’s claim that the Great War introduced a revolutionary wave in Europe which in time swept over the rest of the world.”– Jay Winter, Yale University
“This provocative analysis convincingly presents World War I as both a global war and a global revolution. Alike in military, political, cultural and intellectual contexts the Great War generated a broad spectrum of responses to the same set of experiences. All of them, however, contributed to a paradigm shift: a fundamental redefinition of what societies and individuals could be coaxed, cozened, or compelled to endure without breaking. A revolution indeed – one whose legacy still shapes headlines.”– Dennis Showalter, Colorado College
“Lawrence Sondhaus has set out to provide a new history of the First World War that draws on the latest scholarship, but yet remains accessible. He has succeeded admirably in his task and, as a distinguished scholar of Austria-Hungary, is able constantly to remind his readers that this was a global conflict, and not one fought exclusively on the Western Front. Special sections examining the personal experience of war, as well as the key historiographical debates, also enliven the text for the general reader.”– Ian F. W. Beckett, University of Kent