The Shadows of Total War: Europe, East Asia, and the United States, 1919-1939

By Roger Chickering; Stig Förster | Go to book overview

3

Plans, Weapons, Doctrines
The Strategic Cultures of Interwar Europe

DENNIS E. SHOWALTER

It may be a canard that armed forces always prepare for the previous war. It is, however, true that certain forces at the end of certain conflicts look back and congratulate themselves. The Prussian army in 1763, the Royal Navy in 1815, the (re-)United States in 1865–all remembered flaws of conceptualization and execution, but each could congratulate itself on its overall performance. World War I, however, was an exception. The defeats had been catastrophic; the victories archetypes of "winning ugly." The military establishments of the Western world looked back on the years since 1914 with a single emotion: Never Again–at least not in the same way!1

International relations were equally dysfunctional. The much-maligned Versailles Treaty and its counterparts were less responsible for that condition than the general lack of restraint that emerged in Europe after 1914.2 Political climates in general had been significantly brutalized by four years of war. The Little Entente; France's network of Eastern European alliances; and Italy's Balkan ambitions encouraged unstable successor states to threaten each other with armies they could not afford. Postwar economic relationships developed in zero-sum contexts well before the Great Depression.3 Great-power policy became the conduct of war by other means. The new Soviet Union regarded itself in a state of war with its capitalist counterparts. Germany and Russia were entirely excluded from the peace negotiations.

1 See the contributions to Military Effectiveness, vol. 2:The Interwar Period, ed. Allan Millett and
Williamson Murray (Boston, 1988); and Williamson Murray and Allan Millett, eds., Military Innovation
in the Interwar Period
(Cambridge, 1996).

2 On the treaties and their consequences, see particularly Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman,
and Elisabeth Glaser, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years (New York, 1998).

3 Cf. Gyorgy Ranki, Economy and Foreign Policy: The Struggle of the Great Powers for Hegemony in the
Danube Valley, 1919–1939
(New York, 1983); and Steven A. Schuker, The End of French Predominance
in Europe: The Financial Crisis of 1924 and the Adoption of the Dawes Plan
(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976).
David A. Kaiser, Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France,
and Eastern Europe, 1930–1939
(Princeton, N.J., 1980), carries the story forward.

-55-

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