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

By Roger Chickering; Stig Förster | Go to book overview

5

No More Peace
The Militarization of Politics

JAMES M. DIEHL

On November 11, 1918, World War I came to an end. Although the guns fell silent on the western front, military violence continued. Border wars, civil wars, and armed uprisings became endemic. In addition to such traditional forms of military violence, a new phenomenon emerged and became a hallmark of the interwar years: street violence produced by clashes between the "political soldiers" of opposing social and political "fronts." If in international terms the interwar years represented an era of cold war between defenders and opponents of the order created at the Paris Peace Conference, in domestic terms it was an era of civil war, open and latent, between the (primarily Marxist) left and the (primarily bourgeois) right. Interwar domestic politics opened not with the end of the First World War in 1918 but with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and closed not with the beginning of the Second World War but with its end.1 If before 1914 war was the continuation of politics by other means, after 1917 politics became a continuation of war by other means, politics in a new, martial key.2


I

There were a number of reasons for the postwar militarization of politics. War surplus made the hardware readily available. Arms were ubiquitous,

1 Although the Spanish Civil War came to an end in March 1939, elsewhere the interwar civil wars
continued after September 1939 as wars within a war: in the west, this took the form of collabo-
ration versus resistance; in the east, it was played out between contending factions within resistance
movements. Cf. Paul Preston, "The Great Civil War: European Politics, 1914–1945," in The Oxford
Illustrated History of Modern Europe
, ed. T. C. W. Blanning (Oxford, 1998).

2 One of the most direct manifestations of this process was the European-wide–indeed, worldwide–
emergence of bourgeois militia and civic guard organizations to combat the left. For an insight
into this mentality, see the protocol of the meeting hosted by the Swiss Bürgerwehren in Lucerne on
November 29–30, 1920, to establish an international information center for civic guards. Bayerisches
Hauptstaatsarchiv (BHSA), Allgemeines Abteilung, 66159.

-97-

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