The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

Synopsis

The peace treaties represented an almost impossible attempt to solve the problems caused by a murderous world war. In The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933, part of the Oxford History of Modern Europe series, Steiner challenges the common assumption that the Treaty of Versailles led to the opening of a second European war. In a radically original way, this book characterizes the 1920s not as a frustrated prelude to a second global conflict but as a fascinating decade in its own right, when politicians and diplomats strove to re-assemble a viable European order. Steiner examines the efforts that failed but also those which gave hope for future promise, many of which are usually underestimated, if not ignored. She shows that an equilibrium was achieved, attained between a partial American withdrawal from Europe and the self-imposed constraints which the Soviet system imposed on exporting revolution. The stabilization painfully achieved in Europe reached it fragile limits after 1925, even prior to the financial crises that engulfed the continent. The hinge years between the great crash of 1929 and Hitler's achievement of power in 1933 devastatingly altered the balance between nationalism and internationalism. This wide-ranging study helps us grasp the decisive stages in this process. In a second volume, The Triumph of the Night , Steiner will examine the immediate lead up to the Second World War and its early years.

Excerpt

This book has been a long time in the making. Too many years have elapsed since I accepted Lord Bullock's invitation to write about European international relations between the two world wars. I started with the intention of trying to understand the tangled international history of the years that led to the crushing of hopes and illusions about the forward progress of European civilization. At the time I believed that it would also be possible and useful to review the literature on the interwar period and update accounts that were in general use some twenty years ago. I hoped to move away from the existing emphasis on western Europe and look at the growing monographic literature on eastern Europe in order to provide a more complete and balanced picture of what was, in my view, a single continent with shared as well as distinct histories. I believed that post-war eras can have distinctive characters of their own and that the 1920s should be treated as a decade which followed an earlier world war, the focus of my previous historical research, rather than, as was common, the precursor of the war that followed. I also wanted to look at some of the questions resulting from the expansion of the field of international history beyond the confines of traditional diplomatic history.

So much has happened during the course of my writing that I have been forced to rethink and rewrite sections of this book. First, the Cold War came to an end and a new epoch in the history of international relations began. The ending came, moreover, without another great war between the two superpowers or an intra-European war of major proportions. Consciously or unconsciously, these contemporary events were bound to affect my perception of the period with which I was dealing. It was only as I was completing this study that I realized how far my own life was marked by the Second World War rather than the events which followed. During the course of my writing I have become acutely conscious of the chronological 'mental maps' that almost all historians carry with them. Reading new books on the 1919–39 period, I can almost recognize when their authors came to maturity, whether before or during the Second World War, or in the Cold War or post-Cold War years. Secondly, the enormous . . .

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