Central-Eastern Europe: Crucible of World Wars

Central-Eastern Europe: Crucible of World Wars

Central-Eastern Europe: Crucible of World Wars

Central-Eastern Europe: Crucible of World Wars

Excerpt

Both World War I and World War II originated in the region that can roughly be defined as Central-Eastern Europe. Although the sparks of the conflagrations in that area eventually menaced the very existence of the British Empire and even set the United States ablaze, the region is "terra incognita" to most Anglo-Saxons. American political writers are unfortunately inclined to underestimate the complex realities of Central-Eastern Europe. Their ignorance of those realities was aptly illustrated by Prime Minister Chamberlain's statement about the Czechoslovak crisis in 1938: "How terrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."

One cause of Anglo-American indifference is the influence exerted in the United States and in Anglo-Saxon historiography by the concepts of "Western Civilization" and the related tendencies rooted in German scholarship. Most of the founders of the graduate departments of history in American universities either received their training in Germany or eventually came under the spell of its traditions. Ranke's earlier view that the Germanic and Romance nations form a distinct cultural unit with a common history to be identified with the history of Europe has been accepted by the entire German historiography. It has also been followed, to a considerable degree, in the United States. For a long time America and Western Europe have thought of Western civilization as being somehow identical with universal history. This concept has been bolstered by innumerable textbooks on "The Development of Western Civilization," with the result that the graduates of our institutions of learning have had a very definite impression that all important history was made by the larger nations of Western Europe. Thus Central-Eastern Europe has been generally lost in the shuffle.

The period after 1918 only strengthened this tendency. Because the war originated in the Balkans, those states acquired an unfortunate reputation as an element of eternal dissension, a source of evil and upheaval, and a constant, ever-threatening danger to European peace. German propaganda was only too glad to foster such ideas, especially . . .

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