David Reynolds shows how the common perception of the
Great War as futile slaughter has been moulded over
time. The image of mud and trenches, poets and poppies
was not the general view in the 1920s and 1930s, but
developed after the Second World War and, most of all,
through popular depictions of the war from the 1960s.
Reynolds gets to the roots of shifting public memory by
comparing the British and German sense of what the Great
War meant right back in its immediate aftermath. Britain
invested in the diplomatic ideals of the League of
Nations and Reynolds charts the extraordinary popularity
of disarmament movements. For many British people, the
terrible sacrifice would not have be in vain if the
Great War proved be the war to end war.
David Reynolds examines the intriguing paradox of the
Great War - that it was not caused by profound political
or ideological divisions but did create them in its
wake. He looks at how the conflict made politics red
hot, giving birth to an age of turbulent mass democracy.
Democracy, Reynolds argues, hit postwar Europe like a
big bang. He traces how, in the immediate aftermath of
war, monarchies toppled, the people rose up and three
iconic leaders - Vladimir Lenin, Woodrow Wilson and
Benito Mussolini - emerged with competing visions of
people power that polarised much of continental Europe
between right and left in the 1920s and 1930s.
Nowhere was the legacy of the Great War more profound
than in the unleashing of nationalist fervour across
Europe. David Reynolds argues that the war made national
identity a stark either-or issue, a matter of 'us'
versus 'them', and he traces the recurrent struggle
between nationalist uprisings and empire-building by
Hitler, Stalin and latterly the European Union in the
century since 1914.
The Great War shattered the old empires that had ruled
central and eastern Europe for centuries and, in 1918,
nationalist politicians seized their moment. David
travels to the Sudetenland in the Czech Republic and to
the Palace of Versailles to explore the drastically
changed map of middle Europe in 1919. He explores how
the new nation states hastily patched together from the
ruins of the Habsburg Empire destabilised the whole
European continent for much of the 20th century.