Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Deluge. The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916–1931
Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

The Deluge. The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order,
by Adam Tooze
Published by Oxford and London, Penguin, 2014

President and Mrs. Wilson at a Preparedness Rally Before the Nation's Entry into the War

The Deluge offers a panoramic view of the struggle for global mastery that was initiated in World War One and continued to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Adam Tooze argues that America used its position of privileged detachment and the dependence on it by the other world powers to frame a major transformation in world affairs after the war. This was in some respects a liberal and progressive project, but "in its view of America itself, in its conception of what might be asked of America, the project was profoundly conservative."

Order Now
America was the one nation that emerged basically unscathed from the war, raising the all-important question that had been largely erased from the history of Europe in the 17th century: had America become the powerful, world-encompassing empire similar to that which the Catholic Hapsburgs had threatened to establish? She had emerged as a kind of super state, with the power to veto the financial and security concerns of the other major world powers.

The Deluge tells the story of change after the war. The death and destruction had left the survivors wondering what to make of the catastrophe. Some saw it as a sign of the impossibility of progress. Others felt that there had been progress but that it was more violent and complex than anyone had expected, and that the path to future progress would be more uneven than any could have expected before the war. Tooze takes the view that developments after World War One were products of an interconnected and dynamic system that is only comprehensible if we view the system in its entirety and retrace its movements over time. It is a story in which the key role is played by America, a new power whose fraught relationship with a world that had changed beyond all recognition by 1918 was both unpredictable and elusive.

Tooze's study is comprehensive and thorough. Divided into five sections — The Eurasian Crisis, Winning a Democratic Victory, The Unfinished Peace, The Search for a New order and Conclusion,— The Deluge takes a transnational approach to the war that is in line with many contemporary historians such as Jay Winter and Christopher Clark's (see my review of the "Perspectives on the Great War" conference in London, published in Roads on 10 August 2014). The birth of a new global order, argues Tooze, can be traced back to 1916/1917, when America was placed at the center of world affairs. How this took place and with what consequences is the chief concern of The Deluge.

 President and Mrs. Wilson Lay a Wreath at the American Suresnes Cemetery Outside Paris
Memorial Day 1919

While the approach of Tooze's study is academic, the language is accessible to all. The volume contains a number of interesting photographs and useful figures and tables, and the comprehensive index greatly facilitates navigation within the study. While the copious endnotes are primarily of a bibliographical nature, they also provide useful additional information to the more general reader. The Deluge repays careful reading and is an excellent reference book —particularly for those wishing to trace the effect of the war on America.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

1 comment:

  1. An interesting subject. I am currently ploughing my way though the literature on German and Austro-Hungarian war aims during the First World War. These remained almost constant until the later months of 1918 and showed a vision of a Central Powers post war Mitteleauropa and Mittelafrica in which other European powers, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist, with France and Great Britain, amongst others, being eradicated from the map. In particular Fritz Fischer's "Germany's Aims in the First World War shows just how unpleasant the world would have been had the early months of 1914 had turned out differently on the Western Front.

    I look forward to reading Adam Tooze's book.