Monday, October 06, 2014

More on "The Long Shadow"

The third chapter of The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds it titled "Empire". It deals with the impact of the war on some of the empires that survived World War I, namely the British, French, American and Japanese. (Dutch Indonesia, Belgian Congo and Portuguese Africa are not mentioned.)

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this chapter is racism. The Japanese, the only non-white empire, felt the racism of the others and the shadow of Japanese resentment was perhaps an element causing it to side against its former allies in World War II. Woodrow Wilson, who had racist views himself, thought white ethnic groups ready for their own states, but not Arabs, blacks, nor most Asians. The British and French, perhaps influenced by their own imperial ambitions, too felt that other races should not be granted nation states. While antisemitism seems to have been common, the British at least seemed also to believe that a Jewish state in Palestine was possible.

Germany lost its African colonies to England, France (and Belgium) and lost land in Europe to France and to the new nation states created by the Treaty of Versailles (as described in Chapter 2 of the book). Japan took over Germany's interests in China. including major influence in Shandong Provence. Australia took control of German colonies on New Guinea and New Zealand of German Samoa.

The Ottoman empire disappeared. Turkey was created primarily as a nation-state for the Turkish people. The British empire, which had put a million troops (mainly from India and the Dominions) against the Ottomans, saw the control of oil, the Suez canal, and the related real estate as vital to its imperial interests. British officials had promised Arabs their own nation states in captured Ottoman lands, and had promised Zionists a state in Palestine. Britain was not especially concerned with obtaining new colonies, and the status of League of Nation mandates was quite acceptable. Thus Egypt was granted independence, with Britain retaining rights to define and manage key policies; Iraq was created as a mandate out of three Ottoman provences (Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite); Transjordan was created eventually to be placed under Hashemite control; and Palestine as a mandate. A later treaty left France in control of an area to the north which was eventually divided into Lebanon and Syria. Lebanon, in theory was to have been a state for the Christians in the region, but Moslems were included in sufficient numbers to have created the divisions we see today.

England and France were the world's largest empires (Britain controlled 25 percent and France 10 percent of the world's surface, and both empires peaked in size after the war. India, the jewel in the crown of the English monarchy, saw considerable political development during World War I as it sent a million troops in aid of the allied cause. Home rule movements proved relatively unsuccessful in the interwar period. (Independence of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would not occur until after World War II.)

The chapter also discusses naval power after the war, including treaties that established a 5-5-3 naval parity between the British Empire, the USA, and Japan. The U.S. and Britain decommissioned warships after World War I in accord with these agreements. The treaties were a tacit acknowledgement that control of the Pacific had been ceded from the British Empire to Japan and America. The Japanese again felt slighted by not having parity with the other empires, and recognized the British construction of a major naval base in Singapore as foreboding future conflict.


In his fourth chapter, titled "Capitalism", Reynolds seeks to describe the economic legacy of World War I from the end of the war until the beginning of the next war. It is of course a topic that could take up a long and dense book of its own. He focuses on the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States and the USSR.

These were difficult times for many of the people in these countries. Germany experienced hyperinflation after the war. The great depression was worst in the United States, but affected people all over the world. Ukrainians starved and Russians underwent great hardships under Stalin. Many people were unemployed in the democracies.

The consequences of the war included the decline of British influence in the global economy and the rise of American influence, as America displaced the United Kingdom in some markets and as the dollar challenged the pound as an international currency. Perhaps the end of the gold standard and the floating of many currencies was also a consequence of the war. So too was the rise in importance of the working class, the rise of organized labor, and interest in socialism and communism.

There were boom years in the United States and Britain; the automobile industry grew during this period as did consumer durable industries, made possible by new forms of consumer finance. Mass production techniques pioneered in the United States were copied, especially in the Soviet Union.

One of the major impressions I got from the chapter was that people didn't know what they were doing. Capitalism was not working too well, and leaders of the capitalist countries seemed lost in the thickets of monetary policy, fiscal policy, and regulatory policy; international economic policy led to disastrous reparations imposed on Germany, and lack of stability in international finance. Protectionism worsened the Great Depression; the British and French empires erected tariff walls that protected English and French manufacturing in the short run, but led to deterioration of their competitiveness in the long run. Thus some looked to Communism to replace Capitalism, others thought state ownership and socialism was the best alternative.

Reynolds seeks to deal with this complexity in prose, emphasizing the political debates within countries on specific issues and crisis resolution. He shows how Stalin desperately tried to develop the heavy industries that he correctly predicted would be needed by the USSR in the coming war. He describes the economic conditions leading to Hitler and Mussolini rising to Fascist power, and considers why the United Kingdom and the United States remained democratic and capitalist.

I wish he had included some visual aids such as tables and graphs such as this which I easily found on the Internet.

The graph shows how the growth of the GDP of the United States continued through World War I and afterwords until the Great Depression.  It shows how badly the economies of Germany and France were effected, with neither's GDP recovering prewar levels until the 1930s. It also shows how large the U.S. economy was already before World War II in comparison with the other three.

The second of these two graphs from the current edition of The Economist would also have been useful:

It shows a radical reduction in wealth as a fraction of national income in Britain, France and Germany related to World War I and its aftermath, but a much lesser impact in the United States (which does have a reduction related to the Great Depression).

To be continued.  Check out my previous post on this book.

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