We are still living in the world created by the Great War. That war dealt a death blow to existing structures and orders, creating new one, some better, some worse.
It is true that if you want to replace an existing system (Brexit is a good example of this), you need to have a definite plan, something better to replace it with. This is usually not the case, if history was, as it should be, a compulsory subject at school, we would see that life is random and chaotic, any pattern we attribute to it is an illusion or after the effect (witness the ejits who see the ‘prophecies’ of Nostradamus as ‘accurate’ after the events have occurred!). No, history teaches is that human behaviour repeats itself, that mankind is driven by the same drives, populism, nationalism, materialism, greed and so forth.
Reading ‘1920: A Year of Global Turmoil’, there are many parallels with today. For instance, in my native Ireland, Brexit has created an uncertainty that goes all the way back to the misery caused by centuries of English colonisation (which includes the genocide of the Great Famine in the 19th century, and the war crimes of Oliver Cromwell).
I particularly enjoyed David’s writing on the League of Nations, which did not succeed in its aims then and does not now. David writes: ‘By the end of February 1920 the organisation created to achieve world peace had achieved nothing of note, while the most powerful nation in the world was absent from its meeting; worse, the statesman who was the league’s greatest advocate was gravely ill. The carve-up of the Ottoman Empire was proceeding as planned, but the British government faced the prospect of the White Army’s defeat in Russia, violence in Ireland and rebellion in Waziristan. In Western Europe nations were still reeling from the war and there was growing discontent in Germany.’
The War of Independence in Ireland is covered with a decent level of insight and sadly, as we see with Brexit and its threat to peace in Ireland, still very relevant today.
India too, was a deeply unhappy colonised land, and still has the legacy of this to live with today. It is an undeniable truth of history that wherever European powers helped themselves to others land and resources, they left a legacy of misery that continues to this day. This is what H.G. Welles meant with his seminal ‘War of the Worlds’, those with superior firepower can dominate and destroy those who are at a lower level of technology. In the words of a verse of the time ‘Thank God that we have got/the Maxim Gun/And they have not’
The Russian Civil War and the Allied involvement in it is well covered, again, the eventual victory of the Red Army against the White Army led to the communisation of large tracts of this planet, really, we should have learned about this at school.
The illustrations and binding of this book are to Pen & Sword’s usual high standards. I was particularly moved of a shocking picture of the devastation of Cork City by British forces (which included the Black and Tans, still loathed to this day in Ireland for the atrocities they committed, with the tacit approval of David Lloyd George, the British Premier). That this happened a short distance from London tells us a lot.
Overall, if History was given the priority it deserves, this book should be on school courses, I can’t recommend it enough (I must also draw your attention to his book on the Armenian Genocide, a must-read). This book would also make for a fine TV series. David has a talent for explaining complicated facts in an accessible and entertaining fashion, the hallmark of a truly great writer.
Published by Pen & Sword History