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Post WW1 Violence Theory – Paris Peace Conference I BEYOND THE GREAT WAR


Hi I’m Jesse and I’m Flo and welcome to
an exciting new episode of beyond the Great War the segment where we answer
your questions about what happened 100 years ago. Hi Jesse. Hi Flo. Are you wondering why
I’m here? Just a bit. Okay I’m here to tell you and all the viewers
out there in YouTube-Land about well this new format that you just introduced which
is called „Beyond The Great War.“ So what is „Beyond The Great War“? It’s an evolution of what
we used to do in our format called „Out of the Trenches“. It’s the episode that we
release where we answer the questions from the Community but instead of just
you know having two or three questions from the community and then answering
them very very briefly we’re now going to take much more time to answer them
in greater detail. Why are we doing
this? Well, first of all I think some of
the questions for the 1919 period needs some more detail and on the other hand
it also means that we probably directly or indirectly answer more questions from
more people about the same topic. And why is it called „Beyond the Great
War“? Because it’s not just for questions
about the actual events or people or whatever. It’s also the format
where we will take time for historical debates. So what is an historical debate? As an example I prepared the first
question for this format and that question is: What is the Brutalization
Theory? I recently went out with a historian, we had
a few beers and he told me about that and I was like… ok… so what
is this theory and why is such a theory a good tool for historians?! Like how can they use that to answer whatever
question? So I’m just going to go beyond the camera
to my production magic and I will leave the answer to that question to you. All right! Thanks Flo. Bye Jesse. Well, like any historical theory, the brutalization
thesis is a way of trying to answer a question. And in this case the question is why was Europe
so violent in the first half of the 20th century? The Great War was awful, millions of people
were killed. But then why did the fighting continue after
the war? Why would people turn to violent ideologies
like fascism, Nazism, or Stalinism? How could World War Two and the Holocaust
happen even though society had already experienced the horrors of a total war? Despite the armistice, Europe was still a
violent place after the war, as we have already seen in the last episode about the January
Uprising in Germany and the civil wars and revolutions across Europe. The violence got even worse in World War Two,
when more people were killed, and mass genocides were scientifically planned and carried out. So the brutalization theory is a way to try
to explain how violence could continue and even get worse despite the horrors of the
Great War. George Mosse laid out the best-known argument
for the brutalization theory. His work concentrated on Germany but he also
discussed other countries too. He basically wrote that the societies which
had experienced violence during the Great War became brutalized. Those who were traumatized during the war
carried this new way of thinking home with them, and they effectively transferred wartime
violence to the home front, where it then became a part of post war culture. There had been so much death that people,
in some ways, became to some extent indifferent to it. Central to this brutalized culture was the
creation and glorification of a “myth of the war experience”. This myth turned the horror of war into an
object of almost religious reverence. The fallen (a poetic way of saying the dead)
were heroes whose memory was to inspire the nation to a greatness that had not been achieved
during the war. This myth incorporated nationalism, religion,
and ideas about manliness into a powerful mix, using national revenge and ideas of Christian
resurrection and suffering. The true future of the nation was a man, and
a man was someone who was ready to kill or be killed. This process of brutalization influenced culture
and politics. The language of the front was used in political
speech and paramilitary violence in the name of politics became quite common. Just as the military enemy had to be defeated
in the war, now the political enemy had to be wiped out – the idea of a political struggle
had merged with that of real life violence. This allowed society to accept violent ideologies,
actual violence, and, eventually, mass death on an unprecedented scale in World War Two
and the Holocaust. A new normal had been created following the
collective trauma of the Great War. It’s one of the many reasons why in German,
the war is often called the Urkatastrophe of the 20th century. Roughly translated, it means it was the original
catastrophe from which all others flowed. Of course, not all historians subscribe to
the theory. Some have argued that while it does have a
strong argument, it can’t fully explain post 1918 violence. For example, there was no large-scale violence
in France or Great Britain or Belgium after the war, even though millions of men and women
from those countries had suffered and inflicted suffering during the war, in the same way
as those from countries where violence broke out. In theory, the French and British and Belgians
would be as brutalized and as likely to turn to fascism as the societies that did, like
Germany or the former Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. The question these historians is a bit different. They want to know large scale violence and
a turn to extremism happened in some places but not others. It seems the original brutalization thesis
doesn’t seem to have a compelling answer to this question. As a part of trying to find an answer, some
researchers have questioned the level of violence actually perpetrated by individual soldiers. Of course, many of them saw fellow soldiers
being killed and wounded – but how many of them, and how often, actually attempted
to deliberately kill an enemy they could see? Some studies suggest it was a lot fewer than
one might suspect, with no more than 25% of combat veterans actually having shot at an
enemy. Most of the killing was not done face to face
– it was the result of artillery bombardments fired off from behind the lines. Occasions for personal killing, and a resulting
brutalization, just weren’t that common because going over the top and charging the
enemy position didn’t happen all that frequently for individual soldiers. Even when they did attack, soldiers often
tried to avoid killing or bitterly regretted it afterwards. In the words of Antoine Prost, “Brutalization,
defined as the lifting of the prohibition on killing and the liberation of murderous
instincts could only have affected a small minority.” This critique makes it more difficult to explain
how brutalization took place, when relatively few soldiers had actually behaved brutally. So what other answer could there be to the
question of post 1918 violence and extremism? Robert Gerwarth offers one alternative explanation,
though he doesn’t extend this beyond the immediate post war years. It goes like this: first off actual violence
and the cult glorifying it didn’t flourish in the countries that won the war (except
Italy, but that’s another story). The revolutions and civil wars took place
in the defeated powers. The destabilizing and radicalizing effect
of defeat must be part of the post war violence equation. Secondly, the Russian Revolution had a dramatic
and polarizing effect on people all across Europe. Some were inspired to strive for violent revolution
based on the Bolshevik example. Many others were so afraid of the revolution
spreading to their country they were willing to use violence to stop it, whether or not
the threat was as serious as they feared. Finally, violence happened where states collapsed,
and didn’t happen where they survived. You see, normally the state has a monopoly
on violence – only the police and the army can legitimately use violence to keep order
or carry out state policy, like waging a war. When Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman
Empire collapsed, there was a power vacuum. The new states that replaced them were not
only weak, they also couldn`t agree on their borders. This led to internal violence to define the
form of these new states, but also to small wars between the new states to settle border
disputes. Winston Churchill called them “wars of pygmies,”
which wasn’t particularly nice of him. In the end, I would say the combined effect
of defeat, the Russian Revolution, and state collapse is also an answer worth considering,
especially for the immediate post war years. I feel like whatever its strengths and weaknesses,
the brutalization thesis is certainly an interesting way of trying to account for the fact that
no simple armistice or peace treaty could end the cycle of violence unleashed by the
Great War. As usual in history, the answer depends on
what questions we ask about the past. Tell us what you think in the comments! And here is another question we got from our
community. Didn’t the Paris Peace Conference also start
in January ‘19? You didn’t talk about that in your first
episode. So how did it actually start and can you tell
us more about the setup of the Conference? The November 11 Armistice may have put an
end to the war – though certainly not to the fighting, as we have just seen – but
the settling of the peace was a question unto itself. On January 18, delegates from more than 30
states gathered in Paris to begin the peace conference, the most significant undertaking
of its kind since the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic Wars over a century
before. The date was no accident. On the same day in 1871, the German Empire
had been founded in Versailles following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War. The Paris Conference was different than any
which came before it, as the war that was to be officially ended had been bloodier,
more expensive and more destructive than any in history. Not only would the delegates need to find
a way to bring the war to a close with peace treaties, but they also wanted to establish
a new order for Europe and the world, to prevent such a war from breaking out again. It was a massive affair, the top news story
of the day. 500 journalists (300 of them American) came
to Paris to report on the proceedings, though they were soon to be disappointed by how little
information was made public. In addition to the heads of state, diplomats,
and their staffs, hundreds of experts in various fields participated as well. They worked in 52 commissions and many more
sub-commissions, which would eventually meet more than 1600 times to resolve a host of
questions. Their job was to provide advice to the decision
makers. There were lawyers for questions of war guilt,
economists and statisticians for war reparations (including the famous British economist John
Maynard Keynes, who soon became a sharp critic of the peace treaties), and historians and
geographers for questions of national borders and ethnic minorities. Despite the presence of so many delegates,
the main decisions would be made by the Council of Ten (two representatives each for the Allied
Powers of Britain, France, Italy, the United States and Japan). Soon though, the so-called Big Four (Prime
Minister Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, President Woodrow Wilson
of the US and Orlando of Italy) took control of the conference and it was really they who
determined the outcomes. The peace conference of 1919 was not going
to have an easy time achieving its goals of ending the war and creating a new world order. For a start, the conference opened without
any prior agreement as to how to proceed, leading one French observer to predict the
result would be “an improvisation.” Many members of the various commissions assumed
the Germans would be consulted eventually, and prepared to adopt harsh terms as a starting
point for negotiations. One British delegate later wrote, “Had it
been known from the outset that no negotiations would ever take place with the enemy, it is
certain that many of the less reasonable clauses of the Treaty would never have been inserted.” The victorious countries also had diverging
views. Their aims were a contradictory mix of traditional
notions of territory and power but were also economic, ideological and to some extent,
utopian. France wanted above all to eliminate any future
threat of German aggression, the return of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine (occupied
by Germany since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871), and reparations for the destruction
of the war zone. The British hoped to keep a balance of power
in Europe, extend their empire in the Middle East, and ensure that Germany would never
again become a commercial and colonial rival. Italy coveted more territory to the north
and east: Istria, Trieste, Dalmatian Coast, and Fiume. The United States, which had suffered much
less than its allies, focused on the establishment of the League of Nations, an international
organisation which would work to prevent future wars from breaking out and guarantee world
peace. All had to dress up their desires in the clothing
of the 14 points proposed by Wilson the year before – but they didn’t see eye to eye
on these either. Points relating to secret diplomacy, free
trade, disarmament, self-determination, new borders, Russia, and European colonies had
the potential to cause disagreements – and they would as the conference progressed. In addition, many war aims were incompatible
with the 14 points. This was especially the case with respect
to national self-determination like the plan to give Poland access to the sea by assigning
it majority German-speaking territories around Danzig, or the inherent contradiction of maintaining
colonial empires. The differences were so acute that Prime Minister
Clemenceau of France said of Wilson’s program: “If I accepted such a thing after so many
millions have been killed or suffered, I expect and hope that my successor would take me by
the scruff of the neck and have me shot.” There were many other constraints on the Big
Four as well. Each had to balance domestic politics while
the conference was going on. For example, Wilson’s position was made
more complicated by the fact that he, a Democrat, had just lost the majority support in both
houses of Congress, and many Republicans felt the US should not be involved in cleaning
up Europe’s mess at all. There were the millions of dead to bear in
mind, and the emotional trauma of relatives and survivors. There were prior political commitments, such
as the Treaty of London, which had promised large chunks of territory to Italy in 1915. There was also the emotional hangover of the
war. The public was still in a war mindset after
four years of propaganda, which caused Keynes to bemoan the “blind anti-German passion”
which still motivated many on the Allied side. French Foreign Minister Stephen Pichon wasn’t
hiding his feelings when he said, “On our territory, at Versailles, at the gates of
our capital, Germany has given up its claim for world domination, a claim which was built
upon the destruction of the freedom of nations.” Events in some parts of Europe and the Middle
East were happening at a blinding pace and changing the facts on the ground: Austria-Hungary
and the Ottoman Empire had broken up, and Germany was rocked by revolution. And no one knew what to do about Russia, where
a bitter Civil War was raging, and it was not yet clear which side would prevail. The conference faced a further difficulty
which was not fully appreciated in January 1919. For the statesman and experts gathered there
represented only the victorious powers. Neither the defeated Central Powers nor Bolshevik
Russia were granted a seat at the table. Whatever would be achieved the losers would
pay the price, which could only be justified if they were forced to accept responsibility
for starting the war. This was a complete break from normal peace
negotiations of the past – which would have grave consequences. Despite all of these limitations, enormous
expectations were placed on the outcome, and the leaders were conscious of the weight of
history on their shoulders. Wilson, before he even reached Paris, wrote
that he feared no matter what happened it might end in “a tragedy of disappointment.” As the conference opened, it remained to be
seen whether idealism or old fashioned Realpolitik would determine the outcome of the peace. The stakes had never been higher. We will of course covering the Peace Conference
in the upcoming months and see how it continouos to develop. This was our first episode of „Beyond The
Great War“. If you have any questions about events or
historical figures, tactics or historical debates just post them in the comments below. And if you really really want you question
to get through to us, you can consider supporting us on Patreon. We also going to answer community questions
in the Great War Patreon Podcast, for example. And as always, you can find the sources that
we us for this episode in the Video description. You can also get in touch with us on Facebook,
Instagram or Twitter.I’m Jesse Alexander, and this is The Great War. A Production of Real Time History and the
only YouTube History Channel that has proper catering for its Peace Conferences. And now, a message from the Future! Hey Hey Hey Hey! We just want to say „Thank You for 1 Million
Subscribers“! It has been almost 5 years now since we started
that project. It has been a incredible ride! Thank you for everybody who subscribed, thank
you for everybody who told their friends, and their relatives about the show. Thank you for all the support. For all the people who came to the fanmeetings. And Thank you for making the… The best job of our life so far. I guess… Ja. That… and also making it a very pleasant
experience to transition the show to a new concept. For the warm welcome that Jesse got and stay
tuned for more exciting episodes. And…

Joseph Wolf

23 Comments

  1. ICYM the special message at the end of the video: THANK YOU FOR 1 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS! And we also hope you like our new format BEYOND THE GREAT WAR. It will also replace what used to be special episodes and biographies. Just ask us a question about a person, event or country and we will see that we answer it in the same depth that our special episodes had. Simple as that.

  2. Talk about Irish war of independence particularly urban guerrilla warfare pioneered by Ira and its affect on empire

  3. Man your breathing works like a vacuum cleaner from my headphones

  4. That seating list had several spots for nations I had never heard of actually participating in the war, nor really being mentioned in the regular weekly episodes, provided they actually had declared war on the central powers. Uruguay, Peru , Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hedjaz, Liberia, Siam are probably the ones that were never mentioned during those episodes, but that still leaves 7 seats unmarked on it. Which intrigues me.

  5. I only finished the first half of this episode, but already think it's great, in showing the different perspectives on the post-war brutality, which is just generally a very interesting sociologic topic. Great work, and thank you!

  6. Kill or be killed for some man or even throne or seat you may never see and will definitely never sit in. So stupid.

  7. @thegreatwar can you explain role of Montenegro in the post War Europe?

  8. Ich hätte gerne mehr Informationen über Kriegsgefangenen

  9. Italy was on the winning side of WW1, but it hadn't actually won. The issue is achievement of war goals. France, Britain, and the US achieved their goals or got close enough. But Italy hadn't joined the war because they'd been attacked, but rather because of opportunism and the political promises to the populace that it would be worth it for all the land they would take when Austria-Hungary was defeated.

    The war was far more brutal than Italy's people had expected and the suffering across the nation was immense. That's not to say it was worse than the experiences of other nations, but it wasn't what they had signed up for. Regardless, the 1915 Treaty of London had promised massive territories to Italy and would complete and exceed their irredentist goals. When the war was won, however, the United States and the 14 Points held massive influence, and the British and French reneged on the treaty and were no longer willing to give Italy what they'd been promised. Even attempts at compromise by the Italian delegation were rejected and Italy received only a small portion of what they'd promised their people.

    It wasn't enough. The liberals (especially Prime Minister Orlando) were disgraced, the Italian government fell, hawkish nationalists began taking matters into their own hands, and the Paris Peace Conference took on a new name in Italy: the Mutilated Victory. Italy had won the Great War, but in every sense had lost the ensuing peace and faced upheavals and civil violence in the wake of their de facto defeat. Within a few years Benito Mussolini took power under the ideology of fascism, and the rest is history.

  10. Economics seems to be a trigger of war rather than the other way round. From the French Revolution to taxation in the American revelation.rise of alternative social-economic ideology. All seem to start from economic turmoil.

  11. Glad to hear the show is going on & Jesse is a cool dude! (Bonus points for his right pronunciation of Clemenceau)

  12. There was apparently a small fascist uprising in Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s and stopped by Monash mobilizing some ex-diggers.

  13. IT IS CALLED COMMUNISM not STALINISM. Lennon started the brutality and stalin pushed it. Stop supporting communism.

  14. 10:01 You are saying from "our community", typical communists way of talking. Stalin or Lenin would love to hear it, that people adopted their way of talking. "our community". I see sometimes that YouTube is writing like this.

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