WW1 was to be the war to end all wars – so why did peace only last 20 years?


Impossible Peace

 

The tumultuous two decades between the First World War and the Second World War are sometimes referred to as the Impossible Peace. Historically, it is a relatively short period, yet it was an era of significant global change.

The once mighty empires that stood for hundreds of years were in decline; Europe was in turmoil following the carnage of the First or Great War; The use of petroleum and it is dependant, the automobile was rising and a period of great prosperity, sometimes referred to as the Roaring or Golden Twenties was followed by a Great Depression. This Depression was followed by a horrific Second world War which, unlike the first that saw fighting in trenches over small strips of land, was a total war, a global war where even civilian populations were targeted and often corralled for extermination.

This is also a period which is fast slipping away from living memory.

The Impossible Peace is a meticulously researched, and brilliantly written documentary that comes from multi award winning writer Michael Cove, whose recent work includes Building Australia and Battlefields, both for the History Channel.

This period of 20th century history coincides with the rise of communism in Russia, which ultimately led to the formation of the USSR and ends with the rise of fascism, most notably in Germany. The Empires of Britain, France and others also faced significant challenges as independence movements in their colonies grew. Following the First World War, the former Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires were clumsily dismantled and new nations were born, many with teething problems. Kathleen Burke, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College, London explains.

Poland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania broke off from the former Russian Empire and briefly became independent nation states and Ireland was split into two countries.

This political upheaval and social tumult was not restricted to the occident. In the Middle East, Egypt and Iraq gained independence and further east, the people of China were painfully enduring a long period of political instability and a bloody civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang

In South America, many countries nationalised foreign companies (particularly American) in a bid to strengthen their local economies.

What is examined vividly and shockingly in The Impossible Peace is the hyperinflation that occurred in the fledgling Weimar Republic of Germany because of post war reparations and the subsequently crippling strikes.

During the period between the end of the First World War and early 1924, Germany’s currency, the Reichsmark was completely stripped of all real value. Germany’s incredibly lucrative Ruhr industrial region was occupied by foreign troops which caused massive internal political instability in the country as well as great suffering and misery for the general populace. By the end of this crisis, the Reichsmark’s value against the US dollar had risen to a figure that only those of us who are very skilled mathematicians could pronounce. Margaret Macmillan, Professor of International History at the University of Toronto explains.

 

This Impossible Peace set the world stage for another war. We justifiably look at the massive human toll of the world wars; this outstanding two-part documentary, exquisitely and mellifluously narrated by the very talented Rod Mullinar, is a revealing insight into a period of history that is often misunderstood, a period of great suffering and social upheaval that ultimately shaped the twentieth century and beyond.

 

By: R. J. Hawksworth