Empires at War, 1911-1923 offers a new perspective on the history of the Great War, looking at the war beyond the generally-accepted 1914-1918 timeline, and as a global war between empires, rather than a European war between nation-states.
The volume expands the story of the war both in time and space to include the violent conflicts that preceded and followed World War I, from the 1911 Italian invasion of Libya to the massive violence that followed the collapse of the Ottoman, Russian, and Austrian empires until 1923. It argues that the traditional focus on the period between August 1914 and November 1918 makes more sense for the victorious western front powers (notably Britain and France), than it does for much of central-eastern and south-eastern Europe or for those colonial troops whose demobilization did not begin in November 1918. The paroxysm of 1914-18 has to be seen in the wider context of armed imperial conflict that began in 1911 and did not end until 1923.
If we take the Great War seriously as a world war, we must, a century after the event, adopt a perspective that does justice more fully to the millions of imperial subjects called upon to defend their imperial governments' interest, to theatres of war that lay far beyond Europe including in Asia and Africa and, more generally, to the wartime roles and experiences of innumerable peoples from outside the European continent. Empires at War also tells the story of the broad, global mobilizations that saw African soldiers and Chinese labourers in the trenches of the Western front, Indian troops in Jerusalem, and the Japanese military occupying Chinese territory. Finally, the volume shows how the war set the stage for the collapse not only of specific empires but of the imperial world order.
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Robert Gerwarth is the author and editor of several books on the history of violence, including a biography of Reinhard Heydrich (with Donald Bloxham, 2011), Political Violence in Twentieth-Century Europe (2011); and War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence after the Great War (with John Horne, 2012).
Erez Manela directs the Program on Global Society and Security at Harvard University. He is the author of The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007) and co-editor of The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective (2010). He is currently completing a book on the global eradication of smallpox in the Cold War era.
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