‘Illusions of Peace’ at the NAM

I should have given a blog mention to this before the event (but don’t worry, you can still book up for tomorrow’s sessions – details later).

I’ve spent the day at the first day of an online conference about the aftermath of the Great War. Illusions of Peace is hosted by the National Army Museum, but not physically, of course. Each of the historians spoke from home, and good old Zoom brought us all together.

The general theme was that marking 1918 as the end of the war was a pretty Anglocentric thing to do. Elsewhere violent conflict was continuing

The first session today presented four papers about the postwar period in Europe – in Italy, France, Eastern Europe and Germany respectively. In the afternoon we heard about Britain’s involvement in Russia after the war, and about our (not very successful) attempts to intervene and direct matters in Turkey and Iran.

All the papers were interesting, but I especially liked Dr Vanda Wilcox’s explication of Italy after the war, which made sense of situation I had only vaguely grasped before. Dr Matthias Strohn gave a clear guide to postwar Germany, and Alan Wakefield’s ‘An Education in Itself’: The British Military Mission to South Russian, 1918-20’ told me a great deal about a ssubject I had long been interested in but had never got round to properly investigating, the British intervention on the side of the Whites after the Russian revolution. (A key part of this intervention, of course, was ‘Dunsterforce’, led by General Lionel Dunsterville, who a long time before had been Kipling’s ‘Stalky’. )

For me, though, the star turn of the day was Adam Zamoyski’s ‘All Hell on the Eastern Front’, which explained how November 1918, far from bringing peace to eastern Europe, brought an opportunity for all the nationalist rivalries and grievances that the war had nurtured to express themselves, as the fragmentation of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires gave every nationalist group an incentive to scheme, conspire and fight for self-determination. Woodrow Wilson’s encouragement to this ideal had been born of a profound ignorance of Europe, where any territory that nationalists might claim as their own would also contain enclaves of other national minorities, who would generally be hated and despised, and would have ferocious nationalist ambitions of their own. Adam Zamoyski’s guide to these complexities was wonderfully lucid.

Tomorrow morning’s programme concentrates on issues to do with the British Army after 1918:

Dr Mario Draper – The Connaught Rangers Mutiny, India, 1920

Dr William Butler – ‘The British Soldier Is No Bolshevik’: The British Army and the Demobilisation Strikes in 1919

Professor Alison Fell – ‘That Glorious Comradeship’: Female Veterans in 1920s Britain

In the afternoon, Professor Sir Hew Strachan, a top historian, and always a very good speaker, will give a keynote speech tying some of the conference’s themes together.

As I said, it’s not too late to register for tomorrow’s sessions. Registration is free of charge and logistically simple. You can find full details here: https://www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/illusions-peace

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