Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945 by Enzo TraversoEurope’s second Thirty Years’ War—an epoch of blood and ashes
Fire and Blood looks at the European crisis of the two world wars as a single historical sequence: the age of the European Civil War (1914–1945). Its overture was played out in the trenches of the Great War; its coda on a ruined continent. It opened with conventional declarations of war and finished with “unconditional surrender.” Proclamations of national unity led to eventual devastation, with entire countries torn to pieces. During these three decades of deepening conflicts, a classical interstate conflict morphed into a global civil war, abandoning rules of engagement and fought by irreducible enemies rather than legitimate adversaries, each seeking the annihilation of its opponents. It was a time of both unchained passions and industrial, rationalized massacre. Utilizing multiple sources, Enzo Traverso depicts the dialectic of this era of wars, revolutions and genocides. Rejecting commonplace notions of “totalitarian evil,” he rediscovers the feelings and reinterprets the ideas of an age of intellectual and political commitment when Europe shaped world history with its own collapse.
Reconsidering the Great War
Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945
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The European Civil War, 1914-1945
Enzo Traverso. David Fernbach Brooklyn, N. Review by Nitzan Lebovic. The enemy parties are not two regular armies but two factions within one and the same state, only one of which possesses a legal status, so that the distinction between civilian and combatant becomes highly problematic. For Traverso, the characteristic lawlessness of civil war found its ultimate form in World War I, when a community of nations united by a sense of belonging to a larger culture tore itself to pieces. This highly readable, convincingly synthetic book grounds its discussion of European identity—and what it means to be a humanist in the twenty-first century—in the collapse of jus bellum. For Traverso, a well-known historian of Nazi violence, humanism began with a failure to keep war under control.
So observes the narrator of Francois Truffaut's film, Jules et Jim , as Jim, a former soldier, revisits the sites of World War I battles that left nothing but ruins. The war, a global conflict centered in Europe, resulted in 16 million deaths. It was also a total war that did not spare civilians; nearly half of those who died were noncombatants. Industrial and technological innovations -- armored airplanes and tanks, submarines, machine guns, poison gas -- made warfare more efficient, and more lethal, than ever before. Just two decades after the war that, according to Woodrow Wilson, was to "end all wars", another even more devastating conflict broke out in Europe and became a global conflagration.