Posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan
By Steve Donoghue December 19
is managing editor of the online literary journal Open Letters Monthly.
The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
By Adam Tooze
Viking. 644 pp. $40
Adam Tooze’s magnificent 2007 book, “The Wages of Destruction,” provided a thorough reevaluation of the economic life and death of Nazi Germany. It was a challenging but satisfying read. In his new work, “The Deluge,” Tooze embarks on an even bigger and more ambitious undertaking. Economics is still the focus, but the scope is global, with the narrative moving from striking metalworkers in Buenos Aires to imperial brinkmanship between Japan and China to postwar U.S. investment in Australia. The center of the story is the huge upheaval of World War I and the social and financial shock waves it sent through international society. As Tooze writes, the war “may have begun in the eyes of many participants as a clash of empires, a classic great power war, but it ended as something far more morally and politically charged — a crusading victory for a coalition that proclaimed itself the champion of a new world order.”
The lead actor of that new world order was the United States, and Tooze dramatically depicts the full extent of that shift, digging into the details with rigorous but accessible scholarship. The United States and President Woodrow Wilson (and to a lesser extent his Republican successors Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover) loom over Tooze’s story, presenting both the old powers of Europe and the rising powers of Asia and Eastern Europe with something they’d never imagined before: a new world power in which economics was the preeminent medium of power, with military force essentially “a by-product.”
‘The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931’ by Adam Tooze (Viking)
By the end of World War I, the banks and financiers of Wilson’s America had loaned billions of dollars to the Allies. Tooze details the not-so-subtle ways in which Wall Street and Washington wielded these large debts to reshape the balance of world power, summoning European leaders to the White House instead of waiting on them in their own capitals, and adopting the condescending and slightly contemptuous tone creditors so often use with their debtors.
The United States was now the banker and loan officer for half the world. It became the fulcrum of the entire international financial system and expanded its hegemony in the following years. “Britain’s governments in the 1920s again and again found themselves confronting the painful fact that the United States was a power unlike any other,” Tooze writes. “It had emerged, quite suddenly, as a novel kind of ‘super-state’, exercising a veto over the financial and security concerns of the other major states of the world.”
By offering gigantic war-bond loans, Wilson had saved Britain, France and Italy from being driven to bankruptcy by their crippling wartime expenditures; in exchange, through the leverage of onerous repayment schedules, America increasingly expected an influence extending far beyond mere debt-collecting. Countries complaining about the severity of their repayment installments, for instance, could be patronizingly “advised” to cut back the amounts they were spending on military armaments or imperial adventures. “Henceforth,” as Tooze rightly points out, “down to the beginning of the twenty-first century, American economic might would be the decisive factor in the shaping of the world order.”
World War I near-fatally gored the imperial structures of all its European combatants, wrecking the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires and throwing the world economy into turmoil, in marked contrast to the relative stability of the prewar decades. (This turmoil was most eloquently dissected by John Maynard Keynes in his first best-selling book, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” which Tooze analyzes very perceptively.) In the postwar years this imperial collapse left the international financial environment vulnerable to slumps, inflations and depressions. Tooze follows these fluctuations with such remarkable narrative zest that, despite the ominous presence of multi-columned charts, the whole thing proceeds with fluid and often elegant momentum.
It’s a sprawling story, and Tooze deserves credit for not confining it to the narrower borders of U.S.-European relations. The extensive sections of his book that deal with Russia in the wake of its 1917 revolution, China’s frictions with Japan and the complexities of Ireland’s Home Rule question are all every bit as readable and masterfully researched as his spotlight topics. Indeed, he has a keen awareness of the inherent drama of the interwar years, which were haunted by a sense of world order unraveling. “The nineteenth [century] had been haunted by revolution,” he writes. “Now was the moment, it seemed, that revolution had arrived.”
The breakup of so many imperial hegemonies went hand in hand with an increase in nationalistic fervor, with independence movements gaining momentum in China, India, Turkey and elsewhere, and Tooze describes that climate of revolution with as much force and insight as he brings to his main subject. The real face of that revolution, as “The Deluge” makes startlingly clear, was not a Bolshevik nor a Boxer one but rather the go-to villain of our current century: Wall Street. [ One of my intentions with this blog is to simply collect articles of interest to me for purposes of future reference. I do my best to indicate who has actually composed the articles. NONE of the articles have been written by me. Further, this ‘blog’ will contain various drafts of unknown writings just to be saved in the event they are needed by me, etc.– Louis Sheehan ]
Feel free to ignore this blog! I am intending to use it as a repository of various writings: drafts, doodles, etc. If there ARE any articles here, they are posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan