Conflict, Policy

Review: The Deluge – The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931

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Photo credit: Malene Korsgaard Lauritsen. Penguin Random House, pp. 672

I loved Adam Tooze‘s sweeping take on the origins of America’s global dominance in the aftermath of World War I. It presents a compelling narrative of the rise of an American global order in the aftermath of the WWI. He does so by placing the viewer in a politically fraught 1916-Great Britain with the Prime Minister Lloyd George examining British progress in WWI. Incidentally, as Tooze explains, it was also the period when the United States began to slowly overtake Britain in terms of economic production. Tooze deftly guides his audience through the numerous events, leaders and the international forces that helped bump America’s ascent and the remaking of the global order.

World War I is an extremely rich field of research and study, yet Adam Tooze’s focus on economic history allows readers to examine crucial decisions that shaped the course of the war. For example, the role of American credit in Britain’s participation in the WWI is is likely to stir consternation around the extent to which 10 Downing Street depended on Washington’s Federal Reserve, Wall Street bankers and private lenders to pay for Great Britain’s war with the Central powers. When America decided to intervene, Washington’s participation was funded by the domestic liberty bonds that were brought by the common populace (sold through a judicious mix of propaganda, marketing and force). Tooze also constructs the dilemmas facing the other international players during the course of the global conflict. A furtive Russia, an beleaguered Germany, a wounded France and aggressive Japan were only some of the forces that President Wilson and his successor Mathew Harding had to contend with.While President Wilson’s ambitions to make America a global leader guided his thoughts, he was often cut to size domestically by a restive Republican senate.  The fresh legs of American soldiers’ offered fresh impetus to the Allied forces in the spring of 1918, yet Britain and France had already inflicted decisive losses to the Central powers in the war by then, setting them on course for victory.

However, it was the USA that would emerge superior. In the Deluge, Tooze time-travels to the origins of the 100-year American world order, demonstrating the rather-inadvertent rise of American power in WWI. America’s rise to global power was far from straightforward, and neither obvious nor planned, and the British Empire’s economic decline was instrumental in unchallenged American supremacy until the Cold War. Tooze’s work is ambitious, and his telling of American rise is a must-read.

 

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