by Adam Tooze
New York: Viking Penguin, 2014. Pp. xxiii, 642.
Illus., maps, tables, notes, index. $40.00. ISBN: 0670024929
The Great War, American Financial Power, and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century
In his new work Prof. Tooze (Yale), the author of The Wages of Destruction, on the German economy in World War II, presents an interesting if not exactly novel thesis: World War I would have ended in a compromise peace dictated by President Wilson had Germany not resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, given that the Allies were only months from bankruptcy.
Tooze extends this argument into the inter-war period, seeing events from America’s entry into World War I until the onset of the Great Depression as a failed attempt to impose an Anglo-Saxon world order built around the financial supremacy of the U.S., which by 1916 was not only the world’s largest economy and but also the sole source of serious financing. Tooze sees Leninism, Fascism, Nazism, Chinese nationalism, Japanese militarism, and similar movements as attempts to reassert national autonomy against this evolving Anglo-Saxon imperium.
Tooze places primary blame for the failure of this potential Anglo-Saxon financial dominion on the inability of the U.S. to forgive war debts, which in turn made a settlement of reparations impossible, which in turn meant that Germany would ultimately rebel and leave the Western bloc. In effect, Tooze posits that a somewhat smarter U.S. could have created the post-World War II Atlantic institutional framework in the 1920s, thus sparing the world an immense amount of pain. Tooze has done excellent research, and his economic and financial data appear accurate.
Of course, Tooze’s interpretations are open to debate, but they do provide a somewhat novel way of looking at the interwar period. If his thesis is correct, World War II was avoidable. His work will intrigue those interested in the world wars and the twentieth century. The one truly serious defect in the book is Tooze’s lack of knowledge of the limits that public opinion and the Constitution impose on U.S. politics. He hints at these limits but seems not to truly understand them. A second edition would benefit from a U.S. co-author well-versed in these matters.
Note: Deluge is also available in paperback, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-1431-1320-1, and various e-editions.