These men grew up in the Global-War era. They fought in it, they went into the government in it, This was their background. And everything they did, and all that they were, was as a reaction to that horror.
Very true, you have to keep in mind the extent of mobilization, and losses, during WWI. In Western Europe, when Hitler rose to power, every man in his late thirties or forties was, in essence, a survivor, who often had been sent, wounded, patched and sent again many times. Also, in France, the Franco Prussian war, extremely harsh on the civilians in the northern half of the country, was in living memory. Pacifism, and willingness to appease, were the result of a personal experience of the battlefield (both 1870 and 1914 had taken place on French soil), shared by former conscripts AND civilians. I think this is an experience we, moderners, have a lot of difficulty to relate to.
Whereas I agree that one cannot understand the events leading to WWII without taking the First World War into account, I don't think the idea of a "short 20th century" à la Hobsbawm, beginning in 1914, works.
What German nationalists dreamed of was "unification done right", with a Germany covering the largest extent of the former german speaking empires (note the similarity with modern day Chinese national ambitions). The "unequal treaty" of Versailles was a part of that, and a very tractable part, at that, since it pertained to recent events, but their revendications went deeper, and revolved around some kind of "manifest destiny" of Germany in Central Europe, a typical 19th century idea.
In Asia , the Japanese thought along similar lines, and wanted some sort of Shimonoseki II in China. After the fall of the Qing, the failure of the restoration by Yuan Shikai and the rise of warlordism, Japan considered it had a "right" to replace China as the regional power, and dislodge the other actors of the Opium wars. Again, you can link this to the second half of the 20th century.
As for the French and British, they were ready to ally (much to eveyone's surprise) to counter the growth of Germany. Again, you have to trace that to the 19th century, and could say, simplifying a bit, that they wanted their 1850 back).
Finally, a point could be made about Stalin's imperial ambitions (at odds with the old internationalist Komintern worldview) and the extent of Tsarist russia in the mid 19th.
So, I believe the proper perspective must trace back into the second half of the 19th century. I am no history teacher, but if I were one, I would introduce the course with 1848... Terrible as it were, WWI is not a beginning, but only a midpoint on the 1848-1945 path.
< Message edited by fcharton -- 9/28/2012 10:34:51 AM >