Post World War I Demobilization
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The end of war is not an event, but a process. Historians know a great deal about how societies mobilize their populations for war in the modern world but have spent surprisingly little time thinking about the process of demobilization, which here refers not just to the return home of troops, but to the whole or partial withdrawal of the legal claims of a warring state on the human, economic, and cultural resources of that state. Demobilization, then, has military, economic, bureaucratic, and cultural components that can be seen quite clearly in the literature on demobilization after 1918. World War I was a massive conflict involving millions of soldiers on the combat front and millions more noncombatants, including women, working under the tight control of the state on the home front. Beginning in 1917, most combatant states dramatically intensified their propaganda apparatus in an effort to remobilize their populations. The war was also broadly popular across many combatant societies for a remarkably long time, a fact that has been lost to later generations, who have been influenced by the war literature of disillusionment that emerged in the decade after 1918. Finally, the experience of the Russian Revolution introduced a new language of militancy into postwar debates over social and economic reform. Ironically, states that emerged from the war ostensibly victorious were more vulnerable to claims that they were not willing to live up to the promises made to their populations during the war. The studies reviewed in this article deal broadly with four themes: the planning for and execution of military and economic demobilization, contests over the memory and memorialization of the dead, the influence of the war experience on postwar politics, and the persistence of political violence by those who refused to demobilize at the end of the war.
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