The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen - review by Richard Overy

Richard Overy

Conquer & Divide

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire


Oxford University Press 571pp £22.99 order from our bookshop

When the victorious Allies sat down to decide on the terms of the peace settlement in the early months of 1919, they were faced with a dilemma. To defeat Germany and her allies it had been necessary during the war to present it as a struggle between enlightened, liberal democracies on the one hand and the old autocratic monarchies on the other. This was awkward enough as long as the Western states were allied with tsarist Russia, though the situation was somewhat eased when Russia exited the war. What was more difficult was the attempt to reconcile the imperial claims of the British and French, whose empires were certainly not models of enlightenment, with the Wilsonian internationalism that dominated the conference. The empires opted for sleight of hand. They agreed to take over imperial territory that had belonged to Germany and the Ottoman Empire as League of Nations ‘mandates’. They pledged allegiance to the idea that they were schooling ‘adolescent’ peoples for eventual political adulthood. In this

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