Armistice Day is embedded in popular Western memory of the Great War – the moment in 1918 when the guns stopped firing on the Western Front. Every 11 November, two minutes’ silence is observed across the United Kingdom, perpetuating awareness of that sombre moment. What the armistice actually meant is seldom examined very closely; it is enough that the seemingly remorseless killing in the trenches of France and Belgium ended. In reality, that was all that stopped on 11 November 1918. The end of the Great War was as confused and messy as its start. It took four more years of conflict across much of central and eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean before a peace settlement of sorts was reached. Even the armistice settled little: the economic blockade of Germany by the Allies went on until the Weimar Republic accepted the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.
Those messy years are the subject of Robert Gerwarth’s searing and vivid new account of the violent birth of a new Europe in the five years after 1918. He makes the obvious and sensible point that it was defeat and its aftermath, rather than the conflict itself, that prompted the