In James Sheehan’s 2003 book, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? the Stanford scholar asks why/how did Europe go from a highly militarized society to civilian society we see today. This is a very important question to ask and one that Sheehan addresses aptitude. While not a total history, the study encompasses the 20th and early 21th centuries as the scope of these wars were the most destructive and violent in history occurring on European soil. Early in the study Sheehan points out the highly militarized society of Europe in the early 20th century where all young participated as conscription was almost universal, but even with this highly militaristic society there was large and growing pacifist movement in Europe that included among others author HG Wells. However, even with the pacifist movement when the First World War erupted all supported and joined the war effort as it was their duty to serve the country.
The industrialization of warfare made the First World War unlike any event in history and most Europeans believed and hoped that war would never happen again. The aversion to war was so strong that popular opinion supported the leaders of France and Great Britain after the agreement in Munich. However, Hitler’s world view and plans for Europe made war inevitable. The disregard for human life during the Second World War especially on the Eastern Front and in the east Death Camps. The loss of human life was so incredible that post war plans were designed to prevent another war.
I agree strongly with Sheehan, that the onset of the Cold War created bipolar yet stabilized world where Europeans, especially in the West, were able to rebuild their lives. One of the most important aspects of this bipolar world was that the two super powers guaranteed the protection of Western and Eastern Europe respectively. This allowed Western European governments to focus on rebuilding and creating economic unions without spending money on the military. This led to the growth in welfare states – Europeans did not have to spend money on the military because the United States and Soviet Union underwrote their respective spheres. This played a crucial factor leading to the demilitarization of Europe in the 20th century.
One important issue that Sheehan perhaps overlooks is how the homogenization of Europe after the Second World War also played a factor the continent’s demilitarization. After the war, the negotiators observed that the war began with Hitler’s desire to expand Germany to include all Germans. First Austria then Sudetenlands of Czechoslovakia. Finally, Hitler enacted his belief that Germany, the most noble nation on Earth, needed to expand and colonize the east as Slavs were ethnically inferior. After the war, this desire for ethnic homogenization occurred throughout the continent as nations expelled minorities to create ethnically stable nations which would prevent other European nations from claiming territory. The creation of ethnically homogenous nations eased tensions between the nations thus also playing a role in demilitarizing Europe.
Overall, I agree with Sheehan’s assessment of Europe – that it will for the foreseeable future remain a civilian continent spending money on state welfare programs rather than defense and relying on United States if any significant military action is needed. However, I wonder if Sheehan would come to the same conclusions now with the financial crises currently troubling Europe. I do no think that it is outside the realm of possibility for the EU to break down and the nations of Europe to again become hostile with one another. Also, with the advent of the EU and the dismantling of borders Europe many again see nations composed of multiple ethnic groups which could lead to destabilization sometime in the future.