Europäische Kulturtage 2014

Prof. Dr. John Horne

Das wechselhafte Gesicht des Krieges im 20. Jahrhundert

Curriculum Vitae

Prof Dr John Horne is Professor of Modern European History at Trinity College Dublin.

My research focuses on the history of twentieth-century France and the Great War in a comparative and transnational perspective. I began as a social and labour historian but have more recently explored the uses of cultural history as a way of opening up new perspectives on the First World War without believing in the exclusivity of any one approach. I am currently writing a history of the French experience in the Great War. I am a board member of the Research Centre of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne, and I participate in EURHISTXX, a consortium of research institutes across Europe, which explores writing the contemporary history of Europe at a continental level. From 2008 to 2010 I co-directed (with Professor Robert Gerwarth) a research project on ‘Paramilitary Violence after the Great War, 1917-1923: Towards a Global Perspective,’ which was funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and which resulted in, among other outputs, a Oxford University Press book, to be published in 2012. I have been visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, and in 2005 was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.




The Changing Face of War in the Twentieth Century

The global dominance of the ‘west’ shaped the evolving nature of war in the 20th century. The European powers (and the USA and Japan) fought two kinds of enemy – colonial peoples and each other. It was conflict between the ‘advanced’ states that shaped warfare in the first half of the 20th century in two variants, offensive and defensive war.

The First World War was dominated by a new kind of siege warfare. It proved hugely destructive. Technological and tactical change gradually moved in favour of the offensive. But the First World War was won as much by the war of siege as by the Allied offensives of 1918. Although the Second World War confirmed the advantage of the offensive on the battlefield, the conflict remained one of mutual siege in that victory belonged to the side that could directly attack the enemy’s civil society (on the ground and from the air) while depriving it of material resources. The advent of nuclear technology meant that the Cold War combined the threat of an un-survivable atomic offensive with the reality of a mutual economic and ideological siege by each camp. However, a third kind of war emerged after 1945 that had always constituted the other face of war in Europe. This was irregular or guerrilla warfare, which was now used by colonised peoples to expel the European colonizers from their lands. As the Cold War ended, warfare polarized between a highly professional and expensive offensive technology and the widespread recourse to irregular warfare and terror by those deprived of access to such means.

The changing nature of warfare across the 20th century severely eroded the distinction between combatants and non-combatants despite the best efforts of international law to restrict this tendency. Its ultimate expression – nuclear annihilation - was, as the 21st century dawned, at best suspended rather than abolished.