Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe After World War II

Basic. Nov. 2020. 544p. ISBN 9781541672468. $35. HIST
World War II ended with Europe in ruins: reconstruction was the immediate necessity. But prewar notions of what constituted Western civilization also needed to be reconsidered. Betts (European history, St. Antony’s College, Oxford; Within Walls) looks not only at how international humanitarian aid was undertaken after 1945 but how nations, NGOs, and private philanthropies attempted to form and export their own notions of civilization to a recovering and developing world. The result is an excellent study of post-war changes in what Betts refers to as “the political language of civilization.” In the 1940s, appeals to civilization justified restoring Germany to the community of civilized nations in the aftermath of heinous war crimes. Betts’s admirable study slights neither Eastern nor Western efforts and proceeds to detail the complicated struggle of emerging African nations to define themselves rather than being defined by others postcolonization. This wide-ranging work also describes how Europeans hoped to put aside ideological differences in order to create a unified postindustrial society to present to the world.
VERDICT This eminently readable study thoroughly details how European nations sought to redefine and rebuild themselves in the postwar era. It’s indispensable reading for those seeking to better understand modern world affairs.
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