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Zero Hours

Conceptual Insecurities and New Beginnings in the Interwar Period

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Hagen Schulz-Forberg

To cut off time and seal away the past, to proclaim a new beginning in the present and project a better future onto tomorrow – and thus to make history – is a key signature of modern social, political and cultural discourses. In this book, this practice is represented through the metaphor of the Zero Hour, which alludes to the wish to rebuild the past in the face of a crisis-ridden present characterised by growing conceptual insecurity, hoping for a more stable future. Indeed, the ever-new construction of our past, sequenced and ordered in explanatory narratives, bears witness to a future that ‘ought to be’. As the case studies in this volume show, this is a global phenomenon.
Against the backdrop of a confluence of experiences which unsettled conceptual norms after the First World War, this volume presents a novel approach to global history as it examines ways of breaking with the past and the way in which societies, as well as transnational historical actors, employ key concepts to compose arguments for a better tomorrow.

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PART II: CONCEPTS. BORDER, REVOLUTION, ART, HEALTH, ECONOMICS

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PART II CONCEPTS BORDER, REVOLUTION, ART, HEALTH, ECONOMICS 147 War Aims, Wilsonian Ideas, and the ‘New Diplomacy’ Reinventing the Franco-German Border of Alsace-Lorraine, 1914-1919 Volker PROTT Introduction1 Envisioning a just and lasting peace, American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points of January 1918 proclaimed a fundamental shift of the international order. Disputes between countries ought no longer be a matter of military power and secret treaties, but be resolved on the basis of transparent diplomacy and universal principles. Moreover, the democratisation of international relations should be based on the collective right of self-determination, that is, the populations affected by international policy should be consulted and ideally direct its course. Driven by the growing ideological challenge of the Russian Revolution and resulting from a pressing need for strong Allied war aims,2 the Wilsonian principles contained a powerful promise. They stood at a watershed in international history and mobilised global attention at an unprecedented scale. It was by referring to self-determination that the Allied peacemakers in 1919 set out to redraw the map of Europe and the colonial world, and it was initially by referring to the same principle that the Nazis tore apart this new order a mere twenty years later. Ever since the first disillusionments over the Paris peace settlements emerged in the late spring of 1919, contemporary observers as well as later ............................................................ 1 I would like to thank the organisers of the “Zero Hours” conference that took place on 24-26 June 2010 in Aarhus for giving me the chance...

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