VISIONS OF THE FUTURE - An essay
Third Stage: 1919-1923 World War and the aftermath.
The First World War will be won by the chemists -
Poison Gas warfare will give decisive victory.
Most optimistic prediction: The war will be over by Christmas.
Image: Spanish Flu victims 1919
the previous fourteen years had seen the transformation of the West
to a modern consumer society with sophisticated tastes and ambitions,
yet the inevitability of war was apparent all along with hindsight.
The Great War eventually drew in all the modern nations and obliterated
the lives of millions, liquidated fortunes, made others, and in this
relatively short period, buried a hope that the world could learn to
live as one and share the promise of the future. Indeed John Maynard
Keynes who was an economic adviser at Versailles Peace Conference May
1919 made an astute comment. He wrote to a friend Duncan Grant - the
painter: ...there is no food or employment anywhere and the
French and Italians are pouring munitions into Central Europe to arm
everyone against everyone else. All ask, not for food or raw materials,
but primarily for instruments of war against their neighbours....They
had a chance of taking a large....humane, view of the world, but unhesitatingly
He returned to England to write a far seeing book entitled Economic
Consequences of the Peace. The thrust of his argument rings true
today - that the economy of all Europe and the world was one and inseparable.
The legacy of a vindictive Versailles would be a contagion of riots
and revolutions and dictatorships. never in the lifetime of men
now living has the universal element in the soul of man burnt so dimly.
The visionaries could see nothing but endless war. H.G. Wells was most
prominent, politicians such as Churchill shared this vision. The best
minds were put to developing weapons of mass destruction. But out of
the ruins came the fast flying aircraft, the durable car, the heavy
truck, tanks, effective telecommunications, and radio. It established
in the minds of leaders (as the Romans before them) of the necessity
of effective road networks, and the need to be more accountable to the
electorate. Modern UK politics was made more firmly based on democracy.
The UK, diminished in what turned out to be a Pyhrric victory, convulsed
and had to redefine its role in the world.
After the Armistice, there was negligible investment in housing infrastructure,
yet the poor stock of UK housing was a primary cause of the general
ill-health of the population. Housing starts from the end of the conflict
to 1921 numbered only 150,000. Britain found itself with 13 million
families and almost no coherent social plan. This number remained fairly
static until 1939. Planning for the UKs future became an obsession,
yet the explosion of social housing building didnt really take
place until after the next war. For the time being, America was the
clear victor and thanks in part to the inventiveness of its people and
the dynamics of the war, underwent a rapid modernisation of its own
infrastructure that would stand it is good staid later on in the century.
The painful birth of Soviet Russia would end up in a three-quarter century
long painful straitjacket that may yet end in the total break-up of
the many nations cobbled together out of the East. Another irony was
the exclusive loathing of each others political system which lead to
a wasteful duplication of scientific research that could have benefited
the world at large.
The consequences of war resulted in an epidemic of TB and venereal disease.
Demands for cures were many, but also the social stigma attached kept
many in ignorance and lead to many thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Visions of a society with cures for everything still pervaded.
The First World War ended, rekindling hope, initially dashed by a world
wide flu-pandemic which killed around 50 million in 1918-1919. The affects
of this pandemic have been massively understated and undercounted as
no one was countin in Asian countries where the suffering was enormous.
Arguably the HN51 virus ended the war as Germany was so weakend by it
and the Americans too, it was killing more each day than the guns and
new airplanes ever could.
By a lucky co-incidence, the modernisation of Europe that followed the
war resulted in rapid employment for both male and female workers. The
death of so many men had opened a niche for women in employment that
they would be reluctant to relinquish. As modern technologies were applied
to industry, using mass production methods pioneered at Henry Fords
automobile factories, less men were need to do the work than before.
Whereas in the last century men needed particular skills to earn a living,
mass-production meant that jobs required less skills. Now any man could
be trained to do quite complex but repetitive tasks. This, at once,
robbed the working classes of the dignity of skilled labour and although
they did not understand it as such, reintroduced slave labour
that was dulling and often hazardous.. Of course people got paid for
their labour and more were paid than before, but mass-production robbed
men of pride in their labour. The significance of this was masked by
the sudden improvement in the economic landscape. Together with the
war and the death of so many people between 1914 and 1919 (ending with
the flu-pandemic) it obscured the real truth of modern technology. Less
workers were needed in almost all areas. As it happened, the world was
in a rapid birth-boom cycle, possibility the opposite of what was needed.
Post war, America went into an isolationist mood, with America First
as a policy. It had responded tot he death of so many American on the
European fields with a universal horror and American politicians had
to promise that never again would they sacrifice Americas
young on the Old worlds problems. The Edwardian globalisation
of economies aided by a strong Great Britain and Empire had been replaced
by vindictiveness and a collapse in the world economy. Each country
fought for trade against the other and drove prices down. Everywhere
the virus of nationalism grew alongside increasing bigotry. In the cracks
it would spawn dictators who would promise the world and would be prepared
to fight for it.
By 1924 unemployment was the rising spectre and in the UK where it reached
almost one million, reflecting the collapse of orders for ships, coal
and other manufactured goods, social tensions arose everywhere. Pundits
were beginning to believe that capitalism was doomed and the Soviet
Marxist solution would be the way forward.) Indeed, to observers on
the outside of the Soviet experiment, the rise in steel production and
manufacturing as a whole in the Soviet Union, in a society that had
no industry at all in 1890 was considered to be remarkable. The truth
about the persecuted populations, the elimination of the middle-classes,
farmers, individual liberty and the introduction of death camps were
hidden or the observers chose not to see.
Before the war, many of the most popular silent movies had been French.
But this quickly changed and by 1919 the Cinema was firmly in American
hands. (Two reasons for this. One the war prevented production and distribution
and two the Americans bought up the distribution networks.) When sound
came along out went subtitles and no one want to know about foreign
movies in the USA. All the icons were either American or British - (Chaplin,
Harold Lloyd. Clara Bow, Buster Keaton). Cinema became the established
dominant entertainment medium. 'Theatre is dead' was the cry, but they
had said that when photography was invented. Now dance music was sweeping
the nation as phonographs grew ever more popular. The Roaring Twenties
was about to begin.
False indicator of the future:
A geological survey of Saudi Arabia 1919-1923 undertaken by representatives
of Shell Petroleum concluded that no significant oil discoveries
have been found or would be found in the region and recommended that
the survey be concluded. Source Shell Middle-East Survey Documents
John Maynard Keynes: In the long term we are all dead.
© Sam North 2000-2007
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