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Sam North


Prediction -The second world war will be won by the physicists - radar and the atomic bomb will give decisive victory. Science and government will become inseparable.

In 1939 came the first American broadcast TV (April that year) and George Wendt was wondering if TV might change how we perceive war (...can war itself be brought within the actual experience of those who stay at home, complete with cannon, screams and horror?') (Yes but we'd have to wait for the Vietnam war for this to happen). In 1939 hardly anyone actually had a TV set. There was a World's Fair in New York that was all about how good the future would be. (26,000,000 million visitors in the first year). It was a future of highways, faster cars, suburbs, 'Futuramas', 'World of Tomorrows'. In the same year however you could have seen cattle grazing in a field near the Chrysler building.

Nylon stockings arrived in December 1939, rayon, cellophane quickly followed. What's new in 1939 photo-electric-cells, electon beams, radio direction beams, wire photos, lucite, plexiglas,jet engines (Italy I believe can claim the first to build a flying aircraft, followed by the Germans) fax machines arrived (the world's biggest at the fair, fluorescent lighting, rockets, primitive robots. In case you think the 1930's were sexless, the World's Fair had exhibits of Women's Magazines of the future, 'Living Magazine Covers' had topless women posing as if on the cover of a magazine. Soft-porn was very much part of the that world.

If you wanted to buy an economic car, the Crosley would do, a two cylinder 12hp car for $350. Most people didn't want such a small car.

But in 1940 sees the first sign that the world is now too small for dictators. The price of removing them would be high, for sure, but Europe after 1800 years of conflict since the Romans withdrew has finally tired of war.

It is in 1942 that sees the our present future begins. When America enters the war, simultaneously, against Japan and Germany. At last America becomes the superpower that it would be for the next 65 years (and hopefully more).

The 1939-46 war saw the next big surge in technology that would fuel the second half of the 20th Century. Alongside radar and the principles of the laser, came gas turbines, the jet engine, computers, rocketry, second generation antibiotics, food engineering, high strength polymers and plastics and atomic power. All of the above were ideas and concepts already conceived, but it took the second world war to put the necessary funding and urgency behind them. Just one of those ideas would have changed the world, the fact that all of them came along at once guaranteed that the peace would be radically different to the previous between wars peace.

The war itself had a huge sociological impact upon the UK. A society that so nearly was defeated ( we know now how close it was) yet had found the resources and more importantly the will to fight and with America’s help, defeated the enemy. Nevertheless, the virus that stormed Germany still infects the world and is in some cases reviving. The war killed less British nationals than the first war, but the impact was greater because of the aerial bombing and the huge loss of life in our cites and the destruction of property. It made us callous too, as we inflicted even more destruction on Germany’s cities, firebombing Dresden and other places. War redeems no one.

Women once again had to work in the factories, run the civil service, do ‘mens’ jobs. This time they were determined not to be put back in the box after victory. You will search in vain for predictive literature that talks of equal rights for women at work or in the home. No visionary text of the rise of the women at work or in politics. Certainly no one predicted that single mothers would form a majority of mothers by 2000. The war unleashed a desire for freedom of expression, a need for abolishing the past and the old ways empowerment of the individual. Yet all this would have to wait until the 1950’s and a new ‘prosperity’.

After 1946 the world found itself split. The Communist East (later joined by China in 1948) and the West. To look for the visionaries, it is easier to find those who didn’t have a concept about the post-war years. Yet just as the war had been planned for (but hardly acted upon) so had the peace been planned for. The UK, badly damaged and financially crippled struggled to regain markets it had lost, realising pretty rapidly the problem of surrendering so much of their technological lead to the USA (the jet engine, computer and atomic research to name three). Manufacturing went back to making the same shoddy goods it had before the war. The world had not only changed, but now the loser countries would receive greater inward investment than the victors. This would lead to a resurgent German economy and Japanese economy that would meet the UK economy head-on ten years later, then rapidly overtake it.

On the social economy, the ideas of the prewar years finally took root. Free education, free medical health for all. Opportunities for all. The great social housing boom took place. Enemy action had destroyed or made uninhabitable 360,000 dwellings. There were judged to be 450,000 buildings short for the 13,100,000 families in the UK in 1946. Planners saw a need to build two million homes between 1946-50. A further two million between 1951-55, and another four million homes between 1956-1971. Eight million homes! They actually planned to destroy all housing stock built prior to 1914, entailing demolishing 7,125,000 homes. How would this be paid for, given that the average rents in 1946 were between 8 shillings and 12s.6d..per week? The building plan was begun in the UK, but ran into funding difficulties once the government changed in 1951. This was fortunate, for many places where the planners had not yet destroyed , but today cities such as Coventry, Birmingham, Bradford are as much scarred by the planners clearings as the bombs that fell before them.

The UK and USA were filled with such plans. No regard was made for the rehabilitation of older houses, or building neighbourhoods near shops, or privacy. In the UK and USA and in many places where war damage had been severe, great estates were built to house the displaced and the poor. It is these places that lay the foundation for the future deprivation and spiritual desolation of those forced to live in them. A vision of a future that reduces humans to units of consumption is doomed and social planning on vast scale as practised in the Soviet Union and elsewhere lies much discredited.
Source M.A. Abrams Housing and Homes in Post-War Britain Future Books Overture Press.
Number of UK civil servants in 1944 1,400,000

The futures imagined for atomic power are well known. Everyone studies the promises of electric power too cheap to meter! In 1933 Ernest Rutherford father of atomic research remarked ‘ One timely word of warning was to those who look for sources of power in the atomic transmutations - such expectations are the merest moonshine.” Nature vol 132, Sept 11th ‘33 pp 432-33

2002 notes:
*As we examine the year 2002 from the point of view of the stock market, capitalism has never been so popular and America never so prosperous. Indeed, the US economy is almost at its strongest for eighteen years with desperate shortages of labour in all areas of the economy, and an apparent virtuous circle, no signs of inflation. Interest rates are very low and deflation could be a greater danger. (Japan knows all about that).The trauma of September 11th is behind it and reconstruction will begin soon enough. Rethinking has also begun about what really threatens the USA in the 21st century.
Terrorism will be the key problem.

The close election of 2000 was a choice is between two very similar parties that have converged. Electoral choice has become that of McDonalds or Burger King, in the end it's only the price of the trimmings that makes the difference. In this case you got a hot sauce and an old team of warriors. Right men for the times or wrong. History will tell if Geroge W Bush was the right choice. (Dead wrong as it turns out) He responded with the right emotions to the New York and Pentagon attacks - but the jury is out on the war on Afghanistan. Victory was swift, but the enemy slipped away to fight another day. Never a good omen.

Will electronic voting make a different next time around. Will people feel more empowered if they can vote in their own homes? Can the outsider ever penetrate the American two-party system? Perhaps e-voting might break the log-jam? Certainly it has to be better than the paper system and corrupt Florida counting methods.

The financial predictions for now are very similar to that of 1929. ‘We are in a virtuous cicle, a new paradigm in the world economy’.

The US stock market went past the 11,000 mark on August 11th 2000. It stands at 13,500 in 2007.
It is now hovering around the 10,000 mark (April 2002)and everyone believes there has been a recession, yet Americans have never been richer. K-Mart has gone into Chapter 11 and a slew of over-priced dotcoms, but it was all froth anyway. It is so long since a real recession, no one can remember or indeed, no one wants to believe that the law of nature has not been repealed. Yet, the seeds of future have already been sown. People believe the internet dragon has been slain and it won't affect their futures. But the electronic revolution is still ongoing and it will bite back soon enough.

**. In fact, it is predicted that almost none of the early web pioneers will survive and that name brand companies will wade in and take over everything once this initial phase is over, buying in cheap when the technology is perfected.
It is already happening.
My guess is that AOL-Time Warner will become plain old Time-Warner sometime in the future. Old economies will adapt.

© Sam North 2000 (update 2002)

To continue reading Visions of the Future:
1890-1914 1919-1923 1924-1939 1939-1946
2000-2010 - 2010-2050

Another Place To Die: Endtime
by Sam North

The Next Great Flu Pandemic is coming. Are you prepared?

'It will keep readers in suspense, laced with gritty-gallows humor'
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Fascinating, frightening and compelling, Another Place to Die is the ultimate page-turner which I guarantee will result in many late nights under the bedside light with you uttering, ‘just one more chapter!!’ Ian Middleton


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