“breaking. ” Advanced European societies could not support long wars orso many thought prior to World War I. They were right in a way. Thesocieties could not support a long war unchanged.
The First World Warleft no aspect of European civilization untouched as pre-wargovernments were transformed to fight total war. The war metamorphedEurope socially, politicaly, economically, and intellectualy. European countries channeled all of their resources into totalwar which resulted in enormous social change. The result of workingtogether for a common goal seemed to be unifying European societies. Death knocked down all barriers between people.
All belligerents hadenacted some form of a selective service which levelled classes inmany ways. Wartime scarcities made luxury an impossibility andunfavorable. Reflecting this, clothing became uniform andutilitarian. Europeans would never again dress in fancy, elaboratecostumes. Uniforms led the way in clothing change.Order now
The brightblue-and-red prewar French infantry uniforms had been changed afterthe first few months of the war, since they made whoever wore theminto excellent targets for machine guns. Women’s skirts rose abovethe ankle permanently and women became more of a part of societythan ever. They undertook a variety of jobs previously held by men. They were now a part of clerical, secretarial work, and teaching. They were also more widely employed in industrial jobs. By 1918, 37.
6percent of the work force in the Krupp armaments firm in Germany wasfemale. In England the proportion of women works rose strikingly inpublic transport (for example, from 18,000 to 117,000 bus conductors),banking (9,500 to 63,700), and commerce (505,000 to 934,000). Manyrestrictions on women disappeared during the war. It becameacceptable for young, employed, single middle-class women to havetheir own apartments, to go out without chaperones, and to smoke inpublic. It was only a matter of time before women received the rightto vote in many belligerent countries.
Strong forces were shaping thepower and legal status of labor unions, too. The right of workers toorganize was relatively new, about half a century. Employers foughtto keep union organizers out of their plants and armed force was oftenused against striking workers. The universal rallying of workerstowards their flag at the beginning of the war led to wider acceptanceof unions. It was more of a bureaucratic route than a parliamentaryroute that integrated organized labor into government, however.
Along war was not possible without complete cooperation of the workerswith respect to putting in longers hours and increasing productivity. Strike activity had reached its highest levels in history just beforethe war. There had been over 1,500 diffent work stoppages in Franceand 3,000 in Germany during 1910. More than a million British workersstopped at one time or another in 1912. In Britain, France, andGermany, deals were struck between unions and government to eliminatestrikes and less favorable work conditions in exchange for immediateintegration into the government process. This integration was at thecost of having to act more as managers of labor than as the voice ofthe labor.
Suddenly, the strikes stopped during the first year of thewar. Soon the enthusiasm died down, though. The revival of strikeactivity in 1916 shows that the social peace was already wearing thin. Work stoppages and the number of people on strike in Francequadrupled in 1916 compared to 1915. In Germany, in May 1916, 50,000Berlin works held a three-day walkout to protest the arrest of thepacifist Karl Liebknecht. By the end of the war most had rejectedthe government offer of being integrated in the beaurocracy, but notwithout playing an important public role and gaining some advantagessuch as collective bargaining.
The war may have had a leveling effectin many ways, but it also sharpened some social differences andconflicts. Soldiers were revolting just like workers:They were no longer willing to sacrifice theirlives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, tkaing,the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, andwhile so many profiteers were waxing rich. The draft was not completely fair since ot all men were sent to thetrenches. Skilled workers were more important to industry and somecould secure safe assignments at home. Unskilled young males andjunior officers paid with their lives the most. The generationconflict was also widened by the war as Veterens’ disillusionment fedoff of anger towards the older generation for sending them to thetrenches.
. Governments took on many new powers in order to fight thetotal war. War governments fought opposition by increasing policepower. Authoritatian regimes like tsarist Russia had always dependedon the threat of force, but now even parliamentary governments feltthe necessity to expand police powers and control public opinion. Britain gave police powers wide scope in August 1914 by the Defence ofthe Realm Act which authorized the public authorities to arrest andpunish dissidents under martial law if necessary.
Through later actspolices powers grew to include suspending newspapers and the abilityto intervene in a citizen’s private life in the use of lights at home,food consumption, and bar hours. Police powers tended to grow as thewar went on and public opposition increased as well. In France asharp rise of strikes, mutinies, and talk of a negotiated peace raiseddoubts about whether France could really carry on the war in 1917. Agroup of French political leaders decided to carry out the war at thecost of less internal liberty.
The government cracked down on anyonesuspected of supporting a compromise peace. Many of the crackdownsand treason charges were just a result of war hysteria or calculatedpolitcal opportunism. Expanded police powers also included control ofpublic information and opinion. The censorship of newspapers andpersonal mail was already an established practice.
Governmentsregularly used their power to prevent disclosure of military secretsand the airing of dangerous opinions considering war efforts. Theother side of using police power on public opinion was the “organizingof enthusiasm,” which could be thought of as:Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people;the organization embraces within its scope only those who donot threaten on psychological grounds to become a brake on thefurther dissemination of the idea. World War I provided a place for the birth of propaganda whichcountries used with even more frightening results during World War II. Governments used the media to influence people to enlist and tobrainwash them war into supporting the war. The French prime ministerused his power to draft journalists or defer them in exchange forfavorable coverage.
The German right created a new mass party, theFatherland Party. It was backed by secret funds from the army and wasdevoted to propaganda for war discipline. By 1918, the FatherlandParty was larger than the Social Democratic Party. Germany had becomequite effective at influencing the masses. The economic impact of the war was very disaproportioned.
Atone end there were those who profited from the war and at the otherend were those who suffered under the effects of inflation. Theopportunities to make enormous amounts of money in war manufacturewere plentiful. War profiteers were a public scandal. Fictional newrich, like the manufacturer of shoddy boots in Jules Romains’s Verdunhad numerous real-life counterparts. However, government rarelyintervened in major firms, as happened when the German military tookover the Daimler motor car works for padding costs on war-productioncontracts.
Governments tended to favor large, centralized industriesover smaller ones. The war was a stimulus towards grouping companiesinto larger firms. When resources became scarce, nonessential firms,which tended to be small, were simply closed down. Inflation was thegreatest single economic factor as war budges rose to astronomicalfigures and massive demand forced shortages of many consumer goods.
Virtually ever able-bodied person was employed to keep up with thedemand. This combination of high demand, scarcity, and fullemployment sent prices soaring, even in the best managed countries. In Britain, a pound sterling brought in 1919 about one-third of whatit had bought in 1914. French prices approximately doubled during thewar and it only got worse during the 1920’s. Inflation rates wereeven higher in other belligerents The German currency ceased to havevalue in 1923. All of this had been forseen by John M.
Keynes asa result of the Versailles Treaty:The danger confonting us, therefore, is the rapiddepression of the standard of life of the European populationsto a point which will mean actual starvation for some (a pointalready reached in Russian and approximately reach in Austria). Inflation affected different people quite differently. Skilledworkers in strategic industries found that their wages kept pace withprices or even rose a little faster. Unskilled workers and workers inless important industries fell behind. Clerks, lesser civil servants,teachers, clergymen, and small shopkeepers earned less than manyskilled labors.
Those who suffered the most were those dependent onfixed incoming. The incomes of old people on pensions or middle classliving on small dividends remained about the same while prices doubleor tripled. These dropped down into poverty. These “new poor” kepttheir pride by repairing old clothes, supplementing food budget withgardens, and giving up everything to appear as they had before thewar. Inflation radically change the relative position of many insociety. Conflicts arose over the differences in purchasing power.
All wage earners had less real purchasing power at the end of the warthan they had had at the beginning. To make matters worse some greatfortunes were built during the wartime and postwar inflation. Thosewho were able to borrow large amounts of money could repay their debtsin devalued currency from their war profit. Four years of chaos and utter destruction had smashed the oldworld Europe. The most “advanced” quarter of the world had turned toviolence and barbarism of its own accord. Progress and reason hadbeen suppressed for destruction.
Moreover, it has brought to light analmost incredible phenomenon: the civilized nations know andunderstand one another so little that one can turn against the otherwith hate and loathing. Indeed, one of the great civilized nations isso universally unpopular that the attempt can actually be made toexclude it from the civilized community as “barbaric,” although it haslong proved its fitness by the magnificent contributions to thatcommunity which it has made. The early part of the war satisfied the fascination withspeed, violence, and the machine as manifested in the pre-warFuturists. Many movements shared a resolute “modernist” contempt forall academic styles in the arts, a hatred for bourgeois culture, and acommitment to the free expression of individuals. All these feelingswere given an additional jolt of violence and anger by the horrors ofthe wartime experience. During the war there was a loss of illusionsas described in All Quiet on the Western Front.
Poets, like others,had gone to war in 1914 believing in heroism and nobility. Trenchwarfare hardened and embittered many. Freud said of disillusionment:When I speak of disillusionment, everyone will know atonce what i mean. One need not be a sentimentalist; one mayperceive the biological and psychological necessity forsurrering in the economy of human life, and yet condemn war bothin its means and ends and long for the cessation of all wars. British poet, Wilfred Own, who was killed in 1918 was transformed froma young romantic into a powerful denouncer of those who had sent youngmen off to war. In “Dulce et Decorum Est” he mocked “the old lie”that it was good to die for one’s country, after giving a searingdescription of a gassed soldier coughing out his lungs.
The anger ofthe soldier-poets was directed against those who had sent them to thewar, not their enemy. The war experience did not produce new artforms or styles. It acted largely to make the harshest themes and thegrimmest or most mocking forms of expression of prewar intellectuallife seem more appropriate, and to fost experiments in opposition tothe dominant values of contemporary europe. The Dada movement, whichmocked old values and ridiculed stuffy bourgeois culture, was one ofthese movements.
A mood of desolation and emptiness prevailed at theend of a war where great sacrifice had brought little gain. It wasnot clear where post-war anger would be focused, but it woulddefinately be in antibourgeois politics. The echoes of a world shattering were heard throughout theworld as Europe collapsed into total war. These echoes were the soundof change as Europe was transformed socially, politicaly,economically, and intellectualy into a machine of completedestruction. Europe would never be the same again.