AD's English Literature : Understanding The Background and Intervening Years of Two World Wars: Embarking On Social Life

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Understanding The Background and Intervening Years of Two World Wars: Embarking On Social Life


  
“This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” 

Marshal Foch of France on Versailles Treaty's contents after First World War

 The period of twenty five years (1914-1939) between the first world war and the beginning of the second world war offered the sharpest possible contrast to the official serenity and complacency of the Victorian era.  Victorian period, followed as it was by the equally staid Edwardian period from 1901 to 1910, made the English society feel itself permanently freed from wholesale destruction of life and devastation of property. Consequently, the First World War, with it’s over whelming anxieties, sacrifices, and disasters, came as a terrific shock to the society. The entire society had to undergo four years of suffering, and sacrifice, and only the hope that this war was a war and surely the world for democracy provided the necessary grit. Yet the war itself was not the end of the nightmare for its impact continued right till the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
This was the first war which would not be limited to the regular army. The entire civilian populace becomes part of the war effort. Thousands of young men – from every class and every conceivable stratum of society – joined the army. Artists, critics, factory workers, salesman and clerks, all joined in, cheered by their family members. It was as if the war was a celebration to be welcomed. The optimism and enthusiasm was infectious. For king and country become a famous slogan, and the optimistic felt that the glorious war would end in a matter of months.

But the bubble of optimism soon burst instead of being over in a few months, it lasted over four years, wreaking enormous, devastation of men and materials. The city of London was devastated by the dropping of bums, and the society was at a loss as Lawrence wrote, "It was in 1915 the old world ended ……..the city, in some way, perished from being the heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes and fears."    (Kangaroo)

The objections to the war in creased, and many “conscientious objectors” became ready to face imprisonment than volunteer for war. The horror of the war-front led the war. My subject is war, and the pity of war, alone stroke the war deprived the British society of a significant section of its Young man.

Even though the end of the war in 1918 saw British military triumph, it was filled by a period of reaction. Within a decade the economic consequences of First World War at last made them felt in the onset of an economic depression such as the world had never seen. Although it began as a crash in the American stock market in 1929, the reverberations were felt with particular strength in England, taxes, greatly increased to pay back the enormous costs of the conflict, mounted to such a height that they not only impoverished the salaried professional classes, but also threatened to wipe out the estates of most aristocrats. Further, the collapse of the war economy meant unemployment on a scale hither to unknown.

The two significant events in the post war situation were the granting of the vote to women and the general strike of 1926.the long existing suffragette demand for the right to vote to women – a demand which had often a violent form of expression- finally found its consummation in 1918. At first franchise was granted only to women above 30, but later it was extended to almost all men and women above 21. The momentous event of a general strike occurred in 1926 when the coal-mine workers decided to strike against the mine owners who threatened to lower wages.

One surprising phenomenon was the rise of socialism, particularly among the intellectuals. Marxism filled an uncomfortable vacuum which liberalism had left. Arthur Koestler has evoked, in his autobiography, the emotional impact and intellectual attraction of Marxism; “it was……born out of the despair of world war and civil war, of social unrest and economic chaos ……..” Many like Auden joined the “International Brigade’ to support the fledgling Marxist government which was being threatened by the right armies. Although this did not survive the past Second World War situation, it did give on evidence of the inter war frustration. 

    Ardhendu De   

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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