CHAPTER 15 Years of crisis 1919-1939

Postwar Uncertainty

A New Revolution in Science

The ideas of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud had an enormous impact on the 20th century. These thinkers were part of a scientific revolution as important as that brought about centuries earlier by Copernicus and Galileo.

Impact of Einstein's Theory of Relativity-- German-born physicist Albert Einstein offered startling new ideas on space, time energy, and matter. Scientists had found light travels at the same speed no matter which direction it moves on earth. In 1905, Einstein theorized that while light i constant, other things that seemed constant, such as space and time are not. Since relative motion is the key to Einstein's idea it is called the theory of relativity.

Influence of Freudian Psychology--The ideas of Austrian physician SIgmund Freud were as revolutionary as Einstein's. Freud treated patients with psychological problems. He believed that much of human behavior is irrational, or beyond reason. Freud's ideas weakened faith in reason. Even so, by the 1920's Freud's theories had developed widespread influence.

Literature in the 1920's-- The brutality of World War I caused philosophers and writers to question accepted ideas about reason and progress. Some writer's and thinkers expressed their anxieties by creating disturbing visions of the present and the future. In 1922, T.S. Eliot, an American poet living in England, wrote that western society had lost its spiritual values.He described the Postwar as a barren wasteland drained of hope and faith.

Writers Reflect Society's Concerns--The horror of the war made a deep impression of many writer's. The Czech-born author Frank Kafka wrote eerie novels such as The Trail (1925) and The Castle (1922). His books feature people caught in threatening situations they can neither understand nor escape. The books struck a chord among readers in the uneasy postwar years.

Thinkers React to Uncertainties--In their search for meaning in an uncertain world, some thinkers turned to the philosophy known as existentialism. A major leader of this movement was the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre of France. The existentialist were influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In the 1800's, Nietzsche wrote that Western ideas such as reason, Democracy, and progress had stifled people's creativity and actions.

Revolution in the Arts--Although many of the new directions in painting and music began in the prewar period, they evolved after the war.

Artists Rebel Against Tradition--Artists rebelled against earlier realistic styles of painting.They wanted to depict the inner world of emotion and immagination rather than show realistic representations of objects.


Postwar Europe--In both human suffering and economic terms, the cost of World War I was immense.The Great War left every major European country nearly bankrupt. In addition, Unstable New Democracies War’s end saw the sudden rise of new democracies. From 1914 to 1918, Europe’s last absolute rulers had been overthrown. The first of the new governments was formed in Russia in 1917. The Provisional Government, as it was called, hoped to establish constitutional and democratic rule. However, within months it had fallen to a Communist dictatorship. Even so, for the first time, most European nations had democratic governments. Many citizens of the new democracies had little experience with representative government. For generations, kings and emperors had ruled Germany and the new nations formed from Austria-Hungary. Even in France and Italy, whose parliaments had existed before World War I, the large number of political parties made effective government difficult. Some countries had a dozen or more political groups. In these countries, it was almost impossible for one party to win enough support to govern effectively. When no single party won a majority, a coalition government, or temporary alliance of several parties, was needed to form a parliamentary majority. Because the parties disagreed on so many policies, coalitions seldom lasted very long. Frequent changes in government made it hard for democratic countries to develop strong leadership and move toward long-term goals. The weaknesses of a coalition government became a major problem in times of crisis. Voters in several countries were then willing to sacrifice democratic government for strong,authoritarian leadership. Europe’s domination in world affairs declined after the war.

The Weimar Republic-- Germany’s new democratic government was set up in 1919. Known as the Weimar Republic, it was named after the city where the national assembly met. The Weimar Republic had serious weaknesses from the start. First, Germany lacked a strong democratic tradition. Furthermore, postwar Germany had several major political parties and many minor ones. Worst of all, millions of Germans blamed the Weimar government, not their wartime leaders, for the country’s defeat and postwar humiliation caused by the Versailles Treaty. Inflation Causes Crisis in Germany Germany also faced enormous economic problems that had begun during the war. Unlike Britain and France, Germany had not greatly increased its wartime taxes. To pay the expenses of the war, the Germans had simply printed money. After Germany’s defeat, this paper money steadily lost its value. Burdened with heavy reparations payments to the Allies and with other economic problems, Germany printed even more money. As a result, the value of the mark, as Germany’s currency was called, fell sharply. Severe inflation set in. Germans needed more and more money to buy even the most basic goods. For example, in Berlin a loaf of bread cost less than a mark in 1918, more than 160 marks in 1922, and some 200 billion marks by late 1923. People took wheelbarrows full of money to buy food. As a result, many Germans questioned the value of their new democratic government. Attempts at Economic Stability Germany recovered from the 1923 inflation thanks largely to the work of an international committee. The committee was headed by Charles Dawes, an American banker. The Dawes Plan provided for a $200 million loan from American banks to stabilize German currency and strengthen its economy. The plan also set a more realistic schedule for Germany’s reparations payments. Put into effect in 1924, the Dawes Plan helped slow inflation. As the German economy began to recover, it attracted more loans and investments from the United States. By 1929, German factories were producing as much as they had before the war.Efforts at a Lasting Peace As prosperity returned, Germany’s foreign minister, Gustav Stresemann and France’s foreign minister, Aristide Briand, tried to improve relations between their countries. In 1925, the two ministers met in Locarno, Switzerland, with officials from Belgium, Italy, and Britain. They signed a treaty promising that France and Germany would never again make war against each other. Germany also agreed to respect the existing borders of France and Belgium. It then was admitted to the League of Nations. In 1928, the hopes raised by the “spirit of Locarno” led to the Kellogg-Briand peace pact. Frank Kellogg, the U.S. Secretary of State, arranged this agreement with France’s Briand. Almost every country in the world, including the Soviet Union, signed. They pledged “to renounce war as an instrument of national policy.” Unfortunately, the treaty had no means to enforce its provisions. The League of Nations, the obvious choice as enforcer, had no armed forces. The refusal of the United States to join the League also weakened it. Nonetheless, the peace agreements seemed a good start.

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