Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Long Shadow: Part 3 of my comments

This is my third post on The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by Davis Reynolds. Click appropriately for the first and second posts.

The fifth chapter of the book, in the section titled "Legacies" is titled "Civilization". It deals with the "cultural" repercussions of the First World War -- the visual arts, movies, architectural memorials, poetry, fiction and non-fiction books.

This is an amazingly ambitious exercise, perhaps difficult for me to appreciate because, as Reynolds states in the video above, his objective in the book involves contrasting what happened in the shadow of the war in Britain as versus in the rest of Europe.

It seems clear to me that World War I was a watershed in many modern culture.

I was unable to judge the art described in the chapter. This program showing the Woodrow Wilson House collection of pictures from World War I helps. I watch the British Antiques Roadshow, and I note that people occasionally bring in works by their ancestors -- air battles painted by an amateur on metal from a plane, or images drawn by someone assigned to make observation drawings from balloons suspended over the front lines come to mind. I suspect that many soldiers tried to express themselves in such works, or perhaps to convey to folk at home what the war was like.

I was surprised that Reynolds did not focus on the role of photography in creating the legacy of the war. Using Google Image to search for "World War I" I found many, many photos. Perhaps the most memorable image from the war in my mind is the recruiting poster shown on the right.

Similarly, I was surprised that Reynolds failed to mention Wings, William Wellman's 1927 film based on his own wartime experiences that won the first Best Picture Academy Award. Similarly, he failed to mention Battleship Potemkin, Sergei M. Eisenstein's 1925 film about the 105 naval mutiny against the Tsarist regime. It seems to me that that film that provided propaganda for the Communist regime would not have been made but for World War I and the Russian revolution it triggered. Battleship Potemkin is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, and has had great influence on later generations of film makers.

The section of the chapter on the war memorials is interesting, and strongly supports the point that different countries responded to the war in different ways. It is interesting that the British way of dealing with the death of its soldiers in World War I was so influenced by the Union way of dealing with its dead soldiers in the Civil War (see my post after reading This Republic of Suffering). The racism evident in the treatment of the Indian soldiers who died fighting for the British empire in the Middle East is sad to read today.

I was pleased to read Reynolds' acknowledgment of the role of T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound in revolutionizing English poetry, which he regards as having been stuck in 19th century modes before the war. It is nice to see a Brit acknowledge leadership of Yanks, albeit expatriate Yanks, in literature.

The chapter has a brief discussion of intellectuals in the aftermath of the war. It fails to mention the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation that included such intellectual luminaries as  Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Béla Bartók, Thomas Mann, Salvador de Madariaga, and Paul Valéry. It had the International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation as its secretariat. Moreover, there were hundreds of committees for intellectual cooperation formed at the national level in at least 37 countries. Like the International Bureau for Education, these all were associated with the League of Nations.


The sixth and final chapter of "Legacies" is titled "Peace".
Ten million had died in the conflict. Twenty million had been severely wounded and eight million had returned home permanently disabled.
Different nations responded to their different levels of loss differently. Russia, which embarked on a major civil war after its revolution and peace with Germany, devoted relatively little commemoration to the First World War. Germany commemorated early victory, while popular opinion sought those to blame its loss and the heavy reparations that were imposed. France, the United States and Britain all celebrated Armistice Day.

The chapter goes on to consider the different roles of veterans groups in the aftermath of the war. Several veterans associations in Germany differed in their support for peace versus disarmament. The British Legion was relatively weak, while the French veterans associations were quite strong and represented a significant portion of the electorate. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars were larger still, and played a significant role promoting nationalism.

The interwar period saw Mussolini come to power in Italy and Italy invade Ethiopia; Hitler came to power in Germany and there was a rapid military buildup; Italy and Germany aided Franco in establishing a right wing government in Spain. (Portugal too established a right wing government in the 1930s. Facing the militarism of these countries, the Stalinist USSR rapidly built its military capacity, including its heavy industry and rail network. On the other hand, there were strong isolationist and peace sentiments in England and even stronger ones in the United States. It was only late in the 1930s that the latter began to prepare for war.

Refractions and Again

The second part of the book is titled "Refractions". It deals with the Second World War and the latter part of the 20th century.

Chapter 7 of the book, "Again" is a brief summary of World War II. (It makes the point that this war was even more global than the first, and that it required a change in terms. The war of 1914-1918 could no longer be termed the "Great War" and became, the "First World War" or "World War I{.

The chapter focuses almost entirely on the Western Front, recognizing that the Soviet military did most of the fighting against the Germans and that the United States provided the industrial muscle, producing more war materiel than the other combatants combined. Reynolds seems to suggest that Churchill's war rhetoric was rather greater than British accomplishments might have warranted in the light of a couple of generations of historical research.

The chapter is surprisingly silent about the Eastern Front. Japan after all was engaged in a huge war effort against China, had conquered British colonies in Singapore and Burma, French Indochina and the Dutch colony of Indonesia. While the United States emphasized the war in Europe for the first years, the loss of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and of the Philippines were major blows.


It is interesting that Reynolds does not address the shadow of World War I on the development of technology. Obviously the war led to rapid advances in military technology. It seems likely that it promoted the development of aviation technology with both military and civil impacts. Perhaps it also led to the more rapid development of ship building. While Ford had pioneered the assembly line for automobiles just before the war, it seems likely that that manufacturing technology spread internationally more rapidly as a result of the war. All of these and other technological affects occurred in the 1920s and 30s.

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