Australian babyboomers have no conception of the horror and carnage of the first half of the twentieth century. After the failure of diplomacy of rotten inbred ruling classes across Europe, millions of common men were rammed into the boiler of death. About eight million died. The horror was beyond description. The Allies then put in motion the start of a sequence that would lead to another world war by punishing Germany with the Treaty of Versailles. The U S was drawn into the conflict and with its massive resources now became a world power. The English had completed their way to full democracy but were exhausted. Russia looked to be Stalin’s black hole.
The flowering of the arts seemed to slow. The novel was pre-eminent in literature, but the best known poem was The Waste Land. The new contribution to art was the jazz of Black America. Classical music and painting were not as popular as they had been with Mozart and Turner.
Capitalism, faith in money, dominated the shallow Jazz Age. That faith was destroyed in the Great Depression starting in 1929. That misery shook two generations. There was room again for the strong man and the fanatic. Roosevelt was good for the U S and the world, but Mussolini and Hitler were disasters for their nations and the world. Germany had a grudge and Japan needed trading space. The Nazis were consumed by fear, hatred and envy of the Jews. To purify their race, they murdered six million Jews. The descendants of the Hun nomads who had sacked Rome, who had given us Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, reminded us that we are all only 400 generations from the primeval savage. Churchill said that this was ‘a new Dark Age made more sinister by the lights of perverted science.’ About 40 million perished. The USSR alone lost 20 million and exacted brutal revenge first on Germany and then over Eastern Europe. The war ended with the detonation of the first atom bomb in war. We learned that what started with a bang might finish with a bang.
After the war, there was another attempt to impose order by the creation of the United Nations. The empires of the Europeans were dissolved. The Jews returned to the Holy Land. They had U N approval, but native resistance continues. Conflict between Muslims and Jews and between different kinds of Muslims are now the major threat to world peace.
There was a changing of the guard in world powers. The U S and USSR fought a cold war which ended with the bankruptcy and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Russia at last repudiated Stalin. China has been gaining in power by embracing capitalist methods while retaining Communist repression. India has a huge economy but massive poverty. The U S is ceding ground to China through failed wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and most recently by the election as President of a vainglorious oaf who wants to turn his back on Europe and the world.
The West is mainly democratic. Africa, South America, and a lot of Asia have not been able to follow the Western model. Most are sinking in debt and corruption, and many are ruled by dictators. Putin is a sullen, brutal, rich thug who murders opponents.
Women have turned some corners in the West, but are not doing well elsewhere. Millions die of starvation in what we call the Third World, and the blind faith in progress has been lost. Many nations are still afflicted by Caste. Transport and communication – on earth and in space – are such that people with money can go anywhere and other people can find out where you are. We speak of the global village, but demagogues have made a dirty word out of globalisation. Television dulled minds, computers replaced the, and man landed on the moon.
As I write this (2017), the west faces many grave issues. Three of them are as follows, and they are related. First, there is a massive problem with inequality of wealth and income. What does a bank teller think when her boss gets paid one hundred times what she gets in return for firing people like her? If capitalism can’t fix this problem, our prospects are worse than bleak. We will be like France in 1789 and Russia in 1917.
Secondly, we are yet to come to political and social terms with the technological revolution we are going through or with the globalisation of commerce. It is commonly said that two out of five jobs will go in the next ten years. What are we going to do about that?
Thirdly, in the space of one generation, there has been a collapse in faith in the political system in many countries, and certainly in the U S, the U K, and Australia. The Westminster system is based on party politics. People have lost faith in the parties and the system. Their politicians make it worse by behaving badly, by looking only at the short term, and by being devoid of principle, especially when in opposition. Once you start killing conventions and customs, it gets easier. Apparently as a result, electors are voting for people who look unfit for any form of office, but who lie well enough to con enough votes – and leave the system even worse off. That in turn makes it harder to attract half decent people into the bear pit. That is a very ugly cycle that we will not get out of easily.
This is not what’s called upbeat, but it leads to our final question.
(Next week will see the final instalment of this series. Terror and the Police State will follow.)