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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewJay Winter

1900 - A Transforming World
Jay Winter
"In 1900 you could say that space, time, and visual dimensions had been transformed in a way that a century before no one could have dreamt of.

"The idea of a telegraph or a telephone, indeed, the idea of cities that are lit by electricity all the time, the concept of transportation and communication available to the masses, this had not even been dreamt of a hundred years before.

"In many parts of Europe, they were a dream fifty years earlier, so that if space is collapsed and time is collapsed, then virtually anything is possible. Just think of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, by the time of the first World War, by the time of 1900, around the world in, maybe, perhaps, eighty hours was a possibility. The beginnings of air travel made it possible. The beginnings of the extraordinary dimensions of travel under the water through submarines, these are technical changes of an enormous potential, not necessarily for military means alone, but for the extraordinarily vibrant and expansive European economy that dominated the world.

"One of the extraordinary effects of the move of large populations from the countryside to the city is the expansion of rights of literacy, the expansion of the popular press, all of which lead to a vision that the life of your father or grandfather was a matter of necessity.

"Your life, and more importantly, your children's life, was a matter of choice.

"The expansion of education, the expansion of entertainment, the emergence of the film industry, newsreels, all this brought to masses of people visions of worlds they had never thought were theirs to have access to.

"It is in many respects the moment when a vision of immense and unlimited possibilities became available to anybody, and of course, what that meant is not necessarily hope. It could also mean intense frustration because with the vision that possibilities are there comes the question,

"Why not me?

"Why not my class? Why not farmers? Why not factory employees? Why not women?' All of these questions of frustration come directly out of the enormous pace of change, at the same time.

"Every country in Europe knew the industrial power of military power. Military power grew out of the barrel of a blast furnace. Everybody knew it, and so, in order to provide for the steel and the machinery necessary to stand up to the powers of the day, let's say the royal Navy in Britain, industrial expansion was essential.

"Germany was run by a landed aristocracy who knew very well that they needed heavy industry in order to challenge the other great naval power in the world, Britain.

"It had to be the case that these individuals who are not part of the industrial elite, use the industrial power of their nation, in order to stand up politically, against or along side every other major power.

"Now that meant to grow economically meant to be a military power, and not to grow economically was dangerous because it meant you couldn't generate the equipment necessary to fight either a small war or a big one. This is why the defeat of Russia in the war against Japan of 1905, was so worrying. This is why, forty years earlier, the defeat of France against Germany indicated something about the difference between a power that is economically more advanced and a power that is economically less advanced.

"The consequence of backwardness is military weakness and defeat, and this is one of the fundamental problems of Europe before the war.

"It looked as if the major economic power, Germany, did not have the equivalent political power on the European stage or the World stage, and there is no way to adjust that inequality.

"Britain had been the greatest economic power in the world, had the greatest navy in the world. It dominated the middle of the 19th Century. By 1900 Germany was the greatest power on the continent and certainly rivaled Britain as an industrial power with every indication that it would overtake Britain as an industrial power.

"But where comes the political equivalent of economic and industrial power? It may come within Europe. It may come within Empires, but it had to come from somewhere. The instability of European life is that Germany grew too rapidly for the political structures which were old, and nobody knew how to change them, short of war."

 
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