A Lesson in Charity

Hywel Davies’s book Fleeing Franco is a touching account of the lives of the Basque refugee children who were displaced from their homes during the Spanish Civil War and taken in by various humanitarian groups in Wales.  Although Davies does present pithy summaries of the political and social events surrounding the period, the text is primarily composed of several detailed vignettes that follow the lives of individual refugee children and the characteristics of the Welsh communities that came to their aid.  … Read the rest here

“Things to Come” and the Quest for “Progress”

Things to Come is a seminal science fiction film released in 1936 that depicts a future of apocalyptic warfare that causes a zombifying plague called “the Wandering Sickness,” ultimately reducing Europe to its primordial stages of civilizational development.  Throughout the film, science and “progress” in general are polarizing topics amongst all levels of society from the common people to the highest governmental officials.  Some view scientists as “the last trustees of civilization,” while other characters embody the apprehension towards scientific research has been represented in countless other films and writings of the interwar period such as MetropolisThe Cabinet of Dr.Read the rest here

Communism, Nazism, and the Berlin Stories

In The Berlin Stories, author Christopher Isherwood characterizes the social and political climates in Germany during the rise of Nazism through a series of vignettes centered around William Bradshaw, “a young bourgeois intellectual,” and Arthur Arnold, an older Englishman with subversive Communist sympathies. (Isherwood, 64)  The first one hundred pages of the novel recount the pair’s activities and correspondence centered around the city of Berlin.  Each chapter puts forth several small fragments of interwar Germany with regard to everything from its nightlife (“‘Oh, you mean those whores on the corner there'”) to its foreign policy (“‘The workers demand assistance for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants now rendered homeless'”), ultimately creating an anecdotal portrait of this dynamic period in European history.… Read the rest here

Stalin’s Accusations of Subversion

Stalin’s attempts to remove any political factions that were pitted against him provide an iconic example of a totalitarian rise to power.  These ambitions are summarized definitively in “Purges,” a document published in 1935.  In this passage, Stalin’s prose reveals his feelings that the extant companions of Lenin in the Soviet Union constituted a threat to his own political prowess and thus needed to be eliminated by whatever means necessary to decimate their power and credibility with the general public.… Read the rest here

“…if men remained loyal to the ideals of their youth?”

In Bread and Wine, author Ignazio Silone recounts the tale of Pietro Spina, an Italian youth whose work as a revolutionary caused him to be exiled from his home by the prevailing Fascist state in the interwar period.  Beginning in media res, the first sixteen chapters of Bread and Wine find Spina having infiltrated his homeland once again several years later, concealing himself with a cosmetic agent that makes him appear much older than his years.  … Read the rest here

“The Mediator Between Head & Hands”

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a 1927 German science fiction film displaying the heavy influence of the impressionist movement.  The film portrays a dystopian future society (the eponymous “Metropolis”) in which the laborers that maintain the mechanical operations of the city are relegated to an underground living space while the upper classes enjoy a comparative utopia above.  The city’s leader, Joh Fredersen, attempts to augment his power by using the newly invented Machine-Man, who is made to look like the prophetic character Maria, to incite a rebellion in the working class which will simultaneously cripple their underworld home and justify any further punitive measures that he wishes to take against the laborers.  … Read the rest here

The Fear of Science

As scientific advancement became increasingly prevalent in Europe after World War I, the elation and excitement that accompanied these developments was coupled with the fear and apprehension of certain members of that society.  One prominent voice to that effect was Bertrand Russell, who argued in Icarus, or, the Future of Science that “science will be used to promote the power of dominant groups, rather than to make men happy.” (Russell)  The basis of Russell’s argument lies in his presupposition that people lack the strength of morals necessary to guide them as science allows for a more comfortable and efficient lifestyle.  … Read the rest here

The “Seeds” of Eugenics

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In this overt example of interwar propaganda, the practice of eugenics is promoted through a poignant visual and textual analogy to agriculture.  The double meaning of the key term “seed” is utilized in a comparison between spreading healthy plant seed for a bountiful harvest and spreading healthy human “seed” for the purposes of procreation, specifically the creation of a physically fit, mentally proficient, racially pure population.

The first block of text that appears at the top of the poster, “Only healthy seed must be sown!”, alludes to the exclusionist principles of eugenics.  … Read the rest here

Comparison of Keynes and Versailles Treaty/Wilson’s Fourteen Points

As the founder of his eponymous economic school of thought, John Maynard Keynes contributed many influential theses on the economics of his day.  Nowhere is this more notable than in 1920’s The Economic Consequences of Peace, his controversial criticism of the Treaty of Versailles.  Keynes asserted that the Treaty would do little other than prolong and perhaps exacerbate the period of postwar unrest in Europe, noting that “the Treaty includes no provisions for the economic rehabilitation of Europe” (Keynes).  … Read the rest here

Critical Summary of Dark Continent (Ch. 1-4) (Revision)

The opening four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent provide a thoroughly informative analysis of early twentieth-century European governments that manages to be both balanced and provocative.  By recounting the social, political, and economic climates of the continent’s constituent nations leading up to, during, and between the two world wars, Mazower examines the conditions that led to the establishment of Europe’s dominant governmental systems.  The underlying thesis of these chapters is that democracy was not, as many historiographers have claimed, a foregone conclusion for Europe. Read the rest here