Things To Come

William Cameron Menzie’s film Things to Come is an adaptation of a novel by HG Wells.  Produced in 1936, this science fiction film explores England’s dystopic future that comes as a result of a devastating war, which is significant in the way that it accurately predicts World War II.  England first experiences a regression to the dark ages, which is followed by a period defined by obsession with progressions of technology.  Authoritarian leaders are in power during each of these eras.

Ironically, England’s regression comes as a result of too much progress, as advancements in weaponry cause mass destruction on a wide scale and medical advancements lead to the spread of a virus by the enemy which kills half of the world’s population.  This could be an exaggerated representation of the state of Germany after World War I.  The progress-obsessed regime which follows holds advancements in technology above human lives.  This is best exemplified in the scene which the attack by John Cabel’s followers leaves the “boss” of the old regime dead.  Cabel implies that one dead man means nothing in comparison to the new world of progress that will rise.  This disregard for human life is similar to that of Hitler, who believed in killing off whole races for the sake of progress.  While Hitler’s views were obviously much more extreme than those of Cabel, they both hold progress above individual lives.

Overall, the film warns against taking progress too far, as both severely flawed regimes come as a result of obsessions with it.

Things to Come

Things to Come is a 1936 movie adaptation of the book, written by H.G. Wells. This movie continues Wells’ tradition of using powerful science-fiction stories to critique politics. Things to Come focuses on the possibility of war, and the devastating effect it will have for the next century, on England and the world.

There is one powerful scene that can be used as metaphor for the 20th Century till, and beyond, 1936. During the early stages of the war, an enemy pilot who is gassing the country is shot down, and then is promptly attended to by the protagonist, John Cabal. They bemoan the necessity for battling each other, and the enemy eventually dies of gas poisoning, after giving away his gas mask to a young girl whose family he might have killed. This scene exemplifies the rapid rise of the modern state in the 20th century. The state had so much power and influence that they could send ordinary men into battle without their consent and desire. After the carnage of the First World War, the power of the state continued to increase as it controlled economic aims for revival. The movie reflects this increasing power, as years into the future the only widely available goods are weapons, rather than consumer goods.

Fighting Poverty in Britain

The interwar period brought about a shift in Britain’s attitudes toward the poor.  Rather than continuing to believe that poverty was the fault of the poor, the British government began to implement programs aimed at helping them and increase awareness about their plight.  The documentaries Housing Problems and Enough to Eat are examples of these efforts at awareness.  Housing Problems interviews residents of a British slum about their living conditions while Enough to Eat describes Britain’s efforts at minimizing malnutrition.

In Housing Problems, the use of interviews with actual slum residents offers a more human look at the issue than simply a reading of statistics.  These people give their own emotional accounts of their struggles, which allows the viewer to feel more sympathy toward them.  This technique also helps to give the impression that the government views these people as individuals who they want to help, rather than just another aspect of creating a stronger nation.  The documentary gives faces and stories to the struggles of slum life in order to create emotion while at the same time separating the British government’s motives from those of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, whose main concerns were strengthening the state.

While Enough to Eat also creates the image of a more sympathetic government, it also implies the more far reaching effects of introducing nutrition to the impoverished.  At one point of the documentary, one of the men who is being interviewed states that the government’s methods are an “…important factor in restoring peace” because the promotion of nutrition will also help boost world trade again.  This implies that while promoting better nutritional habits amongst the poor is of concern, ensuring that Britain assumes a powerful role in trade is also of importance to the government, and they will do this in any way possible.  This documentary does a better job of displaying more of the underlying motives of helping the poor in Britain.

Could the British have had any greater motives in wanting to improve the housing conditions of the poor as well?

The Madness from Within

The Madness from Within is an interesting documentary that examines the causes, events, and consequences of the Irish Civil War through interviews and archival footage. On June 28th 1922, after the Irish War of Independence and the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Irish Civil War began. Conflict arose between two opposing groups of Irish nationalists, the Free State and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), over the Anglo-Irish treaty. The Free State triumphed over the Irish Republicans, thanks to the money, weapons, and support from the British. It was a short yet bloody war and the ramifications are still very much present in Ireland.

The part I found most interesting about the documentary is the unrest Ireland is currently experiencing because of the Civil War. Today, the IRA has a modern sect formed by the direct descendants of the original IRA. They are not afraid to use arms if necessary. This shows how there is still an immense amount of conflict within Ireland, and they are not a united country.

One of the main reasons the IRA may never be satisfied is because of their disdain for negotiation. Their mistrust comes from the original negotiation with Britain in 1921. Due to the IRA’s unwillingness to negotiate, I do not think the political unrest will ever die down in Ireland. They will continue to have power struggles and acts of violence until the IRA is willing to sit down, listen, and negotiate with others. Although it is impossible for everyone to get what they want, there could be a way to compromise.

As time goes on, will the younger generations care less about the past and be able to move forward from a century of conflict?


Orwell Readings

In George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and chapter four of The Road to Wigan Pier he writes about groups of destitute people in Britain who live on the fringes of society under hideous circumstances. Down and Out in Paris and London focusses on the homeless epidemic that has afflicted the country. Orwell depicts how these so called “tramps” live a mundane existence that does not contribute in any way to the good of society. He seeks to inform the public of the difficulties that these people face in order to combat some of the prejudices that exist towards them. In The Road to Wigan Peer Orwell describes the horrendous housing conditions that the impoverished class of industrial workers are forced to inhabit. The shortage of adequate housing forces these inhabitants to cram into overcrowded, dilapidated, and oftentimes condemned houses because they are the only available housing options of any sort. Many of these people would have gladly moved into different housing situations had the opportunity existed.

It was interesting how Orwell addressed the the much higher proportion of homeless men compared to homeless women. Many of Orwell’s contemporaries had failed to take this discrepancy into consideration when evaluating the homeless problem. It was nearly impossible for men to meet women because there were very few women who lived amongst them and it would be quite rare that a women of a higher economic class would desire a male from the lower class. Orwell writes “the evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him spiritually and physically… And there can be no doubt that sexual starvation contributes with this rotting process,” in order to empathize with their predicament. I found this quote fascinating because it states how although sexual pursuit is not as important to human wellbeing as food, water, and shelter, it is still an important aspect of a person’s health.

Orwell proposed a solution to lower the expense that homeless individuals had placed on the state by putting them to work. He argued that they would be able to settle down and live a decent and structured life. Although they would be working and contributing to the good of the whole of society, aren’t the conditions experienced by the working class as described in The Road to Wigan Pier nearly as impoverished and grief stricken as those suffered by the tramps. Does this housing situation really constitute a decent and settled life in your opinion?

Orwell’s Description of Poverty in Britain

In the excerpts from The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell describes the daily struggle of living in poverty in England—particularly for men.  In Down and Out in Paris and London, he strives to depict “tramps,” or vagabonds in a more positive way, and offer the reader an opportunity to overlook former prejudices. He describes tramps as Englishmen with broken spirits; they are not dangerous or manic.  In his later book, The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell describes his findings when visiting houses in lower-class neighborhoods in England, and provides examples of the filthy residences that thousands of English families are forced to call home. He argues how difficult it is to support a family on such a low income, and describes the loss of hope that many people feel after living in such disgusting homes for so long. Generally, Orwell’s aim in these excerpts is to humanize the lower classes of England who have often been swept aside to the margins of society.

Something that I thought was interesting in Orwell’s excerpts was that he mentioned the lack of productivity of people who were down and out, and incapable of giving back to the state. While Orwell’s aim was to make the reader feel sympathetic toward members of society living in poverty, it seems contradictory to his argument to go on to describe them as a loss to the community. His book was released in 1933, the same year that eugenics in Germany took off, so it is interesting to compare and contrast Nazi Germany to Orwell’s eugenics at the time.

I also thought that Orwell brought up a fascinating point about the very different roles of males and females when discussing tramps.  Orwell stated that being a tramp as a man was mentally debilitating, because there was little or no access to women.  Women were not tramping, because during that time, they relied on men to support them. Because male tramps were unable to engage in sexual activity with women, they turned to other men to satisfy their desires.  Ultimately, the number of men who were out of work and living as vagabonds had an impact on the traditional gender roles of that time.

Orwell often describes the “broken spirits” of homeless men, and aims to inform the audience that people who are living in poverty are not dangerous. His two pieces were written in 1933 and 1937, times that weaker members of society were frowned upon, and often corrected.  How much do you think his work impacted the people of Britain and France? Do you think their perceptions of the lower classes change? Or did they remain loyal to the eugenics movements at that time?

Orwell on Britain

In both Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London the writer Orwell focuses on a portion of society that has been unfairly treated by both the government and the upper classes. In the excerpt we read from Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell paints a rather bleak picture of the culture and society of the English industrial towns at the time. These cities over crowded and unsanitary are prime examples of the squalid living conditions members of the working classes were required to live in. Orwell’s narrative seems more Dickensian then what we would expect of a civilized western country like Britain during the 1930’s. The other piece written by Orwell is an examination of the tramps who populated Britain at the time. These men were constant nomads traveling where ever they could find a hot meal. There lives were of no substance, they could not plant there roots anywhere and they were unused as labor in any capacity.

The aspect of Orwell’s two pieces that struck me were his descriptions of two government laws in particular. The first was the means test, which was a draconian dictate enforced on Britain’s that regulated there ability to receive any sort of meaning full welfare and governmental aid. Men who would assist neighbors where reported and stripped of there aid for this act, and the elderly were disregarded because of the money they took away from the family. The second law was the government decision to not allow tramps to stay at any one casual ward for more then one night. Repeated stays would result in pseudo-imprisonment. This law was hurtful to both the tramps and Britain. Instead of men having one place where they could stay a while and become a helpful part of the community these men had to move from place to place wasting there lives away in pointless travel. Both of these laws were in no way advantageous to British society and if anything they breed discontent.

Do the laws in place in Britain at the time this piece was written, the 1930’s seem out of date and behind the times for the way societies in all countries were growing?



British Eugenics: Race Versus Class

This eugenicist poster presents the differences between different African faces, highlighting the features of the so-considered “criminal” and “civil insane.”  I found it to be a good demonstration of the belief within eugenics that someone’s facial features could be used to determine their personality type.  Eugenicists believed that one’s personality could be determined by their appearance.  Having a “shorter, broader, higher head” for example could classify one as a criminal according to this poster.  Biology and anthropology were used as both logical proof and a moral conscience for these claims.  It was thought processes like this that allowed for racism to flourish from eugenics in interwar Europe.

Another interesting aspect of this poster is the fact that it comes from Britain, where eugenics were supposedly based more in social class than in race.  It helps to prove Stone’s argument in Breeding Superman that racial eugenics were more prominent in Britain than the nation’s eugenicists preferred to lead on.  After the atrocities committed by Germany that used eugenics as their logic were exposed, Britain claimed that their eugenics programs were based around preserving the traditional class system that had been becoming obsolete.  However, as an empire that spanned almost all the continents of the world, as well as the peoples of different races that resided on them, Britain felt it necessary to assert its dominance over the natives of their colonies.  Therefore, eugenics was used to “prove” white supremacy.  This poster shows how the British did this by using the reasoning that Africans were naturally savages who would disrupt the social order with their “natural” tendencies toward violence.  Documents such as this could have easily manipulated the mindsets of the middle class through its fear tactics.

After having become aware of how British eugenics were based around similar ideals as those in the more extreme Nazi Germany, it fascinates me how one country used these ideas to justify a mass genocide, while the other fought against these actions.  Could Britain have eventually reached a tipping point that would have caused the nation to undertake similar actions as Germany?

Eugenics in Europe

Eugenics, the science of improving a countries human stock through specific breeding, had a significant impact on interwar Europe. Stone and Auslander both give their interpretations of how eugenics affected Europe. Stone discusses how, contrary to popular belief, eugenics in Britain was not exclusively targeted towards class, but how it was inadvertently also about race. Auslander explains how eugenics in interwar Europe manifests itself in the citizens aesthetic lifestyle choices, which reflects the sense of the countries nationalist philosophies.

The reality behind the eugenics movement and Britain was not that it primarily focused on class, but focused on race as well. Similar to Nazi Germany, there were also revered, racist British eugenicists. For example, Rentoul, a famous British eugenicist, saw blacks as sexual beasts that shouldn’t breed with whites. “The negro is seldom content with sexual intercourse with a white woman, but culminates his sexual furor by killing the woman, sometimes taking out her womb and eating it”. (Stone, 96) This popularized racist though process led to British sterilization laws. The main issue with claiming that the movement was solely about class, was that there was too much overlap between the lower class, which consisted of a lot of immigrants, and race.  Although many saw these eugenics views as extreme, they still had an impact on the eugenics movement. After World War II, and the newfound widespread disdain for the extreme German eugenics movement, Britain claimed that their eugenics was class oriented, and they did this to disassociate with Nazi Germany.

Auslander describes the lifestyle choices and aesthetic tastes that the French, German’s, and Jew’s had in the interwar era when the national sense of belonging came from different ideologies. For example, Auslander gives us the idea that “…in Germany…citizens are understood to be born rather than made…”. (Auslander, 110) The foundation for German citizenship came from genetics, while French citizens were “French” through cultural adaptation. This reflects the national ideology of eugenics in the time period. Germany was more exclusive in the national sense, even if you were born in Germany but had non-German parents, you were not considered German. In France, however, anyone could be considered “French” as long as you spoke French, and engaged in the proper French activities.

Eugenics had a considerable influence on nationalist ideologies, a sense of belonging, and racism during the inter-war era in Europe. When confronted with the topic of racial exclusion in Europe during this era, almost all will point directly towards Nazi Germany. While it is true that Nazi Germany was the most extreme with their execution of eugenics philosophies, they were widespread throughout Europe at the time.

Eugenics in Interwar Europe


This is a German poster for a government scripted movie, entitled the “The Eternal Jew”. It is described as a documentary, but a cursory glance at the poster reveals that it is a eugenics motivated propaganda film. The features of the Jew on the cover are deliberately depicted as ugly and evil, reminiscent of a witch from the tales of the Brothers Grimm. This movie was released in 1940, and represents the exaggerated European eugenicist view of “degenerates” (Stone, 98) during the interwar period.

The Nazi racialization of the state is well known, but according to Stone, race was a primary criterion even in Britain (Stone, 95). The image of a class based British Eugenicist Society was created by the Society after the Second World War and the disastrous culmination of racial eugenics in the Third Reich (Stone, 98-9). The difference between British eugenics and continental eugenics was their motive. Britain used eugenics to maintain the social hierarchy within the nation (Stone, 94), and to maintain supremacy over the Empire (Stone, 97). On the other hand, Italian and German ‘research’ was motivated by state ideology. Additionally, the methods implemented were very different. While Britain (Stone, 98), Italy (Willson, 84-6), and Germany (Mazower, 76) all advocated pro-natalism in a racial capacity, the former two were only able to legislate moderate laws, which were largely ineffective (Willson, 92-3), whereas the latter had more control over state policy and policing. Thus Eugenics had a greater effect in a German State that believed that blood descent, rather than assimilation, was the only claim to citizenship (Auslander, 110). Finally, while France believed that one could become a citizen through assimilation (Auslander, 110), they were still a colonial power who believed in the natural savageness of their colonial subjects.

In conclusion, it can be noted that Eugenics was an important debate in interwar Europe, but to varying degrees of implementation and success. State policies on women and families might have been influenced by these debates, but it must also be remembered that Europe had just suffered a large population loss due to the Great War. Therefore, these policies were also influenced by economic motives.