The Twenties were a time a great innovation. The old world that had existed in the 1800s died in the fires and destruction of WWI. The 1920s saw the emergence of a new world. But it didn’t happen overnight. Most of that innovation that became available to an increasing number of people in the 1920s had its roots in the 1800s. The 1920s were just the breakthrough.
The slow change of the 1800s
We tend to consider the 1800s – at least in the Western World – as the Victorian times. We give to it a homogeneous feel, even if it was indeed a century, and hardly all characterised by the social rules and costumes under Queen Victoria’s reign.
And it might indeed seem quite homogenous, especially in comparison with the 1900s. Change came slowly. Inventions – though there were many – didn’t really enter people’s lives and so they seem less apparent, even less important.The Twenties were a time a great innovation. The old Victorian world died in the fires and destruction of #WWI. The 1920s saw the emergence of a new world #history Click To Tweet
Victorians were not fond of changes. Besides, they had painfully created a world where change was not desirable. Europe experience a long peace the likes of which the continent had never known before. All conflicts and fights were confined outside of Europe’s borders, and the same was largely true for the United States also.
Any change could upset that balance. In fact, the risk became ever stronger, the more the century progressed. The discrepancy between the actual advancement in many fields and what society was ready to accept became ever larger as the century wore on.
This is the causes of WWI arose, one of the most enigmatic events of the contemporary world. Society, especially the younger sector of it, needed, wanted a change. That’s why they responded so enthusiastically to the beginning of the Great War, something that to us – who know what that conflict was going to be – seems almost inexplicable. Young people saw the war as the opportunity to fill the gap between the old, artificial peace and the modern life they wanted it.
The Great War started off like all other previous wars. Everyone reckoned that it would last a few months, enough to reestablish a few political balances and open the way for new social attitudes to become acceptable.
What nobody realised at first was that life had gone far ahead of them. The weapons that appeared in the war were the result of discoveries and inventions that have piled up during the century and were powerful beyond anyone’s expectation. They created conditions of war that were so new nobody knew how to handle. New solutions were necessary, and those too were provided by the new technology and the new discoveries.
On the fields of WWI, medicine leapt ahead further than it ever did during the preceding century. Technologies which had previously been mere curiosities found their application on the battlefields. And on the home front, social barrier fell as the men who had gone to war never left space for women to find a new independence.
When the war was over, going back on any of these fields was impossible. The new technologies, the new discoveries and procedures, even the new way in which people related to each other, slipped out of the emergency of war to insinuate into people’s everyday life.
What in the 1800s had been curiosity and during the war had been emergency, in the 1920s became the new normalcy.
Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008