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Cultural Shifts (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter C with a laurel wreath, representing the A to Z Challenge blogging event. Text below the logo says 'Blogging from A to Z April Challenge' and 'a-to-zchallenge.com'

The Great War brought about unthinkable cultural shifts in the 1920s that caused upheaval in all societies involved in the conflict.

Economic and political balances shook enormously. In Europe, empires crumbled, and new nations emerged from them. Extensive lands were destroyed (some of these lands would be unhealthy to live on up to these days). Economies first turned to war and then back to civil activities, sometimes with terrible disruptions. 

But what is perhaps more important is that there was a shift in the way people and governments understand their roles. 

After the Great War, most governments in the Western World started to take more responsibilities towards their citizens, and people started to expect their governments to take up those responsibilities. 
Some emergencies, like assistance to a vast number of disabled veterans and the consequent care for these people’s health, could not be expected to be taken up by any other but the nation they had fought on behalf of. A powerful sentiment emerged that because these soldiers had fought for their nations and had lost their health (physically or mentally), they were of course entitled to expect something in return. 

Expectations shifted greatly. Whereas before, governments were mostly expected to act on a global level and look after international relationships, now people expected their governments to do something for them. It was after the Great War that the first healthcare systems were devised, together with the first labour laws and working hours regulations. Contextually, participation in the political life of the nation was extended: in many countries, an extended number of men and often even some strata of the women population gained the right to vote. 

We take most of this for granted today, but it was a huge shift in the minds of many populations at the end of the Great War. 

Police and Army soldiers guard Chicago streets during the 1919 riots that followed the killing of Eugene Williams.
Chicago Daily News archive
Cultural Shifts (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) The Great War brought about unthinkable cultural shifts in the 1920s that caused upheaval in all societies involved in the conflict #WWI #1920s #history Share on X

How the Lost Generation lived the change

Pinterest pin. The text reads, "The Lost Generation - Cultural Shifts". The picture shows a woman standing in the streets where barricades are visible. She is clearly talking to a crowd of children.

Despite their apparent listlessness, the Lost Generation was in fact the main player in all these changes.

  • Government critics

Yes, they expected their government to take responsibility for the circumstances pressed on them. Veteran associations became very powerful in all combatant countries and pushed for help for all those who could no longer fend for themselves. 
However, although most nations shouldered the responsibility, actually giving that help was another matter. The costs were often too high. In fact, the entire post-war situation was so complex and based on new paradigms that most nations failed—or were perceived to fail. 
The Lost Generation was very critical towards them. 

  • Rebellious at heart

The Great War caused rebellion in many parts of the world. In Russia, during the war, and after it in places as diverse as the US (1919 was a season of social and race riots), Germany (the 1919 revolution installed the first democracy ever in the country), Spain and Mexico, only to mention the most obvious suspects. 
The Lost Generation was naturally rebellious. They didn’t accept things as they were, and if this often resulted in disillusionment, sometimes it turned into rebellion. 

  • Class relations

Bullets and shells didn’t make any difference between an aristocrat and a farmhand in the trenches. Helping each other was a must. Personal skills, more than social standing, became paramount. 
Trench warfare bizarrely promoted some sort of “egalitarianism” on the battlefields. 
The way men treated each other and even how men and women perceived each other showed this shift in their actions, became “inappropriate” once the world “went back to normal”.

Yet, nobody could erase the experience. 
That idea of egalitarianism could not be taken away from those people and caused indeed change in the after years. 
People were less willing to enter domestic work, for example, and opted for jobs in the new factory, which were better paid, demanded fewer hours of work, and made people more independent (this change, in particular, caused the fall of the aristocratic system in Great Britain). They were also less willing to accept race discrimination (as it happened in the US). 

Society’s fabric and structure were shaken – and not just in the main combatant countries. In many ways, the Lost Generation was less attached to societal norms than their parents.

The photo of a couple, clearly from the 1920s, looking at the camera. Their heads lean on each other. The woman smiles, while the man has a more sombre expression.
  • Gender relations

Together with the class-changing relations, gender relations also changed. 
Before the war, women were considered frail, delicate flowers in need of protection, and men the stoic, strong warriors who would protect them. 
The Great War turned these stereotypes on their head. Women took up jobs that had previously only been performed by men, both on the homefront and on the battlefields, where nurses and ambulance drivers faced the same violence and horrors as men. 
The Lost Generation was generally willing to acknowledge this. Mes accepted that women could be companions rather than wards (the 1920s New Woman was a vastly different woman than her mother), and women accepted that men could be vulnerable without being weak. 

As much as the Lost Generation thought they didn’t care abotu the future, they were indeed creating a new one. 


RESOURCES

USNews – World War I, the 1920s and Modern Cool
BBC – How World War One heralded social reforms
History Hit – 6 Ways World War One Transformed British Society


Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".

12 Comments

  • Viktor Steiner
    Posted April 3, 2024 at 14:29

    Some interesting insights:
    “Now people expected their governments to do something for them.”
    “The Lost Generation was naturally rebellious.”
    “Society’s fabric and structure were shaken.”
    “Women took up jobs that had previously only been performed by men,”
    P.S. What’s that funny bug chasing my cursor around?

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 14:41

      Don’t you find that their situation is eerily similar to ours?
      PS: LOL! It came with the theme. I have to put up with it!

  • Pearson Report
    Posted April 3, 2024 at 16:20

    I am enjoying this journey through the Lost Generation. It’s interesting how the shift from frail woman to working woman was born out of necessity.
    Happy blogging, Jenny

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 14:44

      Well, it wasn’t really ‘born’ out of necessity, but it was certainly ‘unleashed’ out of necessity. At that point, women had tried for many decades to break out of the box society had built around them, with only minor success. The war did burst that box and once it was gone, it was gone.

  • Pamela
    Posted April 3, 2024 at 18:48

    Long overdue changes – they were indeed entitled to expect something in return after the horrors suffered in the Great War.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 14:49

      Indeed. Yet, I think that most nation didn’t know how to handle that expectation, especially considering the terrible situation most nations were in after the war.
      It must have been a very hard time for everyone.

  • Jennifer Jones
    Posted April 4, 2024 at 02:49

    I’m loving this series. I must admit that I when I think of the 1920s I think of parties, dancing and the good life. Thanks for giving me a new perspective
    https://haverfordwesthistory.com/

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 14:53

      I know, right? Yet, the 1920s were so much more than that. I always think they were a very diverse decade, more than people normally give them credit for.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 13:28

    Interesting that labour laws, etc. only came to pass after the war.

    Ronel visiting for C: My Languishing TBR: C
    Unsettling Changelings

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 14:59

      One would think they were older, right? It’s not very long that workers won their rights.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 8, 2024 at 00:49

    You right so well. I have to catch up. It’s amazing how much change was happening during and right after the war.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 15:00

      Hi Birgit! So nice to see you here!
      The Great War is a pivotal time in the world we know today. I think it’s a massively underrated period in history.

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