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Britain 1900-1919

When entering the 20th century, Britain was ruled by Queen Victoria. Her reign was very peaceful compared to other ages (though interrupted by the Crimean War), and she had introduced Britain to a new kind of politic view; liberalism. The Liberal Party dominated politics during the Victorian age. After her death in January 1901, the Edwardian period followed. King Edward VII was the son of Queen Victoria, and instead of shunning society like his mother had done, he became the leader of a fashionable elite, and did a lot of traveling. His taste for art influenced all of Britain, and the Edwardian era is often extended to 1918, though he died in 1910. This is because the style of the Edwardian era continued, with its imbalance of wealth and power, where the class difference was huge, and later the introduction of the new mass media. This is also the era where other dilemmas arose. Before World War 1 broke out, the Irish had finally been promised Home Rule in 1913. However, it was postponed due to the war. This made some Irish people angry, and they organized the Easter Rising in 1916. The English reacted brutally by executing many of the rebels. This left a permanent scar in the Irish’ pride, and it said to have caused the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921.

On 28 June 1914, a Bosnian Serb student shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, when he was visiting Sarajevo. Although this event is considered to be what triggered the war, it was only the tip of the iceberg. Before the war had started, there were two great alliances; the Entente Powers (France, The United Kingdom, Russia, and later Japan, Italy and USA) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and later the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria). Germany’s quick and sudden armament started an arms race in Europe, and people gradually started preparing themselves for war. Britain and Germany found themselves in a naval race when the Germans started building an enormous fleet. Then when Germany 1 August 1914 declared war against Russia, and two days later against France, Britain was obligated to help and was officially taking part in the war.

The war was going to evolve into a more violent and brutal war than anyone could ever imagine. It would take twice the amount of British soldiers’ lives than it would in the 2nd World War. Before the war broke out, many had even looked forward to fighting for their homeland, seeing it as a noble thing to die for one’s country. When looking at poetry from before the war and comparing it to poetry from during the war, there’s a big difference. A good example of this is The Soldier by Rupert Brooke and Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. In The Soldier, Brooke talks about how that part of land on which you die will forever be a part of your homeland no matter what. He describes England as a rose, and the poem is filled with positive connotations like “heart”, “happy” and “peace”. The Soldier is often used at funerals.
Dulce et Decorum Est shows a completely side of the war. It describes how soldier curse through sludge, and are “drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots of gas-shells dropping softly behind”. Wilfred Owen himself served in the war, as opposed to Rupert Brooke who died of an infection on his way to active service.

When the men were out fighting, the rest of the British population were also affected, and especially the women. With no husbands to earn money, they had to do it themselves. For the first time, one could see women working in factories and driving buses. Also, new fashion gave women an opportunity to express themselves through clothes. Though there were no designers working during the war as they had no attention or materials, the clothing became more comfortable; the skirts gradually got shorter and some women even wore pants. Plus, when working, women wore uniforms, and women from all classes were dressed the same. Many men found themselves almost forced to see women as equal when they came home. Many found themselves unemployed for a long time. With the increasing feeling of independence, the divorce rate went drastically up. All this has had a long-term effect on how women were viewed. Women had been fighting for equal suffrage since before the World War 1, and in 1918 all women over 30 were allowed to vote. General suffrage was introduced in 1928. Women were finally looked upon as hard-working individuals, not just wives.

Finding cultural consequences that happened in Britain only is hard, but there are some specific events that affected all of Europe. The Treaty of Versailles, which was made to make the responsible countries of World War 1 pay, blamed mainly Germany. Germany was therefore forced to pay a huge amount of debt to other European countries. This caused hunger and poverty in the country, and eventually, with the help of a strong-minded and charismatic German, resulted in World War 2.
Other obvious long-term causes were the loss of men, and the realization of what war was really like. There was also a lot of damage on roads, railroads and areas of farmland.
Also art was influenced greatly, both in literature, music and paintings. Artist now started to experiment with the unknown and abandoning tradition.
A much more subtle cultural consequence was the new influence from the US. American soldiers were now all over Europe, and the USA had become very rich during the war, as opposed to most European countries. America’s share of world trade experienced a one hundred percent increase from 1914 to 1919. Their rising economy was also due to repayments of war loans, which could be further boosted if necessary.

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