Make your own free website on

One More Useless Website
Modern Europe

Home | Pictures | More About Me | Making the Faith Your Own | Plan of Salvation | Emotion | 'Sin'dromes | "Can't Make a Difference" | Writing on the Wall | Ecclesiastes | Good Works | Peace | Timothy | Search and Rescue | Can We All Agree | Other Topics | Great Depression | WWI | Henry VIII | Herod | Germany's World Wars | Modern Europe | Romantic Double | Shakespeare | Shakespeare II | Love? | Links

This was my final paper for my Modern Europe class (after I stopped caring), and was meant to relate the second half of the 20th century to the first half.

The events that took place in the second half of the twentieth century in Europe were, for the most part, directly related to the events that had occurred in the first half of the century.  The social movements, the political events, and various philosophical ways of thinking, such as existentialism, all grew out of the events surrounding the first two world wars.  Mores specifically, it can be traced from the very roots of the First World War, from the rhetoric that Hitler brought out of those prewar years before 1914, and that had been continued in some form or had been reviled in some form all the way through the twentieth century.  In one way of looking at it, the second half of the twentieth century was no different from the first half.  The same war was being fought in the 1970s as had been fought between 1914 and 1918.

Prior to the First World War, there was a high level of nationalism in Germany, as in other belligerent nations.  Germans were largely in favor of what they believe would be a short war.  They held demonstrations in favor of the mobilization, loudly sang patriotic songs, and showed much support for the Kaiser (Eksteins 58).  Remarque writes in his novel, We were still crammed full of vague ideas which gave to life, and to war also, an ideal and almost romantic character (Remarque 17).  Although the speaker in this case is fictional, this was the state in which many German soldiers entered the trenches. 

This feeling was, in many ways, the backbone of the German army.  When this nationalistic feeling, this pride in Germany became suppressed in the post-WWI years, the door was opened for Hitler to latch onto the pride that Germans wanted to feel once more.  He had not allowed his nationalistic pride to decline, nor did he lose the enthusiasm for war.  Quite the opposite.  Hitler instead took his war experience and the feelings of his pride in Germany and transformed them into a vision of a society of the future (Eksteins 307).  The rhetoric of both war supporters and those opposed to the war served to mold Hitler into what he was to become.  On the one hand he was swept up into the war movement, by the Wagnerian aspects of the impending struggle.  Hitler saw things Germanly, and the Wagnerian rebirth of mans society and found a niche in society (Wagner 140).  Hitler fully bought into the mystical notions of the war that were held by many Germans.  Since the German aims in the war were fairly unspecific, it was only natural for many Germans to follow the kultur philosophy and see in the Great War a struggle of a spiritual, mystical nature (Eksteins 201).  On the other hand, those who he believed were opposed to the Kaiser, those who he supposed to be anti-German, influenced him.  These people, he decided, must be Jews (Boyer 200).  Here, in Hitlers pre-war days in Vienna can be seen the roots of his anti-Semitism, leading eventually to the Holocaust.   Hitler felt had cheated throughout his life, whether for his non0admittance to art school or later for feeling like Germany was stabbed in the back.  And since anti-Semitism was the ideology of those who felt cheated it was fairly predictable that Hitler would choose Jews to represent the evil against Germany (Eksteins 318).

Out of these ideas came Hitlers ideal of a German state.  It was an idea for a state based on race:

The quality of a state cannot be evaluated according to the cultural level or the power of this state in the frame of the outside world, but solely and exclusively by the degree of this institutions virtue for the nationality involved in each special case (Boyer 206).

In other words, the state must be based on those it was designed to protect and/or serve.  In Hitlers mind, this could only be those who were truly Aryan.  This personal views, as horrible as they were, had become state policy.

            This oneness with the state can be an excellent trait in a leader, provided that leader is benevolent and good.  However, when one mans prejudice becomes state policy, problems erupt.  Prejudice is usually acted out on an individual level, through basic discrimination by and towards an individual (Krupat 2).  However, Hitlers identification with the state turned from being individual prejudice to a national obsession with race (Boyer 206-207).  And thus the Holocaust sprung out, partially, from the rhetoric and writings of pre-war Germany and Austria. 

            It was out of these things that the events of the latter part of the twentieth century sprang.  The existential thinking following the Second World War, the Cold War, and the internal problems felt by the Western European nations all sprang directly or indirectly from the prior problems of the shortened century.

            Existentialism sprang directly from the Holocaust and Nazi reign in Germany.  For many, a belief in God or some other supreme being became impossible after the destruction of the Second World War.  The result for many intellectuals was existentialistic thought.  Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist there is at least one being which exists before. . . that being is man (Boyer 486).  In other words, man is what he makes of himself, there is no deity controlling matters (Laqueur 280).  This is the natural conclusion one comes to in the series of thoughts followed by many.  First, one notices the horrible things that are done and must wonder, why isnt God stopping this?  Second, that same person asks whether there is a God.  In the film The Seventh Seal, Block speaks of this with Death.  Block says, I cry out to Him in the dark, but there seems to be no one there, to which Death replies, Perhaps there is no one there (Bergman, The Seventh Seal).  After that, it is natural to assume that if there is no God, than our lives and actions come entirely from ourselves, that man is entirely responsible for what mankind does. 

            Existential thought also comes about as a kind of revolt against the dominancy of the state over the individual during the WWII years.  Existentialism focuses on the individual, whereas the governmental systems that had ravaged Europe had worked to concentrate individuals into a group.  It was not the individual that was important, but rather the collective state.  Once the totalitarian systems had collapsed, it is only natural that many members of the intelligentsia and others would swing into the opposite direction.  As one idea or system fails, it is commonly the opposite that many people will attach themselves to.  When the systems that declared the wonder of the collective over the importance of the individual ceased to have their control, the ideas of individual ethics and individual direction found fertile ground to grow in.  As Sartre writes, Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.  That is the first principle of existentialism (Boyer 487).  It is no longer the state that creates what a man is, but rather each individual creates what a man is. 

            Naturally, the Cold War spawned directly from the events of the Second World War.  The end of WWII left two opposed ideologies facing each other in Europe: Capitalism and Communism.  Both sides were armed as a result of the war, and both eyed their former ally warily.  The fear and aggressiveness that had been felt towards Nazi Germany was easily transferred to the Soviet Union.  Richard Zipser writes that old enemies often become to resemble each other, particularly political enemies (Zipser 3).  The Communist state, which had originally been based on the idea of improving the lives of the common workers had altered itself and become almost like its hated rivals, the Nazis.  In Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler writes of Stalins authoritarian manner and complete control of everyday life, of how Stalin was deemed infallible and great (Koestler 144).  As Koestlers character Rubashov notes earlier, the cause of the partys defectiveness must be found.  All our principles were right, but the results were wrong (Koestler 47).  The outcome of the Soviet model, which proclaimed the equality of all, had been that of a totalitarian regime much like Hitlers had been.

            This manner of viewing Russia, of needing a place to put the aggressions left over from the war, and the Soviets manner of accusing the western capitalist nations of fascism, aggression, and expansion created a tense state in the world (Laqueur 105).  In response, the east sealed itself from the west, creating an iron curtain that only increased the tensions and heightened the fears between ideologies (Laqueur 113).  This manner of sealing itself off form the west gained a symbol in the Berlin Wall.  By closing off East Berlin, the Soviets not only violated the four-powers act, but provided a tangible and shocking symbol of the usually less physical iron curtain (Laqueur 231).  The division of Berlin became representative of Europe during the Cold War.  On one side there was an increasing abundance, while the other side remained poor.  There was armed distrust on both sides, and a feeling of oppression.  One film director, Jurgen Bottcher, said, I always wanted to get close to the wall, the horrible thing.  The feeling you were trapped, or in a kind of ghetto or prison, became very strong (Bottcher 1).  The Wall became a sign of all that was wrong in Europe at the time. 

            The emergence of a duality at the end of the Second World War, of two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, each with an ideology opposed to the others ensured the Cold War would happen.  Just as the end results of the First World War led in many ways to the second, the end results of the Second World War ensured that there would be a period of tenseness, fear, and aggression in the world, if not outright war. 

            Even movements that appeared peaceful were geared towards this ideological conflict.  For example, the Marshall Plan, which was established to give aid towards rebuilding Europe, had ulterior motives besides doing good deeds.  It was a plan to tie the accepting nations closer to the United States, and so pull them beyond the reach of the Soviet Union.  Naturally this was viewed with suspicion in the Soviet Union.  In a speech before the U.N., Andrei Vyshinsky stated that through the Marshall Plan violated the U.S.s basic tenants of freedom and independence of nations, but also that the plan was an attempt to split Europe into two armed camps (Vyshinsky 2).

            The terrorism and revolution from the left that occurred in the last part of the 1960s and 1970s can also be linked back to the events of the first half of the century.  The governments of many of the western European nations had become very Right leaning in their stances, to the point that many people, especially the youth, felt stifled by their leaders.  This tendency to the Right was only natural during the Cold War, as a source of strength to oppose the Communist nations.  Universities, both in and out of Europe, have a tendency to lean slightly towards the Left.  Thus, it was inevitable that some sort of clash would occur.  1968 became the year of the student revolt.  Their quarrel, according to Laqueur, was not just with neocapitalism but with the modern social systems in general, for they all contained strong elements of repression (Laqueur 352).  The students of Paris, West Berlin, and Rome caused some large degree of havoc in their respective nations.  The revolution of the French students forced the government to leave Paris.  The German student revolt quickly came under the leadership of its more radical and violent factions, losing the students support.  Student demonstrations in Italy led to rioting in the streets (Laqueur 348-350).  The movements from the left continued until radical factions chose to use violent means: terrorism.  Oskar Negt explains in his essay on German terrorism that terrorism is a false solution, as it seeks to change the state without providing a clear set of goals or solutions to the legitimate problems with any given system (Negt 25).  Instead, it separates mass support from the movement as a whole, as all most people will ever see are the violent events supported by the radical elements.  As a result, these violent means only serve to hamper the more legitimate movement as a whole, and support turns towards the state, making change difficult to achieve. 

            Existentialism, the Cold War, the student movements of the 1970s, and the other events that occurred during the latter part of the twentieth century all spawned directly or indirectly from the first half of the century.  Existentialism grew directly out of the lessening of the individual that took place during the Second World War and the Holocaust.  In response to this state-driven horror, many turned to a belief that taught eh importance of the individual over the state.  Moreover, the terrors of these events convinced many that there was no greater power above man, which is also a part of the belief inherent in existentialism.  Clearly, this manner of thought stemmed from the first half of the century.

            Likewise, the Cold War was a direct result of the first half of the century.  Since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the west had viewed the Soviet Union with thinly veiled distrust.  After the U.S.S.R. and the United States emerged from World War II as the only two major powers, it was inevitable that they would oppose each other.  The temporary and uneasy alliance between democratic capitalist nations and the communist model of government crumbled and divided the world into two armed camps, with Europe as the central point of the largely undeclared struggle.  Because of the Bolshevik revolution and the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II, as well as the success of the United States during that war, led directly to the major struggle during the second half of the century.

            The student revolts and terrorism that appeared in the 1970s, however, was an indirect result of the first half of the century.  It was not directly descended from one of the world wars or from the depression, but rather is linked to these events through the vehicle of the Cold War.  If the Cold War between the political Right and Left had not existed, these student protests and rebellions would not have taken place against what they viewed as a Right-wing, repressive government.  The stance of the government was directly linked to the necessities of the Cold War, and the universities were opposed to this stance by many years of tradition.  But because the first half of the century led to the Cold War, and the Cold War led to student revolution, the revolution from the Left stemmed from the first half of the 1900s.

            It is plausible that some of these events could have happened without the world wars, without the depression, without the holocaust, and without the rise of totalitarianism.  Perhaps the students would have simply found a different thing to rebel against.  Perhaps radical elements of the political Left would have used terrorism in an attempt to fix some other problem.  As Laqueur points out, many past revolutions in Europe had stemmed from youth and student movements, and there was a long history of the universities giving birth to protests and revolutions (Laqueur 345).  Perhaps Existentialism would have been born out of some other calamity or atheistic thought.  Perhaps a large natural disaster would have been enough to cause this.  It is difficult to imagine the Cold War occurring if there had been no Second World War, however.  But perhaps all these events could have taken place without the specific events of 1914 through 1945.  But those events had taken place.  And as a result, the major events, philosophies, and way of life in the second half of the century occurred.  It was a direct cause and effect in most cases, and it was an indirect cause and effect in the other cases.  History builds on itself, adding to itself day-by-day, year-by-year.  Because the events of the first half of the century occurred, the second half could, and did, happen.