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11-08-2015, 17:17

THE VICTORS' SIDE

The victors were not immune from unwelcome political change. Soon after the end of the war, the British government found itself confronting a determined movement for Irish independence. The London government faced Irishmen embittered, not only by four years of wartime inaction in response to Ireland's claim for home rule, but also by Britain's bloody repression of the 1916 Easter uprising. Open hostilities between Irish rebels and a specially formed and brutal British force—the "Black and Tans" — ordered to suppress them broke out in 1919 and stretched on for two years. In 1921, Britain gave in, granting most of Ireland self-governing status as the Irish Free State. Both Britain and France sustained blows to the confidence of traditional governing groups. The death at the Somme in 1916 of Raymond Asquith, the son of the prime minister and broadly recognized as one of the rising young men of his generation, illustrates the caliber of future leadership lost in the conflict. As Trevor Wilson has noted, while all social groups in Britain lost large numbers of men, fighting men from the peerage, from boarding schools, and from Oxford and Cambridge universities—invariably serving as officers—were two or sometimes three times as likely to be killed in action as men from more modest backgrounds.6 In France as well, educated members of the middle and upper middle class fell in heavily disproportionate numbers. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Britain, in the appeasement era of the 1 930s, expressed the implications of such losses when he asserted that the preservation of peace was essential, because European civilization itself could not survive another such calamity. In the short run, however, the massacre of those destined by birth and education for leadership positions did not make itself felt in public affairs. Both Britain and France returned to apparent stability in the 1920s under mainly conservative governments. As historian Gordon Wright has noted: "One effect of the conflict was to reassure Frenchmen about their government system. ... it had survived and beaten the great autocracies and had managed to turn up abler leadership than did the authoritarian regimes." The deeper wounds to national stability and confidence, expressed in the title of Gabriel Marcel's 1933 play, A Broken World, would appear, inflamed by the Depression, in little more than a decade. Disappointment and disillusion were soon in evidence in the United States following the close of the war. For most Americans, continued involvement in Europe's political affairs seemed pure folly, and the United States quickly returned to a stance of isolationism. The fear that the United States would again be drawn into a European conflict was expressed in the neutrality legislation of the 1930s. The view that the United States could stay out of Europe's quarrels prevailed among the American public until Pearl Harbor. Even then, it took Hitler's declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941, to swing American public opinion behind participation in the European war.

 

 

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