Twentieth Century in 1,600 words

Dowlphin’s Twentieth Century in 1,600 words

The collapse of the imperial and semi-feudal world and the beginnings of the modern world began in 1914 when a Serbian nationalist assassinated an imperial Austro-Hungarian Archduke in Sarajevo. The drums of Nationalism had long been beating in the distant so a single bullet was enough to unleash Armageddon. In 1917, to relieve them of battle on their Eastern front by destabilising Russia, the Germans helped a little known exiled Russian Marxist intellectual with big plans get on a sealed train from Switzerland to St. Petersburg. They did not figure that the tiny band of motivated idealistic Bolsheviks would usher in a Communist Revolution that would change the world. Finally, in 1918, with millions of corpses left in ditches and seas, the West and Japan defeated the German-Ottoman Axis powers. At the Peace Conference set in the manicured gardens of the Palace at Versailles, with pens and pencils, rhetoric and flourish, hubris and destiny, the victors re-drew borders to take vengeance on the vanquished and distribute the spoils among themselves. Japan, technically a victor, was offered humiliation instead of territory.

In the aftermath of World War I and the 1917 Communist Revolution, a political alliance of Trade Unions and Reformist Socialists in the victor nations claimed and won demands for higher wages, fewer hours, progressive taxes, public goods, extension of voting rights to workers, the secret ballot and compensation for injuries caused at workplaces. The victors relished the peace and prosperity that ensued – until economic mismanagement led to mass unemployment, bankruptcy and poverty in the capitalist economies in 1929.

The vanquished fared poorly. Germany was brought to its knees when hyperinflation took hold – buckets and wheelbarrows filled with money were need to buy a loaf of bread. In 1929, Germany was further flattened by the global financial Depression. Filling the vacuum left by the failure of the German political establishment, a failed Austrian vegetarian house-painter with mesmerising blue eyes stirred up Populist anti-Communist, anti-cosmopolitan, anti-Slav, anti-Jewish blood-and-land racist rhetoric and formed the German Workers’ Party in 1919. Rebranded as the National Socialist Party, the Nazis took power in 1932 when the wily charismatic psychopath became Chancellor of Germany with 32% of the vote and the help of Establishment forces who mistakenly believed that they could control him.

In Japan, the Depression, a lack of resources and Western racism created a perfect storm that fuelled militarism and ultranationalism. Japan had allied with Britain, France and Russia against Germany in World War I, but by insisting on unanimity at the Versailles Peace Conference, the peace-loving democratic Professor President Woodrow Wilson scuttled the majority’s acceptance of the notion of granting Japan the racial equality clause it sought. Wilson was egged on by Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who feared that such a clause would threaten White Australia. Japanese immigration to the US was halted in 1924 and its exports restricted by protectionist policies. Shunned and humiliated, Japan sided with its World War I enemy when it bombed Pearl Harbour in December 1941 on its mission to establish an empire in Asia and Australia.

Nazism was eventually crushed by the Soviet Union, the United States, by brave European partisans and Allied soldiers who responded to Churchill’s “we will fight them on the beaches…” Japanese imperialism was crushed by the US nuclear bomb that would have been Hitler’s had the Jews who took refuge in US Physics departments not been hounded from Germany by Hitler’s obsession with fantasises of racial purity. After the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombs, the Soviet State that had been formed by the descendants of the tiny band of 1917 Russian revolutionaries developed its own nuclear capacity – no small thanks to ideologically driven treachery.  US, British and Canadian spies – many of whom, Dowlphin is ashamed and embarrassed to note even though it is irrelevant, had been foolish Jewish Communists probably not too dissimilar to Dowlphin when he had been a foolish young Jewish Communist sympathiser.

A Cold War peace was held together by a two-player symmetric “game” in which each party could annihilate its enemy many times over, with the rest of the world as collateral damage if either provoked the other beyond a threshold that could not be resolved by a telephone connection between the Kremlin and the White House. Game theorists called the doctrine MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. The threshold was neared when Russia sought to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba in October 1962. Dowlphin and his classmates didn’t think they would ever have to sit for exams again. Mini-wars, guerrilla skirmishes and aeroplane hijackings, financed by the US’s CIA and the Soviet’s KGB in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America substituted for World War. US troops were stationed in Europe and Japan while Russian “advisors” were stationed in Eastern Europe, Cuba and the Middle East. Advisors, spies and mercenaries fought in jungles, deserts, universities and bedrooms. The two Super-Powers circled and eyed one another searching for opportunities to extend their power and reach.

Policy makers on both sides of the Cold War sought to maintain legitimacy by simultaneously increasing material prosperity while avoiding “unreasonable” inequality. The Soviets combined a rigid top-down bureaucratic economic planning strategy which focused on public goods at the expense of individual wellbeing with a Fascist-Communist Party led strategy which focused on an ideology of faux-egalitarianism at the expense of thought. The Americans combined a bottom-up private sector free-market approach that focused on consumer appetites for debt-enhanced gratification and entertainment with a top-down bureaucratic strategy that focused on military power to buttress a democratic capitalist manifest destiny.

The economic approach proved inadequate on the Soviet side. The regime complemented its economic strategy with internment camps, psychiatric wards, espionage, vodka, corruption and assisted suicide. In 1989, seventy-two years after Lenin arrived at the Finland Station in St. Petersburg, the Soviets collapsed from the exhaustion of having to both maintain symmetric credibility against US military might and while continuing to oppress the workers that the Communists purported to represent.

The US side was successful in maintaining stability at home by providing “guns, butter and circuses” to middle class voters in a golden age of productivity growth, employment growth, extended education and income security. The system delivered highways and washing machines, moon landings and Elvis, more schooling and hippies, longer lives and Playboy magazine, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Madison Avenue, full employment and low inflation.

Traditional working class white and Japanese families became middle class and prosperous. Dowlphin’s parents came to Australia as penniless East European refugees who had left school at the age of 14 and through hard work, cunning and luck they prospered and sired a dolphin-owl with a PhD from an Ivy Leave university. But the world is made up of more than working class whites, Japanese and Jewish dolphin-owls. Prosperity in the West was also based on the exploitation of resources from non-Western colonies in Africa, South America and non-Japan Asia.

The prosperity of the West was founded on racist principles and discrimination. A movement that sought social and human dignity and basic rights sprang up as television and cinema diffused across the globe. The first of the oppressed to claim rights after World War II were the colonies. They demanded national liberation and full independence from the European powers. They formed a Third World global force that generally borrowed a top-down economic planning model which both the US and the Soviets sought to influence and exploit. Decolonisation was rapid, but the citizens of the newly liberated nations gained little from liberation. In Africa and South America freedom-fighting militarised leaders siphoned CIA and KGB funds and guilt monies from well-intentioned Western non-government charities to fund palaces, Rolex watches, multiple wives and personal armies instead of funding dams, schools, hospitals and roads. In India and China, corruption was based more on entitlement than the ostentatious mimicry of palaces and gold.

Decolonization was followed by the Black Civil Rights movement in the US. This was rapidly generalised in the 1960s and ultimately globalised via television, cinema, music and cassette tapes. The women’s movement fought for economic and social equality; indigenous people demanded redress for the dispossession of lands and culture; gay men and women escaped from closets and came out into the open; people with disabilities asserted their needs; and people with gender ambiguities now demand the right to be themselves. Open “Culture Wars” has come to replace the hidden “Economic Class Struggle” as the focal point of political discourse – even though the power bestowed by economic production and financial distribution processes continue to mediate the culture wars.

Where to from here? Income inequalities grow, productivity and workforce participation has levelled off and decline, the white middle class is being hollowed out and the election of a black man to lead the US does little for black men and women who are shot dead by militarised police forces and gun-toting paranoid citizens asserting a constitutional right to bear arms. Where to from here? A billionaire liar with blue eyes, a shocking hairdo, a trophy wife, soft hands and an observant Jewish son-in-law gives voice to white working-class male entitlement to simultaneously challenge white wealthy male church-loving entitlement as well as the liberal non-violent political expression of people of colour, women, youth and people with disabilities. Where to from here as Black Lives Matter is upstaged by New Black Panthers?

The road to heaven and hell are paved with good intentions as the unknown unknown is greater than the sum of belief, fact and superstition.

UU > UK (belief) + KK (fact) + KU (speculation)


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