What were the competing visions of modernity globally from 1910–1939 and how did they differ?

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The period in question was a time of great upheaval in the Western world and internationally. World War I was the catalyst for much of this convulsive change, which snowballed over the following decades but also led to reactionary trends which were nevertheless a form of "modernity," or at least...

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were viewed that way, by those who perpetrated them.

The causes of World War I are quite difficult to understand. For our purposes, we can over-simplify and conclude that a gigantic power struggle had come to a head among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire on one side; and Britain, France, Russia, and eventually the United States on the other. The shock and disillusionment caused by the war then destroyed the old pretenses and formalities of society, which were beginning to come apart anyway. In the 1920s, modernity was defined by most Europeans and Americans as the casting off of previous notions of propriety and correctness, especially with regard to sexuality. The most obvious ways we can see this are in the literature of the period, and in fashion, particularly in the way women dressed. Writers began dealing openly with sexual issues that had been impermissible to discuss in fiction just a few years earlier—albeit not in the graphic manner that would become normal from the 1960s on, but with an openness that can still be surprising today, nearly a century later. Both classical and popular music underwent huge changes. Jazz became a symbol of the rejection of the old values, and the 1920s, of course, became known as the Jazz Age.

At the same time, and ironically, what was equally 'modern" in the eyes of some people was a ruthless, pseudo-scientific attitude about ethnic and racial issues and the openly amoral manner in which certain governments began to deal with ethnic and political conflict. The genocides perpetrated in the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians and Greeks were the first manifestations of this, during and after the Great War.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of new governments in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan that had no qualms about murdering millions of people in order to fulfill their political aims. This was, in one sense, a throwback to the most shockingly primitive behavior of which humans are capable. The lack of traditional religious morality or modern secular morality combined with the technological efficiency with which mass murders were committed represented a perverted version of "modernism."

In the Soviet Union, a massive famine was deliberately created for the purpose of imposing collectivized agriculture, a symbol of modernity and progress to Stalin and his henchmen. In Germany, the intention was to "improve" mankind by "purifying" it—by separating the "master race" from those in the population considered inferior, who were systematically exiled from Europe and mass-murdered on an unprecedented scale.

The Japanese similarly considered themselves a master race whose mission was to conquer the rest of Asia and reduce many of its inhabitants to a condition of semi-slavery. Like the Germans, the Japanese set up concentration camps and performed grisly medical experiments on the Chinese and others whom they considered inferior. The massacres at Nanjing in 1937 were a form of genocide against the Chinese.

The benign advances in social attitudes in Britain, the United States, and other countries during this period would not have been possible without a reevaluation of traditional attitudes, including attitudes about religion and morality. That same rejection of tradition, arguably, was what made possible the complete amorality of the totalitarian governments of the period and their warped attempts to remake the world by eliminating those they considered inferior or dangerous. The word modern is in some sense a valid description of both social progress on the one hand and enormous evil on the other.

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