History of Literature










E. H. Gombrich




"World History for Children"





 


Part VII
 

 

36 Men and Machines

The Biedermeier era - Steam engines, steamships, locomotives, the telegraph - Spinning machines and mechanical looms - Coal and iron - Luddites - Socialist ideas - Marx and his theory of class war -Liberalism - The revolutions of 1830 and 1848

 


Barricade on the rue Soufflot, by Horace Vernet

 

Metternich and the pious rulers of Russia, Austria, France and Spain were indeed able to bring about a return to life as it had been before the French Revolution - at least in its outward forms. Once again there was all the splendour and ceremony of courts, where the nobility paraded, their breasts covered in medals and decorations, and wielded much influence. Citizens were ex -cluded from politics, which suited many of them very well. They occupied themselves with their families, with books and, above all, with music. For, in the last hundred years, music, heard mostly as an accompaniment to dancing, songs and hymns in earlier times, had become the art which, of all the arts, spoke most to people. However, this period of tranquillity and leisure, known to Austr-ians as the Biedermeier era - that of the administrative or professional middle-class citizen - was only the visible side of things. There was one Enlightenment idea that Metternich could not suppress - not that he ever thought of doing so. This was the idea Galileo had had of a rational, mathematical approach to the study of nature, which had appealed so much to people at the time of the
Enlightenment. And it so happened that this hidden aspect of the Enlightenment led to a far greater revolution and dealt a far more deadly blow to the old forms and institutions than the Parisian Jacobins ever did with their guillotine.

Mastering the mathematics of nature enabled people not only to understand the forces of nature, but to use them. And they were now harnessed and put to work for mankind.
The history of all the inventions that followed is not as simple as you might think. In most cases they began with an idea. This idea led to experiments and trials, after which it was often abandoned, only to be picked up again later, perhaps by somebody else. It was only when a person came along who had the determination and persistence to carry the idea through to its conclusion, and make it generally useful, that that person became known as the 'inventor'. This was the case with all the machines which changed our lives -with steam-driven machinery, the steamship, the steam engine and the telegraph - and they all became important in Metternich's time.

The steam engine came first. A learned Frenchman called Papin had already been carrying out experiments around 1700. But it wasn't until 1769 that a Scottish engineer named James Watt was able to patent a proper steam engine. At first the engine was mainly used to pump water out of mines, but people soon saw the possibility of using it to drive carriages or ships. Experiments with steamships went on in England in 1802, and in 1803 an American engineer called Robert Fulton launched a steamboat on the Seine. Commenting on the event, Napoleon wrote: 'This project is capable of changing the face of the world.' Four years later, in 1807, the first steamship made its way up the Hudson River from New York to Albany, its huge paddle-wheel churning, with much puffing, clanking and belching of smoke.

At about the same time attempts were also being made in England to propel vehicles using steam. But it took until 1803 for a usable engine to be invented, one which ran on cast-iron railway lines. In 1814 George Stephenson built the first effective steam locomotive and named it Blucher after the great Prussian general, and in 1825 the first railway line was opened between the towns of Stockton and Darlington. Within thirty years there were railway lines all over Britain, America, throughout almost all of Europe, and even in India. These lines went over mountains, through tunnels and over great rivers, and carried people at least ten times as quickly as the fastest stagecoach.
It was much the same with the invention of the electric telegraph, the only means of rapid communication before the telephone. First thought of in 1753, there were many attempts from the 1770s onwards, but only in 1837 did an American artist called Samuel Morse succeed in sending a short telegraph to his friends. Once again, hardly more than ten years had passed before use of the telegraph was widespread.

However, other machines changed the world even more profoundly. These were the machines which made use of the forces of nature instead of manpower. Take spinning and weaving, for example - work that had always been done by artisans. When the demand for cloth increased (around the time of Louis XIV), factories already existed, but the work was done by hand. It took a while for people to realise that their new knowledge of nature could be applied to the production of cloth. The dates are much the same as those of the other great inventions. People were experimenting with various sorts of spinning machines from 1740 onwards. The mechanical loom was introduced at about the same time. And again, it was in England that these machines were first made and used. Machines and factories needed coal and iron, so countries which had their own coal and iron were at a great advantage.

All of these developments produced a tremendous upheaval in people's lives. Everything was turned upside-down and hardly anything stayed where it had been. Think for a moment how secure and orderly everything had been in the guilds of the medieval cities! Those guilds had lasted right up until the time of the French Revolution and longer. True, it was no longer as easy for a journeyman to become a master as it had been in the Middle Ages, but it was still possible and the hope was there. Now, all of a sudden, everything changed. Some people owned machines. It didn't take
much training to learn how to operate them - just a couple of hours and then they ran themselves. This meant that anyone who owned a mechanical loom could, with the help of one or two assistants - perhaps his wife and children - do more work than a hundred trained weavers. So whatever became of all the weavers in a town into which a mechanical loom was introduced? The answer is that they woke up one day to discover that they weren't needed any more. Everything it had taken them years to learn, first as apprentices and then as journeymen, was useless. Machines were faster, better and very much cheaper. Machines don't sleep and they don't eat. Nor do they need holidays. Thanks to the new machines, the money that had allowed a hundred weavers to live safely and comfortably could now be saved by the factory owner, or spent on himself. Of course, he still needed workers to manage the machines. But only unskilled workers, and not many of them. But the worst thing was this: the city's hundred weavers were now out of work and would starve, because one machine was doing their work for them. And naturally, rather than see his family starve a person will do anything. Even work for a pittance as long as it means he has a job to keep body and soul together. So the factory owner, with his machines, could summon the hundred starving weavers and say: 'I need five people to run my factory and look after my machines. What will you charge for that?' One of them might say: 'I want so much, if I am to live as comfortably as I did before.' The next would say: 'I just need enough for a loaf of bread and a kilo of potatoes a day.' And the third, seeing his last chance of survival about to disappear, would say: 'I'll see if I can manage on half a loaf.' Four others then said: 'So will we!' 'Right!' said the factory owner. 'I'll take you five. How many hours can you work in a day? "Ten hours,' said the first. 'Twelve,' said the second, seeing the job slipping from his grasp. 'I can do sixteen,' cried the third, for his life depended on it. 'Fine,' said the factory owner, 'I'll take you. But who'll look after my machine while you're asleep? My machine doesn't sleep!" I'll get my little brother to do it - he's eight years old,' replied the luckless weaver. 'And what shall I give him?' 'A few pennies will do, to buy him a bit of bread and butter.' And even then the factory owner might reply: 'He can have the bread, but we'll see about the butter.' And this was how business was done. The remaining ninety-five weavers were left to starve, or find another factory owner prepared to take them on.

Now you mustn't think that all factory owners were as vile as the one I have just described. But the worst of them, who paid the least and sold at the lowest prices, could be the most successful. Then others, against their conscience and their natural instincts, often found themselves treating their workers in the same way.

People began to despair. Why bother to learn a skill and take pains to make beautiful things by hand? Machines could do the same job a hundred times more quickly, often more neatly and at a hundredth of the price. And so weavers, blacksmiths, spinners and cabinet-makers sank ever more deeply into misery and destitution, running from factory to factory in the hope of earning a few pennies. Many of them raged against the machines that had robbed them of their happiness. They broke into factories and wrecked the looms, but it made no difference. In England in 1812 the death penalty was introduced for anyone found guilty of destroying a machine. And then newer and better machines followed that could do the work, not of a hundred, but of five hundred workers, and the general misery increased.

Some people felt that things could not go on like this. It was simply not right that a person, just because he happened to own or had perhaps inherited, a machine, should be able to treat everyone else more harshly than many noblemen used to treat their peasants. It seemed to them that factories and machines and suchlike, which gave their owners such monstrous power over other people's lives, shouldn't belong to individuals, but to the community as a whole. This idea is called socialism. People had many ideas about how to organise work in a socialist way, so as to put an end to the misery of starving workers, and came to the conclusion that, instead of receiving a wage set by the individual factory owner, workers should have a share of the overall profits.

Among the many socialists in France and Britain in the 1830s there was one who became particularly famous. He was a scholar from Trier in Germany, and his name was Karl Marx. The ideas he had were rather different. In his view it was pointless wondering how things might be if only the machines belonged to the workers. If they wanted the machines, the workers would have to fight for them, for the factory owners would never give up their factories voluntarily. And it was equally pointless for groups of workers to go round destroying mechanical looms now that they had been invented. What they should do was stick together. If each of those hundred weavers had not gone out looking for work for himself, and instead they had all got together and said with one voice, 'We won't work for more than ten hours in the factory, and we each want two loaves of bread and two kilos of potatoes', the factory owner would have had to give in. True, that in itself might not have been enough, since the factory owner no longer needed skilled weavers for his mechanical looms, and could take his pick from men so destitute that they would accept the lowest wages. But this, said Marx, was precisely why unity was so vital. For in the end the factory owner would be unable to find anyone who would do the job for less. So the workers must support each other. And not just those from one district, or even one country. All the workers of the world must unite! Then they would not only have the power to say how much they should be paid, but they would end up by taking over the factories and the machines themselves, and so create a world that was no longer divided into haves and have-nots.

For, as Marx went on to explain, the truth of the matter was that weavers, shoemakers and blacksmiths didn't really exist any more. A worker who did nothing but pull a lever on a machine two thousand times a day hardly needed to know what the machine produced. His only interest was in his weekly pay packet and in earning enough to prevent him from starving like his unhappy fellows who had no work. Nor did the owner need to learn the trade which gave him a living, for the work was all done by machines. Which meant, in fact, said Marx, that there were no longer any real occupations. There were just two sorts - or classes - of people: those who owned and those who didn't. Or as he chose to call them, capitalists and proletarians. These classes were in a
constant state of war with one another, for owners always want to produce as much as possible for the smallest amount of money, and therefore pay the workers - the proletarians - as little as they can get away with, whereas workers seek to force the capitalists -the owners of the machines - to part with as much of the profit as they can be made to. This battle between the two classes of people, so Marx thought, could only end in one way. The many dispossessed would one day seize the property of the owning minority, not in order to own it themselves, but to get rid of ownership altogether. Then classes would cease to exist. This was the goal of Karl Marx, one that he thought was near and quite simple to achieve.

However, when Marx published his great appeal to the workers (The Communist Manifesto, as he called it) in 1848, the situation was very different from what he had expected. And things have gone on being different, right up until today. In those days few factory owners had any real power. Most of it was still in the hands of those much-decorated noblemen whose authority Metternich had helped to restore. And it was these noblemen who were the real adversaries of rich citizens and factory owners. They wanted a secure, orderly and regulated state in which each had his appointed place, as people had always had in the past. This meant that, in Austria for example, peasants were still tied to inherited estates, and were hardly less bound to the landowners than the serfs of the Middle Ages. Artisans were still governed by many strict and ancient regulations dating back to the time of the guilds - as, to some extent, were the new factories. However, citizens who had become wealthy as a result of the new machines and factories were no longer willing to take orders, either from the nobility or from the state. They wanted to act as they saw fit, and were convinced that this would be best for everyone. All that was needed was for able people to be given a free rein, unimpeded by conventions, rules or regulations, and in time the whole world would be a better place. The world looks after itself as long as it isn't interfered with, or so they thought. Accordingly, in 1830, the citizens of France rose up and threw out Louis XVIII's successors.

In 1848 there was a new revolution in Paris, which spread to many other countries, in which citizens tried to obtain all the power of the state so that nobody could any longer tell them what they might or might not do with their factories and their machines. In Vienna, Metternich found himself dismissed and the emperor Ferdinand was forced to abdicate. The old regime was definitively over. Men wore black trousers like drainpipes that were almost as ugly as the ones we wear today, and stiff white collars with complicated knotted neckties. Factories were allowed to spring up everywhere and railways transported goods in ever increasing quantities from one country to another.

 

 

37 Across the Seas

China before 1800 - The Opium war - The Taiping Rebellion -China's submission - Japan in 1850 - Revolution in support of the Mikado - Japan's modernisation with foreign assistance - America after 1776 - The slave states - The North - Abraham Lincoln - The Civil War

 


The Peacemakers (1868) by George P.A. Healy.
Aboard the River Queen on March 28, 1865, General William T. Sherman, General Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln, and Admiral David Dixon Porter discuss military plans for the final months of the Civil War.

 

Thanks to railways and steamships the world became much smaller. To set off across the seas for India or China was no longer a perilous adventure into the unknown, and America was almost next door. And so from 1800 onwards it is even less possible to see the history of the world as only that of Europe. We must take a look beyond our frontiers at Europe's new neighbours, and in particular at China, Japan and America. Before 1800, China was still in many ways the same country it had been at the time of the rulers of the Han family at around the time of the birth of Christ, and at the time of China's great poets, eight hundred years later. It was a mighty, orderly, proud, densely populated and largely peaceful land, inhabited by hardworking peasants and citizens, great scholars, poets and thinkers. The unrest, the religious wars and the endless disturbances which troubled Europe during those years would have seemed alien, barbaric and inconceivable to the Chinese. True, they were now ruled by foreign emperors who made men wear their hair in a plait, as a sign of their submission. But since their invasion, this family of rulers from inner Asia, the Manchus, had adopted Chinese ways and had learnt and absorbed the guiding principles of Confucius. So the empire flourished.

On occasion, learned Jesuits came to China to preach Christianity. They were usually received with courtesy, for the emperor of China wanted them to teach him about Western sciences, and about astronomy in particular. European merchants took home porcelain from China. People everywhere tried to match its exquisite fineness and delicacy. But it took centuries of experimenting before they could do so. In how many ways the Chinese empire, with its many, many millions of cultivated citizens, was superior to Europe you can see from a letter sent by the emperor of China to the king of England in 1793. The English had asked for permission to send an ambassador to the Chinese court, and to engage in trade with China. The emperor Ch'ien-Lung, a famous scholar and an able ruler, sent this reply:

You, О king, live far away across many seas. Yet, driven by the humble desire to share in the blessings of our culture, you have sent a delegation, which respectfully submitted your letter. You assure us that it is your veneration for our celestial ruling family that fills you with the desire to adopt our culture, and yet the difference between our customs and moral laws and your own is so profound that, were your envoy even capable of absorbing the basic principles of our culture, our customs and traditions could never grow in your soil. Were he the most diligent student, his efforts would still be vain.
Ruling over the vast world, I have but one end in view, and it is this: to govern to perfection and to fulfil the duties of the state. Rare and costly objects are of no interest to me. I have no use for your country's goods. Our Celestial Kingdom possesses all things in abundance and wants for nothing within its frontiers. Hence there is no need to bring in the wares of foreign barbarians to exchange for our own products. But since tea, silk and porcelain, products of the Celestial Kingdom, are absolute necessities for the peoples of Europe and for you yourself, the limited trade hitherto permitted in my
province of Canton will continue. Mindful of the distant loneliness of your island, separated from the world by desert wastes of sea, I pardon your understandable ignorance of the customs of the Celestial Kingdom. Tremble at my orders and obey.

So that was what the emperor of China had to say to the king of the little island of Britain. But he had underestimated the barbarity of the inhabitants of that distant island, a barbarity which they demonstrated several decades later when they arrived in their steamships. They were no longer prepared to put up with the limited trade allowed them in the province of Canton, and they had found a ware that the Chinese people liked all too well: a poison -and a deadly one at that. When opium is burnt and the smoke is inhaled, for a short time it gives you sweet dreams. But it makes you dreadfully ill. Anyone who takes up smoking opium can never give it up. It is a little like drinking brandy, but far more dangerous. And it was this that the British wanted to sell to the Chinese in vast quantities. The Chinese authorities saw how dangerous it would be for their people, and in 1839 they took vigorous action to stamp out the trade.

So the British returned in their steamships, this time armed with cannons. They steamed up the Chinese rivers and fired on peaceful towns, reducing beautiful palaces to dust and ashes. Shocked and bewildered, the Chinese were powerless to stop them and had to give in to the demands of the big-nosed foreign devils: they had to pay a huge sum of money and open their ports to foreign trade. Soon afterwards, a rebellion broke out in China, known as the Taiping - or great peace - Rebellion, begun by a man who proclaimed himself Heavenly King of the Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace. At first the Europeans supported him, but when the port of Shanghai was threatened, they fought alongside the imperial troops to protect their trade and the rebels were defeated.

The Europeans were determined to expand their trading activities, and set up embassies in China's capital, Peking. But the imperial government would not allow it. And so, in 1860, British
and French troops together forced their way northwards, bombarding towns and humiliating their governors. When they reached Peking, the emperor had fled. In revenge for Chinese resistance, the British sacked, looted and burned the beautiful and ancient imperial Summer Palace, together with all its magnificent works of art dating back to the earliest days of the empire. Wrecked, and in a state of utter confusion, the vast and peaceful thousand-year-old empire was forced to bow to the demands of Europe's merchants. This was China's reward for teaching Europeans the art of making paper, the use of the compass, and -regrettably - how to make gunpowder.

During these years the island empire of Japan might easily have suffered the same fate. Japan at this time was much like Europe in the Middle Ages. Actual power was in the hands of noblemen and knights, in particular those of the distinguished family which looked after the emperor - not unlike the way the ancestors of Charles the Great had looked after the Merovingian kings. Painting pictures, building houses and writing poetry were all things the Japanese had learnt hundreds of years before from the Chinese, and they also knew how to make many beautiful things themselves. But Japan was not an orderly, vast and largely peaceful country like China. For years powerful noblemen from the various districts and islands had fought each other in chivalrous feuds. In 1850 the poorer ones among them joined together to seize power from the great rulers of the kingdom. Would you like to know how they did it? They enlisted the help of the emperor, a powerless puppet who was forced to spend several hours each day just sitting on the throne. Those impoverished noblemen rose up against the great landowners in the emperor's name, claiming that they would give him back the power Japan's emperors were said to have had, way back in the mists of antiquity.

All this was happening at about the time when European envoys first returned to Japan, a land forbidden to foreigners for more than two hundred years. To these white-skinned ambassadors, life in Japanese cities - with their millions of inhabitants, the houses made of paper and bamboo, the ornamental gardens and pretty ladies with their hair piled high upon their heads, the bright temple-banners, the rigid formality, and the solemn and lordly manner of the sword-bearing knights - was all delightfully comical. In their filthy outdoor boots they trampled over the priceless mats of the palace floor where the Japanese only trod barefoot. They saw no reason to respect any of the ancient customs of a people they thought of as savages, when exchanging greetings with them or drinking tea. So they were soon detested. When a party of American travellers failed to stand aside politely, as was the custom, when an important prince happened to pass by in his sedan chair, together with his entourage, the enraged attendants fell on the Americans and a woman was killed. Of course, straight away British gunships bombarded the town, and the Japanese feared they were about to suffer the same fate as the Chinese. Fortunately, the rebellion had meanwhile been successful. The emperor - known in Europe as the Mikado - now really did have unlimited power. Backed by clever advisers who were never seen in public, he decided to use it to protect the country against arrogant foreigners for all time. The ancient culture must be preserved. All they needed was to learn Europe's latest inventions. And so, all at once, the doors were thrown open to foreigners.

The emperor commissioned German officers to create a modern army, and Englishmen to build a modern fleet. He sent Japanese to Europe to study Western medicine and to find out about all the other branches of Western knowledge which had made Europe so powerful. Following the example of the Germans he established compulsory education, so that his people would be trained to fight. The Europeans were delighted. What sensible little people the Japanese had turned out to be, opening up their country in this way. They made haste to sell them everything they wanted and showed them everything they asked to see. Within a few decades the Japanese had learnt all that Europe could teach them about machines for war and for peace. And once they had done so, they complimented the Europeans politely, as they once more stood at their gates: 'Now we know what you know. Now our steamships will go out in search of trade and conquest, and our cannons will fire on peaceful cities if anyone in them dares harm a Japanese citizen.' The Europeans couldn't get over it, nor have they, even today. For the Japanese turned out to be the best students in all the history of the world.
While Japan was beginning to liberate itself, very important things were also happening across the seas in America. As you remember, the English trading posts which had grown into coastal cities on America's eastern seaboard had declared their independence from England in 1776 in order to found a confederation of free states. British and Spanish settlers had meanwhile pressed on towards the west, fighting Indian tribes as they went. You must have read books about cowboys and Indians, so you'll know what it was like. How farmers built log cabins and cleared the dense forest and how they fought. How cowboys looked after enormous herds of cattle and how the Wild West was settled by adventurers and gold diggers. New states sprang up everywhere on land taken from the tribes, although, as you can imagine, not much of that land had been cultivated. But the states were all very different from each other. Those in southern, tropical regions lived off great plantations where cotton or sugar cane was cultivated on a gigantic scale. The settlers owned vast tracts of land and the work was done by negro slaves bought in Africa. They were very badly treated.

Further north it was different. It is less hot and the climate is more like our own. So there you found farms and towns, not unlike those the British emigrants had left behind them, only on a much larger scale. They didn't need slaves because it was easier and cheaper to do the work themselves. And so the townsfolk of the northern states, who were mostly pious Christians, thought it shameful that the Confederation, founded in accordance with the principles of human rights, should keep slaves as people had in pagan antiquity. The southern states explained that they needed negro slaves because without them they would be ruined. No white man, they said, could endure working in such heat and, in any case, negroes weren't born to be free . . . and so on and so forth. In 1820 a compromise was reached. The states which lay to the south of an agreed line would keep slaves, those to the north would not.

In the long run, however, the shame of an economy based on slave labour was intolerable. And yet it seemed that little could be done. The southern states, with their huge plantations, were far stronger and richer than the northern farm lands and were determined not to give in at any cost. But they met their match in President Abraham Lincoln. He was a man with no ordinary destiny. He grew up as a simple farm boy in the backwoods, fought in 1832 in a war against an Indian chief called Black Hawk, and became the postmaster of a small town. There in his spare time he studied law, before becoming a lawyer and a member of parliament. As such he fought against slavery and made himself thoroughly hated by the plantation owners of the southern states. Despite this, he was elected president in 1861. The southern states immediately declared themselves independent of the United States, and founded their own Confederation of slave states.

Seventy-five thousand volunteers made themselves available to Lincoln straight away. Despite this, the outlook was very bad for the northerners. Britain, which had abolished and condemned slave labour in its own colonies for several decades, was nevertheless supporting the slave states. There was a frightful and bloody civil war. Yet, in the end, the northerners' bravery and tenacity prevailed, and in 1865 Lincoln was able to enter the capital of the southern states to the cheers of liberated slaves. Eleven days later, while at the theatre, he was murdered by a southerner. But his work was done. The reunited, free, United States of America soon became the richest and most powerful country in the world. And it even seems to manage without slaves.

 

 

38 Two New States in Europe

Europe after 1848 - The Emperor Franz Josef and Austria - The German Confederation - France under Napoleon III - Russia -Spain's decline - The liberation of the peoples of the Balkans - The tight for Constantinople - The kingdom of Sardinia - Cavour -Garibaldi - Bismarck - The reform of the army in defiance of the constitution - The Battle of Koniggratz - Sedan - The founding of the German empire - The Paris Commune - Bismarck's social reforms Dismissal of the Iron Chancellor

 


This is what the map of central Europe looked like before Italy and Germany hail become states. At the same lime as all these little pieces of hind were uniting to create those two powerful stales, the Turkish empire was breaking up into an ever- increasing number of independent countries.

 

I have known many people who were children at a time before either Germany or Italy existed. It seems incredible, doesn't it? That these great and powerful nations, which play such an important role, aren't old at all. After the revolutions of 1848 - when new railway lines were being built all over Europe and telegraph cables were being laid, when the towns which had turned into factory towns were expanding and many peasants were being drawn into them, and when men had taken to wearing top hats and funny pince-nez spectacles with dangling black cords - the Europe we know was still no more than a patchwork of tiny duchies, kingdoms, principalities and republics, linked to one another by complicated ties of allegiance or enmity.

In this Europe (if we ignore Britain, which was at this time more concerned with its colonies in America, India and Australia than with the neighbouring continent), there were three important powers. In the centre of Europe stood the empire of Austria. There the emperor Franz Josef had been ruling from the Imperial Palace in Vienna since 1848. I saw him once myself, when I was a little boy. He was by then an old man, and was crossing the park at the Palace of Schonbrunn. I also have a very clear memory of his state funeral. He really was what an emperor was meant to be. He ruled over all sorts of different peoples and countries. He was emperor of Austria, but he was also king of Hungary and count-elevated-to-the-rank-of-prince of the Tirol and had lots of other ancient titles, such as king of Jerusalem and protector of the Sacred Tomb - a title that went back to the Crusades. Many provinces of Italy came under his authority, while others were ruled by members of his family. Then there were the Croats, the Serbs, the Czechs, the Slovenes, the Slovaks, the Poles and innumerable other peoples, For this reason, the words on old Austrian banknotes (for example, 'ten crowns') also appeared in all these other languages. The emperor of Austria even had some power, at least in name, in the German principalities. But the situation there was rather complicated. When Napoleon shattered the last remnants of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806, the German empire had ceased to exist. The many German-speaking lands - which included Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Frankfurt, Brunswick and so on and so forth - then formed an association, known as the German Confederation, to which Austria also belonged. All in all it was a remarkably confusing picture, this German Confederation. Each speck ot land had its own prince, its own money, its own stamps and its own official uniform. It was bad enough when it took several days to get from Berlin to Munich by mail-coach. But now that the same journey took less than a day by train, it had become almost unendurable.

The patchwork presented by the lands of Germany, Austria and Italy was quite unlike anything around them on the map.

To the west was France. Shortly after the revolution of 1848, it had once again become an empire. One of Napoleon's descendants had been able to reawaken memories of the glory of the past and although far from great himself, he was first elected president of the republic and soon afterwards, emperor of Fiance under the name of Napoleon III. Despite all its wars and revolutions, France
was now an exceptionally rich and powerful country, with great industrial cities.

To the east was Russia. The tsar was not loved in that mighty land. You must bear in mind that by this time many Russians had studied at universities in France and Germany and their outlook was quite modern and up to date. But the Russian empire and its officials was still living in the Middle Ages. Just think: it was only in 1861 that serfdom was formally abolished and then, for the first time, twenty-three million Russian peasants were promised an existence worthy of human dignity. Making promises is one thing, but keeping them is another. In Russia, generally speaking, government was by the lash - or the knout, as it was called. The penalty for speaking freely, for expressing even the mildest opinion, was exile to Siberia at the very least. Consequently, students and members of the middle classes who had received a modern education detested the tsar so much that he lived in constant fear of assassination. This was, in fact, the fate of most tsars, however hard they tried to guard against it.

Beside the immensity of Russia and the battle-hardened might of France it seemed impossible for any other country to make itself heard in Europe. With the loss of its Latin American colonies, beginning in 1810, Spain had become weak and powerless. Turkey, no longer in control of its European possessions, was now referred to in the newspapers as the 'sick man of Europe'. Its various Christian subject peoples had been fighting for their liberty with the enthusiastic support of the rest of Europe. The Greeks were first, followed by the Bulgarians, the Romanians and the Albanians, while Russia, France and Austria fought over the rest of Turkey's European possessions and Constantinople. This was just as well for Turkey, for none of those three countries was willing to surrender such a rich prize to any of the others. So Constantinople stayed Turkish.

Meanwhile France and Austria were still fighting over the Italian dominions, as they had been for hundreds of years. But times had changed. Italians had also been brought closer to one another by their railways and, like the inhabitants of German towns, they too had come to realise that they weren't simply Florentines, Genoese, Venetians or Neapolitans. They were all Italians, and they wished to decide their own fate. At that time there was only one small state in northern Italy that was free and independent. It lay at the foot of the mountains over which Hannibal had once come and was called Piedmont, which means exactly that: foot of the mountains. Now Piedmont and the island of Sardinia together formed a small but strong kingdom under one ruler, King Victor Emmanuel. And he had an exceptionally able and wily minister called Camillo Cavour, who knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted what all Italians had been yearning for, and what so many of them had shed their blood for in bold but often ill-conceived and perilous adventures, both during and after the 1848 revolution: a unified Italian kingdom. Cavour himself was no warrior. He had no faith in the secret conspiracies and risky surprise attacks favoured by a brave dreamer called Garibaldi and his young fellow fighters in their efforts to win their country's freedom. Cavour was looking for a different and more effective way, and he found one.

He managed to persuade the ambitious emperor of the French, Napoleon III, that he should join in the struggle for Italian freedom and unity. He encouraged him to think that if he did so he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. For by involving himself in the struggle for freedom of a country that didn't belong to him, he could only harm Austria, through its possessions in Italy -a prospect which did not altogether displease him. At the same time, being the champion of liberty would make him the hero of a great European nation, and this too was a tempting thought. Thanks, then, to Cavour's cunning diplomacy and to the bold expeditions of the impetuous Garibaldi, and at the cost of a very great number of lives, the Italians achieved their goal. In the two wars they fought against Austria, in 1859 and 1866, the Austrian armies often had the upper hand, but as a result of interventions by Napoleon III and the tsar, the emperor Franz Josef was finally forced to give up his Italian territories. Elsewhere everyone had cast their votes, and the results showed that the whole population wanted to belong to Italy. So the various dukes abdicated. By 1866 Italy was unified. Only one state was lacking, and this was the capital, Rome. But Rome belonged to the pope, and Napoleon III refused to hand the city over to the Italians for fear of falling out with him. He defended the city with French troops and repelled a number of attacks by Garibaldi's volunteers.

In 1866, Austria's stubborn determination might yet have ended in victory if Cavour hadn't cleverly arranged an enemy for Austria with similar intentions. This was Prussia, in the north, whose prime minister at the time was Bismarck.

Bismarck was a noble landowner from north Germany. He was a man of exceptional intelligence with a will of iron. He never lost sight of his goal and wasn't in the least bit shy of telling even King William I of Prussia exactly what he thought. From the outset Bismarck wanted just one thing: to make Prussia mighty and use its strength to make one great German empire out of the jumbled patchwork of the German Confederation. For this, he was convinced it was vital to have a strong and powerful army. Indeed, it was he who famously said that the great questions of history are decided not by speeches but by blood and iron. I don't know whether that's always true, but in his case history proved him right. The Prussian representatives were unwilling to grant him the great sum he needed for this army out of the people's taxes so, in 1862, he persuaded the king to rule against the constitution and the will of parliament. The king feared he would suffer the same fate as King Charles I of England when he failed to keep his word, and Louis XVI of France. He was travelling with Bismarck in a railway carriage and turned to him and said: 'I can see exactly where all this is leading. Down to Opera House Square where they'll chop off your head beneath my windows, and then it will be my turn.' Bismarck merely said: 'And then?' 'Well, then we shall be dead,' replied the king. 'True,' said Bismarck, 'then we'll be dead, but what better death could we have?' And so it came about that, against the will of the people, a great army was equipped with a large number of guns and cannons and was soon proving its worth against Denmark.



The Battle of Königgrätz by Georg Bleibtreu

With these exceedingly well-armed and well-trained forces Bismarck attacked Austria in 1866, while the Italians were attacking from the south. His aim was to force the emperor out of the German Confederation, leaving Prussia as its most powerful member. Prussia could then lead Germany. At Koniggratz, in Bohemia, he defeated the Austrians decisively in a bloody battle. The emperor Franz Josef had to give in and Austria left the Confederation. Bismarck didn't press his victory too far and made no further demands. This incensed the generals and officers of the Prussian army but Bismarck wouldn't budge. He had no wish to make a lasting enemy of Austria. But, without telling anyone, he made secret pacts with all the other German states, ensuring their support in any war Prussia chose to undertake.

Meanwhile, in France, the growth of Prussian military power was making Napoleon III increasingly uneasy. He had just lost an utterly unnecessary war in Mexico in 1867 and was fearful of this well-armed neighbour across the Rhine. In any case, the French had never felt comfortable with any growth in German military might. King William of Prussia was staying at a hot-spring resort at Ems when Napoleon Ill's ambassador interrupted his cure with the most extraordinary demand. On behalf of himself and his descendants, the king was to renounce in writing claims that he had never even made. Without the king's agreement Bismarck then seized the opportunity to force Napoleon III to declare war. Against the expectations of the French, all the German states joined in, and it was soon clear that the German troops were better equipped and better led than the French.

At a place called Sedan, the Germans captured a large part of the French army, which happened to include Napoleon III. They hurried on towards Paris where they laid siege to the well-defended city for months. The defeat of France meant that the French troops in charge of the pope's protection had to leave Rome, and this allowed the king of Italy to make his entry. It was all very complicated. Meanwhile, during the siege, Bismarck persuaded the various German kings and princes to propose to the king of Prussia, who was staying at Versailles, that he accept the title of German emperor. You won't believe what happened next. King William insisted on being called emperor of Germany and not German emperor, and the whole thing nearly fell through. Finally, however, in the great gallery of mirrors at Versailles, the creation of the German empire was solemnly proclaimed. But the newly appointed emperor, William I, was incensed at not having the title he had wanted. In full view of everyone, shockingly and intentionally, he strode past Bismarck, refusing to shake the hand of the empire's founder. Despite this Bismarck continued to serve him, and served him well.
In Paris, during the months of the siege, a dreadful and bloody workers' revolt had broken out which was later suppressed with even greater bloodshed. More people died in it than in the whole of the French Revolution. For a while afterwards France was powerless, and the French were forced to make peace. They had to hand over a large part of their country to Germany (Alsace and Lorraine) together with a large sum of money. Because he had ruled so badly, the French dismissed Napoleon III and founded a republic. They had had enough of emperors and kings and they wouldn't ever have any again.

Bismarck was now chancellor, or prime minister, of the unified German empire and he governed with great authority. He was a fierce opponent of the sort of socialist action recommended by Karl Marx, but he knew about the appalling conditions of the workers. He believed the only way to stop the spread of Marx's teachings was to allay the worst hardships of the workers, so that they no longer wanted to turn the whole state upside-down. So he created organisations to give support to workers who were sick or had had accidents, who would otherwise have died from lack of assistance, and did his best to ensure that the worst poverty was reduced. Even so, all workers in those days still had to work a twelve-hour day - including Sundays.

Prince Bismarck, with his bushy eyebrows and his stern and resolute expression, was soon one of the best-known men in Europe. Even his enemies agreed that he was a great statesman. When the peoples of Europe wanted to set about dividing up the world, which was now so much smaller, they met together in Berlin in 1878, and Bismarck led the discussions. But when a new German
emperor came along, the two were constantly at odds. After many disagreements with his chancellor, William II could stand it no longer and dismissed him. Bismarck, now an old man, retired to his ancestral estate. There he lived for several more years, sending messages to the new leaders of the German government to warn them of the blunders they were making.

 

 

39 Dividing Up the World

Industry - Markets and sources of raw materials — Britain and France - The Russo-Japanese War - Italy and Germany - The race to mobilize - Austria and the East - The outbreak of the First World War - New weapons - Revolution in Russia - The American intervention - The terms of peace - Scientific advance - End

 


Bolshevik, by Kustodiev Boris

 

And now we are coming to the time when my parents were young. They were able to tell me exactly what things were like. How more and more homes came to have first gas and then electric lighting, and then a telephone, while in the towns electric tramways appeared, soon to be followed by cars. How vast suburbs spread to house the workers, and factories with powerful machines kept thousands busy doing work which used to be done by perhaps hundreds of thousands of artisans.

But whatever happened to all those textiles, shoes, tins of food and pots and pans that were turned out every day in wagonloads by these great factories? A certain amount, of course, could be sold at home. People who had jobs could soon afford many more clothes and shoes than artisans used to own. And everything was infinitely cheaper, even if it didn't last as long, so people had to keep buying replacements. But of course they didn't earn enough to buy all the things the monstrous new machines produced. And if all those wagonloads of cloth and leather just sat around unsold, it was pointless for the factory to keep on producing more. It had to close down. But if it did, the workers lost their jobs and were no longer able to buy anything, and even less was sold. This sort of situation is called an economic crisis. And to make sure it didn't happen, every country needed to sell as much as it possibly could of what its many factories produced. If it was unsuccessful at home it had to try to sell its goods abroad. Not only in Europe, where there were factories just about everywhere, but in countries where there weren't any - countries where there were people who didn't yet have clothes or shoes.

In Africa, for example. And so, all of a sudden, the industrialised countries found themselves falling over each other in a race to get to remote and wild places. The wilder they were, the better. They needed them not only so they could sell their goods, but also because those places often had things that their own countries didn't have, such as cotton for making cloth and oil for petrol. But there again, the more of these so-called 'raw materials' they brought from the colonies to Europe, the more the factories were able to produce, and the more eager was their search for places where there were still people who would buy their vast output. People who were unable to find work in their own countries could now emigrate to these foreign places. In short, it became vitally important for the countries of Europe to own colonies. No one bothered to ask the native inhabitants what they thought about it. And, as you can imagine, they were often very badly treated if any of them tried shooting at the invading troops with their bows and arrows.

Of course, the British did best in this division of the world. After all, they had had possessions in India, Australia and North America for several centuries, and colonies in Africa, where their influence in Egypt was particularly strong. The French had also started early, and by now owned a large part of Indo-China and several parts of Africa, among them the Sahara desert - more impressive, perhaps, on account of its size than for any other reason. The Russians had no colonies overseas, but their own empire was vast and they didn't yet have many factories. They wanted to extend their grasp across Asia as far as the sea, and trade from there. But their way was barred by those good students of the Europeans, the Japanese, who said: 'Stop!' In a dreadful war that broke out between Russia and Japan in 1905, the tsar's mighty empire was defeated, and forced to give up some of its territory by liny, new Japan. And now the Japanese also began building more and more new factories for themselves, and they too needed foreign lands, not only to sell their goods, but because there wasn't enough room for them all in their tiny island kingdom.

Naturally enough, last in line for the share-out were the new states: Italy and Germany. While they had been fragmented they had been in no position to conquer lands overseas. Now they wanted to make up for centuries of lost opportunities. After much fighting, Italy obtained some narrow strips of land in Africa. Germany was stronger and had more factories, so its needs were greater. And in time, Bismarck succeeded in acquiring several larger stretches of land for Germany, mainly in Africa, together with some islands in the Pacific.
But because of the way the whole thing works you can never have enough land. More colonies means more factories, more factories means more goods and more goods means that even more colonies are needed. The demand isn't driven by ambition or the lust for power, but by a genuine need. But now the world had been shared out. To create new colonies - or merely to prevent the old ones being snatched from them by stronger neighbours - it was necessary to fight, or at least to threaten to do so. So each state raised powerful armies and navies and kept on saying: 'Attack me if you dare!' The countries that had been powerful for centuries felt they had a right to be so. But when the new German empire and its excellent factories entered the game, built a great navy and tried to win more and more influence in Asia and Africa, the others took it very badly. And because everyone knew that sooner or later there was bound to be a fearful conflict, they all went on expanding their armies and building bigger and bigger battleships.

When war finally did break out, however, it wasn't where it had been expected all those years. Nor was it on account of some dispute in Africa or Asia. It was caused by another country, the only
great slate in Europe to have no colonies at all: Austria. That ancient empire, with its mosaic of peoples, wasn't interested in conquering far-off lands on the other side of the world. But it did need people to buy the goods made in its factories. So, just as it had done since the wars with Turkey, Austria kept on trying to acquire new lands towards the east, lands only recently liberated from Turkish rule where there weren't yet any factories. But these small populations of newly liberated eastern peoples, such as the Serbs, were frightened of the great empire and didn't want it to reach out any further. When, in the spring of 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne was visiting one of these newly conquered regions called Bosnia, he was murdered by a Serb in the capital, Sarajevo.
Austria's generals and politicians thought at the time that a war with Serbia was inevitable. The dreadful murder had to be avenged, and Serbia humbled. Frightened by Austria's advance, Russia was drawn in, whereupon Germany, as Austria's ally, also became involved. And once Germany was in the war, all the ancient enmities were unleashed. The Germans wanted to begin by destroying France, their most dangerous enemy, so they marched straight across neutral Belgium to attack Paris. Britain, fearing that a German victory would make Germany all-powerful, now joined in as well. Soon the whole world was at war with Germany and Austria, and the two countries found themselves surrounded by the armies of the entente (meaning their allied enemies - those who had an understanding with one another). Germany and Austria, in the middle, were known as the 'central powers'.

The gigantic Russian armies pressed forward, but were brought to a standstill after a few months. The world has never seen a war like it. Millions and millions of people marched against each other. Even Africans and Indians had to fight. The German armies were stopped when they reached the River Marne, not far from Paris. From this moment on, real battles, in the old sense, would only very rarely be fought. Instead, giant armies dug themselves in, and made their camps in endlessly long trenches facing one another. Then, for days on end, they fired thousands of guns at each other, bursting out in assaults through barricades of barbed wire and blown-up trenches, across a scorched and devastated wasteland strewn with corpses. In 1915, Italy also declared war on Austria, despite having originally been its ally. Now people fought in the snow and ice of the mountains of the Tirol and the famous exploits of Hannibal's warriors during their crossing of the Alps seemed like child's play compared with the courage and endurance shown by these simple soldiers.

People fought each other in the skies in aeroplanes; they dropped bombs on peaceful towns, sank innocent ships, and fought on the sea and under the sea, just as Leonardo da Vinci had foreseen. People invented horrible weapons that murdered and mutilated thousands each day, the most terrible of which were gases that poisoned the air. Anyone who breathed them died in terrible agony. These gases were either released and carried to the enemy soldiers on the wind, or fired in the form of grenades which released their poison when they exploded. People built armoured cars and tanks which moved slowly and inexorably over ditches and walls, demolishing and crushing everything in their path.

The people of Germany and Austria were destitute. For a long time there was hardly anything to eat, no clothes, no coal and no light. Women had to queue for hours in the cold to buy the smallest piece of bread or a half-rotten potato. But just once there was a glimmer of hope. In Russia a revolution had broken out in 1917. The tsar had abdicated, but the bourgeois government which followed wanted to continue with the war. However, the people were against it. So there was a second great uprising in which the factory workers, under the guidance of their leader, Lenin, seized power. They shared out the farmland among the peasants, confiscated the property of the rich and the nobility, and tried to rule the empire according to the principles of Karl Marx. Then the outside world intervened, and in the fearful battles that followed millions more people died. Lenin's successors continued to rule Russia for many years.

The Germans were able to recall some of their troops from the eastern front, but this didn't help them much because new, fresh soldiers now attacked them from the west. The Americans had decided to step in. Nevertheless, the Germans and Austrians held out for more than a year against overwhelming odds. By putting all their efforts into a last desperate attempt in the west, they very nearly won. In the end, however, they were exhausted. And when, in 1918, America's President Wilson announced that he wanted a just peace in which each nation would determine its own fate, many of their troops gave up. So Germany and Austria were forced to agree to a ceasefire. Those who had survived returned home to their starving families.

The next thing that happened was that revolution broke out in these exhausted countries. The emperors of Germany and Austria abdicated and the various peoples of the Austrian empire -the Czechs and the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Poles and the Southern Slavs - declared themselves independent and founded individual states. Then, having understood from President Wilson that there was to be a peace treaty, and that negotiations were to be held in the ancient royal palaces of Versailles, St Germain and the Trianon, Austria, Hungary and Germany sent envoys to Paris, only to discover that they were excluded from these negotiations. Germany was held chiefly responsible for the war and was to be punished. Not only did the Germans have to surrender all the colonies and lands which they had taken from France in 1870, and pay vast sums of money to the victors each year, but they even had to sign a formal declaration saying that Germany alone was to blame for the war. The Austrians and the Hungarians fared little better. So this was how President Wilson kept his promises. (What you have just read is what I believed to be true when I wrote this account, but read my explanation in the final chapter of this book.)

Eleven million people died in that war and entire regions were devastated in a way that had never been seen before. The suffering was beyond imagination.

Mankind had come a long way in its mastery of nature. With a telephone you can now sit in your room at home and talk about everything or nothing with someone on the other side of the world
in Australia. You can tune in on the radio to a concert in London or a programme on raising geese broadcast from Portugal.

People build gigantic buildings, far higher than the pyramids or St Peter's church in Rome. They make great aeroplanes, each one capable of killing more people than the whole of Philip II of Spain's Invincible Armada. Ways have been found to combat the most fearsome diseases. There have been amazing discoveries. People have found formulas for all sorts of things that happen in nature which are so mysterious and so remarkable that few people understand them. But the formulas are correct: the stars move in exactly the way they predict. Every day we know a little more about nature, and about human nature too. But the horror of poverty remains. There are many millions of people on our earth who cannot find work and every year millions die of starvation. We all hope for a better future - it must be better!

Imagine time as a river, and that we are flying high above it in an aeroplane. Far below you can just make out the mountain caves of the mammoth-hunters, and the steppes where the first cereals grew. Those distant dots are the pyramids and the Tower of Babel. In these lowlands the Jews once tended their flocks. This is the sea the Phoenicians sailed across. What looks like a white star shining over there, with the sea on either side, is in fact the Acropolis, the symbol of Greek art. And there, on the other side of the world, are the great, dark forests where the Indian penitents withdrew to meditate and the Buddha experienced Enlightenment. Now we can see the Great Wall of China and, over there, the smouldering ruins of Carthage. In those gigantic stone funnels the Romans watched Christians being torn to pieces by wild beasts. The dark clouds on the horizon are the storm clouds of the Migrations, and it was in those forests, beside the river, that the first monks converted and educated the Germanic tribes. Leaving the deserts over there behind them, the Arabs set out to conquer the world, and this is where Charlemagne ruled. On this hill the fortress still stands where the struggle between the pope and the emperor, over which of them was to dominate the world, was finally decided. We can see castles from the Age of Chivalry and, nearer still, cities with
beautiful cathedrals - over there is Florence, and there the new St Peter's, the cause of Luther's quarrel with the Church. The city of Mexico is on fire, the Invincible Armada is being wrecked off England's coasts. That dense pall of smoke comes from burning villages and the bonfires on which people were burnt during the Thirty Years War. The magnificent chateau set in a great park is Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles. Here are the Turks encamped outside Vienna, and nearer still the simple castles of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa. In the distance the cries of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity' reach us from the streets of Paris, and we can already see Moscow burning over there, and the wintry land in which the soldiers of the Last Conqueror's Grand Armee perished. Getting nearer, we can see smoke rising from factory chimneys and hear the whistle of railway trains. The Peking Summer Palace lies in ruins, and warships are leaving Japanese ports under the flag of the rising sun. Here, the guns of the World War are still thundering. Poison gas is drifting across the land. And over there, through the open dome of an observatory, a giant telescope directs the gaze of an astronomer towards unimaginably distant galaxies. But below us and in front of us there is nothing but mist, mist that is dense and impenetrable. All we know is that the river flows onwards. On and on it goes, towards an unknown sea.

But now let us quickly drop down in our plane towards the river. From close up, we can see it is a real river, with rippling waves like the sea. A strong wind is blowing and there are little crests of foam on the waves. Look carefully at the millions of shimmering white bubbles rising and then vanishing with each wave. Over and over again, new bubbles come to the surface and then vanish in time with the waves. For a brief instant they are lifted on the wave's crest and then they sink down and are seen no more. We are like that. Each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a sparkling droplet on the waves of time which flow past beneath us into an unknown, misty future. We leap up, look around us and, before we know it, we vanish again. We can hardly be seen in the great river of time. New drops keep rising to the surface. And what we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort.

 

End

 

 

40 The Small Part of the History of the World Which I Have Lived Through Myself:
    
Looking Back

The growth of the world's population - The defeat of the central-European powers during the First World War - The incitement of the masses - The disappearance of tolerance from political life in Germany, Italy, Japan and Soviet Russia - Economic crisis and the outbreak of the Second World War - Propaganda and reality - The murder of the Jews - The atomic bomb - The blessings of science -The collapse of the Communist system - International aid efforts as a reason for hope
 


The first nuclear explosion, named "Trinity", was detonated July 16, 1945

 

It is one thing to learn about history from books, and quite another to experience it oneself. That is what I wanted to remind you of just now when I likened a glimpse into the past of mankind to the view seen from an aeroplane flying at a great height. All we can make out are a few details on the banks of the river of time. But when seen from close up, with the waves coming towards us one by one, the river looks quite different. Some things are much clearer, while others are barely visible. And that's how I found it. In the last chapter I told you about the terrible World War of 1914-18. Although I lived through it, I was only nine years old when it ended. So when I wrote about it I still had to rely on books.

In my final chapter I would like to tell you a little about what I actually did experience. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems. The world is now so utterly different from what it was in
1918, and yet so many of the changes that occurred happened so imperceptibly that we now take them completely for granted.

When I was a boy there were no televisions, no computers, no space flights and no atomic energy. But it's easy to forget the most important change, and that is that there are so many more people in the world than there were then. Towards the end of the 1914-18 war there were more than 2,000,000,000 people on our planet. Since then the figure has more than doubled. Of course, numbers as big as that don't mean much to us because we can't actually picture them to ourselves. But if we bear in mind that a line drawn round the earth at the level of the equator would measure roughly 40,000,000 metres, and that when people form queues in front of a ticket office there are roughly 2 of them to a metre, it means that 80,000,000 people waiting patiently in a queue would reach all the way round the world. The queue when I was a boy would have gone round 22 times, and today, with our 4,500,000,000 fellow inhabitants, the queue would reach more than 50 times round the earth!
Then you must also realise that, throughout the time that the population was multiplying at such a tremendous rate, the globe we all inhabit was imperceptibly growing smaller and smaller. Of course, I don't mean literally shrinking, but technology - and, in particular, that of flying - kept on reducing the distance between the various parts of the globe. This was also something I experienced myself. Whenever I find myself at an airport and hear a succession of announcements for flights to Delhi, New York, Hong Kong or Sydney, and see the swarms of people preparing to depart, I can't help thinking of my youth. In those days people would point at someone and say: 'He's been to America', or 'She's been to India!'

Today there are hardly any places in the world that can't be reached in a matter of hours. Even if we don't go to far-off countries ourselves, they seem closer to us than they were in my youth. Whenever a major event happens anywhere in the world we read about it in the newspapers the next day, we hear about it on the radio and see it on the television news. The inhabitants of ancient
Mexico knew nothing about the destruction of Jerusalem, and it is unlikely that anyone in China ever heard of the effects of the Thirty Years War. But by the First World War things had changed. The very fact that it was known as a 'World War' was because so many nations had been drawn into the fighting.

Naturally, that doesn't mean that all the news which now reaches us from all over the world is true. One of the things I also learned was not to believe everything I read in the newspapers. I'll give you an example. Because I had lived through the First World War myself, I thought I could believe everything I had heard about it at the time. That is why the last chapter, 'Dividing up the world', is not quite as impartial as I had intended. The role played by America's President Wilson was not at all what I had imagined. I described a situation in which Wilson made promises to the Germans and Austrians which he failed to keep. I firmly believed that what I remembered had to be right - after all, it was part of my own experience - and when 1 wrote about it later I just wrote down what everyone believed. But I should have checked my facts, as all historians must be especially careful to do. To cut a long story short, President Wilson did indeed make a peace offer early in 1918, but because Germany and Austria and their allies were still hoping to win the war, they ignored it. Only when the war had dragged on for ten more months, and they had been defeated with very heavy losses, were they prepared to accept the President's proposal. But by then it was too late.

Quite how serious and regrettable this error of mine was rapidly became apparent. For, although I did not foresee it, the fact that all those who had been defeated were convinced that their suffering was the result of a gross deception was very easily exploited and transformed by ambitious and fanatical agitators into a raging thirst for vengeance. I am reluctant to name them, but everyone will know that the one I have most in mind is Adolf Hitler. Hitler had been a soldier in the First World War, and he too remained convinced that, had it not been for the supposed deception, the German army would never have been defeated. But he didn't just blame Wilson. In his eyes, the enemy's propaganda had been crucial in persuading the Germans and Austrians at home to abandon the soldiers at the front to their fate. Hitler was therefore determined to trump the enemy in the art of propaganda. He was a brilliant popular orator and drew huge crowds. He knew there was no better way to incite a mob to action than to give them a scapegoat, someone they could blame for their suffering, and he found one in the Jews.

The fate of this ancient people has been touched on several times in this book. I described their voluntary segregation, and the loss of their homeland with the destruction of Jerusalem, and their persecution during the Middle Ages. But even though I come from a Jewish family myself, it never entered my head that such horrors might be repeated in my own lifetime.

Here I must confess to another error that slipped into this history - but one for which I might perhaps be excused. In chapter 33 it says that a 'truly new age' began in which people started to turn their minds away from the brutality of earlier times, because the ideas and ideals of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century had by then become so widespread that people took them to be self-evident. At the time that I wrote that it seemed to me inconceivable that anyone might ever again stoop to persecuting people of a different religion, use torture to extract confessions, or question the rights of man. But what seemed unthinkable to me happened all the same. Such a painful step backwards seems almost beyond our understanding, and yet it may be no harder for young people to understand than it is for adults. They need only open their eyes at school. Schoolchildren are often intolerant. Look how easily they make fun of their teacher if they see him wearing something unfashionable that the class finds amusing, and once respect is lost all hell breaks loose. And if a fellow student is different in some minor way - in the colour of their skin or hair, or the way they speak or eat - they too can become victims of hateful teasing and tormenting which they just have to put up with. Of course, not all young people are equally cruel or heartless. But no one wants to be a spoil-sport, so in one way or another most of them join in the fun, until they hardly recognise themselves.

Unfortunately grown-ups don't behave any better. Especially when they have nothing else to do or are having a hard time - or, sometimes, when they just think they are having a hard time. They band together with other real or supposed companions in misfortune and take to the streets, marching in step and parroting mindless slogans, filled with their own importance. I myself saw Hitler's brown-shirt supporters beating up Jewish students at Vienna University, and when I was writing this book, Hitler had already seized power in Germany. It seemed only a matter of time before the Austrian government would also fall, so I was lucky to be invited to England just in time, before Hitler's troops marched into Austria in March 1938. After that, as in Germany, anyone who greeted someone with a simple 'Good morning' and not a 'Heil Hitler!' was taking a very grave risk.

In this type of situation it soon becomes all too clear that in the eyes of the supporters of this sort of movement, there is only one sin, disloyalty to the Fuhrer, or leader, and only one virtue, absolute obedience. To bring victory closer every order had to be obeyed, even if it ran counter to the laws of humanity. Of course, similar things have happened at earlier times in history, and I have described many of them in this book - for example, when I wrote about Muhammad's first disciples. The Jesuits, too, were said to place obedience above all else. I also touched briefly on the victory of the Communists in Russia under Lenin, and there, too, there were convinced Communists who would not tolerate any opponents. Their ruthlessness in the pursuit of their goals knew no bounds, and millions died as a result.

In the years that followed the First World War, tolerance also vanished in Germany, Italy and Japan. The politicians of those countries told their fellow countrymen that they had been cheated when the world was shared out, and that they too had the right to rule over other peoples. The Italians were reminded of their ancient Roman ancestry, the Japanese of their warriors, and the Germans of the old Germanic tribes, of Charlemagne and Frederick the Great. People, they were told, were not of equal value. Just as some breeds of dog were better at hunting than others, they themselves belonged to the best race, the one designed for ruling.

I know a wise old Buddhist monk who, in a speech to his fellow countrymen, once said he'd love to know why someone who boasts that he is the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest or the most gifted man on earth is thought ridiculous and embarrassing, whereas if, instead of 'I', he says, 'we are the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most gifted people on earth', his fellow countrymen applaud enthusiastically and call him a patriot. For there is nothing patriotic about it. One can be attached to one's own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world's inhabitants are worthless. But as more and more people were taken in by this sort of nonsense, the menace to peace grew greater.

Then, when a serious economic crisis in Germany condemned vast numbers of people to unemployment, war seemed the simplest way out. The unemployed would become soldiers or work in the armaments factories, and in this way the hateful treaties of Versailles and St Germain would be wiped off the face of the earth. Not only that, but the Western democratic countries - France, Britain and the United States - had become so softened by years of peace, or so it was thought, that they were hardly likely to defend themselves. Gertainly no one there wanted a war, and every effort was made to avoid giving Hitler an excuse to bring calamity down on the world. But, sadly, a pretext can always be found and, if need be, 'incidents' can be arranged. So on the first day of September in 1939, the German army marched into Poland. By that time I was already in England and witnessed for myself the profound sadness - but also the determination - of those who had to march off to war again. This time there were no cheerful battle songs, and no dreams of glory. They were just doing their duty, for the madness had to be stopped.

My task was to listen to German broadcasts and translate them into English so as to know what German listeners were being told, and what they were not being told. This meant that from 1939 to 1945 I was in the curious position of living through all six years of that terrible war on both sides, as it were, if in very different ways. At home in England I saw determination, but also hardship, anxiety for the men at the front, the effects of air raids and fear at the turns the war was taking. From German radio broadcasts all I heard were cries of triumph and outpourings of abuse. Hitler believed in the power of propaganda, a faith which seemed justified when the successes of the first two years of the war exceeded even his wildest expectations. Poland, Denmark and Norway, Holland and Belgium, France, large parts of Russia and the Balkans were overrun, and only Britain, that little island on the edge of Europe, still held out. And even that resistance could surely not last long, for, to the sound of trumpet fanfares, the German radio ceaselessly proclaimed how many ships carrying supplies and armaments intended for the British had been sunk by their U-boats.

But when, without any declaration of war, in December 1941, the Japanese attacked the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor and virtually destroyed it, and Hitler took it upon himself to declare war on the United States, and when, in the autumn of 1942, the German troops were beaten back in North Africa and defeated by the Russians in January 1943 outside Stalingrad, and when the German air force - the Luftwaffe - proved powerless to prevent the Allies' devastating bombardments of German towns, it became clear that it takes more than fine words and fanfares to win a war. When Winston Churchill became prime minister in England, at a time when the outlook was grim, he said: T can promise nothing but blood, sweat and tears.' And it was precisely because he had said that that we also believed him when he held out a glimmer of hope. How many German listeners paid any attention to the justifications and promises that 1 heard, day in, day out on the German radio, is anyone's guess.

What I do know is that neither the German listeners nor we ourselves were aware at the time of the most horrifying of all the crimes committed by the Germans during the war. In connection with this 1 shall, if you don't mind, take you back to page 280 where it says (speaking of the Spanish conquistadores of Mexico): 'there and in other parts of America they set about exterminating the ancient, cultivated Indian peoples in the most horrendous way. This chapter in the history of mankind is so appalling and so shameful to us Europeans', I wrote 'that I would rather not say anything more about it. . .'

I am even more reluctant to talk about the monstrous crime that was committed in our own century - after all, this book is intended for young readers who should not have to read about such things. But children grow up too, and they too must learn from history how easy it is for human beings to be transformed into inhuman beings through incitement and intolerance. And so it came about that, in the last years of the Second World War, the Jewish inhabitants of every country in Europe under German occupation - millions of men, women and children - were driven from their home countries. Most were put on trains and sent eastwards, where they were murdered.

As I said before, the German radio said nothing about any of this to its listeners, and like many others I couldn't at first bring myself to believe it when the war ended and the unthinkable became known (in 1945). But sadly there is abundant proof of this monstrous crime, and although many years have already passed since it was committed, it is of the utmost importance that it should not be forgotten or hushed up.

With the mingling of peoples on our tiny planet, it becomes more and more necessary for us to respect and tolerate each other, not least because technological advances are bringing us closer and closer together.

The impact of technology was also demonstrated in the Second World War, when the almost inexhaustible reserves of the American arms industry, which benefited both Britain and Russia, made the outcome inevitable. Despite the desperate resistance put up by the German soldiers, the British and Americans were able to land on the French coast of Normandy in the summer of 1944 and drive the Germans back. At the same time the Russians were pursuing a by now unresisting German army and, in April, they finally reached Berlin, where Hitler took his own life. There was no talk of
a peace treaty this time. The victors remained in Germany as occupying forces, and for decades a heavily guarded frontier ran right through Germany separating the sphere of influence of Communist Russia from that of the Western democracies.

However, with the defeat of Germany the World War was still not over, for the Japanese, who had meanwhile conquered large parts of Asia, were far from defeated. And because no end was in sight, the Americans brought out an entirely new weapon: the atomic bomb.

It so happened that, shortly before war broke out, I had met a young physicist who told me about an article published by the great Danish scientist, Niels Bohr. Its subject was the theoretical possibility of constructing a 'uranium bomb' whose destructive power would far exceed that of any known explosive. At the time we were both united in hoping that such a weapon might only be dropped on some desert island, to show friend and foe alike that all other ideas of weaponry and warfare had had their day. Although many of the scientists who were working frantically throughout the war to realise this weapon certainly felt as we did, our hope was in vain. In August 1945, the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the first victims of an unimaginable catastrophe, and Japan was finally defeated.

It was clear to all of us that with this invention an entirely new chapter in the history of the world had begun, for the discovery of atomic energy might be likened to the discovery of" fire. Fire, too, can warm, and it can destroy, but its destructive power is nothing next to that of today's even greater atomic weapons. One can only hope that this development has made it impossible for such weapons to be used ever again against human beings. It must be clear to everyone that if they were to be used, neither side would be likely to survive and vast areas of the globe would be turned into uninhabitable deserts. Of course, the world has changed enormously since the last war. The inhabitants of whole continents that belonged to the British empire have since then become largely independent — although, unfortunately not yet any more peaceable for it. Yet despite the brutal conflicts and worrying crises that have broken out since 1945 in various parts of the globe, we have been spared a third world war because we all know only too well that it could mean the end of the history of the world. It isn't a great comfort, but it's better than none at all.

Not surprisingly, this entirely new situation in human history led many to condemn out of hand all the achievements of a science that had brought us to the edge of the abyss. And yet those people should not forget that, without science and technology, it would not have been possible for the countries concerned to make good, at least in part, the damage and destruction caused by the World War, so that life could return to normal much earlier than anyone had dared to hope.

Finally, I should like to make one more small correction to my book, to make good an omission that lies close to my heart. My chapter 'Men and machines' is not exactly incorrect, but it is a little one-sided. While it is indeed true that the switch from artisans and craftsmen to factories and machines entailed a great deal of suffering, I should nevertheless have mentioned that without the new techniques of mass production it would have been quite impossible to feed, clothe and house the steadily increasing population. The very fact that more and more children were being born, and fewer and fewer of them were dying soon after, was largely due to the scientific advance of medicine which insisted on such things as piped running water and proper sewerage. True, the growing industrialisation of Europe, America and of Japan has meant the loss of much that is beautiful, but we must not forget how many blessings - and I mean blessings - it has brought us.

I well remember what people meant in my youth when they talked about 'the poor'. It was not only the destitute, the beggars and the homeless who looked different from the middle-class inhabitants of large towns, but factory workers too-both men and women could be recognised at a distance by their dress. The women usually wore shawls on their heads against the cold, and no factory worker would ever have dreamed of wearing a white shirt, for it would have instantly shown the dirt. And when I think about it, I remember people used to talk about 'the smell of the poor', because the majority of a town's inhabitants lived in poorly ventilated tenements with, at most, a single tap at the foot of the stairs. A middle-class household (and not just the wealthy ones) usually included a cook, a parlour-maid and often a nursery-maid to take care of the children as well. Such women often had a better life than they would have had if they had stayed at home, but it can't have been very pleasant, for example, to have had only one day a week when you were allowed out, and to be generally looked upon as a servant. It was during my childhood that people were just beginning to think about such things, and after the First World War, servants became officially known as 'home helps'. Even so, when I visited Berlin as a student, houses often had a sign at the entrance which read 'Entrance for Gentlemen and Ladies only'. Even in those days this made me feel uncomfortable. Servants and tradesmen had to use the back stairs and weren't allowed to use the lift, even if they had a heavy load to carry.

Thankfully, all that is over now, like a bad dream. To be sure, life is still hard for many people, and there are wretched and joyless neighbourhoods in the towns of Europe and America. But most people who work in factories and even most of the unemployed live better today than many medieval knights must have done in their castles. They eat better, and above all they are healthier and as a rule live longer, which was not the case only a short while ago. Since time began people have dreamed of a 'Golden Age', and now that something close to one is true for so many, no one is willing to admit it.

But the same could not be said of those countries in Eastern Europe which were forced by Russia's armies to adopt the Communist system. It was especially hard for the inhabitants of East Germany, who, as the years went by, saw how much better the lives of their Western neighbours were, until the day came when they were no longer prepared to make the heavy sacrifices that the Communist system of economics demanded. And so, in 1989, quite unexpectedly, the unthinkable happened. The East Germans succeeded in forcing open their border and both parts of Germany were once more united. The mood took hold of Soviet Russia, where the political system collapsed, as it did in all the remaining countries of Eastern Europe.

I ended my account of the First World War with the words: 'We all hope for a better future, it must be better.' Has such a future come? For many of the people who live on our earth, it is still remote. Among the constantly growing populations of Asia, Africa and South America the same misery reigns that, until not so long ago, was accepted as normal in our countries as well. We have no easy remedies, not least because there too, as ever, intolerance and misery go hand in hand. And yet improvements in sending information have made the consciences of richer nations a little more attentive. Whenever an earthquake, a flood or a drought in a far-off place leaves many victims, thousands of people in wealthier countries put their money and their efforts into providing relief. And that, too, used not to happen. Which proves that we still have the right to go on hoping for a better future.

 


In 1969, humans first set foot on the Moon

 

 
 
 
 
 

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