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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

11 - European Modernism 1917–1933


Society is filled with a violent desire for something which it may obtain or not. Everything lies in that: everything depends on the effort made and the attention paid to these alarming symptoms. Architecture or Revolution. Revolution can be avoided.

Le Corbusier (1923)

Spenglerism versus Taylorism

The “war to end all wars” involved nearly every country in Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, Turkey, Japan, Australia, Indochina, India, and several colonial countries in Africa. It put into uniform over fifty million troops and greatly advanced the lethal possibilities of modern warfare with such military innovations as long-range artillery, poison gas, tanks, airplanes, battleships, submarines, and machine guns. Altogether ten million soldiers died on the battlefield, and over twenty million were maimed. Turkey alone lost one-fourth of its adult male population. In Poland over four million people were killed or made homeless. In the end, sadly, it was agreed by everyone that the entire event scarcely had to happen. It came about almost accidentally through a mixture of diplomatic blundering, national arrogance, and anachronistic treaty obligations.

For two of the principal contestants – France and Germany – the war was little more than a resumption of the hostilities of 1870–1. Military alliances came first. In 1879 Germany had formed a pact with Austria-Hungary and Russia, which Italy joined in 1882. When in 1890 the new German emperor, Wilhelm II, decided not to renew the treaty with Russia, France took the occasion to sign an alliance with that country.