Half of the 1940s involved war
for most countries worth knowing about. The allies
began to feel confident of winning World War Two
around 1943 after victories at Midway
, El Alamien
and, most importantly, Stalingrad
, but ultimately defeating the axis
took two more years. Then came 1945 and Hitler
and company were gone, but so to were Roosevelt
, and while the baby boomer
s were getting conceived as people roger
ed like crazy on VJ
day, as the smoke cleared people wondered what kind of brave new world
they had survived to see.
The other half of the decade was largely forgotten, although it was in the years after the war that the institutions, ideals and technologies that shaped the modern world were shaped, spawned as a result of the Second World War. War fostered a sense of egalitarianism, meritocracy and communalism between citizens who went through years of privation and bloodshed, which led to both the welfare state and consumerism in the democratic west. In other parts of the world people were attracted to socialism, again as a means to guarantee peace and economic stability, although quite often it was advanced by a massively mobilised Soviet Union invading or influencing smaller countries. On an international scale the United Nations was formed, designed to do what the League of Nations failed to do by developing the instruments needed to resolve international conflict and common problems, but shortly after the end of the war it was evident the world was turning bipolar.
Europe was exhausted after the war, almost suffering famine - indeed rationing in Britain continued into the 1950s. A vicious winter in 1947 led to a coal shortage on the continent, which changed the course of history. Unable to finance all its colonies, Britain hurriedly drew up the borders of India, Palestine, Malaya and a few dozen odd countries in Africa, and by giving them all independence it led to more than a few conflicts between several unhappy inheritors. Another consequence was that it brought America closer to Europe through the Marshall Plan, again contributing to the start of the Cold War.
War had also mobilised science, and so in the 1940s we saw the rapid evolution and transformation of technologies such as nuclear power, the modern computer and jet aircraft. Mass production, mobilised labour and the development of new materials helped make it possible to turn these technologies into cheap consumer items by the 1950s, such as television, nylon and mass produced 'Levittown' housing.
In the midst of an era of uncertainy, with cyncism of modernism mixed with the assumption that things can only get better, there were some good writers, directors and musicians: Simone de Beauvoir, Bertold Brecht, Albert Camus,Truman Capote, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Alfred
Hitchcock, Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, Norman Mailer, Thomas Mann, George Orwell , Cole Porter, Ezra Pound, Ayn Rand, Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Santayana, Jean- Paul Sartre, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Dylan Thomas, JRR Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, Orson Welles, Patrick White and Tennesee Williams. For pop music there was swing, the jitterbug and a few other dances that evidently did not survive the later onset of rock and roll. Students today may have read The Tin Drum or think it is cool to quote Who's John Galt in their essays, but they would never hum a Spike Jones or Peggy Lee melody.