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A Belle Epoque Or Gilded Age

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Category: History Other

Autor: reviewessays 04 February 2011

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A Belle Г‰poque or a Gilded Age

In the decades that led up to World War I, Europe experienced what some scholars believed to be a Golden Age. However, beneath the gilded surface of prosperity and exponential advancements, the countries of Europe were stricken with an unseen, developing menace. While technological improvements and an influx of industrial developments were making way for the dawn of an age never before dreamt of, there were deep rooted problems that would plague the seemingly ideal society between the years of 1860 and 1914, culminating with a war that engulfed the whole of the continent and the lands beyond. Not all aspects of life during those years were negative however, there were many grand accomplishments that occurred and many people lived in luxury. Was that time in European history considered a Belle Г‰poque, where culture flourished and the populace was content or was it a Gilded Age, with a cosmetic front hiding darker problems? Three aspects of life that helped that time in history to be considered a Belle Г‰poque were: industrialization, rapid technological advancements and a rebirth of culture. The three aspects of life that led to the nickname Gilded Age were: militarism, class distinction and alliances between countries. Even deeper than all of these aspects that led to war was a sole driving force that fueled the continent to its ultimate destiny. This force was stronger than any army and it inspired a generation of people. That was the spirit of nationalism.

Although there were deep conflicts during that time, very often, said age in history is often considered a Belle Г‰poque. The three keys to the success of this age were: industrialization, rapid technological advancements and a rebirth of culture. Industrialization, the development of factories and railroads to increase efficiency and decrease cost, was integral to the advancement of the European society. With industrialization came mass production and extensive railroad construction. Mass production is the ability to produce goods quickly and cheaply, as a result, the European powers could produce anything from instruments of war to instruments of music in a relatively short period of time. Railroads revolutionized land travel in ways never thought possible. People no longer had to rely on slow moving horses or automobiles, train travel made transportation of goods faster and more affordable for everyone. During this time, there were multiple, revolutionary technological advancements that helped to contribute to the European community. One of the most important inventions of this period in time was the automobile. Through the use of the automobile, travel on horseback was made obsolete. Also, automobiles had many uses ranging from personal use to military power. Another great technological advancement was the improvements made to medicine. Prior to this era, medicine was generally crude and relatively ineffective and doctor practices were very elementary. However, medicines began to be improved and through the 50 years covered, health care for the sick and injured was revolutionized. During this time, the European continent experienced a huge rebirth of culture in the form of art and philosophy. Accomplished artists such as Cezanne and Munch ventured away from the typical works of trying to depict real life and moved toward creating surreal paintings with strange angles and pictures that defied the Laws of Physics, such as: The Card Players (Cezanne) and The Scream (Munch). Cubism was another style that came out during this period in which all the substance of the work was depicted as geometric shapes. It was during this time that Sigmund Freud began his philosophical thought process that left his patients in awe. By listening to their problems and their fears, Freud was actually able to find deep seeded problems within the people he studied. His revolutionary though process is still used to date (Lecture March 8) (Lecture March 20).

Although it was gilded on the outside, during the decades leading up to World War I, Europe was a powder keg ready to explode. Three aspects of life that led to the nickname Gilded Age were: militarism, class distinction and alliances between countries. Due to the accelerated industrialization that was occurring at the time, the production of armaments was dramatically increased; this is known as militarism. Weapons of war and destruction were made at revolutionary speed and efficiency due to the use of assembly lines. Also, due to the increase in technology, the weaponry being produced became much more deadly, with new weapons such as mustard gas and early, cruder version of the modern tank. Due to this increase in arms, countries became very eager to display their newfound military might and the continent found itself in conflict very quickly. A rising problem that negatively impacted the European community was the huge distinction between the upper and middle classes and the lower classes. With the rise of capitalism as the primary economic policy, it began to be clear that those with money and power were taking advantage of those who had neither. Factory owners promoted this barrier by treating their workers poorly as expendable and replaceable and giving them meager pay. This feud between classes led to the development of various socialist parties in many European countries. Based upon Karl Marx's theory that the lower class must rise up and create a classless society, many conflicts arose across Europe in an attempt for better treatment of those less fortunate, further driving the two classes apart socially, economically and politically. Another reason why the period between 1860 and 1914 was a time of crisis is that Europe divided itself by forming two alliances, splitting the continent in half. In an attempt to counteract the previously existing alliance formed between Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary called the Triple Alliance, Great Britain, France and Russia formed the Triple Entente. This division created a conflict between two sides instead of a conflict between multiple countries; as a result, if one country engaged in an armed conflict with another, all the other members of the alliance would join the fight. Europe was doomed to enter a conflict which would tear its foundation in half (Lecture March 8) (Lecture March 20).

Although it was a combination of all of the previously disclosed forces that characterize this period of history as both a Belle Г‰poque and a Gilded Age, no force was more dominant, driving the other six, than nationalism. Nationalism, the love for one's country, the devotion and willing to sacrifice for it, the belief that one's country's interests should be emphasized over international interests, the desire to be ruled by one's own people and not by a foreign oppressor. Nationalism was the single strongest force since the departure of Napoleon. The Revolutions of 1848 were a direct result of certain people's desire to be autonomous, such as the Greeks, who were merely a territory in the expansive empire of the mighty Ottomans. Nationalism drove Garibaldi to conquer both Sicily and Naples eventually leading to the formation of an Italian state in 1861. Nationalism pushed industrialization, rapid technological advancements, a rebirth of culture, militarism, class distinction and alliances between countries. Nationalism was also the spark necessary to take the world past the brink of war and into open conflict. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, a member of the radical group known as the Black Hand, on a visit to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. As a result of this, war was declared. One by one, like a set of dominoes falling in a row, all of the countries of Europe, including Russia, mobilized their armies and prepared for war. World War I had begun (Lecture March 1) (Lecture March 20).

The years following the declaration of war by both sides would be one of the worst wars the world had ever seen. Due to the new technologies and the lack of wartime humanitarian laws, the generation of war survivors would be ruined forever. Due to the use of chemical weapons, such as mustard gas which corrodes the skin and mucous membranes, causing severe, sometimes even fatal respiratory damage, those who survived the war often came out of it with harsh repercussions. The war itself was fought in a very uneventful fashion. Facing each other in a series of trenches, little progress was actually made, few risks taken but with a huge loss of life. Even the end of the war was a huge disappointment. By placing all the blame for the war on Germany, the vanquished held a lasting enmity towards the victors, leading to yet another war of epic proportions a few decades following. The years from 1860 to 1914 were a very controversial period in European history. While it was a time of promise, of hope and of luxury, the negative impacts of the hidden tensions eventually brought a close to this time of prosperity and brought about an age of depression. Following the Belle Г‰poque, the time where the true problems that needed to be faced were covered with a thin gilded coat, the world fell to a state of depression both socially and economically. It would take the remilitarization of a war torn German state to revive the world and then dive back into a war that engulfed the world.

Works Cited

Levack, Brian, Edward Muir, Michael Maas, and Meredith Veldman. The West:

Encounters & Transformations: Volume II. New York: Pearson, 2004.