Unintended Consequences and the Events of 1919

Could 1919 have been the worst year in history?

Original photo John Heino Photography. Used with permission.

Many people were thinking, “Peace at last!” no doubt. The Great War was over. But with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles events were set in motion that would later give Adolph Hitler a receptive hearing and the fuel that propelled his mad, devastating career.

Certainly John Maynard Keynes foresaw this. In his Economic Consequences of the Peace Keynes severely criticized the Versailles Treaty for its vindictiveness, especially as it relates to the impossibly high reparations levied against the Germans. Keynes anticipated the ruin of Europe that would devolve from the economic hardships that were being set in motion.

Illustration by the author.

The war reduced the German economy to shambles and a British enforced blockade made it impossible for Germany to feed its own people. With imports squelched, tens of thousands of Germans were starving, and more every year. When Berlin appealed for 2.5 million tons of food to feed her people, they were denied and the death tolls continued to rise straight through into the post-war peace. The cruelty of this hardship alone was such that British soldiers in Germany after the war pleaded for assistance from Britain. Even when the U.S. Congress approved 100 million dollars in food aid in 1919, it never reached the hungry and starving.

Our own great flu pandemic of 1918–19 undoubtedly distracted Americans from being overly concerned about Germany’s woes. The global communications infrastructure was not in place as it is today. There were no 24/7 network news broadcasts, no Yahoo Buzz or Twitter to follow “trending” topics such as Germany starvation, or Armenian genocide the year before which resulted in 1.5 million deaths at the hands of Ottoman Turks. (Slaughter of Armenians continued into the 1920's.)

On the home front, in 1919 Prohibition kicked in with the Volstead Act, providing enforcement muscle for the 18th Amendment, thus giving birth to the gangsterism of Al Capone and all the rest. More unintended consequences.

Even Einstein’s proof of the Theory of Relativity had unintended consequences as the notion of relativity was eventually mis-applied, with corrosive effect, into the realm of morals and ethics.

Maybe it wasn’t the worst year in history, but it has a lot of reason to get nominated to this ignominious honor. With 2019 just around the corner, it is useful to recall to mind that many actions have unintended consequences. A healthy backward look should make us more circumspect as we march forward.

What year would you call history’s worst? And, of course, why?

Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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