Emotional Dichotomy in the Interwar Years

It is little wonder that the years between WWI and WWII were full of mixed emotions and a prevailing dichotomy of fear and uncertainty on the one hand and excitement and almost euphoria on the other.  The European continent had undergone a huge shift from a time of relative peace to one of total war, and its little wonder that the recovery from WWI’s aftermath would have opposing emotional reactions.  As Europe sought to rebuild, a sense of elation at the hope of possibility was present.  On the other hand, remembering WWI and all of its horrors, along with the fear and uncertainty of what the future would bring often triggered anxieties that were all-too-real.  Understandably, each European nation faced the interwar years a little bit differently, and each of them had real concerns that deserved attention, whether it was Germany with its rebuilding and reparation payments demanded under the Versailles treaty, Britain as it tried to reestablish its economy and workforce, or France who was struggling to rebuild and regain stability, the interwar period is one of happiness and sorrow combined.[1]  Great Britain’s head-start in the post-war years allowed them to rebuild, focus on social and political changes quickly and although the process was far from smooth, they emerged as a leader once more faster than their allies did.[2]  France, who had seen battle on her soil, took longer and endured setbacks in natural resources and national debt.[3]

Sigmund Freud exemplifies the dichotomy between stress and exhilaration as he explains the function and traits of the id, the ego and the super-ego.  While the ego is forced to endure anxiety, the id is consistently hyper-excited, hopeful and full of desire.[4]  Given his map of the unconscious processes of the mind, it is little wonder that in this break between the two great wars the human mind would develop these competing and opposing emotional responses, regardless of what country the individual was in. Ortega y Gasset seems to take Freud’s map of the unconscious and apply it to the masses – the people who have ideas and culture who are not seemingly represented properly by the government – but without an authority to regulate them, they descend into barbarism.[5]  This precludes the problem of fascism – where a person does not want to present their views or discuss their merits, but simply be “right” by virtue of having the idea and imposing them at will.[6]

The shell shock that swept the soldiers in the heat of battle on the front lines was slowly settling over the rest of the European population in the post-war years.  But there was also a rooting, competing sense of optimism for peace that the world’s leaders hoped was lasting.  These polar opposite emotions seem natural to us, with the perfect vision of hindsight.

[1][1] Gilbert, Felix and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era sixth edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) , 179-228.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sigmund Freud, The Structure of the Unconcious, Sigmund Freud, web, accessed 10 November 2016, available from http://anupamm.tripod.com/freudst.html.

[5] Ortega y Gasset, Revolt of the Masses, The History Guide, web, accessed 10 November 2016, available from https://web.archive.org/web/20121019190503/http://historyguide.org/europe/gasset.html

[6] Ibid.

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