World History




























Crisis of Meaning

After World War I, many people questioned what the war had been about.

The huge numbers of both military and civilian casualties made World War I the first total war. When it was over, people had difficulty making sense of the war. What was the point when the results were weak economies, unemployment, and the destruction of a generation? Historian Pamela Radcliff calls this a “ crisis of meaning.” How could Europeans continue to consider themselves the smartest, most advanced culture in the world when Europe had nearly committed suicide? Colonial peoples wondered what gave Europeans the right to control others if they couldn’t control themselves.

total war = a war in which every available weapon is used and the nation's full financial resources are devoted.

crisis of meaning = a period of great uncertainty and doubt, especially about the meaning and purpose of life.


People began to see a link between technology and destruction; some questioned if modern technology was such a good thing after all. This crisis of meaning was reflected in Dada and surrealist art movements that attacked basic Western values that went back to the Enlightenment, ideas like progress and the value of human reason. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, probed the unconscious mind and found a “human instinct [for] aggression and self-destruction.” Freud questioned which side of human nature would win out in the end: the beast-like, emotional, irrational side or the side of reason.

Sigmund Freud = an Austrian physician known as the “father of psychology”. He was one of the first to suggest that some mental disorders can be cured by analyzing childhood memories.