The Spring of 1910 was hot and dry; so dry that the lack of rainfall during the season was not to be repeated until 2011. The breaking of the weather in September was not going to herald a return to normal, for the Summer of 1911 that followed was amongst the hottest on record. Europe baked. Wells ran dry, crops shrivelled, streams dried to cracked mud and horses sought the scant shade of the hedges in parched meadows. In May Titanic had been launched, and was undergoing fitout prior to her planned maiden voyage the following year.
In Greece and the Balkans the ethnics were simmering; the Ottoman empire was weak, and was to get a military kicking from Italy, of all nations. The Greeks and Bulgarians were scrapping. Minor kings and kingdoms were declared and abolished. Serbians and Kosovans were buying revolvers. London danced. The keepers at London Zoo were permitted to abandon their heavy serge tunics for khaki drill jackets of the type still worn by Johnny Morris fifty years later. The beasts of the African savannah in the King’s Collection luxuriated in the genetically comfortable heat whilst folk wisdom looked at the sky for the expected storms, for change was in the air.
We know now that the 19th century ended in August 1914; the transformation of Europe since the 1870s had been phenomenal, industrialisation having spread and taken hold as rapidly as the silicon chip did in the last quarter of the 20th. Now I’m not going to continue to draw obvious parallels except to say that when the end of that era came it was not from any of the expected quarters, and that the European war lasted from 1914 to 1945. The lights came on again briefly in Europe at half-time, but were rapidly re-extinguished. And the Hun was at the heart of it. So much so that European policy since 1945 has on balance been more about keeping the Germans Down than either keeping the Americans In or the Russians Out.
And so to the end of our century, the 20th. GDP growth is accelerating in the BRICs and stagnating in the PIGS. There’s mass unemployment and the infrastructure on the fringes is disintegrating – public heath controls and law and order as well as roads and railways are part of it. Nationalisms are on the rise and Liberalism faces new threats; after 13 years of Labour, Liberals in Britain may be forgiven for having forgotten that the authoritarian right has an equal record of repression and Statist control. Events are moving rapidly, and we’re right at the heart of it.