James Lileks offers his take on the 1920s. As usual with Lileks, it’s both interesting and fun.
It’s always kind of strange to imagine what is was like to live in a decade we’ve heard about but weren’t around for. I was very much around in the 60s, but my take on it would be very different than that of a lot of other people who lived through it too—the ones who thought it was both a hoot and a transformative time in which we young people were reinventing a far more wonderful world that would be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius yada yada yada. For me, it was not fun and games: boyfriend in Vietnam, multiple assassinations and riots. As for that wonderful world, most of the supposed revolutionary leaders I witnessed (and I did so in person, because I was intermittently around some of the centers of the action) seemed like self-aggrandizing, bombastic, nitwit nihilists. I saw no reason to suppose that any world they were going to have a part in creating would be an improvement on the one we already had.
The 20s meant nothing to me except flapper clothing, the Charleston, and the Crash. But my mother—who had been six years old at the decade’s beginning, and a high school graduate of sixteen at its end—told me something about those years that had stuck in her memory. It subsequently stuck in mine.
“The adults told us we were the luckiest generation in history, that we should thank our lucky stars because we’d never know war,” said this member of the Greatest Generation, who was to see the Great Depression and World War II in short order.
What had motivated her elders to tell my mother and her classmates that? Why, the Kellogg-Briand Pact had been signed in 1928, when she was fourteen:
The Kellogg–Briand Pact (officially the Pact of Paris) was a 1928 international agreement in which signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them”. Parties failing to abide by this promise “should be denied the benefits furnished by this treaty”. It was signed by Germany, France and the United States on August 27, 1928, and by most other nations soon after. Sponsored by France and the U.S., the Pact renounced the use of war and called for the peaceful settlement of disputes.
It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone here that the pact didn’t quite work the way it was supposed to:
As a practical matter, the Kellogg–Briand Pact did not live up to its aim of ending war, and in this sense it made no immediate contribution to international peace and proved to be ineffective in the years to come. Moreover, the pact erased the legal distinction between war and peace since the signatories, having renounced the use of war began to wage wars without declaring them as evidenced by the U.S. intervention in Central America, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, and the German and Soviet Union invasions of Poland.
US Secretary of State Kellogg was awarded the 1929 Nobel Peace Prize for his great accomplishment.
And co-creator Aristide Briand seems to have been an even more influential figure. He had already received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, for the Locarno Treaties, which ultimately met a similar fate as the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Briand was a socialist and one-time Prime Minister of France, and might also be called the father of the European Union, because he proposed a prototype.