The Birth of North Korea

For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.

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The Welsh Prime Minister: David Lloyd George

As part of our First World War series, today I’ll be looking briefly at David Lloyd George, the second British Prime Minister of the First World War. David Lloyd George is considered one of Britain’s finest Prime Ministers by academics, his role as Prime Minister during the First World War is easily one of the most important tenures in British history. His decisive policies and actions as Prime Minster during the war found him widespread popularity and support across party lines and amongst the public. However he was not without his critics, he particularly clashed with Generals Robertson and Haig who were in charge of the British forces in France.

David Lloyd George was born in Manchester on the 17th January 1863, to Welsh parents. His father William George was a schoolmaster, who moved the family to Pembrokeshire where he died when Lloyd George was only a year old. After the death of his father, the family moved to Llanystumdwy, where his mother’s brother Richard Lloyd lived. It was from his uncle that Lloyd George would gain his Liberal politics and early work as a lawyer. Unlike many British Prime Ministers, Lloyd George did not attend university, instead attaching himself to a law firm before passing the Law Society final examinations. He ran his own law practice until he was elected in a fierce by-election in 1890 for the marginal seat of Caernarfon Boroughs. He was seen a rebel and was a fierce critic of the Boer War.  By 1906 he achieved his first ministerial position, as president of the Board of Trade. Two years later he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lloyd George’s social reforms as Chancellor are considered the forefather of the welfare system in the UK, bringing in Old Age Pensions and National Insurance.

When war broke out in 1914, Lloyd George was still Chancellor. He quickly showed his usefulness to the war effort. He worked closely with trade unions to benefit both workers and the country as it threw itself into the war effort. There was also the ‘King’s Pledge’, his attempt to encourage temperance by getting King George V to commit to abstaining from alcohol alongside a number of measures to stop alcohol consumption from affecting the war effort.

The Shell Crisis of 1915 ushered in a new role for Lloyd George, one that would make him popular in government and with the public. There was an outcry when it was revealed that the British Army were running low on artillery shells, a new department for Munitions was created with Lloyd George as minister. Lloyd George in this position began to change Britain into a war economy via steps such as making the railway companies major munitions producers as they had the necessary means of production to begin producing munition immediately. Continuing on from his work with the trade unions, he dealt deftly with labour issues including the hiring of large numbers of women to compensate for lost male workers. Despite this success, many historians believe the success of the department was mostly due to reform put in place before he became minister.

Outside of his role as Minister for Munitions, Lloyd George heavily pushed for conscription. Along with his fellow supporters he was finally successful in 1916. Some historians have seen this as his first bid for the role of Prime Minister; however Asquith would continue to hold on for some time. Even before he became Secretary of State for War, he was highly critical of Kitchener and the Generals Haig and Robertson.

Kitchener’s sudden death in June 1916, led to Asquith being forced to give the role of Secretary of State for War to Lloyd George, although in reality much of the power was in the hands of Haig and Robertson on the Western Front. This did have its advantages for Lloyd George as it allowed him to escape blame for colossal Allied failures such as the Somme. However Lloyd George was not to remain in this position for more than six months. By December 1916 Asquith had lost the support of the Unionists and Labour who he relied on to keep power. Lloyd George was able to gain their support along with a hundred liberals and became Prime Minister.

One of Lloyd George’s first decisions was the creation of the war cabinet, made up of 5 men. Lloyd George headed the cabinet with his chancellor, the Unionist leader, Bonar Law. Another Unionist, Curzon, and the leader of Labour, Arthur Henderson, and the Conservative Lord Milner rounded out the cabinet. The use of the war cabinet was effective allowing Lloyd George control over all aspects of government for the war effort. Perhaps Lloyd George’s greatest success as Prime Minister was the introduction of the convoy system. The convoy system was met with opposition but upon its implementation it stopped the German submarine campaign by preventing the losses that British shipping had sustained from U-Boats.

However Lloyd George continued to struggle with Haig and Robertson. This resulted in one of Lloyd George’s lows, the Nivelle Affair. Lloyd George attempted to put the French General Nivelle in charge of the offensive at Arras which was deeply unpopular with Haig and Robertson.  While Haig was given overall operational control of the British forces, he was forced to be under Nivelle’s orders. The Battle of Arras was partly successful but high casualties on the Allied side compared to the Germans damaged Lloyd George’s credibility. However when Passchendaele, under the responsibility of Haig and Robertson, ended badly Lloyd George was able to regain some credibility and allowed him to be able to set up the supreme war council.

The supreme war council was made up of Allied representatives. The council gave command to the French General Ferdinand Foch. This along with an increase of American troops saw a rise in Allied victories. By the summer of 1918 the Germans were losing numbers and those that remained were exhausted.

Perhaps Lloyd George’s biggest failure of the war was the attempted conscription of Ireland. Originally plans had been to limit conscription to Ulster, however the trade unions demanded conscription be extended as they could no longer provide soldiers from their unions without hurting the war effort.  While enacted, conscription was never actually put into effect because of such widespread backlash. This decision exacerbated anti-union feeling and could be seen as a major change in opinion about an independent Ireland, leading to the domination of Sinn Féin.

The Allied success cemented Lloyd George’s popularity, allowing him to easily win the 1918 election with a coalition government. He represented Britain at the Treaty of Versailles, although claiming he did not wish to ruin Germany he supported measures that would lead to the Second World War. He continued to push through social reforms and also extended suffrage to more of the British population including some women for the first time. He also oversaw the secession of the Irish Free State. However in 1922 Lloyd George lost power after a series of fractures in his coalition. Disagreements on policy and scandal surrounding cash for titles meant by October 1922, Lloyd George resigned.

While Lloyd George remained visible, the fall of the Liberal Party, something he had arguably helped cause, he never regained power. He continued to support social reform, with his last vote in the Commons being a vote to condemn the government for failing to implement the recommendations of the Beveridge report. On New Year’s Day of 1945 he was raised to the peerage but he was too ill to ever take his positon in the House of Lords. He died of cancer on March 24th 1945, months before the end of the Second World War.


This is America: Projecting Prosperity in the Cold War

From the late 1940s through the 1950s and into the 1960s, how the United States portrayed itself to the world was seen as an important aspect of fighting the Cold War. The ‘Cultural’ Cold War was seen as just as important, because it was necessary to show the U.S. as not only strong economically and militarily, but also to make the U.S. likable. There was anti-Americanism in the world, and not just in the Middle East and Latin America. It was also found in Japan and Western Europe, who often saw the U.S. as hypocritical. Portraying the U.S. in a certain way was not just about combating communism but strengthening ties between allies. President Eisenhower, who was President between 1953-1961, thought Trade Fairs used to showcase American Culture were the cheapest way of fighting the Cold War. They were the cheapest way of protecting national defence and strengthening ties with allies. Psychological warfare grew as the Cold War started in earnest, and it also became an underlined threat in security reports, with the National Security Council underlining the importance of the cultural side of the Cold War to American security in their report on the United States Information Agency (USIA), a program set up by Eisenhower in 1953 to portray American prosperity abroad, and also run by the State Department.

this is america
Portraying the American Way: a house in the suburbs, a young family, prosperity all built on free enterprise and innovation was the tone of many propaganda pieces. Taken from:

How did the US want to portray itself?

The U.S. wanted to portray its ideals in a way to remind people of why they were arming and spending so much on defence, to protect those ideals. It underlined ideals of social mobility, political freedom, cultural diversity and affluence while portraying the characteristics of American life as one rooted in democratic ideals and the ‘American way’ of productivity and innovation. Characteristics which were focused on often countered that of communist ideals, and focused on a similar sort of rhetoric. These characteristics included:

  1. Religion – Americans were religious, opposed to the ‘godless’ communism of the USSR
  2. Family – American families were nuclear and suburban, which was more socially and emotionally fulfilling and gave better chances to their children
  3. Property – Unlike Soviet people, Americans could own their own homes
  4. The U.S. was dedicated to peace and would not get involved for its own interest, unlike the Soviets who wanted to spread communism

Criticisms: What was it missing?

Tensions at home were often the criticism of Trade Fairs. The U.S. was criticised for its treatment of race. This was usually ignored from propaganda, and when it was mentioned it was to say it was something they were progressing on, or to underline it was a Southern problem not a U.S. one. Racial tensions got so bad in the U.S. that many African-Americans refused to be a part of their propaganda, such as Louis Armstrong. After the Little Rock Crisis in 1957, in which nine black students were prevented entry into Little Rock Central High School, he refused to be the face of black America and jazz in one of the U.S. tours.  Propaganda also ignored issues of poverty in the U.S. Although more affluent shown by its growing suburban life, 50 million people still lived below the poverty line.

A lot of the criticism of propaganda itself was the expense. It cost a lot of money to put together brochures and advertisements and send showcases on tour. Although there were criticisms of subversion of the State Department, these did not focus on subversion by the CIA but by communists, which fed on growing fears in the early fifties by McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Trade Fairs too did not necessarily fare well themselves, and in 1956 they proved no more popular than Soviet Fairs and did less well than the Chinese fairs. There were criticisms that there was no real sense of what American culture was. In Moscow in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev claimed that the U.S. display felt like a Department Store instead of an exhibit of culture, showing off American Materialism. The message of capitalism was certainly getting through, but was democracy?

Moscow 1959

The Moscow 1959 exhibit is one of the most famous and important fairs in the U.S. cultural Cold War. Not only was it the first time the U.S. had the chance to reach Soviet people since the late 1940s, it was also part of a cultural exchange program between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In June 1959 the Soviet Union displayed their exhibit in New York, and the following month the U.S. exhibited theirs in Moscow. Walter Hixson underlines that this was a new way the Cold War was being fought, especially with Khrushchev’s visit to the U.S., and showed the changing relations between the two leading world powers.

the miracle kitchen
Nixon and Khrushchev look over America’s Miracle Kitchen. Innovative… or ‘simply gadgets’?

The Moscow exhibit portrayed all of American prosperity and advancement, of course continuing its trend with a section on the ‘People of Plenty’, illustrating how the American economic system benefited U.S. citizens through affluence and prosperity. It had also originally had a more self-critical section in which it discussed racial issues in the U.S. and how it could go forward. However, some Southerners reacted badly to this and it was pulled out. The rest of the displays focused on the theme of American prosperity, with ones on Disney, The Miracle Kitchen, and an IBM computer which could answer a series of questions, as well as a display of consumer goods, including Pepsi Cola, which even Khrushchev liked.

The most famous part of this exhibit is that of The Miracle Kitchen, for stimulating The Kitchen Debate between Vice President Nixon and Khrushchev. Although the debate centred around the kitchen and its modern gadgets, it was really one of differing ideologies and underlining the different principles of U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism. When Nixon said these were homes affordable for ordinary Americans, not just the rich, Khrushchev said all Soviet people have a home and don’t need to pay for one. When Khrushchev said the U.S. was a slave to technology, Nixon said it made home-life easier, opening up time for leisure. The New York Times criticised the debate for ignoring substantive issues and claimed it was more of a political stunt than anything, but it did increase Nixon’s popularity at the time and cement the Trade Fairs place in fighting the Cold War in public consciousness.

the kitchen debate
Nixon and Khrushchev discuss their differing positions, and their mutual dislike of Jazz at the 1959 Moscow Exhibit

The Leader of the Free World

Propaganda was used to portray U.S. strength and prestige and its position in the world. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Western Europe had relied on the U.S. for aid. Its image as the leader of the free world was an important one to hold up. It was not just about boosting the U.S.  image but that of capitalism’s. It is important to remember that not long before the 1950s had been the Great Depression, which for many was seen as the great failure of capitalism. Reinventing the system was also a part of this propaganda to describe the American economic system as ‘People’s Capitalism’. No longer just for the few, it proclaimed, but for the many. According to this, capitalism had gone through a peaceful and democratic revolution and was not like the capitalism of the 1920s and 1930s, which led to mass poverty, corruption and Depression. These were all major themes of U.S. propaganda in the Cold War.



A word like many other words that have been adopted into the English language from India like the words ‘bangle’ and ‘bungalow’. Although today the spelling is quite different and is more recognised to the eye as ‘thug’, to mean a violent person/criminal. The definition however has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The term ‘thugee’ is defined as the robbery and murder practiced by a group in India in accordance to their rituals of worship. Another way that people might know about the Thuggee is they have been referenced in popular media, most notably in the Indiana Jones Franchise. In the second movie Jones and company arrive in India and stumble upon Thuggee practices taking place at an underground palace, in spite of them being told by a palace operative and a British officer that the Thuggee practice had been quashed previously. The film although questionable in how they portrayed them (child labour taking place {no evidence to support this}, hearts being ripped out {again no evidence to support this}). However it did show that the cult was nonetheless violent.

The earliest documentation of the Thuggee was said to have been in the fourteenth century and they were said to have derived from seven Muslim tribes in spite of them claiming to be formed from the sweat of Kali (a Hindu God of worship). What is interesting to note is the practice is hereditary being that the life of a thug was passed on from father to son in most cases. However this is not the only way to become a thug. Other ways of membership included; in some cases to take the children (if any) of their victims, train to become one with a guru or to hope that if you got to know a thug well you may be recruited as one yourself (similar to how a fraternity would work). In spite of all these ways of becoming a thug it is unclear if women undertook the activities of a thug.

The victims of the Thuggee were usually travellers as they appeared to be easy victims for their activities. Traditionally they would usually appear to help people on their travels in the areas that they occupied as a way to gain their trust. After the Thugs gained the trust of travellers they would strike at a time when their victims would at least suspect it by strangling them with either a noose or handkerchief around the neck. Usually after this act they would rob the victims of any valuables and dispose of the body. These killings usually took place in remote spots away from prying eyes near river banks for instance and at times of the day when they were less likely to come into contact with anyone, usually at night.

As of yet it is not known exactly what the death toll was from the thuggee practice. However some estimates have been made into how many killings took place during the nineteenth century when the cult was still active. The British historian Mike Dash states that approximately 2 000 000 people were killed, yet some disagree with this amount saying it was too high. David Rapoport states that 500 000 people were killed, implying that even in recent history it is extremely difficult to state accurately how many deaths took place.

During the British Raj the Thuggee became notorious and as a result the British set out to suppress and eventually eradicate the practice of the Thuggee from the 1830s. It became clear from very early on that the British soon found an effective way to overcome the techniques of the Thuggee. In spite of general policing being in its infancy in Britain, they adopted very clever ways of warning travellers coming to India of the dangers, regarding the Thuggee at border points. This proved to be a success as more and more travellers became aware of the dangers and prepared themselves accordingly by productive counter measures. Secondly an official department was set up to help quash the threat of the Thuggee. This proved to be very useful as it enabled people to know about where the locations of the attacks happened, likely targets and what time of the day they would attack. Soon the Thuggee realised they had met their match and found that they could no longer keep up with the constant surveillance of the movements. Eventually the Thuggee way of life became extinct by the 1870s.


Suffragette: Some Thoughts

It is somewhat staggering that it has taken just over a hundred years since the end of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s (WSPU) campaign for a film based on the British fight for women’s suffrage to be made. This is made even more staggering that on television the only production on women’s suffrage was the BBC drama Shoulder to Shoulder in 1974, which my mother recalls watching as a teenager. Therefore it is unsurprising that Suffragette has been under a lot of pressure to satisfy many, with varying different views, as the only available screen representation (Shoulder to Shoulder has yet to been released on DVD, nor does it seem to ever have been released on VHS) of such a significant movement in Britain.

I was one of the many, having been fascinated with the women’s suffrage movement since I was a child. Would the film address the differences within the movement itself, principally between the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU)? Would the film focus on leaders of the movement such as the Pankhursts’ or Millicent Fawcett or Emily Wilding Davison? Would the film mention or examine the class and race issues that were present within the movement?

I recall being surprised when the first details of the film were released that it would focus on a working class suffragette. The movement as a whole, and especially the WSPU, has been considered to be dominated by the middle classes. The hierarchy for certain was dominated by middle class women, with Annie Kenney the only working class woman involved in the WSPU leadership. Working class women had far more to lose than their middle class counterparts; after a prison sentence a middle class woman was generally more likely to have a home to return too, working class women less so.

However the choice to make the film’s protagonist working class was a brilliant decision, not just from a story perspective but also from a historic perspective. Rather than a film focusing on the politics or focusing on events and dates, the film focuses on the circumstances of Maud’s life (played by Carey Mulligan), that cause her to become involved in the WSPU; a victim of sexual abuse, an orphan, forced into a job that not only pays her poorly because she was a woman, but also one that would kill her young. As Maud explains when asked what the vote would mean to her, it could give her control over her life. Her fellow suffragettes similarly show the circumstances that allow inequality in a world without the vote. Maud’s colleague Violet, played by the outstanding Anne Marie Duff, like Maud had worked in poorly paid jobs since her teens and is married to a violent drunk, who despairs of her daughter facing the same future as her. The organiser of their activities Edith, played by Helena Bonham Carter, was denied the opportunity for a university education by her father and never got to realise her dreams. The framing of the reasons these women fought, and in such desperate and violent measures, highlights the struggle that women at this point in history had to deal with. It could have been easy to focus instead on just the battles, the politics and the prison sentences but as a film Suffragette gives us the motivations behind these women’s actions.

Nor does the film shy away from the consequences these women faced. The brutality of prisons sentences is shown several times throughout the film. I was pleased to see that a scene was included where Edith insists that as political prisoners they should be entitled to wear their own clothes while they are manhandled into prison uniforms. While not explained at length in the film, political prisoners were classed as first division prisoners, enjoying privileges such as wearing their own clothes among others. The authorities refused to acknowledge suffragettes as such, which was the reason for Marion Wallace Dunlop to go on hunger strike, which would soon become WSPU policy. While it would have been nice to seen such a scene explained in further detail, it is understandable because to keep the majority of the audience interested, the writer of the film, Abi Morgan, was treading a careful line throughout to avoid it becoming a history lesson.

Morgan also managed to avoid falling into the trap of making the male characters of the film one-dimensional. While certain men will try to claim that the film is anti-men (i.e. it actually illustrates the brutality and misogyny against women, especially when the film is set), a much more realistic portrayal exists in the film. The male characters with the exception of Edith’s husband are against women’s suffrage, just as most men and many women were at the time (which is also acknowledged on several occasions) but they are not portrayed as one-dimensional villains. Maud’s employer is shown realistically as a sex pest and cruel, something definitely not unrealistic for the period nor even now therefore I would argue not entirely one-dimensional. Maud’s husband Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, despite his actions as the film continues becoming more deplorable, we see what many men from this period were like. While we may not like or find perhaps much sympathy for him, we can understand his feelings and actions which are shaped by the society he lives in. Similarly Brendon Gleeson’s Detective Steed, while we naturally root against him, he represents a man who believes in the law and the natural order of things, but he is not evil or a monster, he too is shaped by a patriarchal society.

This is certainly one of the strengths of the film, we are forced to acknowledge that this is our history, these are our ancestors, not heroes or villains from a fairy tale. Combined with the film’s questioning of the morality of suffragette techniques that could be branded as terrorism, the film poses moral questions and debates that historians have had for many years. There is no clear moral right and wrong, only shades of grey. Without debate women should have had the vote far earlier than they did, without debate the way the authorities dealt with women’s suffrage supporters both suffragettes and suffragists was wrong but were the suffragettes right to act in the way they did? The film does not give an answer for this question, instead it gives us the viewpoints and leaves us to decide. It is that which makes this film so brilliant. Whether as a viewer we agree with it or not, Maud gives us perhaps the most powerful answer a suffragette would give, and one we should certainly think upon:

We break windows… We burn things; cos war is the only language men listen to… cos you’ve beaten us and betrayed us… and there’s nothin’ else left.

Women’s Suffrage and the First World War

When war was declared in August 1914 the women’s suffrage campaign had been going on for fifty years. Some historians have argued women were close to achieving their aims while others have argued that women were no closer than previous years. However it is undeniable that the women’s suffrage campaign was radically interrupted by the onset of the war. The different suffrage organisations had different approaches. These approaches are important in our understanding of the beliefs and the women involved.

The most famous women’s suffrage organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, took one of the most interesting and radical approaches. WSPU members, labelled suffragettes, had taken militant action in their fight for women’s suffrage in the years since 1910 and were deeply unpopular amongst many in the government. Therefore their role during the First World War would come as a shock. Upon the outbreak of the war Emmeline Pankhurst ordered that all activities relating to women’s suffrage would cease and the WSPU would concentrate on the war effort. The WSPU became engaged in the war effort by becoming directly involved with the recruitment of the armed forces, by surprisingly becoming closely involved with the government. They allowed the funds raised by the WSPU for women’s suffrage to be used for the war effort, to the anger of many in the organisation. With such actions along with an increasingly jingoistic rhetoric, the WSPU began to split. Many left and two new organisations were formed: Suffragettes of the Women’s Social Political Union (SWSPU) and the Independent Women’s Social and Political Union (IWSPU). Neither of these two organisations made much of an impact. What remained of the WSPU dropped their newspaper The Suffragette in 1915 for a new newspaper The Britannia. Finally in 1917, the WSPU disbanded and became the Women’s Party.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was the much larger organisation, although in popular memory the refusal to take part in militant activities and adopt a peaceful approach meant it has often been forgotten in comparison. Led by Millicent Fawcett the organisation was divided by the outbreak of the war. Up until a month before the war began, the NUWSS had been arguing for mediation attempts to prevent the war. However upon the outbreak of the war, Fawcett adopted the position of supporting the war effort. This was partly as an attempt to gain more support for the cause of women’s suffrage as one of the popular arguments against women’s suffrage was that women could not be trusted to vote, as they were pacifists. This led to divisions in the organisation which resulted in a split in the organisation. All of the national officers barring Fawcett and the treasurer resigned in protest against the position that the NUWSS took on the war. Most of these women joined groups focused on promoting peace.

Despite the support for the war the NUWSS gave, the organisation was never as jingoistic or as involved in the political side of the war as the WSPU was. The NUWSS focused on the role of women in the war. It contributed to the setting up of hospitals and employment of nurses. Similarly within the UK it organised registers for unemployed women to find them wartime work such as in munitions and as bus conductors.

Nevertheless the NUWSS did not abandon women’s suffrage entirely. Many branches of the organisation continued to demonstrate and petition in favour of women’s suffrage. The organisation also retained its structure which allowed it to quickly return to its campaign for suffrage.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) was an offshoot of the WSPU originally set up in 1913 by Emmeline Pankhurst’s middle daughter, Sylvia Pankhurst. The ELFS was unique in that its members and focus was on working class women rather than the middle and upper class women that dominated the movement. By 1914 the ELFS had become a separate organisation, leaving the WSPU over ideology. The outbreak of the war further drove Sylvia away from her mother and her sister Christabel, compared to their jingoistic nationalism Sylvia was a pacifist and the ELFS took an anti-war stance. The organisation focused on protesting against conscription and supporting working class women affected by the war. They campaigned against measures that tried to limit financial support to the wives of soldiers and also embarked on a number of charitable endeavours such as a toy factory and cut price restaurants. Many of those involved in the ELFS were drawn to socialism and communism with the organisation supporting the 1916 Irish Risings and the October Revolution in 1917. This led to the various name changes the organisation underwent, as did the organisation moving from focusing on women’s suffrage, to universal suffrage for all whom yet to have the vote. The organisation would continue to change its name and merge with various groups until after the war.

The Women’s Freedom League, created by a group of dissatisfied former WSPU members in 1907, like the ELFS were also anti-war. They were by no means as radical as the ELFS, the Women’s Freedom League warned that one of its leading members Charlotte Despard strong pacifist views were not their own. They were however concerned that their members would abandon the struggle for suffrage because of the war, and tried to encourage their members to continue. Their activities were limited by the war and like other women’s suffrage organisations they focused on a number of voluntary activities such as setting up the Women’s Police Volunteers and Woman’s Suffrage National Aid Corps.

Partial women’s suffrage was achieved in 1918, allowing women over the age of 30 who met certain criteria to vote. The fight for women’s suffrage would not be achieved until 1928, when women received equal voting rights with men. The contribution of women during the war has often been given as a reason for women finally being granted the vote. Many women who did volunteer or worked during the war were those who did not gain the vote as they were under 30 and failed to meet the conditions of being married to, or being a member of the Local Government Register or being the owner of property. Around 22% of women over the age of 30 therefore were exempt. Therefore it can be argued that the work of women and the contribution during the war from the women’s suffrage organisations did not achieve them the vote. These contributions however are important to remember not just in the history of the First World War but in the history of women’s suffrage. Such contributions could be seen as the women’s suffrage campaign’s reply to their detractors. However it also illustrates the differences between the women’s movements. It highlights that the women’s suffrage movement was by no means a monolithic movement, neither was it a neat split between those who believed in militant action and those who did not. It shows that some involved in the movement were solely preoccupied with gaining suffrage for themselves; some believed women’s suffrage was instrumental for ending war and violence and others saw women’s suffrage as part of an ideological belief of bettering society and creating equality. Thus the actions of suffragists and suffragettes during the First World War are an important element in the study of women’s suffrage in the UK.


Bartley, P., Votes For Women (London, 2007).

Smith, H. L., The British Women’s Suffrage Campaign 1866-1928 (Harlow, 2010).


President Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, 1929-1933.

The economic boom of the 1920s, the result of a thirty-year industrial revolution, was destined to weaken the economy long-term. There were massive technological changes and the 1920s was a period of great innovation. Automatic switchboards, conveyor belts and the concrete mixer were just a few examples of the new products that were available to use and to purchase within the economy. The most successful venture was the of conventional use of electricity; it provided a cheaper and more efficient source of power for factories and also led to the production of new consumer goods such as the refrigerator and radios. However, these new techniques meant that goods could be produced more cheaply and on a much larger scale such as Henry Ford’s car industry after introducing the assembly line, however, this meant that as everyone who could afford a car had brought one, the consumer demand decreased and over-production became problematic. This lead to unsold goods, which in turn saw profits falling. With no profit, staff were made redundant and unemployment began to rise. A short-term cause of the Great Depression was credit. Even though it made circumstances easier for consumers to buy goods, many did not have enough money to pay back the banks what they owed. This meant that when the depression did hit in October of 1929, Americans would rush to the bank where they had deposited all of their life savings only to find that there was not enough money for them to make a withdrawal. From 1930-33, depositors lost $2.5 billion in savings from banks that closed or went bankrupt.

The National output had been cut by half and was now less than in 1915 meaning that ‘boom’ of the 1920s had been lost. Investors lost as much money in October 1929 as the USA had spent fighting in the First World War. If 1920s America was looking bleak before 1929, the Wall Street Crash ensured the last bit of hope that remained was crushed. Over the weekend of 26th and 27th October, stockbrokers who had sold their shares ‘on the margin’ had borrowed money from banks to fund the initial purchasing of said share and the banks were now demanding repayment of their money. To repay the banks, the brokers in turn had to ask their customers for repayments of debts and the only way in which customers could do so, was to sell shares at any price. Panic-stricken brokers and investors sold 16 million shares in one day. Stock prices slumped by $14,000,000 on 29th October. On Wall Street, between 29th October and 13th November, over $30 billion disappeared from the value of the American economy.

President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, believed that the government should not try to manage the economy, strongly highlighting Hoover’s ‘voluntarism’ efforts. He tried to persuade businesses to take action to deal with the economic crisis without the government passing laws to force them to act i.e. not to cut production or lay workers off. When the depression hit, 8 months after his inauguration, Hoover waited 2-3 years – once the American economy was in a dire condition – to finally set up funds and organisations to get the US back on its feet. He authorised $2 billion for the creation of the RFC, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in January 1932 which was intended ‘to make temporary advances to establish industries, railways and financial institutions which cannot otherwise secure credit, and where such advances will stimulate employment’. Similarly the Glass-Steagall Act gave $750 million of government gold reserves as loans to private businesses. Hoover’s most notable attempt to regulate trade was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930. He increased the price on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels with an average of 40% on agricultural and industrial items. This led to most other nations applying the same tariffs on American goods meaning that US exports dropped by half ensuring the depression lasted longer and affected more businesses. The US depression had reached its peak as world trade was practically halted.

The next step in Hoover’s plan was to create the Federal Farm Board, which administered loans and aimed to stabilise prices and to promote the sales of agricultural products. By the end of its first year, the FFB had loaned in excess of $148 million. However, the government’s involvement did not produce many results in the agricultural or business industry and did not solve the problem of unemployment. Hoover established the Emergency Committee for Employment as one of his last attempts to combat the depression, but he gave the committee, limited resources ($47 million) and so on such a small-scale and small budget, it never really had a chance at making a difference. The last memorable demonstration from Hoover was insensitively dealing with the Bonus Army in June 1932. The veterans of the First World War, who were unemployed and as a result their families were hungry, began a march in Washington demanding the payment of a veterans’ bonus approved by Congress in 1924 but to be paid 20 years afterward. The money, in the sum of $3,500,000,000, would clearly provide the much-needed lifeline to the veterans and their families. Congress rejected the 20,000 veterans their proposal to pay the money immediately and in protest, thousands of ‘bonus marchers’ and their families built a home of tents at the nearest Hooverville in Anacosta Flats in Washington and threatened to stay there until the proposal was passed. However, Hoover approved a plan to evict them. One thousand armed soldiers, equipped with tear gas, tanks and machine guns, drove the veterans from the camp and burned it to the ground along with all of their possessions. After this incident, Hoover lost public faith.

Hoover was not successful in combating the depression. A reflection of this was the beginning of ‘Hoovervilles’; the popular name for a town of homeless men who lived in cardboard boxes. The term was coined by publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee, Charles Michaelson named after Hoover. These people lived in shacks, in the worst living conditions possible and had to beg for food. Democrat’s popularised related terms such as the ‘Hoover blanket’; old newspapers used as blankets and the ‘Hoover flag’; an empty pocket turned inside out. After these events, Hoover, who returned unopposed as a Republican candidate was prepared for a defeat as well as the rest of the party. Hoover’s term as President saw the descent of the nation further into depression. He was reluctant to take action until the situation was exceptionally poor and when he did, it was with reluctant implying that any organisation or fund that he set up was to barely get below the surface of the problem as he had no confidence. This would suggest that he was not totally dedicated to bringing the USA out of the depression; an attribute that the next elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt was passionate about. However, some historians argue that while Hoover was not successful, he should not be labelled as a ‘do-nothing’ president. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation for example, was adopted by Roosevelt in the New Deal and was successful because of the massive scale and funding that went into it.

When discussing unemployment and business, Hoover’s actions can be seen as ‘too little and too late’. His handling of unemployment was a disaster, and not to mention ineffective; while millions of Americans were starving and left homeless, Hoover refused to take extensive government measures in response. Instead he upheld his firm belief in laissez-faire; the minimum input on the governments’ behalf and voluntarism; businesses to take action alone in order to deal with the economic crisis without the passing of any laws forcing them to act. The deciding factor of Hoover’s defeat and unpopularity was the way in which he dealt with the Bonus Army (The Shame of Anacosta Flats). America did not see Hoover as a compassionate leader in touch with their needs, who would lead them out of the depression. Instead, they saw failure.

Hoover’s time in office led the USA to desire someone new and passionate. They demanded an intelligent and effective government to revive the failing economy; a president who would be active and representative of his people – far from the Republicans of the 1920s. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and would later become one of the most successful and passionate presidents America had seen. Roosevelt promised the New Deal, which in effect was the RFC authorised by Hoover, but on a much larger and more ambitious scale; what America needed during their time of need. This would help the economy in a much more effective way, and as the President connected with the people in a more personal way, the public finally felt that a political figure understood the extent of the damage and was not going to give up.

Chronicle of Two Announced Deaths

If you are a would-to-be revolutionary, it is in fact an extremely big irony to name your movement in remembrance of the leader of one of the most famous, and most obviously, lost causes in History. Well, that exactly is what Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, leaders of the extreme left-wing of the German Social-democrat Party, did when they, and some other party members, decided to make their move in the wake of the Soviet Russian Revolution. They called themselves “The Spartakist League”.

Surely choosing a name is not bound to be so decisive as to mark the fate of a group. But in this particular case, it pervades the constant sensation that Fate had quite a lot to do with the Spartakists and their pitiful end. Somewhat, it was announced in the very name: a glorious revolt, an overwhelming counter-stroke, an ignominious defeat, a horrible death.

When the Spartakists set sail in 1916 they thought their moment coming: something great was happening there in Russia and, amidst the atrocities of war, winds of change were gathering momentum in Germany too. So they took their own road to the left, trying to ride on the increasing malcontent of the population, the scarcities of wartime economy, the suffering of broken families, all the grief and suffering of a long and ever more and more unpopular war which, in their opinion, was mostly taking place at the expenses of the working class.

They relentlessly worked against war until this was over. But that was not the end of the story. For them, it was just the beginning. The Russians had been capable of starting a Revolution, and making it succeed, in the middle of a not particularly successful war; so the most learned German workers must be able to achieved the same goal and beyond now that the war was finally over. Or so they said…

Their leaders, in fact, were saying quite a different thing. They were saying” we must wait”. They were saying not all working class was in favour of revolution; they knew some order was utterly needed, and wanted, after four seemingly never-ending years of cruel fighting and hardships. They wanted to help in the recovering, then use their new strength to gain power. They even must had sensed something, because, judiciously, they changed names to the more standardised (and probably safer, as it showed later) German Communist Party. Leibnekcht and Luxemburg were able politicians of the revolutionary kind,strong-minded and idealistic, yes, but with enough hindsight as to see where their country was moving and how that would affect their party if they were not to follow. But they were not listened to.

As it was, they even didn’t start the revolts. They were willing, that’s for sure, but with a worn down country and the need for some balance after such a long conflict, patience prevailed at the beginning. Anyway, as in Russia before, leftist forces formed a Soviet Congress and opposed Government. The spark for final confrontation was triggered by the pretension of the revolutionaries that the Army would be dismissed as a whole and then replaced with troops selected exclusively by the Soviet. Not being possible to be an acting Government and at the same time putting up with this kind of demands, Chancellor Ebert refused.
In this precise moment, first week 1919, the Spartakists decided that it was about time to give support to the revolution, probably in the idea that it was the best way to control it, and most probably without any direct support from neither Leibnekcht nor Luxemburg. So, united, the German left sent the so-called “Popular Navy Division”(involved in the rebellion which had led to the end of the war) to seize control of the Government Building. So they did, but the energetic response of Ebert, who called in the loyal Potsdam garrison, frustrated their intentions and they got back to their quarters.

Thus, on January 10, 1919, started the final act of this drama, when the Army and the non regular, extreme right-wing troops called “Freikorps” initiated the retaliation. Then ensued what is now known as the “Bloody Week”: the revolt was suppressed with extreme alacrity and appalling violence, specially against the Spartakists who were seen as instigators if not as the master mind behind the curtains, and, above all, were obviously the more coherent, best leaded revolutionary force. A Heaven sent opportunity to erase a major political enemy.

Leibnekcht and Luxemburg were both murdered, as were lots of anonymous citizens whose crime, as it was, had been trying to achieve a better world, or at least what they believed to be a better world after all the suffering that WWI brought to Europe. Closing the circle of irony, and the jokes of Fate, what happened to their bodies was never disclosed. Just as it happened to Spartacus.