Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the start of the most titanic conflict the World had yet seen. It was a tragedy of unprecedented scale (Apart from maybe the Mongols…) It is a tragedy the sequels of which are still happening like bad movies. The current war in the Near East is a result as was the Second World War as was the rise of Fascism, Communism and Nazism. All three are in one form or another still with us like Japanese knotweed.
When I was a potless student I developed a love of Victorian and early Edwardian literature. Well, it was out of copyright so cheap. Something that shone through to me was the general sense of optimism. Do you know the origin of the phrase, “How the other half live”? At the start of Victoria’s reign half of Britain lived in abject poverty and I mean abject poverty. I don’t mean they had an iPhone 4 not a 5S. By her death it was one in ten. And think of the technology over this rough period of time! Anaesthetics, anti-septics, pasteurisation, sanitation, automobiles, powered flight, telephones, radio, steam turbines, AC power, electric light… The optimism is palpable. I bought and read these books because they were cheap but I fell for them because of that sheer optimism and it seamed hardly ill-construed. In 1900 the country with the fastest rate of GDP growth per capita was Russia. A sensible person might have seen Russia turning into some sort of constitutional monarchy and something like a bigger Canada. It could have happened and imagine that…
It didn’t happen.
Europe was wrecked. Russia is still stuck in a quasi-Tsarist rut, the remains of the Ottoman Empire are largely in a situation of utter chaos and the blood and treasure expended by all over the last hundred years is incalculable. The loss of young European men – especially of the officer class – the potential movers and shakers in the arts, sciences, business, engineering and such was so calamitous that Europe permanently lost the lead to the USA after the Great War. That is not an anti-US statement but what could we (and I mean all of us) have achieved had those millions not died? And it is not just the statement of a middle-class white European male. It is a statement of fact reflecting the social conditions of the time. The emancipation of, say, women was arguably advanced by the war but surely this could have been done in a different manner?
Here is just one example of our loss…
Karl Schwarzschild (October 9, 1873 – May 11, 1916) was a German physicist and astronomer. He is also the father of astrophysicist Martin Schwarzschild.
He provided the first exact solution to the Einstein field equations of general relativity, for the limited case of a single spherical non-rotating mass, which he accomplished in 1915, the same year that Einstein first introduced general relativity. The Schwarzschild solution, which makes use of Schwarzschild coordinates and the Schwarzschild metric, leads to a derivation of the Schwarzschild radius, which is the size of the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole.
Schwarzschild accomplished this triumph while serving in the German army during World War I. He died the following year from the autoimmune disease pemphigus, which he developed while at the Russian front.
Asteroid 837 Schwarzschilda is named in his honor.
The Schwarzchild metric is not just the first but remains the most important solution of the Einstein field equations. Trust me. I know this stuff. But don’t take it from me…
I have read your paper with the utmost interest. I had not expected that one could formulate the exact solution of the problem in such a simple way. I liked very much your mathematical treatment of the subject. Next Thursday I shall present the work to the Academy with a few words of explanation.
— Albert Einstein
How many other greats and potential greats were lost? We shall never know. And how many other ordinary folk who would have lived normal productive lives for they matter as much.
OK, I’ll tell you. I live in a parish of roughly 4300 souls. This is probably more than the population in 1914 (it’s prime commuter belt for Manchester and Buxton and such places).
This is the roll-call on this parish’s war memorial for WWI…
of the Men of Disley Parish
who gave their lives
in the Great War
1914 – 1919.
This Cross is placed here in Greatful Remembrance.
Reginald C ARNOLD
E Walter ARNOLD
Harry N BOLD
Wm M BUCHANAN
G Charles CLAPHAM
H Innes FERGUSON
Tom W GARLEY
James R GASKILL
James A HARRISON
George A MILES
J Joseph NUTTALL
James H RIGBY
Thomas H WALKER
George W WHITTLE
George W WILKINSON
Leonard G B YOUNG
We remember them.