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4/8/1914 – 4/8/2014

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…

To the Everlasting Honour
of the Men of Disley Parish
who gave their lives
in the Great War
1914 – 1919.
This Cross is placed here in Greatful Remembrance.

Ellis ARDERN
Robert ARDERN
Reginald C ARNOLD
E Walter ARNOLD
Harry BAND
Oliver BELL
Joseph BENNETT
Robert BENNETT
Harry N BOLD
Herbert BOWDEN
John BRANSON
Charles BRYAN
Wm M BUCHANAN
Harold CARRINGTON
Arthur CHORLTON
G Charles CLAPHAM
Harold DAWSON
Thomas DAWSON
John DEARNALEY
Harry EDGE
Harold ETCHELLS
H Innes FERGUSON
Arthur FORD
Samuel FORD
John FROGGATT
Richard GARLEY
Tom W GARLEY
James R GASKILL
Albert GASKILL
Herbert GOODWIN
Walter GRAHAM
William HAGAN
Percy HALLAM
Fred HARRISON
James A HARRISON
Ernest HAYTHORN
Wm HIGGINBOTTOM
Ernest HILL
Frank HOLYOAKE
William HOWARTH
Louis INGHAM
John JENNISON
Ernest JOHNSON
Harvey JONES
Ernest LEECH
John LIDDELL
James LOGAN
Frank LOMAS
Luke LOMAS
Percy MASSEY
George MIDDLETON
Thomas MIDDLETON
George A MILES
Roy MILLER
William MOORCROFT
Charles MOTTRAM
Ernest MOTTRAM
James MYCOCK
Frank NELSON
Daniel NORMAN
J Joseph NUTTALL
Ernest PIKE
Frederick POTTS
Thomas PRESTWICH
Harold QUARMBY
Charles RHODES
James H RIGBY
Frank ROXBY
Robert ROXBY
Henry SERPELL
Benjamin SHIRT
Stanley SHIRT
Samuel SHIRT
Albert SMITH
Joseph SMITH
John STAFFORD
Henry TAYLOR
James TAYLOR
Wm THOMPSON
William TURNER
Thomas H WALKER
Harry WELCH
Arthur WHITEFORD
George W WHITTLE
Everett WILD
William WILD
George W WILKINSON
Samuel WOOD
Walter WOOD
Charles WOODWARD
John WOODWARD
Charles WYATT
Frederick YATES
Leonard G B YOUNG
Cyril NIELD
Reginald NIELD

We remember them.

10 Comments

  1. Paul Marks says:

    Yes Nick the progress in the Victorian period was astonishing, especially for ordinary people.

    In 1901 one could go from my home town to London in roughly the same amount of time as it takes now (so much for our progress – but then even the “modern” footwear known as Nike All Stars came out in 1914).

    In 1836 it took days to get to London.

    And as you say – most people born in the 1830s (into what we would consider a Third World country) would not live into adulthood, and adults around in most parts of Britain in the 1830s would not have visited London anyway (they could not have afforded to do so).

    By the early 20th century (after the Victorian development had done its work) such things as electric mass transit were coming into towns and cities (in the 1830s it had been horses and feet) in some ways cities such as those in upstate New York (and many other places) were more advanced a century ago than they are now.

    The Third World slum cities (around the Western World) of the 1830s were (by the early 20th century) being replaced by a standard of life that (whilst still low by our standards) was higher than the world had ever seen before.

    An astonishing achievement of international capitalism.

    However, the more capitalism achieved – the more the “intellectuals” were filled with hatred and the desire to destroy.

  2. NickM says:

    Well, I have flown a number of times to the USA. I’m telling it to Karl Marx! And I an’t no plutocrat ;-)

  3. JohnW says:

    Heinrich Heine on the architect of the catastrophe:

    “The history of Immanuel Kant’s life is difficult to portray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mechanical, regular, almost abstract bachelor existence in a little retired street of Königsberg, an old town on the north-eastern frontier of Germany. I do not believe that the great clock of the cathedral performed in a more passionless and methodical manner its daily routine than did its townsman, Immanuel Kant. Rising in the morning, coffee-drinking, writing, reading lectures, dining, walking, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew that it was exactly half-past three o’clock when Kant stepped forth from his house in his grey, tight-fitting coat, with his Spanish cane in his hand, and betook himself to the little linden avenue called after him to this day the “Philosopher’s Walk.” Summer and winter he walked up and down it eight times, and when the weather was dull or heavy clouds prognosticated rain, the townspeople beheld his servant, the old Lampe, trudging anxiously behind Kant with a big umbrella under his arm, like an image of Providence.

    What a strange contrast did this man’s outward life present to his destructive, world-annihilating thoughts! In sooth, had the citizens of Königsberg had the least presentiment of the full significance of his ideas, they would have felt far more awful dread at the presence of this man than at the sight of an executioner, who can but kill the body. But the worthy folk saw in him nothing more than a Professor of Philosophy, and as he passed at his customary hour, they greeted him in a friendly manner and set their watches by him.”

  4. NickM says:

    Paul,
    As you know I have lived in Manchester and now live near Manchester. Well, I lived in Levenshulme (South Manchester) now it had a railway station on the radial route. It had had another that ran a circular route but dear old Dr Beeching chopped that. So the earthworks for the line remained – the bridges, the cuttings, the tunnels etc. It was re-invented as a cycle path and the station for it became, “Repo TV”. I call that Progress!!! I once challenged my wife to a rollerblade race down the cycle track to Rusholme. I won so she bought the drinks. That was the bet. I must’ve been fit back then!

  5. Paul Marks says:

    John W. – the irony is that Kant thought he was saving the world, from the attacks of David Hume.

    However, Kant responded in the way that German philosophers tend to – by incorporating what Hume had to say (whether or not Hume really believed it literally is a matter I will not deal with) into his own thought.

    This does not answer the nihilistic “questions” of Hume (denying human agency, by “explaining” it away, and denying the objective nature of the physical universe also) – it makes the attacks much more dangerous by “letting them in” as it were (sealing in the decay – the process of rotting). Hume’s doubts (whether or not he meant them) must be clearly REJECTED (not incorporated).

    Nick.

    Yes I am sure the line was useful – but I wish the railway trains still ran on it.

    The subsidised competition of “free” government roads, and the straight jacket of government regulations on the railways (really getting out of control with the Liberal Party government of 1906 onwards) destroyed the railways – Dr B. was just the Funeral Director.

    By the way a friend of mine interviewed Dr B. a few years before the Dr B’s death – the man denied that any of it was his own idea (blaming the Transport Sec – Mr Marples).

    But someone like Marples could only operate because the railways has first been run into the ground (by government interventionism – especially in the two World Wars) and then nationalised.

  6. NickM says:

    Paul, I wished they had trains on that line.

    Oddly enough wrt Marples…I live near the town of Marple. A certain author was once delayed at Marple station and whilst bored conceived of a certain lady detective.

  7. JohnW says:

    @Paul Marks
    Hume’s principle contribution to philosophy was to invalidate the conceptual faculty.

    In the process he reduced man to the level of an animal dependent on instincts.

    He denied the validity of the senses, undermined our awareness of entities, he destroyed the the law of cause and effect, made reality unknowable, volition unsustainable, abstraction impossible. and turned all necessary truths into mere conventions.

    Was Hume dishonest?

    Of course.

    ALL sceptics are dishonest, the only exception was Cratylus – who renounced the power of speech and communicated by gesture.

    Kant just took the very worst of Hume and combined it with the very worst Plato – destroying the Enlightenment and setting the future Germany on its inevitable crusade against mankind.

    Heine was no hero either but when he described Kant as “world-annihilating” he wasn’t wrong.

  8. Paul Marks says:

    Strongly made points Sir.

  9. Paul Marks says:

    I see Nick – the origin of Miss Marple.

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