One of my hobbies is to browse the pages of the (London) Times from a hundred years ago. As I intend (though I promise nothing) to write the odd post around articles from the time I thought it might be a good idea to describe (as best I can) the world in 1912. Or, at least, the world as seen through the pages of the Times which is a potentially dangerous thing to do. Imagine, for instance, describing the world of 2012 with the BBC News as your only source.
I cannot read articles from 1912 without being aware that there’s a big war coming up. A huge war. A Great War. A war that will change just about everything. Mostly for the worse. But can I see it coming? Not really. There clearly are tensions between Britain and Germany. Last year two British officers (Brandon and Trench) were jailed for spying. Seeing as one of them went on to become a leading light in MI6 it looks like the Germans got their man. More to the point it demonstrates that there is a lot of distrust.
More recently, the German press has been up in arms over a visit by British parliamentarians to Russia. They feel they’re being surrounded.
Mind you the road to war is not an entirely straight one. It’s recently emerged that a French Prime Minister tried to give French Congo to Germany in an attempt to smooth feathers ruffled in the Morocco Crisis. (No, I don’t understand what it was about either). The Prime Minister, Caillaux, had to resign. He will pop up again in July 1914 when his wife is goes on trial accused of the murder of a newspaper editor. Despite being as guilty as sin she gets off.
In Germany, the socialists have done very well in the recent elections to the Reichstag and become the biggest party. While I am a bit shaky on what influence the Reichstag has (not a lot, I think) I suspect this has deeply worried the Prussian military.
This is a global trend. Buy democracy and socialism. Sell God and monarchy.
In Britain, there was a national rail strike in August, and a major coal strike is about to start. This comes after last year’s major coal strike which ended in riots and the use of troops. The army was also called out to a few months later to put down riots in Liverpool.
When it comes to radicalism (i.e. making things worse), Britain’s Liberal-led government knocks modern British governments into a cocked hat. It has massively expanded the state pension, neutered the House of Lords, nationalised the telephone network, is in the process of nationalising general practitioners and introducing devolution to Ireland. Ulster objects and Winston Churchill recently had to call off a planned meeting in Belfast due to concerns over security.
Opium is about to be banned. Mostly, it seems, to help the Chinese emperor. Although, given the recent revolution there it would appear he is beyond help. It is far from obvious that opium is much of a problem domestically.
Crime. There are certainly plenty of murders. If there is a difference in reporting between now and then it is the reporting of the minor crimes. Last week the Times reported a case of GBH only just down the road from where I currently live. I don’t think it would do that these days.
Suffragettes (or suffragists, as they seem to be called). They appear to have won the argument. I have yet to see a serious argument against votes for women expressed in the Times. And yet, there is no plan, timetable or bill for its introduction. My understanding is that at the time many men couldn’t vote. In its New Year editorial the Times warns of the dangers of “extreme democracy”. Yes, but what’s your alternative Lord Northcliffe?
Italy is in the process of taking Libya off the Turks.
America is mostly harmless.
Times editorial, 1 January 1912: