During World War I many things changed, lives were destroyed; dreams shattered, and many soldiers who went to war came back with a different view of life. This “lost generation” was one of the main reasons why the speakeasies and popular 20s culture arose. That culture arose because the men returning from the battlefield did not care. Especially when the African American soldiers returned from WWI. They changed their views also on their American Dream. These soldiers “the lost generation” are what made the 20s. The African American soldiers when upon returning to the United States were as lost as all the other soldiers were.
They had lost faith in society. The African American soldiers who returned from WWI were of a different demeanor they when they had left. Before they had left they were mostly acceptful of the status quo. They were lower class, and lacked the basic human civil rights that the rest of the country had. The few who sought change were suppressed or given no importance.
However during the war this all changed. Men who went into battle fought and died among men of many different races, although their battalions were different. They realized that the country they were fighting, and dying for was not giving them any rights at all. They were fighting for their country yet they did not receive the same treatment as all the other people did. “The race riots broke out in 29 American cities as African – American soldiers returning from Europe and demanding greater civil rights were opposed by mobs of whites.” (Jackson 25) The rest of the United States had people left behind who did not change and refused to give them their rights.
Thus the race riots began. This scared many white Americans and made them more suspicious of the African Americans. It is safe to say that during this time period the American Dream of most African Americans was to become equal among their non black peers. (Jackson 28) They wanted a similar good education and they wanted the best treatment possible.
The reason for this was because of the war. The was an eye opener for many white and non white people. They were fighting among foreigners of many countries and ethnic backgrounds. Most of who had equal rights in their own countries. This led them to question why they were fighting a war for a country that did not give them their own rights. However, this was only one of the impacts on the American Dream.
The second impact, and probably the one that caused the 20s downfall was the symptom of the “lost generation”. This term was used to describe the soldiers who were returning from the war. Most of the soldiers returning from the war had seen so much death and violence that they had lost faith in society. “The First World War was simply too violent and inhuman to be rationalized by and absorbed into the cultural fabric of early twentieth century Western thought. As a result, those who experienced the tragedy first hand, and many who did not, simply lost faith in the whole of Western thought.
The truth of the war stood contrary to the ‘truth’ as it was commonly known. Young men returning home after the war had seen something that simply did not fit into their version of reality. They questioned the unquestionable assumptions that all of their society and all of their ambitions were based on– they questioned these and found that they did not apply.” (Klock, On the Lost Generation) They had come all this way thinking that war was going to be like fancy war stories. However the reality was quite different. Trench warfare was used in WWI and they were forced to live in mud houses for months exposed to the elements, and inviting diseases such as gangrene.
The sheer horror of people losing limbs in battle right in front of them was starting to take a psychological toll. Shell shock, poison gas, and fighting for 2 meters of land at a time all contributed to this generations loss. The men returning from the war were depressed, disoriented and distraught. “These 3 Ds of downfall were also on of the reasons why the American Dream during this time was not profound in society, the result of which people did not care about society. They just wanted to have fun and try to forget the horrors of war.
This led to the popular “Roaring 20s.” The African Americans coming back from the War were also part of this lost culture, however they took too it differently then the white soldiers did. During this time the civil rights movement was ignited although it did not fully take form till the 60s. Most of the soldiers returning from WWI were cynical and suspicious of the government, which they had fought for. They believed that they had been used and that they had to gain equal rights.
Also many set up their own radical rights movements. The origins of the black panther group actually comes from the 1920s. An individual named “Francis” whose real identity remains a mystery actually formed a anti white group that attacked racisist organizations. The result of all this was automatically a great decline in American Society as we know it. It is now known as the Great Depression. There were two distict versions of the American Dream during World War I, the white soldier version, and the African American version. They may have been different, but they shared one common thing. They were both part of a group that formed the “lost generation”.
- Jackson, Andrew. The Downfall of Society. New Jersey: Harper, 1990 Klock, Brian.
- On the Lost Generation. New Hampshire: Lancelot, 1992 Watson, John. Lost Generation New Hamisphire: Lancelot, 1980 Zigger, John A. World War I. Jul 6, 1995. www.historychannel.com.