1922-2022. Two years in the turbulence of history
One would have to be clairvoyant to venture after only twenty-odd days that 2022 intends to transcend no less than 1922, notable for the events it brought.
We’ll see how it ends. But, in just a few weeks, 2022 has issued plenty of warnings that events along its journey could have memorable long-term consequences. They do not seem the best, except for the hopeful belief of science that we will leave behind the epidemic that has disturbed our lives and devastated the world with more than 5 million deaths.
Nick Rennison, prolific English writer specializing in Sherlock Holmes, has taken a break from the fiction author routine. He has left aside the life of the perceptive detective of 221B Baker Street, London, whom he treats as a real character, and has concentrated on what happened in the world exactly one hundred years ago.
Today, in Argentina we are on tenterhooks, only two months before March, when the agreement with the IMF should be signed to prevent the country from the feared jump into the void, and in the world, Russia and the NATO countries show such a teeth for Ukraine that it takes everything back to the most tense days of the Cold War.
Rennison knows well what 1922 meant as a precedent for the world tragedy that would unfold in stages, in some cases, and in simultaneous chapters, in others. Liberties were stifled and democratic institutions destroyed as a prelude to a new conflagration that would devastate Europe and other regions.
Almost when in Argentina Marcelo T. de Alvear began in 1922 what has been considered by many the best presidential period in Argentina in the 20th century, Lenin founded, two years before his death, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It agglomerated Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and the then Transcaucasia in a tyrannical leadership. The “new man” that the USSR was to embody in the dream of historical materialism grew old with premature rapidity. His sclerotized body from an early age said enough in 1991, after seven decades. He did not know the immortality to which the Bolsheviks aspired, but he had a longer life than the “thousand years” of the other great delirium of the 20th century. That of German National Socialism.
“Russia and the NATO countries show their teeth, and take everything back to the most tense days of the Cold War”
Benito Mussolini would be Hitler’s ally in World War II. In 1922 he had marched on Rome in his black shirts as president of the National Fascist Party. At the end of that show of force he was anointed president of the Italian council of ministers and in his early years received praise from blinded democratic leaders in their opposition to the communist totalitarianism that threatened to spread outside the USSR.
Although from the end of the 19th century the United States constituted a power of greater scale than the United Kingdom, still in 1922 it could be said that “the perfidious Albion”, as Napoleon disqualified it with dubious moral authority, was at the territorial apogee of its empire. . It covered more than 33 million square kilometers secured since 1884 by the distribution of Africa in zones of influence that the European powers had made among themselves.
However, 1922 would mark a crucial turning point for the integrity of the United Kingdom. The guerrilla independence war, from 1919 to 1921, led to the proclamation of the Irish Free State, with its capital in Dublin, while Northern Ireland clung to the Crown.
In November 1922, the Turkish national assembly dissolved the sultanate, which had lasted 623 years. This formalized the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, sentenced to death at the end of the First Great War. The last sultan, Mehmet VI, fled the palace he lived in in a British Army ambulance. He did it with the precaution, says the legend, of taking into exile the three most beautiful women of his harem.
Renison’s book Scenes from a Turbulent Year (“Scenes from a turbulent year”), edited by Old Castle Books, is set to leave readers breathless. Not because human nature has changed too much in a century. Just as Virginia Woolf, one of the great English writers, received the Ulises, by Joyce, appearing in 1922, as the work of a bored student scratching his ribs, as well Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, has said, without bending his knees under the weight of his enormous fantasy, that the Argentine government achieved a miracle of economic recovery last year. The reliability of titles and behaviors is sometimes relative; what matters is knowing the deep reasons why those who speak out of line.
Yes, the conditions of humanity have changed somewhat since that time. One concerns the longevity of the genre. We now live on average a third longer. Authors such as Francis Scott Fitzgerald point this out, without having intended it. He was one of those who faithfully portrayed the Roaring Twenties, the years 1921 to 1929 of jazz, art deco, and the doubling of American wealth, and mastery that gripped generations of readers. In soft is the night, one of his acclaimed novels, the protagonist, Dick Diver, is a psychiatrist versed in alienations caused by the 1914-1918 war. There is talk of the disappearance of a parson, and Dick casually reports: “What did he die of? Old: he was seventy-five years old. He had lived for many years.”
The twenty hours of wandering Leopold Bloom, “a nobody”, through the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904, constituted an Irish cake that was difficult to digest, even for an accomplished intellectual like Virginia Woolf. It was too thick that Joyce’s intricate reference to characters and situations of the Odyssey or to the spirituality of other masterpieces, such as Divine Comedy. Borges, half jokingly, half seriously, once confided that he had refrained from reading the almost 800 pages of the book in its entirety. Ulises.
As if Joyce’s famous work had not been enough to controvert the canon of world literature, 1922 moved with a second work of historical relevance, The Waste Land (“The Waste Land”), by TS Eliot. In 1948, the author won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and many decades later, an admirable translation into Spanish was published for the Argentine Academy of Letters, by Rolando Costa Picazo. A long poem, Costa Picazo stated, like those of the 18th and 19th centuries, “with a technique of juxtaposition and fragmentation… and a display of erudition that made it particularly difficult and dark”, but with which Eliot “changed the poetic map of radical way”.
“Scenes from a turbulent year” has brought to mind a misstep of our colleagues from The New York Times, whose pages the battered Stiglitz has been a regular contributor to for years. The edition of November 21, 1922 is cited as the first article in which the famous newspaper really dealt with Hitler, but more than anything for having slipped that in his private life he was not as violent or genuine an anti-Semitism as he appeared. .
In 1922 there were other events to highlight a hundred years later. Following the death of Benedict XV, the Archbishop of Milan, Achille Ratti, a man of extraordinary culture, was elected pope. He governed the destinies of the Church as Pius XI and in 1929 agreed with Mussolini on the Lateran treaties, which gave rise to the Vatican State. In 1922, Niels Bohr, from Denmark, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory of atomic structure, and we already know what that all ended up with in 1945. A year earlier Einstein had won it for his contributions to theoretical physics and for work on the photoelectric effect. Viper voices are still heard conjecturing that they did not distinguish him for the theory of relativity because this was then outside the full understanding of those who conferred the high distinction in Sweden.
Everything is possible: even that a Nobel Prize winner has said that the current Argentine government has been capable of producing an economic miracle due to the degree of reactivation achieved in 2021. It forgot, of course, to discount the brutal losses in GDP in 2020, in the midst, among other incidents, of the stoppage of activities due to the pandemic. A miracle, a true miracle of 2022, would be an archeology discovery at the height of Howard Carter’s fabulous conquest in 1922: the tomb of Tutankhamun, which he discovered in the Valley of the Kings.
Borges would have simplified the critical procedures: “Stiglitz has a meticulous lack of memory.”