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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970

Sixty Years of Shattered Dreams

Sixty Years of Shattered Dreams

The next 60 years were to shatter most of these dreams. Such hopes of benevolent humanists as survived the sodden, boggy hells of Flanders were racked almost beyond restoration in the economic disasters of the Great Depression. The First World War revealed technology's enormous power to destroy, and the twenties and thirties its impotence to re-shape and re-make a botched civilization.

It seems that western man could not or would not read the lessons of those 25 years, those testimonies of bis ineptitude. Throughout the forties, fifties and sixties he has been engaged in a repeat performance with devices more terrifying and results more impersonally brutal than ever before. The troubles of man are seen not to reside in his technological dexterity but in his emotional and political infantilism. If Bertrand Russell was right in believing that "people do not care so much for their own survival—or indeed that of the human race-as for the extermination of their enemies", we are indeed in terrible straits; for science and technology have given us weapons—nuclear, chemical, biological—that make extermination now completely practical.

It is hardly surprising that the optimism of the Victorians and the Edwardians has given way to a prevailing despondency. Medawar recently remarked that there is a preoccupation with failure, separation, loss, disaster. Yeats wrote prophetically fifty years ago:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Of course, not everything has fallen apart, and not all was loss in the disastrous years 1914-45. Science, for example, gained a growing political respectability. Politicians and others in places of power came to appreciate science for what it could do for them. Science, which once ran on a shoestring and was proud of it, has now come to command budgets of millions—not only, of course, for warlike aims. Since science has useful ends, and the primal fount of all science is the universities, the universities have come into positions of unprecedented wealth and power.