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The Crisis

The Crisis


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The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was established in February, 1909. The NAACP started its own magazine, Crisis in November, 1910. It was named after a popular poem, The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell. The magazine was edited by William Du Bois and the first edition had sixteen page magazine and cost 10 cents a copy.

In his first editorial William Du Bois said that Crisis would "be first and foremost a newspaper", and secondly, it would serve as a review of opinion and literature. Finally it would stand "for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals."

Early contributors to early issues included Oswald Garrison Villard, Jane Addams, Adela Hunt Logan, Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells and Charles Edward Russell. The magazine soon built up a large readership amongst black people and white sympathizers. In January, 1911, it sold 3,000, February 4,000 and March 6,000. Circulation reached 50,000 by 1917 and peaked at 100,000 in 1919. This made it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.

In the journal William Du Bois campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow laws, sexual inequality. He told his readers in October, 1911, that "every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women's suffrage." In 1912 he supported Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate for president. He particularly admired the way that Debs refused to address segregated audiences in the South.

William Du Bois supported United States involvement in the First World War. This caused him to break with the editors of other African American journals such as Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph (The Messenger) and Hubert Harrison (The Voice). Harrison was particularly upset by an article in The Crisis where he argued that: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks."

The circulation of The Crisis continued to grow. The average monthly sales reached 30,000 in 1915. Sometimes members of the NAACP board questioned the methods that William Du Bois used to promote the magazine. The use of a light-skinned beautiful woman on the front-cover caused a great deal of controversy and Oswald Garrison Villard was one of the many members of the organisation who complained.

The Crisis continued to grow and in September 1916 circulation almost reached 50,000. The magazine finally reached its editor's objective when the December, 1918 edition sold 53,750 copies. The following year it was selling 100,000 copies a month making it more popular than established journals such as the New Republic and The Nation.

Although Du Bois had originally been sympathetic to Black Nationalism, after the First World War he became highly critical of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Du Bois described the leader of the UNIA as "a lunatic or traitor" and Garvey retaliated by calling him a "white man's ******".

William Du Bois became increasingly militant and by the 1930s he was accused of being a Marxist. After a controversial editorial in January, 1934, the NAACP board demanded that unless he reflected the views of the organization he should resign. This he agreed to do and was replaced by the more moderate Roy Wilkins.

Every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women's suffrage; every argument for women's suffrage is an argument for Negro suffrage; both are great moments in democracy. There should be on the part of Negroes absolutely no hesitation whenever and wherever responsible human beings are without voice in their government. The man of Negro blood who hesitates to do them justice is false to his race, his ideals and his country.

The Progressive Party recognizes that distinctions of race or class in political life have no place in a democracy. Especially does the party realize that a group of 10,000,000 people who have in a generation changed from a slave to a free labour system, re-established family, life, accumulated $1,000,000,000 in property, including 20,000,000 acres of land, and reduced their illiteracy from 80 to 30 per cent, deserve and must have justice, opportunity and a voice in their own government. The party, therefore, demands for the American of Negro descent the repeal of unfair discriminatory laws and the right to vote on the same terms on which other citizens vote.

Booker T. Washington was the greatest Negro leader since Frederick Douglass, and the most distinguished man, white or black who has come out of the South since the Civil War. On the other hand, in stern justice, we must lay on the soul of this man, a heavy responsibility for the consummation of Negro disfranchisement, the decline of the Negro college and the firmer establishment of color caste in this land.

The essence of the present situation lies in the fact that the people whom our white masters have "recognized" as our leaders (without taking the trouble to consult us) and those who, by our own selection, has actually attained to leadership among us are being revaluated and, in most cases, rejected. The most striking instance from the latter class is Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, the editor of the Crisis. Du Bois's case is the more significant because his former services to his race have been undoubtedly of a high and courageous sort.

Dr. Du Bois first palpably sinned in his editorial, "Close Ranks". But this offense lies in a single sentence: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks." It is felt by all his critics that Du Bois, of all Negroes, knows best that our "special grievances", which the War Department Bulletin describes as justifiable, consists of lynching, segregation and disfranchisement and that the Negroes of America cannot preserve either their lives, their manhood or their vote (which is their political lives and liberties) with these things in existence.

"How about lynching, Senator? About the Costigan-Wagner bill in congress and that lynching down there yesterday in Franklinton..."

He ducked the Costigan-Wagner bill, but of course, everyone knows he is against it. He cut me off on the Franklinton lynching and hastened in with his "pat" explanation:

"You mean down in Washington parish (county)? Oh, that? That one slipped up on us. Too bad, but those slips will happen. You know while I was governor there were no lynchings and since this man (Governor Allen) has been in he hasn't had any. (There have been 7 lynchings in Louisiana in the last two years.) This one slipped up. I can't do nothing about it. No sir. Can't do the dead nigra no good. Why, if I tried to go after those lynchers it might cause a hundred more ******s to be killed. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

"But you control Louisiana," I persisted, "you could..."

"Yeah, but it's not that simple. I told you there are some things even Huey Long can't get away with. We'll just have to watch out for the next one. Anyway that ****** was guilty of coldblooded murder."

"But your own supreme court had just granted him a new trial."

"Sure we got a law which allows a reversal on technical points. This ****** got hold of a smart lawyer somewhere and proved a technicality. He was guilty as hell. But we'll catch the next lynching."

One day, as I walked to the hotel from the university, I was attracted by a copy of the Crisis, on display in the window of a

bookstore. This was the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and what particularly struck me was the headline "Close Ranks." It turned out to be the title of an editorial written by W. Du Bois, the magazine's editor. His injunction that colored people should support the U.S. war effort did not correspond with my own thoughts on the subject. But I wanted to examine the arguments in support of the opposite viewpoint. Walking into that store was like walking into a new life. Emanuel Levine, a short, stocky man of about 30, with a shock of black hair and a muscular body that made me think of a wrestler, greeted me cordially.

It was not surprising that a discontented Black law student should find pleasure in a place where he could engage in

friendly and informative discussions. At school they were teaching me to accommodate to the racist society in which I

lived, while in the bookstore I began to learn some fundamentals about the nature of that society and how to go about

changing it.

I became acquainted with the Masses, a militant magazine that published lively social criticism of the entire American

scene. I was introduced to Marxist literature and books; I read the Messenger, a magazine published in New York by two

young Black radicals - A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. I was stirred by its analyses of the source of Black oppression and the attempt to identify it with the international revolution against working-class oppression and colonialism. This was an enriching and exhilarating experience.


The Crisis

The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested to—day toward colored people. It takes its name from the fact that the editors believe that this is a critical time in the history of the advancement of men. Catholicity and tolerance, reason and forbearance can to—day make the world—old dream of human brotherhood approach realization while bigotry and prejudice, emphasized race consciousness and force can repeat the awful history of the contact of nations and groups in the past. We strive for this higher and broader vision of Peace and Good Will.

The policy of THE CRISIS will be simple and well defined:

It will first and foremost be a newspaper: it will record important happenings and movements in the world which bear on the great problem of inter—racial relations, and especially those which affect the Negro—American.

Secondly, it will be a review of opinion and literature, recording briefly books, articles, and important expressions of opinion in the white and colored press on the race problem.

Thirdly, it will publish a few short articles.

Finally, its editorial page will stand for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempt to gain these rights and realize these ideals. The magazine will be the organ of no clique or party and will avoid personal rancor of all sorts. In the absence of proof to the contrary it will assume honesty of purpose on the part of all men, North and South, white and black.


How Today’s American Crisis Is Different

R arely in history has the United States been so deeply divided as it is today. As Neil Howe and the late William Strauss predicted more than 20 years ago, we have entered the fourth great crisis of our national life. The first two were the American Revolution and the Civil War, and a third took place from 1929 through 1945, as the nation was threatened by economic collapse and foreign war. According to their theory, these critical eras occur every 80 years.

Certainly Americans are entitled to hope that the new crisis will not end with hostile armies marching through our territory and fighting battles, as they did in 1775-1781, and on a much larger scale in 1861-1865. Yet sadly, though the physical scale of the problem may seem smaller, the way out of crisis is less clear now than it was in those earlier times. That is because the critical element that saved American institutions then&mdashthe nation&rsquos ability to come together and embark upon a great enterprise to solve a critical problem&mdashis almost completely lacking.

The enemy in the first great crisis, from about 1774 through 1783, was of course the British crown, which had reacted to colonial resistance to taxation by sending troops across the ocean and imposing martial law. Feeling that these steps had deprived them of their rights and liberties under the British constitution, most colonists went to war. Though some Tories remained loyal to the crown, and some collaborated with the British Army when it occupied their neighborhoods, the revolutionaries generally had a common and easily identifiable enemy. After a disastrous interregnum in the mid-1780s, the need to form a new national government provided a second great task to unite the people. They emerged stronger, dedicated to the new Constitution that they had created.

Nearly a century later, the debate over slavery and the civil war that resulted divided the nation largely&mdashthough not completely&mdashalong regional lines. The war cost the nation more lives than any other, but it bound both the North and South together, each side in support of its own cause: the maintenance of the Confederacy and slavery in the white south, and the maintenance of the union and the abolition of slavery in the North and among the slaves themselves. The two sides fought with equal purpose and commitment. In the North, the Republican Party&mdashwhich won six consecutive presidential elections from 1860 through 1880&mdashwas the party that had won the war and preserved the union. The war helped integrate immigrant groups like the Irish and Germans into national life, because they helped fight it. In the South, sadly, a new white ruling class emerged from reconstruction, reconciled to the union but dedicated to the preservation of white supremacy. Within each larger group, a widely shared goal could be identified.

As much as any democratically elected leader in history, Franklin Roosevelt&mdashwho took office in 1933, in the midst of the third great national crisis, the Great Depression&mdashunderstood the importance of enlisting the nation in a great task. Though Americans may have differed about how to achieve it, all agreed that fixing the economy was the primary goal. During his first eight years in office he focused on increasing employment, securing the rights of organized labor, passing social security and rebuilding the nation&rsquos infrastructure. Beginning in 1940, he focused on preparing for world war, and succeeded so brilliantly that by the time of his death in 1945 the United States was on the verge of victory over all its enemies. That crusading spirit, at home and abroad, held the nation together for another twenty years, and black and white Americans drew upon it to create the civil rights movement. Even the controversy over the Vietnam War failed to destroy the postwar consensus. As late as 1968, a broad consensus still prevailed among the political elite and among most older Americans. Realizing this, Richard Nixon promised to &ldquobring us together,&rdquo reduce violence at home and bring an end to the Vietnam War. He parlayed those statements into a highly successful first term in office.

Today, there is no common purpose and no legacy of recent achievements upon which to build. The two parties live in different mental universes.

Much of the old political order has collapsed: this week the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump, who had virtually no ties to its leadership, for president. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, seems likely to run as the representative of the status quo and the center-left ideological consensus that Trump&rsquos followers reject. The low favorability ratings of both candidates suggest that either will have great difficulty rallying opposition voters after the election. No matter who wins, it seems likely that the election will leave the country more divided than ever.

What common purpose could unite the nation today? Not foreign war, surely. America&rsquos endless conflict in the Middle East, fought by its small professional army, lost any power to inspire citizens years ago, and now drags on while the problem it was supposed to address&mdashterrorism&mdashgets worse and worse. The hawkish Clinton would hardly create a new national consensus by taking more military action in the Middle East. If Trump wins, a crusade to rid the nation of millions of immigrants could trigger widespread violence at home. There is enormous work to do regarding infrastructure, economic inequality, the cost of education climate change and more, but none of those issues has seized the public imagination as the single primary problem&mdashand all of them are the subject of political gridlock.

Of the three previous crises, the Civil War probably offers the most useful comparison. It was horribly bloody, it did not secure real citizenship for the former slaves and it led to an era of weak government, all-powerful corporations and inequality. But the nation, the Constitution and the government survived, allowing for further progress on many fronts in the 20th century. The survival of such institutions may be the best America can hope for over the next ten years. Survival now remains the critical goal. Rebirth must come later.

Historians explain how the past informs the present

David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. He lives in Watertown, Mass.


Plastic pollution: Where we are today

Now, plastic is even more of a daily staple than it was after the events of World War II. Many people groom their hair with plastic combs, brush their teeth with plastic toothbrushes, and drink from plastic cups just after waking up in the morning. This material has made life convenient for many through its durable yet affordable quality. However, this same sturdiness makes it impossible to biodegrade — instead, it remains in the environment for decades.

The history of plastic pollution in the ocean is extensive because of plastic's long life. The material never truly goes away — it merely breaks apart into microplastics that marine animals ingest and absorb. Three species of fish in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean have been found to have polyethylene and polyester microplastics in their bodies. Because people often catch and eat these species, microplastics may also begin having harmful effects on humans.

There is no single cause of this phenomenon. Examining plastic pollution history facts reveals that numerous factors have contributed to the prevalence of this material. Although the issue seems vast, it can be solved through joint efforts. We must first identify the most significant causes and effects before taking action. Being informed helps you understand the problem on a deeper level and pinpoint ways you can assist in supporting the planet's health.

Here are some contributing factors that have influenced the widespread nature of plastic pollution:

Global urbanization

City expansion calls for more materials, whether people use them for everyday applications or to build new structures. As populations grow, so does the amount of plastic that people consume and dispose of. One study found that 90% of ocean plastic originates from only 10 river systems, which are all located near highly populated areas. These high population rates combine with less-than-ideal waste management systems to create a severe plastic problem.

A high population by itself isn't the only contributor to plastic consumption, though it does play a vital part. Cities and countries with millions of people can succeed with plastic recycling if they adopt more effective, organized techniques for disposing of the material. Change must also occur on an industrial level, however. Many industries know how lucrative and long-lasting plastic is and continue manufacturing it because there are few better alternatives for mass production.

Lack of recycling infrastructure

A major reason why not enough plastic makes it to recycling facilities is because these plants don't have the means to process it. In 2017, the U.S. produced 35.4 million tons of plastic (32.1 million metric tons (MT)) but only recycled about 8.4% of it. Out of those plastics, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and HDPE had the highest recycling rates — because they're the only two that are relatively easy to reuse.

Most other types prove difficult to reuse in various ways, whether because of poor material structure — like plastic film and plastic bags — or toxicity. Straws are too lightweight and get stuck in the machines, while bags become entangled in the mechanical parts. Additionally, the different types of plastic require precise sorting to ensure they're recycled properly, which many facilities don't have enough resources for.

Some companies are implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for better sorting practices. This ensures that each material makes it to its rightful place within the recycling process instead of traveling to landfills. Others are looking to chemical processing as a solution, which converts plastics into their original raw forms for reuse.

Not enough knowledge of plastic

It's difficult for people to reduce their plastic consumption and dispose of their single-use products if they don't know the best recycling techniques. Not everyone is intimately familiar with the plastic resin codes or what they mean, nor do the codes themselves give a very detailed look at the plastics. You can find those numbers on any plastic product you own, but unless you already know the details of each material, you won't know which ones are recyclable.

Decreasing global plastic consumption depends on communicating plastic pollution facts. It's essential for researchers, companies, and governments to be transparent about plastic consumption and how it has impacted planet Earth. Education initiatives for individuals of every age can help people ensure their single-use plastics make it to the recycling plant instead of a local waterway or landfill.


The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was a direct and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict. The crisis was unique in a number of ways, featuring calculations and miscalculations as well as direct and secret communications and miscommunications between the two sides. The dramatic crisis was also characterized by the fact that it was primarily played out at the White House and the Kremlin level with relatively little input from the respective bureaucracies typically involved in the foreign policy process.

After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt. Construction of several missile sites began in the late summer, but U.S. intelligence discovered evidence of a general Soviet arms build-up on Cuba, including Soviet IL–28 bombers, during routine surveillance flights, and on September 4, 1962, President Kennedy issued a public warning against the introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba. Despite the warning, on October 14 a U.S. U–2 aircraft took several pictures clearly showing sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction in Cuba. These images were processed and presented to the White House the next day, thus precipitating the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy summoned his closest advisers to consider options and direct a course of action for the United States that would resolve the crisis. Some advisers—including all the Joint Chiefs of Staff—argued for an air strike to destroy the missiles, followed by a U.S. invasion of Cuba others favored stern warnings to Cuba and the Soviet Union. The President decided upon a middle course. On October 22, he ordered a naval “quarantine” of Cuba. The use of “quarantine” legally distinguished this action from a blockade, which assumed a state of war existed the use of “quarantine” instead of “blockade” also enabled the United States to receive the support of the Organization of American States.

That same day, Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev declaring that the United States would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba, and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed, and return all offensive weapons to the U.S.S.R. The letter was the first in a series of direct and indirect communications between the White House and the Kremlin throughout the remainder of the crisis.

The President also went on national television that evening to inform the public of the developments in Cuba, his decision to initiate and enforce a “quarantine,” and the potential global consequences if the crisis continued to escalate. The tone of the President’s remarks was stern, and the message unmistakable and evocative of the Monroe Doctrine: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced a military readiness status of DEFCON 3 as U.S. naval forces began implementation of the quarantine and plans accelerated for a military strike on Cuba.

On October 24, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s message with a statement that the U.S. “blockade” was an “act of aggression” and that Soviet ships bound for Cuba would be ordered to proceed. Nevertheless, during October 24 and 25, some ships turned back from the quarantine line others were stopped by U.S. naval forces, but they contained no offensive weapons and so were allowed to proceed. Meanwhile, U.S. reconnaissance flights over Cuba indicated the Soviet missile sites were nearing operational readiness. With no apparent end to the crisis in sight, U.S. forces were placed at DEFCON 2—meaning war involving the Strategic Air Command was imminent. On October 26, Kennedy told his advisors it appeared that only a U.S. attack on Cuba would remove the missiles, but he insisted on giving the diplomatic channel a little more time. The crisis had reached a virtual stalemate.

That afternoon, however, the crisis took a dramatic turn. ABC News correspondent John Scali reported to the White House that he had been approached by a Soviet agent suggesting that an agreement could be reached in which the Soviets would remove their missiles from Cuba if the United States promised not to invade the island. While White House staff scrambled to assess the validity of this “back channel” offer, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message the evening of October 26, which meant it was sent in the middle of the night Moscow time. It was a long, emotional message that raised the specter of nuclear holocaust, and presented a proposed resolution that remarkably resembled what Scali reported earlier that day. “If there is no intention,” he said, “to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.”

Although U.S. experts were convinced the message from Khrushchev was authentic, hope for a resolution was short-lived. The next day, October 27, Khrushchev sent another message indicating that any proposed deal must include the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. That same day a U.S. U–2 reconnaissance jet was shot down over Cuba. Kennedy and his advisors prepared for an attack on Cuba within days as they searched for any remaining diplomatic resolution. It was determined that Kennedy would ignore the second Khrushchev message and respond to the first one. That night, Kennedy set forth in his message to the Soviet leader proposed steps for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba under supervision of the United Nations, and a guarantee that the United States would not attack Cuba.

It was a risky move to ignore the second Khrushchev message. Attorney General Robert Kennedy then met secretly with Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, and indicated that the United States was planning to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey anyway, and that it would do so soon, but this could not be part of any public resolution of the missile crisis. The next morning, October 28, Khrushchev issued a public statement that Soviet missiles would be dismantled and removed from Cuba.

The crisis was over but the naval quarantine continued until the Soviets agreed to remove their IL–28 bombers from Cuba and, on November 20, 1962, the United States ended its quarantine. U.S. Jupiter missiles were removed from Turkey in April 1963.

The Cuban missile crisis stands as a singular event during the Cold War and strengthened Kennedy’s image domestically and internationally. It also may have helped mitigate negative world opinion regarding the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Two other important results of the crisis came in unique forms. First, despite the flurry of direct and indirect communications between the White House and the Kremlin—perhaps because of it—Kennedy and Khrushchev, and their advisers, struggled throughout the crisis to clearly understand each others’ true intentions, while the world hung on the brink of possible nuclear war. In an effort to prevent this from happening again, a direct telephone link between the White House and the Kremlin was established it became known as the “Hotline.” Second, having approached the brink of nuclear conflict, both superpowers began to reconsider the nuclear arms race and took the first steps in agreeing to a nuclear Test Ban Treaty.


The 2008 financial crisis explained

The 2008 crash was the greatest jolt to the global financial system in almost a century – it pushed the world's banking system towards the edge of collapse. We explore the causes and consequences of the crash, consider its historical parallels, and ask – how will history remember the crisis?

This competition is now closed

Published: April 15, 2021 at 2:15 pm

Your guide to the 2008 financial crisis, including expert analysis from…

  • Martin Daunton, emeritus professor of economic history at the University of Cambridge
  • Scott Newton, emeritus professor of modern British and international history at the University of Cardiff
  • Dr Linda Yueh, an economist at Oxford University and London Business School

What was the 2008 financial crisis?

The 2008 crash was the greatest jolt to the global financial system in almost a century – it pushed the world’s banking system towards the edge of collapse.

Within a few weeks in September 2008, Lehman Brothers, one of the world’s biggest financial institutions, went bankrupt £90bn was wiped off the value of Britain’s biggest companies in a single day and there was even talk of cash machines running empty.

When did it begin?

On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers [a Wall Street investment bank] filed for bankruptcy. This is generally considered to be the day the economic crisis began in earnest. The then-president George W Bush announced that there would be no bail-out. “Lehmans, one of the oldest, richest, most powerful investment banks in the world, was not too big to fail,” says the Telegraph.

What caused the 2008 financial crash?

The 2008 financial crash had long roots but it wasn’t until September 2008 that its effects became apparent to the world.

The immediate trigger was a combination of speculative activity in the financial markets, focusing particularly on property transactions – especially in the USA and western Europe – and the availability of cheap credit, says Scott Newton, emeritus professor of modern British and international history at the University of Cardiff.

“There was borrowing on a huge scale to finance what appeared to be a one-way bet on rising property prices. But the boom was ultimately unsustainable because, from around 2005, the gap between incomes and debt began to widen. This was caused by rising energy prices on global markets, leading to an increase in the rate of global inflation.

“This development squeezed borrowers, many of whom struggled to repay mortgages. Property prices now started to fall, leading to a collapse in the values of the assets held by many financial institutions. The banking sectors of the USA and the UK came very close to collapse and had to be rescued by state intervention.”

“Excessive financial liberalisation from the late 20th century, accompanied by a reduction in regulation, was underpinned by confidence that markets are efficient,” says Martin Daunton, emeritus professor of economic history at the University of Cambridge.

Where did the crisis start?

“The crash first struck the banking and financial system of the United States, with spill-overs into Europe,” Daunton explains. “Here, another crisis – one of sovereign debt – arose from the flawed design of the eurozone this allowed countries such as Greece to borrow on similar terms to Germany in the confidence that the eurozone would bail out the debtors.

“When the crisis hit, the European Central Bank refused to reschedule or mutualise debt and instead offered a rescue package – on the condition that the stricken nations pursued policies of austerity.”

Was the 2008 financial crisis predicted?

Back in 2003, as editor of The Real World Economic Outlook, the UK-based author and economist Ann Pettifor predicted an Anglo-American debt-deflationary crisis. This was followed by The Coming First World Debt Crisis (2006), which became a bestseller after the global financial crisis.

But, Newton explains, “the crash caught economists and commentators cold because most of them have been brought up to view the free market order as the only workable economic model available. This conviction was strengthened by the dissolution of the USSR, and China’s turn towards capitalism, along with financial innovations that led to the mistaken belief that the system was foolproof.”

Was the 2008 financial crisis unusual in being so sudden and so unexpected?

“There was a complacent assumption that crises were a thing of the past, and that there was a ‘great moderation’ – the idea that, over the previous 20 or so years, macroeconomic volatility had declined,” says Daunton.

“The variability in inflation and output had declined to half of the level of the 1980s, so that the economic uncertainty of households and firms was reduced and employment was more stable.

“In 2004, Ben Bernanke, a governor of the Federal Reserve who served as chairman from 2006 to 2014, was confident that a number of structural changes had increased economies’ ability to absorb shocks, and also that macroeconomic policy – above all monetary policy – was much better in controlling inflation.

“In congratulating himself for the Fed’s successful managing of monetary policy, Bernanke was not taking account of the instability caused by the financial sector (and nor were most of his fellow economists). However, the risks were apparent to those who considered that an economy is inherently prone to shocks.”

Newton adds that the 2008 crisis “was more sudden than the two previous crashes of the post-1979 era: the property crash of the late 1980s and the currency crises of the late 1990s. This is largely because of the central role played by the banks of major capitalist states. These lend large volumes of money to each other as well as to governments, businesses and consumers.

“Given the advent of 24-hour and computerised trading, and the ongoing deregulation of the financial sector, it was inevitable that a major financial crisis in capitalist centres as large as the USA and the UK would be transmitted rapidly across global markets and banking systems. It was also inevitable that it would cause a sudden drying up of monetary flows.”

How closely did the events of 2008 mirror previous economic crises, such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929?

There are some parallels with 1929, says Newton, “the most salient being the reckless speculation, dependence on credit, and grossly unequal distribution of income.

“However, the Wall Street Crash moved across the globe more gradually than its counterpart in 2007–08. There were currency and banking crises in Europe, Australia and Latin America but these did not erupt until 1930–31 or even later. The US experienced bank failures in 1930–31 but the major banking crisis there did not occur until late 1932 into 1933.”

Dr Linda Yueh, an economist at Oxford University and London Business School, adds: “Every crisis is different but this one shared some similarities with the Great Crash of 1929. Both exemplify the dangers of having too much debt in asset markets (stocks in 1929 housing in 2008).”

Highlighting distinctions between the two crises, Daunton says: “Crises follow a similar pattern – overconfidence succeeded by collapse – but those of 1929 and 2008 were characterised by different fault lines and tensions. The state was much smaller in the 1930s (constraining its ability to intervene) and international capital flows were comparatively tiny.

“There were also differences in monetary policy. By abandoning the gold standard in 1931 and 1933, Britain and America regained autonomy in monetary policy. However, the Germans and French remained on gold, which hindered their recovery.

“The post-First World War settlement hampered international co-operation in 1929: Britain resented its debt to the United States, and Germany resented having to pay war reparations. Meanwhile, primary producers were seriously hit by the fall in the price of food and raw materials, and by Europe’s turn to self-sufficiency.”

How did politicians and policymakers try to ‘solve’ the 2008 financial crisis?

Initially, policymakers reacted quite successfully, says Newton. “Following the ideas of [influential interwar economist] John Maynard Keynes, governments didn’t use public spending cuts as a means of reducing debt. Instead, there were modest national reflations, designed to sustain economic activity and employment, and replenish bank and corporate balance sheets via growth.

“These packages were supplemented by a major expansion of the IMF’s resources, to assist nations in severe deficit and offset pressures on them to cut back which could set off a downward spiral of trade. Together, these steps prevented the onset of a major global slump in output and employment.

“By 2010, outside the USA, these measures had been generally suspended in favour of ‘austerity’, meaning severe economies in public spending. Austerity led to national and international slowdowns, notably in the UK and the eurozone. It did not, however, provoke a slump – largely thanks to massive spending on the part of China, which, for example, consumed 45 per cent more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the US had used in the whole of the 20th century.”

Daunton adds: “Quantitative easing worked in stopping the crisis becoming as intense as in the Great Depression. The international institutions of the World Trade Organisation also played their part, preventing a trade war. But historians might look back and point to grievances that arose from the decision to bail out the financial sector, and the impact of austerity on citizens’ quality of life.”

What were the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis?

In the short term, an enormous bail-out – governments pumping billions into stricken banks – averted a complete collapse of the financial system. In the long term, the impact of the crash has been enormous: depressed wages, austerity and deep political instability. Ten years on, we’re still living with the consequences.

Financial crisis glossary

Asset markets refer to classes of assets – houses, equities, bonds – each of which is traded with similar regulations and behaviour.

Debt-deflation is the process by which, in a period of falling prices, interest on debt takes an increasing share of declining income and so reduces the amount of money available for consumption.

The Gold Standard fixed exchange rates by the amount of gold in their currencies. As a result, it was not possible to vary exchange rates to solve a balance of payments (the difference between payments into and out of a country) deficit, and instead costs were driven down and competitiveness restored by deflationary policies.

The International Monetary Fund is an organisation created in 1944 which now concentrates on structural reform of developing economies and resolving crises caused by debt.

Macroeconomics refers to the behaviour and performance of the economy as a whole, by considering general economic factors such as the price level, productivity and interest rates.

Monetary policy uses the supply of money and interest rates to influence economic activity. This is in contrast to fiscal policy which depends on changes in taxation or government spending.

Mutualisation of debt entails moving from a government bond that is the responsibility of a single member of the eurozone to make it the joint responsibility of all members.

Quantitative easing is the process by which a central bank purchases government bonds and other financial assets from private financial institutions. The institutions selling assets now have more money and the cost of borrowing is reduced. Individuals and businesses can borrow more, so boosting spending and increasing employment – though it is also possible that, when this process was employed, money went into buying equities, so boosting the gains of richer people.

Reflation refers to the use of policies that are employed to boost demand and increase the level of economic activity by increasing the money supply or reducing taxes, and so breaking the debt-deflation cycle.

Sovereign debt is the debt of national governments, with interest and repayment secured by taxation. If debt was too high, the country might default. This became a risk in 2010, above all in Greece.

This article was compiled from a feature in the October 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine which interviewed a panel of experts…

Martin Daunton, emeritus professor of economic history at the University of Cambridge and co-editor of The Political Economy of Public Finance (Cambridge, 2017)

Scott Newton, emeritus professor of modern British and international history at the University of Cardiff and author of The Reinvention of Britain 1960–2016: A Political and Economic History (Routledge, 2017)

Dr Linda Yueh, an economist at Oxford University and London Business School and author of The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today (Viking, 2018)


December 5, 2011

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com. Click here to listen to the author discuss the water politics of the American West.
&ensp
Consider it a taste of the future: the fire, smoke, drought, dust and heat that have made life unpleasant, if not dangerous, from Louisiana to Los Angeles. New records tell the tale: biggest wildfire ever recorded in Arizona (538,049 acres), biggest fire ever in New Mexico (156,600 acres), all-time worst fire year in Texas history (3,697,000 acres).

The fires were a function of drought. As of summer&rsquos end, 2011 was the driest year in 117 years of record keeping for New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, and the second driest for Oklahoma. Those fires also resulted from record heat. It was the hottest summer ever recorded for New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, as well as the hottest August ever for those states, plus Arizona and Colorado.

Virtually every city in the region experienced unprecedented temperatures, with Phoenix, as usual, leading the march toward unlivability. This past summer, the so-called Valley of the Sun set a new record of thirty-three days when the mercury reached a shoe-melting 110º F or higher. (The previous record of thirty-two days was set in 2007.)

And here&rsquos the bad news in a nutshell: if you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing the Age of Thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization. No kidding.

If that gets you down, here&rsquos a little cheer-up note: the end is not yet nigh.

In fact, this year the weather elsewhere rode to the rescue, and the news for the Southwest was good where it really mattered. Since January, the biggest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead, backed up by the Hoover Dam and just thirty miles southwest of Las Vegas, has risen almost forty feet. That lake is crucial when it comes to watering lawns or taking showers from Arizona to California. And the near forty-foot surge of extra water offered a significant upward nudge to the Southwest&rsquos water reserves.

The Colorado River, which the reservoir impounds, supplies all or part of the water on which nearly 30 million people depend, most of them living downstream of Lake Mead in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Tijuana and scores of smaller communities in the United States and Mexico.

Back in 1999, the lake was full. Patricia Mulroy, who heads the water utility serving Las Vegas, rues the optimism of those bygone days. &ldquoWe had a fifty-year, reliable water supply,&rdquo she says. &ldquoBy 2002, we had no water supply. We were out. We were done. I swore to myself we&rsquod never do that again.&rdquo

In 2000, the lake began to fall&mdashlike a boulder off a cliff, bouncing a couple of times on the way down. Its water level dropped a staggering 130 feet, stopping less than seven feet above the stage that would have triggered reductions in downstream deliveries. Then&mdashand here&rsquos the good news, just in case you were wondering&mdashlast winter, it snowed prodigiously up north in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The spring and summer run-off from those snowpacks brought enormous relief. It renewed what we in the Southwest like to call the Hydro-Illogic cycle: when drought comes, everybody wrings their hands and promises to institute needed reform, if only it would rain a little. Then the drought breaks or eases and we all return to business as usual, until the cycle comes around to drought again.

So don&rsquot be fooled. One day, perhaps soon, Lake Mead will renew its downward plunge. That&rsquos a certainty, the experts tell us. And here&rsquos the thing: the next time, a sudden rescue by heavy snows in the northern Rockies might not come. If the snowpacks of the future are merely ordinary, let alone puny, then you&rsquoll know that we really are entering a new age.

And climate change will be a major reason, but we&rsquoll have done a good job of aiding and abetting it. The states of the so-called Lower Basin of the Colorado River&mdashCalifornia, Arizona and Nevada&mdashhave been living beyond their water means for years. Any departure from recent decades of hydrological abundance, even a return to long-term average flows in the Colorado River, would produce a painful reckoning for the Lower Basin states. And even worse is surely on the way.

Just think of the coming Age of Thirst in the American Southwest and West as a three-act tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.

The Age of Thirst: Act I

The curtain in this play would surely rise on the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which divided the river&rsquos water equally between the Upper and Lower Basins, allocating to each annually 7.5 million acre-feet, also known by its acronym &ldquomaf.&rdquo (An acre-foot suffices to support three or four families for a year.) Unfortunately, the architects of the compact, drawing on data from an anomalously wet historical period, assumed the river&rsquos average annual flow to be about 17 maf per year. Based on reconstructions that now stretch back more than 1,000 years, the river&rsquos long-term average is closer to 14.7 maf. Factor in evaporation from reservoirs (1.5 maf per year) and our treaty obligation to Mexico (another 1.5 maf), and the math doesn&rsquot favor a water-guzzling society.

Nonetheless, the states of the Lower Basin have been taking their allotment as if nothing were wrong and consequently overdrafting their account by up to 1.3 maf annually. At this rate, even under unrealistically favorable scenarios, the Lower Basin will eventually drain Lake Mead and cutbacks will begin, possibly as soon as in the next few years. And then things will get dicier because California, the water behemoth of the West, won&rsquot have to absorb any of those cutbacks.

Here&rsquos one of the screwiest quirks in western water law: to win Congressional approval for the building of a monumental aqueduct, the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which would bring Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, agreed to subordinate its Colorado River water rights to California&rsquos. In that way, the $4 billion, 336-mile-long CAP was born, and for it Arizona paid a heavy price. The state obliged itself to absorb not just its own losses in a cutback situation, but California&rsquos as well.

Worst case scenario: the CAP aqueduct, now a lifeline for millions, could become as dry as the desert it runs through, while California continues to bathe. Imagine Phoenix curling and cracking around the edges, while lawn sprinklers hiss in Malibu. The contrast will upset a lot of Arizonans.

Worse yet, the prospective schedule of cutbacks now in place for the coming bad times is too puny to save Lake Mead.

The Age of Thirst: Act II

While that Arizona-California relationship guarantees full employment for battalions of water lawyers, a far bigger problem looms: climate change. Models for the Southwest have been predicting a 4º C (7.2º F) increase in mean temperature by century&rsquos end, and events seem to be outpacing the predictions.

We have already experienced close to 1º C of that increase, which accounts, at least in part, for last summer&rsquos colossal fires and record-setting temperatures&mdashand it&rsquos now clear that we&rsquore just getting started.

The simple rule of thumb for climate change is that wet places will get wetter and dry places drier. One reason the dry places will dry is that higher temperatures mean more evaporation. In other words, there will be ever less water in the rivers that keep the region&rsquos cities (and much else) alive. Modeling already suggests that by mid-century surface stream-flow will decline by 10 percent to 30 percent.

Independent studies at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in California and the University of Colorado evaluated the viability of Lake Mead and eventually arrived at similar conclusions: after about 2026, the risk of &ldquofailure&rdquo at Lake Mead, according to a member of the Colorado group, &ldquojust skyrockets.&rdquo Failure in this context would mean water levels lower than the dam&rsquos lowest intake, no water heading downstream, and the lake becoming a &ldquodead pool.&rdquo

If&mdashperhaps &ldquowhen&rdquo is the more appropriate word&mdashthat happens, California&rsquos Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to Los Angeles, San Diego and the All-American Canal, which sustains the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, will go just as dry as the Central Arizona Project aqueduct. Meanwhile, if climate change is affecting the Colorado River&rsquos watershed that harshly, it will undoubtedly also be hitting the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The aptly named Lester Snow, a recent director of California&rsquos Department of Water Resources, understood this. His future water planning assumed a 40 percent decline in runoff from the Sierras, which feeds the California Aqueduct. None of his contemplated scenarios were happy ones. The Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct make the urban conglomerations of Southern California possible. If both fail at once, the result will be, as promised, the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization.

Only Patricia Mulroy has an endgame strategy for the demise of Lake Mead. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is, even now, tunneling under the lake to install the equivalent of a bathtub drain at close to its lowest point. At a cost of more than $800 million, it will drain the dregs of Lake Mead for Las Vegas.

Admittedly, water quality will be a problem, as the dead pool will concentrate pollutants. The good news, according to the standard joke among those who chronicle Sin City&rsquos improbable history, is that the hard-partying residents and over-stimulated tourists who sip from Lake Mead&rsquos last waters will no longer need to purchase anti-depressants. They&rsquoll get all the Zoloft and Xanax they need from their tap water.

And only now do we arrive at the third act of this expanding tragedy.

The Age of Thirst: Act III

Those who believe in American exceptionalism hold that the historical patterns shaping the fate of other empires and nations don&rsquot apply to the United States. Be that as it may, we are certainly on track to test whether the US is similarly inoculated against the patterns of environmental history.

Because tree rings record growing conditions year by year, the people who study them have been able to reconstruct climate over very long spans of time. One of their biggest discoveries is that droughts more severe and far longer than anything known in recent centuries have occurred repeatedly in the American Southwest. The droughts of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, of the 1950s and of the period from 1998 to 2004 are remembered in the region, yet none lasted a full decade.

By contrast, the drought that brought the civilization of the ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi, centered at Chaco Canyon, to its knees in the twelfth century, by contrast, lasted more than thirty years. The one that finished off Mesa Verdean culture in the thirteenth century was similarly a &ldquomegadrought.&rdquo

Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona who played a major role in the Nobel Prize&ndashwinning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells me that the prospect of 130° F days in Phoenix worries him far less than the prospect of decades of acute dryness. &ldquoIf anything is scary, the scariest is that we could trip across a transition into a megadrought.&rdquo He adds, &ldquoYou can probably bet your house that, unless we do something about these greenhouse gas emissions, the megadroughts of the future are going to be a lot hotter than the ones of the past.&rdquo

Other scientists believe that the Southwest is already making the transition to a &ldquonew climatology,&rdquo a new normal that will at least bring to mind the aridity of the Dust Bowl years. Richard Seager of Columbia University, for instance, suggests that &ldquothe cycle of natural dry periods and wet periods will continue, but&helliparound a mean that gets drier. So the depths&mdashthe dry parts of the naturally occurring droughts&mdashwill be drier than we&rsquore used to, and the wet parts won&rsquot be as wet.&rdquo

Drought affects people differently from other disasters. After something terrible happens&mdashtornados, earthquakes, hurricanes&mdashpeople regularly come together in memorable ways, rising above the things that divide them. In a drought, however, what is terrible is that nothing happens. By the time you know you&rsquore in one, you&rsquove already had an extended opportunity to meditate on the shortcomings of your neighbors. You wait for what does not arrive. You thirst. You never experience the rush of compassion that helps you behave well. Drought brings out the worst in us.

After the Chacoan drought, corn-farming ancestral Puebloans still remained in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. They hung on, even if at lower population densities. After the Mesa Verdean drought, everybody left.

By the number of smashed crania and other broken bones in the ruins of the region&rsquos beautiful stone villages, archaeologists judge that the aridifying world of the Mesa Verdeans was fatally afflicted by violence. Warfare and societal breakdown, evidently driven by the changing climate, helped end that culture.

So it matters what we do. Within the limits imposed by the environment, the history we make is contingent, not fated. But we are not exactly off to a good start in dealing with the challenges ahead. The problem of water consumption in the Southwest is remarkably similar to the problem of greenhouse gas pollution. First, people haggle to exhaustion over the need to take action then, they haggle over inadequate and largely symbolic reductions. For a host of well-considered, eminently understandable and ultimately erroneous reasons, inaction becomes the main achievement. For this drama, think Hamlet. Or if the lobbyists who argue for business as usual out west and in Congress spring to mind first, think Iago.

We know at least one big thing about how this particular tragedy will turn out: the so-called civilization of the Southwest will not survive the present century, not at its present scale anyway. The question yet to be answered is how much it will have to shrink, and at what cost. Stay tuned. It will be one of the greatest, if grimmest, shows on Earth.

William deBuys William deBuys is the author of seven books, including A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), and The Walk (an excerpt of which won a Pushcart Prize).


Contents

The expression "Crisis of the Late Middle Ages" is commonly used in western historiography, [3] especially in English and German, and somewhat less among other western European scholarship to refer individually or collectively to different crises besetting Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. The expression often carries a modifier to refer more specifically to one or another aspect of Late Middle Age crisis, such as the Urban [4] Crisis of the Late Middle Ages, or the Cultural, [5] Monastic, [6] Religious, [7] Social, [7] Economic, [7] Intellectual, [7] or Agrarian [8] crisis of the Late Middle Ages, or a national or regional modifier, e.g. Catalan [9] or French [1] crisis.

By 1929, the French historian Marc Bloch was already writing about the effects of the crisis of the Late Middle Ages, [10] and by mid-century there were academic debates being held about it. [1] [10] In his 1981 article Late Middle Age Agrarian Crisis or Crisis of Feudalism?, Peter Kriedte reprises some of the early works in the field from historians writing in the 1930s, including Marc Bloch, Henri Pirenne, Wilhelm Abel, and Michael Postan. [8] Referred to in Italian as the "Crisis of the 14th Century", Giovanni Cherubini alluded to the debate that already by 1974 had been going on "for several decades" in French, British, American, and German historiography. [11]

Arno Borst (1992) states that it "is a given that fourteenth century Latin Christianity was in a crisis", goes on to say that the intellectual aspects and how universities were affected by the crisis is underrepresented in the scholarship hitherto ("When we discuss the crisis of the Late Middle Ages, we consider intellectual movements beside religious, social, and economic ones"), and gives some examples. [7]

Some question whether "crisis" is the right expression for the period at the end of the Middle Ages and the transition to Modernity. In his 1981 article The End of the Middle Ages: Decline, Crisis or Transformation? Donald Sullivan addresses this question, claiming that scholarship has neglected the period and viewed it largely as a precursor to subsequent climactic events such as the Renaissance and Reformation. [12]

In his "Introduction to the History of the Middle Ages in Europe", Mitre Fernández wrote in 2004: "To talk about a general crisis of the Late Middle Ages is already a commonplace in the study of medieval history." [3]

Heribert Müller, in his 2012 book on the religious crisis of the late Middle Ages, discussed whether the term itself was in crisis:

No doubt the thesis of the crisis of the late Middle Ages has itself been in crisis for some time now, and hardly anyone considered an expert in the field would still profess it without some ifs and buts, and especially so in the case of German Medieval historians. [13]

In his 2014 historiographical article about the crisis in the Middle Ages, Peter Schuster quotes the historian Léopold Genicot's 1971 article "Crisis: From the Middle Ages to Modern Times: "Crisis is the word which comes immediately to the historian's mind when he thinks of the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries." [14]

Some scholars contend that at the beginning of the 14th century, Europe had become overpopulated. [15] [ clarification needed ] By the 14th century frontiers had ceased to expand and internal colonization was coming to an end, but population levels remained high.

The Medieval Warm Period ended sometime towards the end of the 13th century, bringing the "Little Ice Age" [16] and harsher winters with reduced harvests. In Northern Europe, new technological innovations such as the heavy plough and the three-field system were not as effective in clearing new fields for harvest as they were in the Mediterranean because the north had poor, clay-like soil. [17] Food shortages and rapidly inflating prices were a fact of life for as much as a century before the plague. Wheat, oats, hay and consequently livestock, were all in short supply. [17]

Their scarcity resulted in malnutrition, which increases susceptibility to infections due to weakened immune systems. In the autumn of 1314, heavy rains began to fall, which were the start of several years of cold and wet winters. [17] The already weak harvests of the north suffered and the seven-year famine ensued. In the years 1315 to 1317 a catastrophic famine, known as the Great Famine, struck much of North West Europe. It was arguably the worst in European history, perhaps reducing the population by more than 10%. [17]

Most governments instituted measures that prohibited exports of foodstuffs, condemned black market speculators, set price controls on grain and outlawed large-scale fishing. At best, they proved mostly unenforceable and at worst they contributed to a continent-wide downward spiral. The hardest hit lands, like England, were unable to buy grain from France because of the prohibition, and from most of the rest of the grain producers because of crop failures from shortage of labor. Any grain that could be shipped was eventually taken by pirates or looters to be sold on the black market. [17]

Meanwhile, many of the largest countries, most notably England and Scotland, had been at war, using up much of their treasury and creating inflation. In 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what became known as the Hundred Years' War. This situation was worsened when landowners and monarchs such as Edward III of England (r. 1327–1377) and Philip VI of France (r. 1328–1350), raised the fines and rents of their tenants out of a fear that their comparatively high standard of living would decline. [17]

The European economy entered a vicious circle in which hunger and chronic, low-level debilitating disease reduced the productivity of labourers, and so the grain output was reduced, causing grain prices to increase. [ citation needed ] Standards of living fell drastically, [ dubious – discuss ] diets grew more limited, and Europeans as a whole experienced more health problems. [ citation needed ]

When a typhoid epidemic emerged, many thousands died in populated urban centres, most significantly Ypres (now in Belgium). In 1318 a pestilence of unknown origin, sometimes identified as anthrax, targeted the animals of Europe, notably sheep and cattle, further reducing the food supply and income of the peasantry. [18]

As Europe moved out of the Medieval Warm Period and into the Little Ice Age, a decrease in temperature and a great number of devastating floods disrupted harvests and caused mass famine. The cold and the rain proved to be particularly disastrous from 1315 to 1317 in which poor weather interrupted the maturation of many grains and beans, and flooding turned fields rocky and barren. [19] [20] Scarcity of grain caused price inflation, as described in one account of grain prices in Europe in which the price of wheat doubled from twenty shillings per quarter in 1315 to forty shillings per quarter by June of the following year. [19] Grape harvests also suffered, which reduced wine production throughout Europe. The wine production from the vineyards surrounding the Abbey of Saint-Arnould in France decreased as much as eighty percent by 1317. [20] During this climatic change and subsequent famine, Europe's cattle were struck with Bovine Pestilence, a pathogen of unknown identity. [21]

The pathogen spread throughout Europe from Eastern Asia in 1315 and reached the British Isles by 1319. [21] Manorial accounts of cattle populations in the year between 1319 and 1320, places a sixty-two percent loss in England and Wales alone. [21] In these countries, some correlation can be found between the places where poor weather reduced crop harvests and places where the bovine population was particularly negatively affected. [21] It is hypothesized that both low temperatures and lack of nutrition lowered the cattle populations' immune systems and made them vulnerable to disease. [21] The mass death and illness of cattle drastically affected dairy production, and the output did not return to its pre-pestilence amount until 1331. [21] Much of the medieval peasants' protein was obtained from dairy, and milk shortages likely caused nutritional deficiency in the European population. Famine and pestilence, exacerbated with the prevalence of war during this time, led to the death of an estimated ten to fifteen percent of Europe's population. [20] [21]

The Black Death was a particularly devastating epidemic in Europe during this time, and is notable due to the number of people who succumbed to the disease within the few years the disease was active. It was fatal to an estimated thirty to sixty percent of the population where the disease was present. [22] While there is some question of whether it was a particularly deadly strain of Yersinia pestis that caused the Black Death, research indicates no significant difference in bacterial phenotype. [23] Thus environmental stressors are considered when hypothesizing the deadliness of the Black Plague, such as crop failures due to changes in weather, the subsequent famine, and an influx of host rats into Europe from China. [22] [24] The Black Death was so devastating that a comparable plague in terms of virulence had not been seen since the Justinian plague, before the Medieval warm period. This gap in plague activity during the Medieval Warm Period contributes to the hypothesis that climate conditions would have affected Europe's susceptibility to disease when the climate began to cool during the arrival of the Little Ice Age in the 13th century. [ citation needed ]


The July crisis

The July crisis was a month-long chain reaction of events that followed the assassination of Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914. It began with an Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and ended with declarations of war by the Great Powers of Europe.

The July crisis was filled with internal contemplations and debates, diplomatic advice and posturing, nationalistic chest-beating and, ultimately, military mobilisation and threats of war. While historians hold different views about who and what drove the crisis, there is a consensus that it represented a breakdown and failure in diplomacy.

Vienna blames Serbia

Franz Ferdinand’s assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was arrested and interrogated by police and military authorities. He and his collaborators testified that they had acted independently, without the knowledge or assistance of the Serbian government.

Many in the Austro-Hungarian imperial regime chose not to believe this. They attributed the killings to Serbia and its leaders. Even if the Serbian government did not order or support the assassination plot, they were complicit in failing to rein in the nationalist and terrorist groups active within their borders.

Austrian investigators unearthed circumstantial evidence suggesting that some of the group had received training from a Serbian military officer. Meanwhile, militarists in the Austro-Hungarian imperial government saw the incident as an opportunity to invade Serbia and crush its rebellious elements.

The crisis unfolds

The month-long period that followed the assassination became known as the ‘July crisis’. It drew in most of the major political leaders of Europe in some form or another. Some sought to avoid war while others seemed hell-bent on firing the first shots in one.

At a flurry of meetings, Austro-Hungarian and German diplomats discussed what might eventuate if Vienna was to take punitive action against Serbia. At the top of their list was how Russia might respond in the event of a war against the Serbs.

The Kaiser’s ‘blank cheque’

On July 5th, Kaiser Wilhelm II issued his famous ‘blank cheque’ to Vienna. Austria-Hungary could proceed as it wished and Germany would back them if Russia intervened.

Privately, the Kaiser and his military chief, von Moltke, wanted war with Russia and France sooner rather than later. Both believed Germany was better prepared for war than either. They wanted to strike early before the Russians and French could adequately mobilise.

As a consequence, the Kaiser urged his Austrian allies to deal with Serbia promptly and ruthlessly. He did not believe the Russians would declare war on Austria-Hungary – but if they did, Germany would reciprocate with a declaration of war against St Petersburg.

After the conclusion of this agreement, Wilhelm and several Austrian politicians went on holiday. This was likely a deliberate ploy to suggest their disinterest in the crisis.

The Austrian ultimatum

On July 23rd, four weeks after the assassination, the Serbian government received an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary. It contained a set of 10 firmly worded demands and an obligation for the Serbs to agree to its conditions within 48 hours.

Among the demands made by the Austro-Hungarians upon Serbia were:

  • The banning of Serbian publications which had been responsible for anti-Austrian propaganda.
  • The removal of anti-Austrian individuals from the Serbian military, government and civil service.
  • The removal of Serbian teachers and curriculum that had promoted or incited anti-Austrian feeling.
  • The outlawing and disbanding of the Serbian nationalist group Narodna Odbrana (‘People’s Defense’).
  • A crackdown on cross-border arms trading and the removal of corrupt border officials.
  • A joint Serbian-Austrian investigation into the assassination plot, conducted within Serbia by Austrian officials, and involving the investigation and interrogation of Serbian civilians and military personnel.

Winston Churchill, at the time in charge of Britain’s Royal Navy, called the Austrian ultimatum “the most insolent document of its kind ever devised”.

Serbia responds

On receiving the ultimatum, Serbia immediately sought the counsel of Russian. St Petersburg offered to publicly condemn the ultimatum – but aware that Russian military readiness lagged behind Germany’s, refused to offer any military guarantees.

The British foreign minister, Sir Edward Grey, intervened in an attempt to avoid war. Grey suggested a mediation conference between all nations with a stake in the crisis – but this was rejected by both Berlin and Vienna.

Serbia responded to the Austrian ultimatum just before the expiration of the deadline. It submitted to most of the demands but rejected the Austrian-led inquiry demanded in point six, arguing that it was a breach of their sovereignty. They reiterated that their government gave no moral or material support to Princip and the other assassins.

Declarations of war

The Austrian ambassador received the Serbian reply, read it once and immediately left Belgrade for Vienna. After some cajoling from his advisors, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph declared war on Serbia on July 28th, exactly one month after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

This declaration of war triggered a chain reaction that quickly dragged in the rest of Europe. Bound by their alliances – or, more precisely, their leaders’ commitment to these alliances – nation after nation was drawn into the spiral of war.

Russia, a long-time protector of Serbia, condemned Vienna’s aggression and immediately began mobilising its forces against Austria-Hungary. Germany’s rulers declared war on Russia on August 1st.

The Schlieffen Plan activated

Berlin also lit the fuse for the much-anticipated Schlieffen Plan, its long-standing scheme to avoid a prolonged two-front war by invading France through neutral Belgium and Luxemburg. This plan was activated the following day.

Germany’s invasion of Belgium triggered Britain’s involvement. This, in turn, led to the governments of British dominions – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa – declaring war on Germany.

By the end of August, most of Europe was at war, though a few countries (Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Spain and the Netherlands) remained neutral for the duration.

Fighting in Serbia

As might be expected, the first military action of World War I occurred in Serbia. Austro-Hungarian troops crossed the border to occupy its July prey.

The aggressors did not fare as well as they had anticipated, however, due to some stubborn Serbian resistance, compounded by blunders by their own generals.

By early August, German forces were implementing the Schlieffen Plan, while another German contingent in the east secured a comprehensive victory over the Russians at Tannenberg. Elsewhere there was little fighting in the first month, as most belligerent nations put their energy into recruitment, training, equipping and mobilising their armies.

A historian’s view:
“The cult of the offensive encouraged German and Austrian expansionism that led to the crisis of July 1914 and to the war. The Germans probably preferred the status quo to a world war against the entire Entente, and they would not have fomented the July 1914 crisis had they known that a world war would result. In my judgement, the Germans did want a confined continental war against France and Russia and many among the German elite supported the instigation of the July crisis in hopes of provoking just such a war. Moreover, German leaders recognised and accepted the risk that this might entail a wider war against Britain and Belgium.”
Kenneth A. Oye

1. The July crisis was a month-long period of ultimatums, diplomatic communications and threats that culminated in the outbreak of World War I.

2. It began the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th 1914. Encouraged by Germany, Austria-Hungary handed Serbia a stringent ultimatum.

3. What followed was a month-long period involving diplomatic advice between European powers, including offers of mediation and promises of military backing.

4. The Serbians accepted most but not all of the terms in the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum. Dissatisfied and backed by Germany, Vienna declared war on Serbia.

5. This prompted Russia to order the mobilisation of its forces, in preparation for a possible war against Austria-Hungary. Germany followed suit by issuing declarations of war in late July and early August 1914.


The Crisis

The Crisis is the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It features African American commentary on current affairs. In the past, it has also featured African American literature prominently, and was one of the major magazines of the Harlem Renaissance. (There is a Wikipedia article about this serial.)

Publication History

The Crisis was founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois, who edited the early volumes. It was originally subtitled "A Record of the Darker Races". No issue copyright renewals were found for this serial. The first copyright-renewed contribution is from March 1940. (More details) For a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was published as The New Crisis. It is still published today.

Persistent Archives of Complete Issues

  • 1910-1922: The Modernist Journal Project has all issues through the end of 1922 (volumes 1-24, and the first two issues of volume 25) online.
  • 1910-1925, 1936-1937: HathiTrust has volumes 1-24, 26-29, and 43-44 freely readable online. Access to some volumes may be restricted outside the United States. Some other volumes here are searchable but not readable online.
  • 1912-1913: The Internet Archive has volumes 5 and 6 online.
  • 1913-1914: The Internet Archive has volumes 7 and 8 online.
  • 1914-1915: The Internet Archive has volumes 9 and 10 online.
  • 1921-1922: The Internet Archive has volumes 23 and 24 online.
  • 1922-1923: The Internet Archive has volumes 25 and 26 online.
  • 1911-1918, 1920-1924, 1926-1927, 1930-1946, 1948, 1950-1986, 1988-2011: Google Books has many issues up to 2011 fully readable online.
  • 1911-2009: Google Books has most pre-2010 issues fully readable online. Access may be restricted outside the United States.

Official Site / Current Material

  • The Crisis Magazine website has information on the magazine, tables of contents and selected items from recent issues, and selected articles from the magazine's early years.

Related Resources

  • Crisis is also the name of a lay Catholic publication that published from 1982-2007, which was otherwise unrelated to this magazine.

This is a record of a major serial archive. This page is maintained for The Online Books Page. (See our criteria for listing serial archives.) This page has no affiliation with the serial or its publisher.


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