Without World War I, A Slower U.S. Rise, No 'God Bless America'

Play associated audio

This week, All Things Considered is exploring a counterfactual history of World War I, and we invite you to participate. Use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the past 100 years would be different if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed in 1914. We will share some of the responses in a future segment.

This summer marks 100 years since the start of World War I. Many argue that the conflict was inevitable — but what if it wasn't?

Earlier we imagined a world in which Austria-Hungary evolved in a Central European Union, the German and Russian empires became modern nation states and German remained Europe's language of scholarship.

Now we're taking a look at how it would have affected life across the Atlantic, in the U.S.

All Things Considered host Robert Siegel put the hypothetical question to historians and other experts: Ned Lebow, author of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace, Kim Kowalke, a musicologist at the Eastman School of Music, Phil Atteberry of the University of Pittsburgh and Christopher Clark, author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War.

Some highlights from their counterfactual history:

  • The United States' rise to world power would have been slower, but it would have been more willing to intervene in conflicts in other parts of the world.
  • American identity would be slower to take shape because ethnic groups would continue to identify with their homelands, customs and languages.
  • Without a century of European turmoil, the U.S. wouldn't have hosted a century of European emigre artists and composers — no Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok or Kurt Weill, among others.
  • Popular music would look different as well, and we likely wouldn't have the song "God Bless America." Irving Berlin wrote it during World War I for soldiers to sing in an Army Review. George Gershwin might have stayed more of a classical composer with no reason to write his biggest pop hit, "Swanee."
  • The drive for equality — through woman's suffrage and the civil rights movement — would have happened much more slowly. Without war, fewer African-Americans would have left the rural South for jobs in the industrial North; fewer would have found better schools and progress on civil rights might have been slower in coming.
  • Major League Baseball probably would not have been ready for integration in Jackie Robinson's day in the late 1940s. The first player to break the color line might have been Curt Flood, in 1962.


Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Remembering Robert Swanson, Advertising's 'King Of Jingles'

Robert Swanson revolutionized American advertising and wrote some of the most memorable ad jingles of the 1950s and '60s for products ranging from Campbell's Soup to Pall Mall cigarettes. He died at 95 July 17 at his home in Phoenix, Ariz.
NPR

In Alaska's Remote Towns, Climate Change Is Already Leaving Many Hungry

Melting ice has made it harder to hunt walrus, a traditional staple for Native Alaskans. Warmer temps mean caribou aren't where hunters used to find them. It all adds up to more food insecurity.
WAMU 88.5

Democratic National Convention Day Two: Uniting The Party

An update on day two of the Democratic convention: Bill Clinton takes the stage and ongoing efforts by party leaders to build unity.

WAMU 88.5

How To Help Teens And Children Fight 'Tech Addiction'

Many parents and therapists say obsessive internet use is a very real problem for some teens and children. But the term “internet addiction” is controversial and not officially recognized as a disorder. How to help kids who compulsively use computers and mobile technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.