The Literary Response (ii)
The First World War, despite the United States’ comparatively limited involvement, acted as a watershed between the old and the new in American culture, bringing trends which reinforced those arising from secular economic development. It produced its own crop of parvenu millionaires to add to the leisure class, increased the centralisation of industry, hastened the opening up of wider job opportunities for women, and by its militarisation of thousands of men brought them into contact with modern authoritarian organisation. It led to increased Federal management of public information and provided a pretext for curbing traditional civil liberties and cracking down on the political radicals through the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Also, as has frequently been noted, the carnage witnessed between 1914 and 1918 seemed to invalidate the nineteenth-century confidence in progress, reason and morality and encouraged instead a general cultural pessimism and a cynicism with regard to received pious notions.
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