| Our century|
Some years ago, George Steiner characterized the then just past one hundred years as: "The Century of Barbed Wire".
Clearly, since his pronouncement preceded "the millennium" by a couple decades, the description cannot apply to precisely that high-school-history-class historical time-line time-span from 1900CE thru 1999CE. Steiner's periodization begins approximately with Joseph Farwell Glidden's patent application, 1873 -- yes, barbed wire was an American invention, but, apparently, too late for employment in the first modern war: America's Civil War (1861-65). Today, this epoch has yet to show any signs of closure (contrast with: enclosure...).
From the taming of "the Wild West", now over a century ago, to the continuing containment of one's local penitentiary population today, across a universe (polymorphous perverse?) of various kinds of internment camps, in which Stalin's Gulag Archipelago was only one galactic cluster... barbed wire has been keeping people in where they wanted to get out, and keeping them out where they wanted to get in (international borders; the island "compounds" of the very rich amidst the sea of the poor; "secret" research stations...).
Not all uses of barbed wire have been baleful (it comes in "bales"...). But, for better and for worse, if barbed wire has not exactly "changed" the world (for there are other ways to do most of the things it does), it has at least exacerbated it. As Marshall McLuhan said: "the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs" (Understanding Media, p. 24). It seems reasonable to hypothesize that barbed wire -- beginning with the hostilities it enflamed between cattlemen and farm settlers in the 19th century American West --, has not been a "cool" -- esp.: cooling (as opposed to "chilling"...) -- medium.
Note (04 Feb 2000): I have added a picture of the barbed wire protecting my own back yard, running atop the chain link fence which separates my house's back yard from the parking lot of the shops and professional offices immediately behind.
Note (16 Sep 2001): I have added a reproduction of Robert Capa's photograph of Leon Trotsky lecturing on the Russian revolution, Copenhagen, Denmark, 27 November 1932. This photograph, the negative of which is damaged and therefore the print is covered with splotches and fissures, seems to me one of the defining images of the 20th century: a broken picture of a broken man lecturing the broken dreams of a broken century.
Learn about libraries and archives destroyed in the 20th century.
See barbed wire protecting my (BMcC) back yard.
See 12 year old girl's apocalyptic 2001 drawing.
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