Three days into the new year, Professor Ernest Rutherford carried out what for centuries had been considered impossible: he split the atom. Rutherford transmuted nitrogen atoms into oxygen atoms by bombarding them with alpha particles, scotching the popular belief that atoms were the ultimate building blocks of Nature. In a gallant attempt to heal the wounds of the previous four years' conflict, President Woodrow Wilson successfully proposed to 27 countries the establishment of The League of Nations, which would attempt to maintain world peace through international dialogue. At the same time, two figures on the political fringe in Europe were beginning to make their mark.
Having left the Italian Socialist Party in 1914, a journalist, Benito Mussolini set up his own party, the Fasci di Combattimento, to fight liberalism and communism. In Germany, coinciding with an increase in anti-Semitism, a war veteran, Adolf Hitler, addressed a meeting of the German Workers' Party.
The prospect of German political stability looked increasingly unlikely after the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Over 200 pages and 70,000 words, the Allies demanded, virtually without negotation, 20 billion gold marks of provisional compensation, the surrender of territories totalling 87 square km along with their 7,000,000 inhabitants, and the Allied occupation of the left bank of the Rhine for up to 15 years. These harsh demands prompted Lloyd George, one of the treaty's authors, to predict ruefully that "we shall have to fight another war all over again in 25 years at three times the cost".