Www.WorldHistory.Biz
Login *:
Password *:
     Register

 

9-08-2015, 21:07

THE WORLD FROM THE 20th TO THE 21st CENTURY

Historical epochs do not coincide strictly with centuries. The French Revolution in 1789, not the year 1800, marked the beginning of a new historical era. The beginning of the twentieth century, too, is better dated to 1871, when Germany became unified, or the 1890s, when international instability became manifest in Europe and Asia and a new era of imperial rivalry, which the Germans called Weltpolitik, began. On the European continent Germany had become by far the most powerful military nation and was rapidly advancing industrially. In eastern Asia during the 1890s a modernised Japan waged its first successful war of aggression against China. In the Americas the foundations were laid for the emergence of the US as a superpower later in the century. The US no longer felt secure in isolation. Africa was finally partitioned between the European powers. These were some of the portents indicating the great changes to come. There were many more. Modernisation was creating new industrial and political conflict and dividing society. The state was becoming more centralised, its bureaucracy grew and achieved control to an increasing degree over the lives of the individual. Social tensions were weakening the tsarist Russian Empire and during the first decade of the twentieth century Russia was defeated by Japan. The British Empire was at bay and Britain was seeking support, not certain which way to turn. Fierce nationalism, the build-up of vast armies and navies, and unquestioned patriotism that regarded war as an opportunity to prove manhood rather than as a catastrophe, characterised the mood as the new century began. Boys played with their tin soldiers and adults dressed up in the finery of uniforms. The rat-infested mud of the trenches and machine guns mowing down tens of thousands of young men as yet lay beyond the imagination. Soldiering was still glorious, chivalrous and glamorous. But the early twentieth century also held the promise of a better and more civilised life in the future. In the Western world civilisation was held to consist not only of cultural achievements but also of moral values. Despite all the rivalries of the Western nations, wanton massacres of ethnic minorities, such as that of the Armenians by the Turks in the 1890s, aroused widespread revulsion and prompted great-power intervention. The pogroms in Russia and Romania against the Jews were condemned by civilised peoples, including the Germans, who offered help and refuge despite the growth of anti-Semitism at home. The Dreyfus affair outraged Queen Victoria and prompted Émile Zola to mobilise a powerful protest movement in France; the Captain’s accusers were regarded as representing the corrupt elements of the Third Republic. Civilisation to contemporary observers seemed to be moving forward. Before 1914 there was no good reason to doubt that history was the story of mankind’s progress, especially that of the white European branch. There was a sense of cultural affinity among the aristocracy and bourgeoisie of Europe. Governed by monarchs who were related to each other and who tended to reign for long periods or, in France, by presidents who changed too frequently to be remembered for long, the wellto- do felt at home anywhere in Europe. The upper reaches of society were cosmopolitan, disporting themselves on the Riviera, in Paris and in Dresden; they felt that they had much in common and that they belonged to a superior civilisation. Some progress was real. Increasingly, provision was made to help the majority of the people who were poor, no doubt in part to cut the ground from under socialist agitators and in part in response to trade union and political pressures brought about by the widening franchise in the West. Pensions and insurance for workers were first instituted in Germany under Bismarck and spread to most of the rest of Western Europe. Medical care, too, improved in the expanding cities. Limits were set on the hours and kind of work children were allowed to perform. Universal education became the norm. The advances made in the later nineteenth century were in many ways extended after 1900. Democracy was gaining ground in the new century. The majority of men were enfranchised in Western Europe and the US. The more enlightened nations understood that good government required a relationship of consent between those who made the laws and the mass of the people who had to obey them. The best way to secure cooperation was through the process of popularly elected parliamentary assemblies that allowed the people some influence – government by the will of the majority, at least in appearance. The Reichstag, the French Chambers, the Palace of Westminster, the two Houses of Congress, the Russian Duma, all met in splendid edifices intended to reflect their importance. In the West the trend was thus clearly established early in the twentieth century against arbitrary rule. However much national constitutions differed, another accepted feature of the civilised polity was the rule of law, the provision of an independent judiciary meting out equal justice to rich and poor, the powerful and the weak. Practice might differ from theory, but justice was presented as blindfolded: justice to all, without favours to any. Equal rights were not universal in the West. Working people were struggling to form effective unions so that, through concerted strike action, they could overcome their individual weakness when bargaining for decent wages and conditions. Only a minority, though, were members of a union. In the US in 1900, only about 1 million out of more than 27 million workers belonged to a labour union. Unions in America were male dominated and, just as in Britain, women had to form their own unions. American unions also excluded most immigrants and black workers. Ethnic minorities were discriminated against even in a political system such as that of the US, which prided itself as the most advanced democracy in the world. Reconstruction after the Civil War had bitterly disappointed the African Americans in their hopes of gaining equal rights. Their claims to justice remained a national issue for much of the twentieth century. All over the world there was discrimination against a group that accounted for half the earth’s population – women. It took the American suffragette movement half a century to win, in 1920, the right to vote. In Britain the agitation for women’s rights took the drastic form of public demonstrations after 1906, but not until 1918 did women over thirty years of age gain the vote, and those aged between twenty-one and thirty had to wait even longer. But the acceptance of votes for women in the West had already been signposted before the First World War. New Zealand in 1893 was the first country to grant women the right to vote in national elections; Australia followed in 1908. But even as the twenty-first century begins there are countries in the Middle East where women are denied this basic right. Moreover, this struggle represents only the tip of the iceberg of discrimination against women on issues such as education, entry into the professions, property rights and equal pay for equal work. Incomplete as emancipation remains in Western societies, there are many countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East where women are still treated as inferior, the chattels of their fathers or husbands. In India, for example, orthodox Hindu marriage customs were not changed by law until 1955. As for birth-control education, which began in the West in the nineteenth century, freeing women from the burden of repeated pregnancies, it did not reach the women of the Third World until late in the twentieth century – though it is there that the need is greatest. The limited progress towards equal rights achieved in the West early in the twentieth century was not mirrored in the rest of the world. Imperialism in Africa and Asia saw its final flowering as the nineteenth century drew to a close. The benefits brought to the indigenous peoples of Africa and Asia by the imposition of Western rule and values was not doubted by the majority of white people. ‘The imperialist feels a profound pride in the magnificent heritage of empire won by the courage and energy of his ancestry’, wrote one observer in 1899; ‘the spread of British rule extends to every race brought within its sphere the incalculable benefits of just law, tolerant trade, and considerate government’. In 1900 Europeans and their descendants who had settled in the Americas, Australasia and southern Africa looked likely to dominate the globe. They achieved this tremendous extension of power in the world because of the great size of their combined populations and because of the technological changes which, collectively, are known as the industrial revolution. One in every four human beings lived in Europe, some 400 million out of a total world population of 1,600 million in 1900. If we add the millions who had left Europe and multiplied in the Americas and elsewhere, more than one in every three human beings was European or of European descent. A century later, it was less than one in six; 61 per cent of world’s population lives in Asia; there are more Africans than Europeans. In 1900 the Europeans ruled a great world empire with a population in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific of nearly 500 million by 1914. To put it another way, before 1914 only about one in three people had actually avoided being ruled by Europeans and their descendants, most of whom were unshaken in their conviction that their domination was natural and beneficial and that the only problem it raised was to arrange it peacefully between them. By the end of the twentieth century direct imperial rule had all but disappeared. To the Asians and Africans, the European presented a common front with only local variations: some spoke German, others French or English. There are several features of this common outlook. First, there was the Westerners’ feeling of superiority, crudely proven by their capacity to conquer other peoples more numerous than the invading European armies. Vast tracts of land were seized by the Europeans, at very small human cost to themselves, from the ill-equipped indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa. That was one of the main reasons for the extension of European power over other regions of the world. Since the mid-nineteenth century the Europeans had avoided fighting each other for empire, since the cost of war between them would have been of quite a different order. Superiority, ultimately proven on the battlefield, was, the Europeans in 1900 felt, but one aspect of their civilisation. All other peoples they thought of as uncivilised, though they recognised that in past ages these peoples had enjoyed a kind of civilisation of their own, and their artistic manifestations were prized. China, India, Egypt and, later, Africa were looted of great works of art. Most remain to the present day in the museums of the West. A humanitarian European impulse sought to impose on the conquered peoples the Christian religion, including Judaeo-Christian ethics, and Western concepts of family relationships and conduct. At their best the Western colonisers were genuinely paternalistic. Happiness, they believed, would follow on the adoption of Western ways, and the advance of mankind materially and spiritually would be accomplished only by overcoming the prejudice against Western thought. From its very beginning, profit and gain were also powerful spurs to empire. In the twentieth century industrialised Europe came to depend on the import of raw materials for its factories; Britain needed vast quantities of raw cotton to turn into cloth, as well as nickel, rubber and copper. As its people turned it into the workshop of the world in the nineteenth century, so it relied on food from overseas, including grain, meat, sugar and tea, to feed the growing population. Some of these imports came from the continent of Europe close by, the rest from far afield – the Americas, Australasia and India. As the twentieth century progressed, oil imports assumed an increasing importance. The British mercantile marine, the world’s largest, carried all these goods across the oceans. Colonies were regarded by Europeans as essential to provide secure sources of raw materials; just as important, they provided markets for industrialised Europe’s output. Outside Europe only the US matched and, indeed, exceeded the growth of European industry in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Europe and the US accounted for virtually all the world trade in manufactured goods, which doubled between 1900 and 1913. There was a corresponding increase in demand for raw materials and food supplied by the Americas, Asia and the less industrialised countries of Europe. Part of Europe’s wealth was used to develop resources in other areas of the world: railways everywhere, manufacture and mining in Asia, Africa and North and South America; but Europe and the US continued to dominate in actual production. Global competition for trade increased colonial rivalry for raw materials and markets, and the US was not immune to the fever. The division of Asia and Africa into outright European colonies entailed also their subservience to the national economic policies of the imperial power. Among these were privileged access to colonial sources of wealth, cheap labour and raw materials, domination of the colonial market and, where possible, shutting out national rivals from these benefits. Thus, the US was worried at the turn of the twentieth century about exclusion from what was believed to be the last great undeveloped market in the world – China. In an imperialist movement of great importance, Americans advanced across the Pacific, annexing Hawaii and occupying the Philippines in 1898. The US also served notice of its opposition to the division of China into exclusive economic regions. Over the century a special relationship developed between America and China that was to contribute to the outbreak of war between the US and Japan in 1941, with all its consequences for world history. By 1900 most of Africa and Asia was already partitioned between the European nations. With the exception of China, what was left – the Samoan islands, Morocco and the frontiers of Togo – caused more diplomatic crises than was warranted by the importance of such territories. Pride in an expanding empire, however, was not an attitude shared by everyone. There was also an undercurrent of dissent. Britain’s Gladstonian Liberals in the 1880s had not been carried away by imperialist fever. An article in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1884 took up the case for indigenous peoples. ‘All coloured men’, it declared, ‘seem to be regarded as fair game’, on the assumption that ‘no one has a right to any rule or sovereignty in either hemisphere but men of European birth or origin’. During the Boer War (1899–1902) a courageous group of Liberals challenged the prevailing British jingoism. Lloyd George, a future prime minister, had to escape the fury of a Birmingham crowd by leaving the town hall disguised as a policeman. Birmingham was the political base of Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary who did most to propagate the ‘new imperialism’ and to echo Cecil Rhodes’s call for the brotherhood of the ‘Anglo-Saxon races’, supposedly the British, the Germans and white Americans of British or German descent. Americans, however, were not keen to respond to the embrace. After the Spanish–American War of 1898 the colonisation of the Philippines by the US led to a fierce national debate. One of the most distinguished and eloquent leaders of the Anti- Imperialist League formed after that war denounced US policies in the Philippines and Cuba in a stirring passage: This nation cannot endure half republic and half colony – half free and half vassal. Our form of government, our traditions, our present interests and our future welfare, all forbid our entering upon a career of conquest. Clearly, then, there was already opposition to imperialism on moral grounds by the beginning of the twentieth century. The opponents’ arguments would come to carry more weight later in the century. Morality has more appeal when it is also believed to be of practical benefit. As the nineteenth century came to an end competition for empire drove each nation on, fearful that to lose out would inevitably lead to national decline. In mutual suspicion the Western countries were determined to carve up into colonies and spheres of influence any remaining weaker regions. The expansion of Western power in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries carried with it the seeds of its own destruction. It was not any ‘racial superiority’ that had endowed Western man with a unique gift for organising society, for government or for increasing the productivity of man in the factory and on the land. The West took its knowledge to other parts of the world, and European descendants had increased productivity in manufacturing industries in the US beyond that of their homelands. But high productivity was not a Western monopoly: the Japanese were the first to prove, later in the twentieth century, that they could exceed Western rates. The Wars of American Independence demonstrated that peoples in one region of the world will not for ever consent to be ruled by peoples far distant. By 1900 self-government and separate nationhood had been won, through war or through consent, by other descendants of Europeans who had become Australians, Brazilians, Argentinians, Canadians and, soon, South Africans. These national rebellions were led by white Europeans. It remained a widespread European illusion that such a sense of independence and nationhood could not develop among the black peoples of Africa in the foreseeable future. A people’s capacity for self-rule was crudely related to ‘race’ and ‘colour’, with the white race on top of the pyramid, followed by the ‘brown’ Indians, who, it was conceded, would one distant day be capable of self-government. At the bottom of the pile was the ‘black’ race. The ‘yellow’ Chinese and Japanese peoples did not fit easily into the colour scheme, not least because the Japanese had already shown an amazing capacity to Westernise. Fearful of the hundreds of millions of people in China and Japan, the West thus conceived a dread of the yellow race striking back – the ‘yellow peril’. The spread of European knowledge undermined the basis of imperialist dominance. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Indians and the Africans would all apply this knowledge, and goods would be manufactured in Tokyo and Hong Kong as sophisticated as those produced anywhere else in the world. A new sense of nationalism would be born, resistant to Western dominance and fighting it with Western scientific knowledge and weapons. When independence came, older traditions would reassert themselves and synthesise with the new knowledge to form a unique amalgam in each region. The world remains divided and still too large and diverse for any one group of nations, or for any one people or culture, to dominate. All this lay in the future, the near future. Western control of most of the world appeared in 1900 to be unshakeable fact. Africa was partitioned. All that was left to be shared out were two nominally independent states, Morocco and Egypt, but this involved little more than tidying up European spheres of influence. Abyssinia, alone, had survived the European attack. The Ottoman Empire, stretching from Balkan Europe through Asia Minor and the Middle East to the Indian Ocean, was still an area of intense rivalry among the European powers. The independent states in this part of the world could not resist European encroachment, both economic and political, but the rulers did succeed in retaining some independence by manoeuvring between competing European powers. The partition of the Middle East had been put off time and time again because in so sensitive a strategic area, on the route to India, Britain and Russia never trusted each other sufficiently to strike any lasting bargain, preferring to maintain the Ottoman Empire and Persia as impotent buffer states between their respective spheres of interest. Much farther to the east lay China, the largest nation in the world, with a population in 1900 of about 420 million. When Western influence in China was threatened by the so-called Boxer rising in 1900, the West acted with a show of solidarity. An international army was landed in China and ‘rescued’ the Europeans. Europeans were not to be forced out by ‘native’ violence. The Western powers’ financial and territorial hold over China tightened, though they shrank from the responsibility of directly ruling the whole of China and the hundreds of millions of Chinese living there. Instead, European influence was exerted indirectly through Chinese officials who were ostensibly responsible to a central Chinese government in Peking. The Western Europeans detached a number of trading posts from China proper, or acquired strategic bases along the coast and inland and forced the Chinese to permit the establishment of semi-colonial international settlements. The most important, in Shanghai, served the Europeans as a commercial trading centre. Britain enlarged its colony of Hong Kong by forcing China to grant it a lease of the adjacent New Territories in 1898. Russia sought to annex extensive Chinese territory in the north. With hindsight it can be seen that by the turn of the century the European world empires had reached their zenith. Just at this point, though, a non-European Western power, the US, had staked its first claim to power and influence in the Pacific. But Europe could not yet, in 1900, call in the US to redress the balance which Russia threatened to upset in eastern Asia. That task was undertaken by an eastern Asian nation – Japan. Like China, Japan was never conquered by Europeans. Forced to accept Western influence by the Americans in the mid-nineteenth century, the Japanese were too formidable to be thought of as ‘natives’ to be subdued. Instead, the largest European empire, the British, sought and won the alliance of Japan in 1902 on terms laid down by the Japanese leaders. Europe’s interests were global, and possible future conflicts over respective imperial spheres preoccupied its leaders and those sections of society with a stake in empire. United, their power in the world was overwhelming. But the states of Europe were not united. Despite their sense of common purpose in the world, European leaders saw themselves simultaneously ensnared in a struggle within their own continent, a struggle which, each nation believed, would decide whether it would continue as a world power. The armaments race and competition for empire, with vast standing armies facing each other and the new battleship fleets of dreadnoughts, were symptoms of increasing tension rather than the cause of the Great War to come. Historians have debated why the West plunged into such a cataclysmic conflict. Social tensions within each country and the fears of the ruling classes, especially in the kaiser’s Germany, indirectly contributed to a political malaise during a period of great change. But as an explanation why war broke out in 1914 the theory that a patriotic war was ‘an escape forward’ to evade conflict at home fails to carry conviction, even in the case of Germany. It seems almost a truism to assert that wars have come about because nations simply do not believe they can go on coexisting. It is, nevertheless, a better explanation than the simple one that the prime purpose of nations at war is necessarily the conquest of more territory. Of Russia and Japan that may have been true in the period 1900–5. But another assumption, at least as important, was responsible for the Great War. Among the then ‘great powers’, as they were called in the early twentieth century, there existed a certain fatalism that the growth and decline of nations must inevitably entail war between them. The stronger would fall on the weaker and divide the booty between them. To quote the wise and experienced British prime minister, the third marquess of Salisbury, at the turn of the century: You may roughly divide the nations of the world as the living and the dying . . . the weak states are becoming weaker and the strong states are becoming stronger . . . the living nations will gradually encroach on the territory of the dying and the seeds and causes of conflict among civilised nations will speedily appear. Of course, it is not to be supposed that any one of the living nations will be allowed to have the monopoly of curing or cutting up these unfortunate patients and the controversy is as to who shall have the privilege of doing so, and in what measure he shall do it. These things may introduce causes of fatal difference between the great nations whose mighty armies stand opposed threatening each other. These are the dangers I think which threaten us in the period that is coming on. In 1900 there were some obviously dying empires, and the ‘stronger nations’ competing for their territories were the European great powers and Japan. But during the years immediately preceding the Great War the issue had changed. Now the great powers turned on each other in the belief that some must die if the others were to live in safety. Even Germany, the strongest of them, would not be safe, so the Kaiser’s generals believed, against the menace of a combination of countries opposing it. That was the fatal assumption which, more than anything, led to the 1914–18 war. It was reducing the complexity of international relations to a perverse application of Darwinian theory. The First World War destroyed the social cohesion of pre-war continental Europe. The Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires broke up; Germany, before 1914 first among the continental European countries, was defeated and humiliated; Italy gained little from its enormous sacrifices; the tsarist Russian Empire disintegrated, and descended into civil war and chaos. In their despair people sought new answers to the problems that threatened to overwhelm them, new ideals to replace respect for kings and princes and the established social order. In chaos a few ruthless men were able to determine the fate of nations, ushering in a European dark age in midcentury. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were able to create a more efficient and crueller autocracy than that of the Romanovs. The new truths were held to be found in the works of Karl Marx as interpreted by the Russian dictators, who imposed their ideas of communism on the people. In Italy disillusionment with parliamentary government led to fascism. In Germany, democracy survived by a narrow margin but was demolished when its people despaired once more in the depression of the early 1930s. Hitler’s doctrine of race then found a ready response, and his successes at home and abroad confirmed him in power. Different though their roots were, what these dictators had in common was the rejection of ethics, a contempt for the sanctity of human life, for justice and for equality before the law. They accepted the destruction of millions of people in the belief that it served desirable ends. They were responsible for a revolution in thought and action that undid centuries of progress. Stalin and Hitler were not the first leaders to be responsible for mass killings. During the First World War, the Turks had massacred Armenians, ethnic hatred inflamed by fears that in war the Armenians would betray them. Stalin’s calculated killing of ‘class enemies’ and his murderous purges of those from whom he suspected opposition were the actions of a bloody tyrant, by no means the first in history. The ruthless exploitation of slave labour, the murder of the Polish officers during the Second World War and the expulsion of whole peoples from their homes, revealed the depths to which an organised modern state was capable of sinking. But nothing in the history of a Western nation equals the Nazi state’s application of its theories of ‘good’ which ended with the factory murder of millions of men, women and children, mostly Jews and gypsies. There were mass killings of ‘inferior Slavs’, Russians and Poles, and those who were left were regarded as fit only to serve as labour for the German masters. The Nazi evil was ended in 1945. But it had been overcome only with the help of the communist power of the Soviet Union. As long as Stalin lived, in the Soviet Union and its satellite states the rights of individuals counted for little. In Asia, China and its neighbours had suffered war and destruction when the Japanese, who adopted from the West doctrines of racial superiority, forced them into their cynically named ‘co-prosperity sphere’. The ordeal was not over for China when the Second World War ended. Civil war followed until the victory of the communists. Mao Zedong imposed his brand of communist theory on a largely peasant society for three decades. Many millions perished in the terror he unleashed, the class war and as a result of experiments designed to create an abundant communist society. In Asia, too, the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia provided a more recent example of inhumanity in the pursuit of ideological theories amounting to genocide. By the close of the century the tide finally turned against communist autocracy and dictatorship. The suffering and oppression all over the world in the twentieth century was much greater than it had been in the nineteenth. Only the minority whose standards of living improved, who lived in freedom in countries where representative government remained an unbroken tradition, had the promise of progress fulfilled through greater abundance of wealth. But even in these fortunate societies few families were untouched by the casualties of the wars of the twentieth century. Western societies were spared the nightmare after 1945 of a third world war, which more than once seemed possible, though they were not spared war itself. These wars, however, involved far greater suffering to the peoples living in Asia, Africa and the Middle East than to the West. The Cold War had divided the most powerful nations in the world into opposing camps. The West saw itself as the ‘free world’ and the East as the society of the future, the people’s alliance of the communist world. They were competing for dominance in the rest of the world, in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, where the West’s overwhelming influence was challenged by the East. That struggle dominated the second half of the twentieth century. Regional conflicts in the world came to be seen through the prism of the Cold War. Within the two blocs differences also arose, of which the most serious was the quarrel between the Soviet Union and China, which further complicated developments in Asia. That the Cold War never turned to a real war between its protagonists was largely due to MAD, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. Both sides had piled up nuclear arsenals capable of destroying each other and much of the world, and there was no sure defence against all the incoming missiles. Mutual assured destruction kept the dangerous peace between them. The battle for supremacy was fought by other means, including proxy wars between nations not possessing the ‘bomb’ but armed and supported by the nuclear powers. The abiding strength of nationalism from the nineteenth century right through the twentieth has generally been underestimated by Western historians. Hopes of peace for mankind and a lessening of national strife were aroused by the formation of the League of Nations after the Great War of 1914–18. But long before the outbreak of the Second World War the principle of ‘collective security’ had broken down when the undertakings to the League by its member states clashed with perceived national interests. The United Nations began with a burst of renewed hope after the Second World War but could not bridge the antagonisms of the Cold War. Both the League and the UN performed useful international functions but their effectiveness was limited whenever powerful nations refused their cooperation. Despite growing global interdependence on many issues, including trade, the environment and health, national interests were narrowly interpreted rather than seen as secondary to the interests of the international community. Nationalism was not diminished in the twentieth century by a shrinking world of mass travel and mass communication, by the universal possession of cheap transistor radios and the widespread availability of television, nor by any ideology claiming to embrace mankind. To cite one obvious example, the belief that the common acceptance of a communist society would obliterate national and ethnic conflict was exploded at the end of the century, and nationalism was and still is repressed by force all over the world. Remove coercion, and nationalism re-emerges in destructive forms. But the world since 1945 has seen some positive changes too. Nationalism in Western Europe at least has been transformed by the experiences of the Second World War and the success of cooperation. A sign of better times is the spread of the undefended frontier. Before the Second World War the only undefended frontier between two sovereign nations was the long continental border between Canada and the US. By the closing years of the century all the frontiers between the nations of the European Union were undefended. Today the notion of a war between France and Germany or between Germany and any of its immediate neighbours has become unthinkable; a conflict over the territories they possess is inconceivable, as is a war prompted by the belief that coexistence will not be possible. To that extent the international climate has greatly changed for the better. But the possibility of such wars in the Balkans, in Eastern Europe, in Asia, Africa and the Middle East remains ever present. No year goes by without one or more wars occurring somewhere in the world, many of them savage civil wars. What is new in the 1990s is that these wars no longer bring the most powerful nations of the world into indirect conflict with each other. The decision of Russia and the US to cease arming and supplying opposing contestants in the Afghan civil wars marked the end of an indirect conflict that had been waged between the Soviet Union and the US since the Second World War in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. But this understanding will not banish wars. Intervention, whether by a group of nations acting under UN sponsorship or by a major country acting as policeman, is costly. UN resources are stretched to the limits by peacekeeping efforts in Cyprus, Cambodia, and former Yugoslavia and other trouble spots. No universal peacekeeping force exists. Intervention would therefore be likely only when the national interests of powerful countries became involved. It would be less likely, where the need was purely humanitarian. The world’s history is interwoven with migrations. The poor and the persecuted have left their homeland for other countries. The great movement of peoples from Eastern to Western Europe and further west across the Atlantic to the US, Canada, the Argentine, Australasia and South Africa continued throughout the nineteenth century, most of the emigrants being unskilled workers from rural areas. But this free movement of peoples, interrupted by the First World War, was halted soon after its close. In countries controlled by Europeans and their descendants quotas were imposed, for example by the US Immigration Act of 1924, denying free access to further immigrants from Europe. These countries so arranged their immigration policies that they slowed down to a trickle or excluded altogether the entry of Asians and Africans. In the US the exclusion of Asians from China and Japan had begun well before 1914. They had been welcome only when their labour was needed. The same attitude became clear in Britain where immigration of West Indians was at first encouraged after 1945, only to be restricted in 1962. The demand for labour, fluctuating according to the needs of a country’s economy, and the strength of racial prejudice have been the main underlying reasons for immigration policies. While the West restricted intercontinental migrations after the First World War, within Asia the movement continued, with large population transfers from India, Japan and Korea to Burma, Malaya, Ceylon, Borneo and Manchuria. Overseas Chinese in Asia play a crucial role, as do Indian traders in sub-Saharan Africa. After the Second World War there were huge migrations once more in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Millions of Japanese returned to their homeland. The partition of the Indian subcontinent led to the largest sudden and forced migration in history of some 25 million from east to west and west to east. At the close of the war in Europe, West Germany absorbed 20 million refugees and guest-workers from the East. Two million from Europe migrated to Canada and to Australia; 3 million North Koreans fled to the South. The US experienced a changing pattern of immigration after the Second World War. More than 11 million people were registered as entering the country between 1941 and 1980. The great majority of immigrants had once been of European origin. After 1945 increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans and Filipinos took advantage of their rights of entry. There was a large influx of Hispanics from the Caribbean; in addition probably as many as 5 million illegal immigrants crossed the Mexican border to find low-paid work in burgeoning California. The proportion of Europeans fell to less than one-fifth of the total number of immigrants. The second-largest ethnic influx came from Asia – Taiwan, Korea and, after the Vietnam War, Vietnam. The US has become more of a multicultural society than ever before. But, unlike most black people and Hispanics, many Asians have succeeded in working their way out of the lower strata of American society. Although the migration of Europeans to Africa south of the Sahara after 1945 was less spectacular in terms of numbers – probably less than a million in all – their impact as settlers and administrators on the history of African countries was crucial for the history of the continent. One of the most significant developments in the Middle East after 1945 was the creation of a new nation, the State of Israel. Proportionally, migration into Israel saw the most rapid population increase of any post-war state. Under the Law of Return any Jew from any part of the world had the right to enter and enjoy immediate citizenship. Between May 1948 and June 1953 the population doubled and by the end of 1956 had tripled to 1,667,000. There are no accurate statistics relating to the peoples of the world who, since 1945, have been driven by fear, hunger or the hope of better opportunities to migrate. They probably exceed 80 million. More than 10 million are still refugees without a country of their own; political upheavals and famines create more refugees every year. The more prosperous countries of the world continue to erect barriers against entry from the poor countries and stringently examine all those who seek asylum. In Europe, the Iron Curtain has gone but an invisible curtain has replaced it to stop the flow of migration from the East to the West, from Africa across the Mediterranean, from the poor south of the world to the north. The only solution is to assist the poor countries to develop so that their populations have a hope of rising standards of living. The aid given by the wealthy has proved totally inadequate to meet these needs, and loans have led to soaring debt repayments. The commodities the Third World has to sell have generally risen in price less than the manufacturing imports it buys. The natural disadvantage is compounded by corruption, economic mismanagement, the waste of resources on the purchase of weapons, wars and the gross inequalities of wealth. But underlying all these is the remorseless growth of population, which vitiates the advances that are achieved. There has been a population explosion in the course of the twentieth century. It is estimated that 1,600 million people inhabited planet earth in 1900. By 1930 the figure reached 2,000 million, in 1970 it was 3,600 million and by the end of the century the world’s population exceeded 6,000 million. Most of that increase, has taken place in the Third World, swelling the size of cities like Calcutta, Jakarta and Cairo to many millions. The inexorable pressure of population on resources has bedevilled efforts to improve standards of living in the poorest regions of the world, such as Bangladesh. The gap between the poor parts of the world and the rich widened rather than narrowed. Birth-control education is now backed by Third World governments, but, apart from China’s draconian application, is making a slow impact on reducing the acceleration of population growth. Despite the suffering caused, wars and famines inflict no more than temporary dents on the upward curve. Only the experience with AIDS may prove different, if no cure is found: in sub-Saharan Africa the disease is endemic, and in Uganda it has infected one person in every six. The one positive measure of population control is to achieve economic and social progress in the poorest countries of the world. With more than 800 million people living in destitution the world is far from being in sight of this goal. At the end of the twentieth century many of the problems that afflicted the world at its beginning remain unresolved. The prediction of Thomas Robert Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Populations published in 1798 that, unless checked, the growth of population would outrun the growth of production, still blights human hopes for progress and happiness in the Third World. According to one estimate, a third of all children under five, some 150 million, in the Third World are undernourished and prey to disease. Of the 122 million children born in 1979, one in ten were dead by the beginning of 1981. In Africa there are still countries where one child in four does not survive to its first birthday. In Western society, too rich a diet has led to dramatic increases in heart disease. In the Third World, according to the UN secretarygeneral in 1989, 500 million go hungry and every year there are 10 million more. The Brandt report, North-South: A Programme for Survival (1980), offered an even higher estimate, and declared that there was ‘no more important task before the world community than the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in all countries’. No one can calculate the figures with any accuracy. The world community has reacted only to dramatic televised pictures of suffering and famine, for example in the Horn of Africa, but there is no real sense of global agreement on the measures necessary to tackle the problem. Now that the Third World is politically independent, the former Western colonial powers are conveniently absolved from direct responsibility. The political independence of the once Western-dominated globe represents an enormous change, one that occurred much more rapidly than was expected in the West before the Second World War. But in many countries independence did not lead to better government or the blessings of liberty. Third World societies were not adequately prepared, their wealth and education too unequally distributed to allow any sort of democracy to be established – although this was accomplished in India. But on the Indian subcontinent, as elsewhere in the former colonial states, ethnic strife and bloodshed persist. Corruption, autocracy and the abuse of human rights remain widespread. In eastern Asia at the beginning of the century the partition of China seemed to be at hand, and Japan already claimed to be the predominant power. But China proved too large to be absorbed and partitioned. The military conflict between Japan and its Pacific neighbours ended only in 1945. By the close of the twentieth century it has emerged as an economic superpower decisively influencing world economic relations. China, economically still poor but developing rapidly, remains by far the largest and most populous unified nation in the world. By the end of the century the last foreign outposts taken from it before the twentieth century, Hong Kong and Macao, have become part of its national territory again. Apart from Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea, China in the twenty-first century is the last communist state in the world. At the beginning of the century Karl Marx had inspired socialist thinking and, indeed, much political action in the Western world. The largest socialist party in 1900 was in the kaiser’s Germany. But these socialist parties believed that the road to power lay through constitutional means. Revolutionaries were on the fringe – one of them the exiled Lenin in Zurich – their prospects hopeless until the First World War transformed them and created the possibility of violent revolutions in the East. By the end of the century, in an overwhelmingly peaceful revolution communism and the cult of Marxism– Leninism have been discredited. Whatever takes their place will change the course of the twentyfirst century. The unexpected revolutions that swept through central and Eastern Europe from 1989 to 1991 were, on the whole, no less peaceful. In every corner of the globe the autocratic, bureaucratic state faced a powerful challenge. The comparative economic success and social progress achieved by the West through the century proved desirable to the rest of the world, as did its institutions, especially the ‘free market’ and ‘democracy’ with a multi-party system. But how will these concepts be transferred to societies which have never practised them? ‘Freedom’, ‘democracy’ and the ‘free market’ are simple concepts but their realisation is beset by ambiguity. In societies lately subjected to autocratic rule, how much freedom can be allowed without risking disintegration into anarchy and disorder? Not every culture embraces Western ideals of democracy as a desirable goal. There is no Western country that permits a free market to function without restraint, without protecting the interests of workers and consumers. These institutional restraints have taken years to develop. How large a role should the state play? Not everything can be privatised, and certainly not instantly. How large a welfare system needs to be created? ‘Communism’ too has lost precise meaning. Communism in China today is very different from the communism of thirty years ago, now that private enterprises are flourishing. Labels change their meaning. Nor do simple slogans provide the answers. At the beginning of the twentieth century one could believe that a better world was gradually emerging. History was the story of progress. For some this meant that socialist ideals would lead to a utopia before the century had come to an end. In mid-century that faith in human progress and in the inevitable march of civilisation was shattered. The power of National Socialism and its destructive master-race doctrine were broken; it was the end of an evil empire but not the end of tyranny. The horrors, corruption and inefficiency of autocracy, with its denial of humanity, lie exposed. As the world moves from the twentieth to the twenty-first century old conflicts are fading and new ones taking shape. Europe, so long a crucible of global conflict, is coming together; war in the West is unthinkable and conflicts with the East have been overcome. In Europe the nation states have voluntarily pooled their national independence, in the economic sphere most completely, and in foreign relations imperfectly. The US has gained the position as the only global military superpower, though this does not give it limitless control. The Cold War that dominated so much of the second half of the twentieth century worldwide is over, the Soviet Union has normalised its relations with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world with it. But much of the Middle East and Africa remains unreconstructed, in a stage of transition, divided and in conflict. Ideological extremists have tried to create new divisions between Muslim culture and Western culture but, though able to create powerful impacts, represent a minority of the Muslim world. A new feature is that conflict is no longer necessarily based on clashes between nation states. Terrorist organisations act transnationally and cause havoc with the weapons of today’s technologies, whether planes filled with fuel, hand-held missiles or biological weapons. Weapons of mass destruction can be stored by small nations and could fall into the wrong hands. Nuclear weapons have proliferated as well as missiles and are no longer the preserve of the most powerful. The US also remains the most powerful economy, Japan the second, after stagnating for a decade, began to recover in 2004. China is transforming, pointing to the growth of a powerful economy later in the twenty-first century. The world has learnt that it benefits all to conduct trade with a minimum of barriers though many remain to be removed. Standards of living have risen with technological progress beyond what generations a hundred years ago could have dreamt of. Medical progress in the developed world has increased life expectancy. But the world is one of even more extremes. The developed world is prosperous and the worst of poverty banished. But the majority of people in Africa, Latin America and eastern Asia remain sunk in poverty, only small groups enjoying a, generally corrupt, high life with little social conscience for the rest. Famine remains widespread and in parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa AIDS is ravaging the people. The rich world’s help for the poor is wholly inadequate still, but without reform, such aid as is provided frequently does not reach those most in need of it. There are huge global problems that remain to be addressed in the twenty-first century, not least among them the deterioration of the global environment. How successfully they will be addressed in the decades to come remains shrouded from contemporary view. Having considered just some of the changes in the world between the opening of the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, the chapters that follow will recount the tumultuous history between.

 

 

html-Link
BB-Link