World War I: 1914-1918
In 1914 Europe stumbled into a catastrophic war that lasted for more than four years and claimed the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. The causes of World War I are complex and multifaceted. They have stirred debate among historians and laymen alike ever since the war ground to a halt in 1918. It seems clear, however, that the outbreak of war was an unintended consequence of an extremely tense international order in which the Great Powers of Europe eyed each other with varying degrees of hatred, envy, fear, and suspicion.
The event that detonated this powder keg was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This act of political terror infuriated Austria, which concluded that Serbia, a small Balkan country, was behind the assassination. When Austria threatened Serbia, the Serb government appealed for protection to its ally, Russia. Meanwhile, Austria received strong encouragement for its confrontational stance from its ally, Germany. As the crisis deepened, Russia consulted with its ally, France; and France, in turn, entered into discussions with its friend, Great Britain. When Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia and the antiquated Russian army began to mobilize, the dominoes fell. By early August 1914, World War I had begun.
In light of the terrible destruction that followed, it is interesting to note that not only the European governments but also their populations went to war with great enthusiasm. Huge crowds filled the streets of Europe's capital cities, wildly cheering the declarations of war. Not only was this first general war since Napoleon's campaigns of 100 years earlier greeted with enthusiasm, there was also a universal conviction that the war would be a short one and that "the boys would be home by Chrishnas." As the war progressed, more and more countries became involved. At the start, however, the major combatants were, on one side, Germany and Austria-Hungary, which, together with their allies, would be known as the Central Powers; and, on the other side, Great Britain, France, and Russia, which, together with their allies, would be known as the Allied Powers or Allies.
From the start, the Central Powers found themselves fighting a two-front war; that is, they were forced to fight simultaneously in both the west and the east. Aware of the grave dangers inherent in a two-front war, the German general staff had drawn up the Schlieffen Plan, which called for Germany, in the event of war, to mass the bulk of its army in the west in order to deliver a quick and devastating knockout blow to the French. After defeating the French, the German army could tum its attention to the east and destroy the Russian army at its leisure. Employing the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans came very close to capturing Paris in the first month of the war. They were barely stopped at the First Battle of the Marne, when the French took advantage of gaps in the German lines caused by the transfer of some German units from the Western Front to the Eastern Front, where the Russians had unexpectedly mounted an offensive. Ironically, these German troops were not crucial to the outcome in the east. Although the Russians, under Generals Alexander Samsonov and Pavel Rennenkampf, had moved westward into the German territory of East Prussia, their attack was so confused and poorly coordinated that a smaller German force defeated both Russian armies at the twin battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. These huge German victories in the east focused the spotlight on Generals Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg, two of the most effective military commanders in a war notable for undistinguished if not abominable military leadership. The failure of the German offensive in the west and of the Russian offensive in the east shattered all illusions about the war being a short one. Instead, both sides settled in for a protracted struggle featuring trench warfare. Trench warfare called for each side to concentrate great numbers of men in a series of parallel fortified ditches, or trenches, and to attack in massed formations in the hope of breaching the enemy's lines. Those on the defensive would exploit their dug-in positions to repel the offensive. The nature of trench warfare, with its massed assaults into the teeth of entrenched defensive positions, resulted in truly appalling casualty figures. World War I quickly became a war of attrition in which each side readily sacrificed incredible numbers of its own men in order to exhaust the enemy, "bleed them white," and thus achieve victory.
During 1915 the war on the Western Front witnessed wave after wave of British, French, and German soldiers attacking across barren "no man's land" into the face of entrenched machine-gun nests. Although the casualty figures skyrocketed, the front barely moved. Much of the military action in that year took place on the Eastern Front. Having failed to destroy France in 1914, the Central Powers in 1915 sought to drive Russia from the war. In a series of coordinated attacks, the Central Powers regained Galicia, expelled Russia from Poland and Lithuania, and invaded Russia proper. However, victory proved elusive. Although the Russian army was poorly led, poorly equipped, poorly fed, and beaten on the battlefield, it nevertheless relied on its seemingly unlimited supply of men and the vast expanses of the Russian countryside to remain in the field as a viable foe.
During the first months of hostilities in the east, it became obvious that Austria-Hungary was not up to the military task at hand. Austria-Hungary's offensives, even against tiny Serbia, failed, and often Germany had to come to its rescue when the Russians pummeled its army. Consequently, by 1916 Austria-Hungary had virtually surrendered its freedom of action to Germany, and it was relegated to this inferior position until the end of the war.
In 1915 the western allies (France and Great Britain) invaded Turkey, which had entered the war on the side of the Central Powers in October 1914. This attack, known as the Gallipoli campaign and fought chiefly by soldiers from the British Empire, ended in defeat for the Allies. Nevertheless, the Allies now determined to destroy the Ottoman Empire. By virtue of a secret treaty concluded: in 1915, Russia was granted the right to fulfill its long-standing desire to annex Constantinople and thereby gain control over the straits leading from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. Subsequently, the British, led by Colonel T. E. Lawrence, successfully incited the Turkish Empire's Arab populations. In 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration, pledging themselves to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As the British were becoming bogged down at Gallipoli, Italy, having been promised territorial gains at the expense of Austria-Hungary, entered the war on the side of the Allies in May 1915. Also during the early stages of the war, the Allies, especially Great Britain, moved against Germany's African colonies. Japan, Britain's Pacific ally, grabbed Germany's colonies in Asia and the South Pacific.
In 1916, while the armies of the Central Powers slowly chewed up the fading Russian army, the military spotlight shifted to the west once again. In particular, two battles on the Western Front that year came to symbolize the futility and mindless bloodletting that were hallmarks of World War I. In February the Germans launched a massive attack against French positions in and around the fortress town of Verdun. The objective was to bleed the French and hasten their surrender. However, the French determined to hang on, and under the tenacious leadership of General Henri-Philippe Petain, whose pledge "they shall not pass" lifted French morale, France withstood the German attack, but at a terrible price. By the end of the battle, the Germans and the French had each lost 350,000 men. Later that same year, the British launched a massive attack against German positions along the Somme River. After several weeks of intense combat, the Allies had gained a mere fifteen square miles at the cost of 410,000 British dead and 190,000 French dead. The Germans lost 500,000 men.
The staggering number of casualties can be attributed not only to incredibly stupid strategic planning and leadership, but also to the perfection of already existing weapons of mass destruction and the introduction of new ones. During World War I, the machine gun and heavy artillery were employed with devastating effect. Weapons used for the first time included aircraft, tanks, poison gas, and submarines. Their effect was no less devastating.
In particular, the submarine and its effects transcended the battlefield. At the onset of the war, both sets of belligerents declared a blockade in the belief that they could starve their opponent into submission. While the Allies relied chiefly on Britain's fleet to maintain their blockade, the Central Powers placed their hopes in Germany's submarines. The German submarines were quite effective, but the type of campaign they waged was flawed because, unlike surface vessels, they could not stop and board their intended target. Rather, they could only sink their targets in an indiscriminate fashion, demonstrated quite dramatically in May 1915 with the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania with the loss of 1,200 lives, including 118 Americans. The United States, a neutral country that had protested the blockade actions of both belligerents, erupted in anger at the sinking of the Lusitania. The United States threatened war against Germany, a prospect that caused German leaders to modify their submarine campaign. However, at the start of 1917 Germany once again decided to wage unrestricted submarine warfare. This decision played an important part in the American determination to enter the war on the side of the Allies in April 1917.
The only major conventional clash at sea occurred in spring 1916 when the German fleet ventured from its harbors and fought the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland. The clash was essentially an accidental one, and although the German fleet probably gained a slight victory (German guns proved better than English ones, and the Germans sank twice the tonnage that the British did), it retreated to port and never again sallied forth to challenge the British.
While millions of men slaughtered each other at the front, important changes occurred at home. World War I introduced the twentieth century to the concept of "total war." Subjected to the requirements of a war effort of unprecedented scope and size, each belligerent government eventually adopted policies that interfered profoundly with normal civilian activity in order to marshal all available human and material resources. Perhaps the best example of this development is found in the policy of national conscription that placed all able-bodied young and middle-aged men at the state's disposal.
The now regimented populations were also the target of incessant campaigns of state-sponsored but often distorted propaganda designed to boost civilian morale and generate support for the war. Meanwhile, the war effort drained the financial resources of the state and eventually bankrupted almost every belligerent. Standards of living also declined, and each state struggled to find substitutes for items that were no longer available, including labor, as women performed heretofore exclusively male tasks.
Germany, under the organizational genius Walter Rathenau, practiced total war most effectively. Rathenau successfully organized Germany's productive capacity and directed German scientists in the production of many ersatz, or artificial, items that served to mitigate the effects of the Allied blockade. Such steps enabled a resource-strapped Germany to fight effectively for more than four years. Those countries least successful in waging total war (Russia and Awstria-Hungary) found their chances for success, even survival, rapidly diminishing.
In fact, the failure to shoulder the crushing burdens of modern warfare led to the collapse of Russia in 1917. In March of that year, revolution broke out in the capital, St. Petersburg, which had been renamed Petrograd at the beginning of the war. Nicholas II, the Russian tsar, or emperor, quickly abdicated; but the chaos intensified. While the situation at home continued to deteriorate, the Russian army mounted a summer offensive under General Alexis Brusilov. As had been the case in 1916, when Brusilov launched a similar campaign, he was defeated. With Brusilov's defeat, the Russian army began to disintegrate. At home a power struggle was under way to see who would fill the vacuum created by the collapse of the tsarist state. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks, a small, radical group espousing Marxism and led by V. I. Lenin, seized power. Believing in the inevitability of a global, working-class revolution, the Bolsheviks sought to withdraw Russia from the war. Negotiations ensued during which the Germans drove a very hard bargain. These negotiations resulted in the March 3, 1918, Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which validated the German victory in the east. The Germans could now devote their full attention to the Western Front. There, however, circumstances had changed dramatically.
Russia's departure from the war roughly coincided with the U.S. entry into the war. In early 1917, an increasingly desperate Germany, now fully under the control of Generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, decided to resume w~restricted submarine warfare in an effort to starve Great Britain into submission once and for all. This decision infuriated the United States, which declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. Several months later, in January 1918, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson issued the Fourteen Points, which for the first time clearly set out Allied war aims. Both the American entry into the war and the Fourteen Points, following closely upon the triumph of Bolshevism in Russia, gave the Allies a huge boost in morale. Moreover, the prospect of unlimited American men, money, and material seemed to ensure that the Allies would eventually win the stalemated conflict. However, the United States would take about a year to move to a war footing, and the bloodletting on the Western Front continued unabated throughout 1917.
The French, under a new commander, General Robert Nivellel
determined to continue the failed tactic of the massed assault.
This time, however, French troops mutinied, refusing to
go on the offensive. Unbeknownst to the Germans, the French
army was on the verge of collapse. That catastrophe was avoided
when Petain, the hero of Verdun, replaced Nivelle and restored
discipline. In order to save his army, Petain abandoned the doctrine
of attack and took up a defensive posture awaiting the arrival
of the Americans. The British, however, continued to press forward.
Fighting in "Flanders' Fields" at Passchendaele and
Ypres, the British army absorbed staggering casualties at the
hands of dug-in German forces. In October the Southern Front flared
when the Austrians routed the Italian army at Caporetto. Approximately
300,000 Italians surrendered, while more than 400,000 deserted.
The failures of 1917 might have been enough to break the Allies
it not been for the entry of the United States into the war and the coming to power of Georges Clemenceau in France and David Lloyd George in Britain. These hard-nosed leaders, who sometimes rode roughshod over both their political opponents and prevailing legal standards, were determined to achieve victory.
Their determination proved helpful as the war reached its climax in 1918. Freed of major military responsibilities in the east, the Germans now transferred the bulk of their forces to the Western Front as they prepared for an all-out onslaught against the British and the French before the Americans could arrive to tip the scales in favor of the Allies. Launching their massive attack in March 1918, the Germans came perilously close to success until they were defeated in July at the gates of Paris in the Second Battle of the Marne. The failure of the German offensive foreshadowed the end of the war. With American troops pouring into France at the rate of 250,000 a month, the German armies lost all chance of victory.
In September 1918 the German generals informed a shocked Kaiser William II that Germany was defeated and dumped further responsibility for the conduct of the war in his lap. In Austria-Hungary, the empire itself was disintegrating as each of its component national parts started to go its own way. On November 11, 1918, an armistice took effect. After more than four years of the bloodiest fighting the world had ever seen, the guns stopped firing.
In January 1919, peace negotiations opened at Paris. The Paris Peace Conference, as the negotiations were called, tried to deal with the many consequences of the war. However, Soviet Russia, already a pariah among nations, was not invited to the conference, and defeated Germany was effectively barred from participating in the discussions. As for the victorious Allies, they tended to squabble among themselves and could never agree on whether to impose a truly Draconian peace or a generous peace. The main product of this flawed effort to bring peace to Europe was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Russian Revolution: 1917-1921
In March 1917, the imperial Russian state, staggering under the blows inflicted by the German army during the course of World War I, collapsed. Nicholas II, the weak-willed and indecisive tsar, or emperor, abdicated the throne. When no other member of the Romanov family chose to succeed him, 300 years of rule by the Romanovs came to an end and Russia found itself adrift in a revolutionary sea.
Almost immediately, two rival bodies began to compete for control of Russia. One was the Provisional Government, which claimed to be the legitimate successor to the tsarist state. Until 1905 the Russian Empire had been an autocracy, where all legal power had been concentrated in the hands of the tsar. However, despite energetic attempts to crush any sign of political activity, underground opposition to the regime had flourished in Russia during the nineteenth century. When revolution came in 1905, the tsar reluctantly surrendered a portion of his authority, allowing for the creation of a Duma, or parliament, which exercised some legislative powers. While Russian moderates were satisfied with this concession, Russian radicals rejected the Duma and demanded renewal of revolutionary activity. Although the tsar circumscribed its powers after 1907, the Duma remained in existence and in March 1917 was transformed into the Provisional Government.
The Provisional Government's great rival for power in revolutionary Russia was the Petrograd2 Soviet (Council) of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which inspired imitators throughout the country. Formed in March 1917, the Soviet featured representatives from Russia's most radical political parties, including the Social Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks, and the Bolsheviks. The Soviet also included a fair number of indigenous leaders from military units and the factories who did not formally belong to any radical faction.
The Soviet favored an undefined form of socialism for Russia and demanded more radical action than the Provisional Government was willing to undertake. By virtue of its revolutionary stance, the Soviet more closely reflected the desires of the common people than did the Provisional Government. Hotirever, in its early days the Soviet lacked unity of purpose and clear leadership. In fact, its component parts often clashed with each other. Furthermore, the Soviet had no experience at governing. Consequently, the Soviet shied away from seizing power from the Provisional Government, preferring to act as a parallel but competing force. In sum, the Soviet enjoyed considerable popular support but had no clear vision of the future, while the Provisional Government had a marginally better idea of what it wished to accomplish but lacked popular support.
During the spring and early summer of 1917, the Provisional Government of Prime Minister Prince George L'vov failed to establish control over the deteriorating situation. The Russian economy continued to collapse, the war dragged on, and the poverty-stricken Russian peasants, who constituted the overwhelming bulk of the population, pressed their demands for land. Slowly the composition of the Provisional Government moved leftward until Alexander Kerensky, the only socialist member of the original Provisional Government, was named prime minister on July 20.
While elements of the moderate, non-revolutionary left gained power in the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks, the most revolutionary of the socialist parties, increased their strength in the Soviet. This development was directly attributable to the return to Russia from exile of the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who gave renewed direction and purpose to his small and divided party. Arriving in Petrograd on April 16, Lenin issued his "April Theses," which called for the Bolsheviks to reject cooperation with the Provisional Government, and instead to prepare for the seizure of power. Lenin urged the Bolsheviks to gain control of the Soviet, which would then serve as the vehicle for the socialist revolution they sought. He also demanded that the Bolsheviks provide leadership for the disgruntled workers and peasants, and use the discontent of the masses to propel themselves to power.
Lenin's return to Russia and: his call for more radical measures took place against a backdrop of increasing chaos and confusion that undermined what little authority the Provisional Government commanded. Ironically, in many respects the Provisional Government was its own worst enemy. Not only did it fail to meet the demands of the peasants for land, but it kept Russia in the war. Astonishingly enough, in spring 1917 it even ordered the beaten and demoralized Russian army to go on the offensive; this act of gross stupidity resulted in a major Russian defeat that shattered what remained of the army's cohesion.
In July disturbances broke out in Petrograd. Enraged civilians and disaffected soldiers, frustrated by the deepening crisis, joined forces to attack the Provisional Government. These riots, known as the July Days, were unanticipated, spontaneous, and for a while leaderless. The July Days placed the Bolsheviks in a dilemma. Lenin scorned the rioters, characterizing them as "playing at revolution," and wished to hold his Bolsheviks aloof from what he considered to be a lost if not downright stupid cause. Lenin felt that if the Bolsheviks were to join the rioters, they might very well be subjected to significant retribution once the July Days failed. However, Lenin realized that if the Bolsheviks stood aside they would appear to be less than the revolutionary firebrands they claimed to be and could lose hard-earned support among the Petrograd masses.
Reluctantly, Lenin threw the Bolsheviks into the fray, aligning them with the radicalized mobs. As envisioned, however, the Provisional Government retained enough strength to quell the riots and to restore order in Petrograd. With the failure of the July Days, the Bolshevik Party was banned, Cenin fled Petrograd and went into hiding, and several important Bolshevik leaders were arrested. However, the Provisional Government proved too weak to exploit its victory by moving decisively against the Bolsheviks.
A few weeks after putting down this threat from the left, the Provisional Government faced a serious challenge from the right. Alarmed at the dismal showing of the increasingly socialist-dominated Provisional Government, conservatives and some moderate elements rallied behind General Lavr Kornilov, a popular military figure reputed to have "the heart of a lion and the brain of a sheep." In early September Kornilov drew close to Petrograd. In response, Kerensky's Provisional Government called on the Soviet to defend the revolution. It also lifted the ban on the Bolshevik Party and released imprisoned Bolsheviks. In a moment of panic, the Provisional Government also distributed tens of thousands of rifles to the masses in order to repel Komilov. Most of these weapons fell into the hands of the Bolshevik militia, the Red Guards. s Meanwhile, the Kornilov threat evaporated. The general failed to launch his expected attack, a victim of his own muddled thinking and the unwillingness of troops under his command to follow his orders. However, the Bolsheviks profited greatly from the Kornilov Affair. Having won the sympathy of many in the mob for their stand during the July Days, they now found themselves re-legalized and armed. In the wake of the Kornilov Affair, the Bolsheviks gained control over both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. This allowed them to speak in the name of the Soviets, a much broader and popular organization than the Bolshevik Party. A few weeks later, Lenin returned to Petrograd and began to urge an armed insurrection against the Provisional Government.
As Bolshevik power waxed, the authority of the Provisional Government waned. Confused, unpopular, and divided in its own councils, the Provisional Government drifted. Gauging the weakness of the Provisional Government correctly, Lenin, aided by veteran maverick Marxist Leon Trotsky, convinced the Bolsheviks to strike. On November 7, 1917, Bolshevik forces seized most of Petrograd and stormed the Winter Palace, home of the Provisional Government. Few rallied to the side of the beleaguered Provisional Government, and by nightfall the Bolsheviks proclaimed victory. The course of the Russian Revolution had taken a new turn.
Many, especially in the West, expected the new Soviet government to fail quickly. The Russia that the Bolsheviks now ruled was virtually a corpse. More than three years of intense fighting in World War I had bled it white, and despite the Bolshevik seizure of power, the war continued its relentless pace, with the German army bearing down on Petrograd. Russia was bankrupt. Its transportation and communication systems, inadequate to begin with, now lay in ruin. Industrial production shrank almost daily, and anarchy prevailed in the countryside. Finally, the ethnic minorities of western Russia, such as the Poles and the Ukrainians, who had been forcibly brought into the Russian Empire, now demanded their independence.
Facing such a bleak prospect, Lenin and his followers
concluded that their first priority must be to strengthen their
grasp on the levers of power while simultaneously keeping faith
with the Marxist ideology that had sustained them for so long.
To that end they began their rule with a flurry of decrees, including
the Decree on Land, which sanctioned peasant seizure of estates
belonging to the well-to-do, and the Decree on Peace, which called
upon all belligerents to enter into negotiations designed to achieve
a just peace. In December they followed up on the peace decree
when they concluded an armistice and opened peace negotiations
with the Central Powers.
In addition to issuing popular decrees, the Bolsheviks tightened their grip on power when in December they established the Cheka, or secret police, and ordered it to ferret out and destroy all real and potential opposition to Bolshevik rule. Then, in January 1918, the Bolsheviks forcibly dissolved the democratically elected Constituent Assembly that had been expected to create a new set of governmental institutions for Russia. The Bolsheviks, who had done poorly in the fall 1917 elections, winning only 170 of 707 seats, regarded the Constituent Assembly as a threat to their power, and shut it down after allowing it to meet for only one day. Meanwhile, the peace negotiations proved difficult. Meeting with German representatives at the small Polish town of Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks discovered that their adversaries intended to extract major concessions from the fledgling regime. Bolshevik efforts to evade the German demands failed, and on March 3, 1918, the new Soviet state was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. By the terms of the treaty, Soviet Russia gave up control over Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lahria, Lithuania, and Ukraine. It lost 60 million people, or more than one-quarter of its total population. It also surrendered more than one quarter of its arable land, railways, and factories, and three-quarters of its iron and coal production. Only Germany's ultimate defeat in World War I enabled the weak Soviet state to recover some of its losses at Brest-Litovsk.
Many Bolshevik leaders balked at signing the Draconian peace, but Lenin carried the day when he argued that peace was absolutely essential for the retention of Soviet power in Russia, even if it meant that the war had to be concluded at virtually any price. Lenin maintained that peace would give the Bolsheviks a "breathing space" in which to build socialism in Russia. However, his optimism proved unfounded, as civil war broke out only weeks after the treaty was signed. As with most civil wars, the Russian one was a bloody and brutal conflict. Emotions ran high, and both sides committed numerous indescribable atrocities. The Bolsheviks relied on their newly created Red Army, the product of Leon Trotsky's prodigious organizational skills. Their opponents were the Whites, an unlikely mixture of liberals, moderate socialists, radical but anti-Bolshevik socialists, army officers, monarchists, and conservatives. Ultimately, mindless reactionaries and fanatical Russian nationalists gained the upper hand and directed most White operations.
During the course of the civil war, the Bolsheviks instituted a policy known as War Communism. War Communism was designed to achieve two goals simultaneously: the marshalling of all available resources in order to prosecute the civil war, and the rapid transformation of Russia into a model Marxist state. To that end, the Bolsheviks under War Communism nationalized both land and industry, outlawed private trade, implemented a system of rationing and government distribution, and introduced the forced requisitioning of food arid labor. Although War Communism seriously disrupted Russia's already chaotic economy and earned for the Bolsheviks the enmity of millions, it probably helped the Reds to win their war against the Whites. Even more decisive for the Red victory, however, was the ineptitude of the White forces. Despite receiving help in the form of intervention and a blockade from several countries, including France, Great Britain, Japan, and the United States, the Whites failed to dislodge the Reds.
Basic to the White failure was their inability to coordinate their forces. Rather than a single, unified unit, the White army really consisted of several different armies, each under independent command, each following its own course of action, and each pursuing its own goals. Furthermore, the ultra-nationalistic Whites alienated the various minorities located on the periphery of the Old Russian Empire, that is, the very places where the White forces had congregated to launch their attacks on the Bolsheviks. Finally, the Whites failed to win the hearts and minds of the vast peasant population. In fact, their behavior during the conflict as well as their stated desire to return to a pre-revolutionary form of land tenure frightened and angered the peasants, without whose support the Whites' chances of success were slim.
The Russian Civil War dragged on for almost three years and, together with the famine it caused, resulted in the death of several million Russians. When the Bolsheviks finally emerged victorious in early 1921, their Russian state was a complete shambles. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks had triumphed. The revolution was over, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had won, and the future of Russia was theirs to command.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Rise of Fascism: 1919-1945
Fascism is defined as a system of government characterized by a rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of the opposition, the retention of private ownership of the means of production under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism and racism, and glorification of war. Although fascism's intellectual antecedents are rooted in the nineteenth century, it is universally regarded as one of the most important twentieth-century movements. Fascist regimes under Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany not only Spawned numerous imitators, but also introduced unique political, economic, and social forms. Eventually, fascist aggression plunged the world into the cataclysmic World War II.
Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), the son of a poor blacksmith, led Italian fascism. A socialist like his father, Mussolini abandoned a teaching career, joined the Socialist Party, and became editor of its official newspaper, Avanfi (Fonuard). When Mussolini shockingly rejected the socialist commitment to neutrality and urged Italian entry into World War I on the side of the Entente, the socialists expelled him from their party.
Mussolini founded the Fascio di Combattimento, or Fascists, in Milan in March 1919. With no clear goal in mind other than self-advancement, Mussolini led his fascists on an ultra-nationalistic course. He also condemned the capitalist socioeconomic system. With time, the nationalistic stance hardened; but strident attacks on socialism, especially Marxism, replaced the criticism of capitalism. Mussolini, who depended upon contributions from Italian businessmen, converted his party into a staunch champion of property rights and the existing social order. Thanks to his attacks on socialism and his nationalistic demagoguery, Mussolini also gathered support among the middle class. Nevertheless, the Fascists remained on the political periphery. In the 1921 parliamentary elections, they managed to win just 35 of the more than 500 seats contested. To give his party the muscle it lacked at the ballot box, Mussolini created the squadristi, black-shirted paramilitary street gangs that brawled incessantly with Fascism's opponents. In October 1922 the squadristi responded to Mussolini's command to "march on Rome" and seize power. Although the legitimate government possessed the resources to crush the Fascist threat, it lacked the necessary leadership and willpower. Consequently, Mussolini's bold gamble succeeded, and the Fascist leader was named prime minister.
Although Mussolini headed only a coalition government, it was quite apparent that he was in charge. In a matter of months he easily converted Italy's parliamentary democracy into a fascist dictatorship. However, since he never fully controlled several independent institutions, including the monarchy, the military, and the Roman Catholic Church, he had to proceed cautiously when dealing with them.
In practice, Italian fascism was often inefficient if not chaotic. Overlapping and competing layers of bureaucracy created numerous opportunities for corruption. The chain of command was unclear, and so were the regime's ultimate goals.
By the end of 1926, Mussolini had many essential elements
of his dictatorship in place. A stringent censorship muzzled the
press, and the Fascist Party wrested control over local government
from elective bodies. The Fascists also dominated the educational
establishment. With the exception of the Fascist Party, all political
organizations were abolished. Labor, considered the bastion of
socialism, attracted special attention. Fascist labor unions replaced
independent ones, and labor lost the right
Mussolini continued his cozy relationship with Italian big business, which delightedly applauded his rough treatment of the unions. He subsequently developed the concept of corporativism, which divided all Italian economic life into a number of units, or corporations. The corporations allegedly represented all the concerned parties, including business and labor, but in fact they were dominated by Fascists, who nevertheless were careful not to antagonize factory owners. Attempts to coordinate the national economy in order to achieve autarky, or self-sufficiency, failed in the face of inefficiency, corruption, and Italy's dependence upon imported raw materials.
The Fascists also fashioned government-like institutions that gradually superseded the state apparatus. To enforce their rule, the Fascists created a secret police, the OVRA, and arrested a number of opponents, who were incarcerated in political prisons. However, it was not until 1938, after Mussolini had moved close to Hitler, that the Italian fascists began to discriminate against and harass Jews and other racial minorities.
Mussolini initiated the "leader" principle, which subsequent fascist chieftains eagerly copied. Mussolini, supported by his sprawling propaganda apparatus, claimed for himself the title Duce, or leader, and increasingly portrayed himself as- infallible. One of the regime's most important slogans was "Mussolini is always right."
This same propaganda apparatus denigrated liberalism and democracy, and glorified brute strength and mindless violence. "Action," often with no particular purpose, became a way of life. Mussolini tried to dress his people in a dizzying array of uniforms, and the government proclaimed numerous causes for battle, including a battle for grain and one for population, the so-called battle for births. Italian nationalism was virtually sanctified, while a cult of male virility took on such proportions that Mussolini himself was shown engaging in the most ludicrous physical activity, including leaping through burning hoops.
In foreign affairs, the fascist credo of "action" assumed a bombastic and often expansionistic form. Mussolini began his foreign policy adventures with a bang--literally-when in 1923 he bombarded the Greek island of Corfu. For a number of years afterward he occupied himself with domestic matters, including the 1929 Lateran Accords, which regularized relations with the Roman Catholic Church. However, by the mid-1930s Italian fascism was on the move. In 1934 Mussolini rallied behind Austria's arch-conservative government to prevent that state from succumbing to the Nazis. The following year, Italy attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in northeast Africa in a bid to revive Italy's colonial empire. In rapid succession, Mussolini reversed his course and teamed up with Adolf Hitler, intervened in the Spanish Civil War on the side of General Francisco Franco and the Spanish Falangists or fascists, acquiesced to Hitler's 1938 annexation of Austria, and finally joined the Germans in World War II, a decision that ultimately led to the destruction of both Mussolini and Italian fascism.
Mussolini's counterpart in Germany was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). German fascism, called National Socialism or Nazism, was considerably more virulent than Mussolini's Italian version. Hitler was the son of a minor Austrian customs official. As a young man, the lazy and untalented Hitler failed to gain entry to art school, and drifted first to Vienna and then to Munich, where he joined the German army at the outbreak of World War I. Hitler enjoyed his military experience and was decorated for bravery.
At the close of World War I, Hitler returned to Munich, where he immersed himself in radical politics. In 1919 he joined the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party, and two years later he emerged as its leader. The Nazis, a fringe party at best, adopted an ultra-nationalistic program that denounced both the Treaty of Versailles and the Weimar Republic, the democratic state formed in the wake of Germany's defeat in the war. The Nazis originally flirted with socialism, but later came to condemn it. Hitler added a unique racial element to German fascism, proclaiming the superiority of the Aryan, or German, race and calling for the subjugation of "inferior" races, especially the Jews, whom he blamed for all of Germany's problems.
In 1923 Hitler led a failed coup d'etat, the so-called Beer Hall Putsch, and was sentenced to jail, where he wrote his autobiography, Mein Kampf. Released from jail in late 1924, Hitler resumed his leadership of the Nazi Party, which continued to be politically inconsequential. In the 1928 elections the Nazis garnered only 2.6 percent of the popular vote and elected only 12 deputies in the 491-seat German Reichstag, or parliament.
Nazi fortunes improved dramatically when the Great Depression struck Germany in late 1929. When the economy collapsed, the German voters, who were never entirely satisfied with the democratic republic, turned to the political extremes. In the 1930 elections the Nazis increased their popular vote by more than 700 percent and elected 107 deputies, which made them the second largest party in the Reichstag. The economic collapse provoked a political crisis, and another round of elections in 1932 served to confirm the Nazis' popularity. Consequently, it was not at all remarkable that Hitler, as leader of the largest political party in Germany, was named chancellor in January 1933. Like Mussolini, Hitler originally headed up a coalition government, and like Mussolini he soon dispensed with his partners in favor of dictatorial rule.
Immediately after the Reichstag building burned to the ground in a suspicious February fire, Hitler issued a decree suspending civil rights in Germany and began to arrest his opponents. A week later, new but less than totally free elections resulted in a Nazi landslide, with Hitler's party capturing almost 44 percent of the vote and electing 288 deputies. At the end of March 1933, a now docile Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler's government the right to enact laws at will. Democracy in Germany was dead; the fascists now ruled. Before the year was out, the Nazis had opened their first concentration camp at Dachau and were busy filling it with political prisoners. All political parties other than the Nazis were outlawed as the fascists imposed a one-party state. Independent trade unions were dissolved as well, replaced by the Labor Front, a Nazi organization officially dedicated to the well-being of the German working class but in fact charged with keeping German labor quiet. The first of numerous book-burning spectacles during which Nazi thugs torched millions of volumes deemed to be subversive, decadent, authored by Jews or communists, or in some way unfit for the master race, also occurred in 1933. The racial side of German fascism made itself felt in April 1933 when the Nazis organized a nationwide boycott of Jewish shops.
German fascism continued to consolidate its grip on power in 1934. The Law on the Reconstruction of the Reich destroyed the independence of the German lander, or provinces, and a system of Nazi-controlled People's Courts replaced the existing German judicial structure. Hitler also secured his personal position. On June 30 he carried out a bloody purge of the Nazi Party. This purge, known as the Night of the Long Knives, eliminated Hitler's real and potential rivals, such as Ernst Riihm, head of the party's SA (Sturm Abteilungen), a paramilitary organization consisting of Nazi hoodlums.
A few weeks later, German president Paul von Hindenburg, the antiquated World War I general, died. Hitler seized the occasion to unite the offices of chancellor and president in himself, thereby institutionalizing the concept of the infallible leader, or Fuhrer. As with the Duce in Italy, the German Fuhrer could do no wrong.
Hitler also followed the Italian example when he promoted the absorption of the state by the party. However, in the German case the Nazis went much further. The Nazi Party gradually expanded its authority to perform functions normally carried out by the state, while the state's traditional governing institutions either disappeared or became superfluous. The Nazis energetically encouraged Gleichschaltung, or coordination, which aimed to invade every nook and cranny of German life in order to Nazify all human activity. With Gleichschaltung, the Nazis planned first to atomize German society and then to rebuild it according to Nazi specifications.
That Gleichschaltung was never fully realized is at least partially attributable to the rampant inefficiency and corruption of German fascism. Nazi party bosses frequently behaved like feudal barons, jealously guarding their fiefdoms, ceaselessly squabbling over minor details, and slavishly competing for the Fuhrer's favor. Nevertheless, German fascism clearly affected society more profoundly than its Italian counterpart. Hitler developed more effective means of control, especially the brutal and omnipresent secret police, or Gestapo, under the command of Heinrich Himmler. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chief propagandist, orchestrated a constant stream of nationalistic propaganda that further buttressed the repressive Nazi regime. Romanticizing the past, glorifying Hitler and the present, and promising a triumphant future, Goebbels' propaganda machine enveloped Germany in a cloud of hallucinatory smoke.
Hitler was more successful than Mussolini in bringing independent institutions under his control. After first allying himself with big business, Hitler came to dominate it. By the late 1930s, German businessmen and their factories were virtually subject to the Fuhrer's command. German industrialists quietly accepted their reduced status since they retained ownership of their property and enjoyed the profits that their businesses generated. In the case of the German army, a proud bastion of traditional conservatism and the Prussian aristocracy, Hitler managed by 1938 to discredit its leadership and to fill its command ranks with loyal Nazis.
German fascism clearly reflected Hitler's obsessive racial hatred. It turned its full force against society's "outsiders," especially the Jews. In 1935 the Nazis imposed the Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Jews of their German citizenship, forbade Jews to marry non-Jews, and set quotas for Jews in the professions. In November 1938 Hitler unleashed his Nazi hordes in an orgy of violence directed against the tiny (about 1 percent of the population) German Jewish community. This pogrom, called Kristallnncht, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Jews and the arrest of another 30,000. German fascism's violent, anti-Semitic outbursts proved to be merely a prelude to the concentration camps and the systematic extermination of Europe's Jews during World War II. Nazi foreign policy was an active one, seeking two goals: the destruction of the Treaty of Versailles and the expansion of Germany's boundaries, or the quest for living room (Lebensratlm), as Hitler characterized it. With much of Europe deeply mired in the Depression and paralyzed by memories of World War I, Hitler achieved a series of diplomatic triumphs that seemed to confirm his self-proclaimed infallibility. In rapid succession he withdrew Germany from the League of Nations (1933), commenced rearmament (1935), remilitarized the Rhineland (1936), intervened in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), annexed Austria (the Anschluss) (1938), and destroyed Czechoslovakia with the acquiescence of the western democracies at the Munich Conference (1938). Only when he invaded Poland in September 1939 did he overreach himself. The error proved to be fatal. In inaugurating the European phase of World War II, Hitler set in motion forces that eventually brought him down and destroyed fascist Germany in the process.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Great Depression: 1929-c.3939
An economic depression is a period of substantially decreased business activity usually accompanied by high unemployment, falling wages, and declining prices. While depressions were not an uncommon occurrence (there were major depressions in 1873-1878 and 1895-1897), the one that began in 1929 was so severe, long-lasting, and global in nature that it earned the name the Great Depression.
After the debilitating economic upheaval caused by World War I, the world warmly welcomed the return of prosperity in the early 1920s. However, the glow of prosperity, which lasted until 1929, masked some significant economic problems. For a start, not all the world shared in this prosperity. During the 1920s, global agriculture underwent a profound crisis. Encouraged by increased demand during World War I, when much of Europe's agricultural capacity was in limbo, farmers in such countries as the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia had gone deeply into debt in order to expand their operations. It is estimated that during the war 33 million new acres were put under plow. With the war's end and the resumption of normal agricultural activity in Europe, demand slumped and production grew. Above average global harvests from 1925 to 1928 aggravated the resultant overproduction. By the late 1920s, debt-ridden farmers everywhere were going bankrupt, agrarian purchasing power had virtually disappeared, the world agricultural price index, which registered 226 in 1919, now stood at 134, and the price of a bushel of wheat in terms of gold was the lowest it had been in 400 years.
Furthermore, the prosperity of the late 1920s clearly rested on the export of U.S. capital and the strength of U.S. import markets. Europe was especially dependent upon the United States. Beginning in 1924, a huge infusion of U.S. capital jump-started the German economy, whose improvement subsequently sparked a general European economic upturn. Nevertheless, even before 1929 the European economy showed signs of weakening as U.S. investors shifted their resources from Europe back to the United States in order to take advantage of the unprecedented boom in the American stock market. However, the stock market surge was not a permanent one and, in fact, it ended abruptly. On Thursday, October 24, 1929, the U.S. stock market collapsed, setting off a spectacular panic that ultimately brought about the Great Depression.
By the end of November 1929, the average share of stock had lost 40 percent of its pre-crash value; over the next few years the average share would lose another 40 percent of its value. Between 1929 and 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged from a high of 381 to a low of 41. Five thousand American banks were forced to close. Shaken by the stock market's collapse, U.S. investors who had overextended themselves now called in their loans and liquidated their investments. Germany, more dependent upon American capital than any other country, suffered accordingly. As the German economy slowed to a standstill, the rest of Europe, itself heavily dependent upon German reparations payments from World War I and closely integrated with the German economy as a whole, started to grind to a halt. Furthermore, as the downturn in the United States spread to the industrial sector of the economy, American markets--which the rest of the world had relied on for the export of their goods--began to dry up. The 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which raised already high protective duties on imported goods, only aggravated matters. Unemployment rose dramatically. In this fashion, the collapse of the U.S. stock market created a ripple effect that swept over the world economy with devastating consequences. The crisis deepened perceptibly when the most important bank in Vienna, the Credit-Anstalt, collapsed on May 11, 1931. The failure of the Credit-Anstalt caused a major financial panic. Worried investors withdrew funds from banks everywhere and moved them about in a desperate attempt to find a haven for their wealth. Numerous banks simply failed, leaving depositors in the lurch. The world banking system teetered on the brink of collapse.
Many investors made their way to London, where they sought to exchange pounds sterling for gold. This "flight from the pound" reached gigantic proportions, and on September 19, 1931, it forced the British government to abandon the gold standard. Henceforth, the Bank of England would no longer sell gold for pounds. This decision, which spelled the end of the post-World War I attempt to recreate an international banking system based on gold, brought chaos to international trade and further intensified the Depression.
The worst of the Depression came in 1932. It is estimated that world production declined by 38 percent between 1929 and 1932, and that world trade dropped by more than 66 percent. Reported global unemployment reached 30 million, and millions of others, especially in the non-Western world, worked only sporadically. With so many people unemployed or underemployed, demand plummeted, causing additional layoffs and business closings. A vicious downward economic spiral gripped the globe.
Quite naturally, the universal misery spawned by the Great Depression sparked calls for action. However, most governments refused to implement radical policies and confined themselves to modest relief measures designed to alleviate human suffering. The principle of classical, or liberal, economics dictated this essentially passive response. According to classical economic theory, which prevailed at that time, business activity is cyclical. Periods of prosperity will inevitably be followed by slumps, which in turn will inevitably be followed by periods of prosperity. When slumps come, as they must, the government response should be to refrain from action and wait for the business cycle to run its course. If governments wish to speed up the cycle, they should adopt deflationary measures such as balanced budgets and reduced governmental expenditures in order to restore business confidence more rapidly. While these steps may hurt some people, the pain will be temporary. Once business confidence is restored, investment and economic expansion will resume, unemployment will decline, demand will increase, and prosperity will return.
Even though the ideas of classical economics dominated conventional wisdom at the time, the cataclysmic nature of the Great Depression motivated others to seek different solutions. A handful of socialists turned for inspiration to the Soviet Union, where Karl Marx's dictum about the collective ownership of the means of production was being implemented and Joseph Stalin was introducing his planned economy. However, most people recoiled from the Soviet model because it was too radical. The concept of corporatism, which predated the Great Depression, found some enthusiastic adherents, especially in the business community. Under corporatism, each branch of a nation's economy would be organized into corporations resembling cartels or trusts. The corporations would be dominated by businessmen with, perhaps, representatives of the government and labor sitting in. These units would then regulate and manage the economy to the presumed benefit of all. Among other things, the corporations would set prices, control wages, and determine production and distribution.
The British economist John Maynard Keynes offered a different solution. For Keynes, the fundamental cause of the Great Depression was inadequate demand rather than excessive supply. Deflationary steps only aggravated the problem. In his 1936 book, Gener~71 Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Keynes advised governments to step in and stimulate the economy by increasing the money supply, undertaking public works, and redistributing income through tax policy. He argued that government intervention designed to put the unemployed back to work and to put more money in the pockets of more people would bring increased demand and a general revival of economic activity. This would be a much desired result, even if it required the government to run a deficit rather than balance its budget. Although Keynes' ideas would become popular after World War II, during the Depression most governments followed the dictates of classical economics.
Typical of the commitment to classical economics were
the actions of successive British governments. The Labour Party,
led by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, held power when the Depression
began. After tepid and unsuccessful attempts to stimulate the
economy, in 1931 MacDonald's wing of the Labour Party broke away
and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives under
Stanley Baldwin. Dominated by the Conservatives, the so-called
National Government initiated deflationary policies. Government
expenditures were reduced, welfare payments were cut, protectionist
tariffs were introduced, and businessmen were left to their own
devices. The results were disappointing. Great Britain, which
had never really shared in the prosperity of the 1920s, recovered
from the Depression, only gradually, if at all. Unemployment,
stood at 1.2 million in 1929, soared to 2.7 million (or 22 percent
of the work force) in 1932, and remained above 2 million until
1936. In 1938 the unemployment figure was 1.8 million.
The Great Depression arrived in France later and less suddenly than in other countries. As late as 1930, France continued to exceed its pre-
World War I industrial production level by at least 40 percent. However, when the slump hit, it lasted longer in France than elsewhere. By 1938 recovery was nowhere in sight. Industrial production remained below 1930 and 1931 figures, and unemployment stood at historically high levels. Reacting to the economic downturn, a series of unstable coalition governments applied deflationary measures, including a reduction of civil servants' salaries. French governments vigorously resisted any proposals to stimulate the economy. In 1936 a coalition socialist government under the leadership of Leon Blum attempted to re-inflate the French economy. The Blum experiment was short-lived, due in part to French conservatives' implacable hostility to any program devised by socialists. In the United States, the Great Depression took a heavy toll. By 1932 U.S. industrial production was just barely half of what it had been in 1929, more than 12 million Americans were unemployed, and national income had dropped by more than 50 percent. President Herbert Hoover refused to depart significantly from traditional classical economic doctrine and consequently was defeated in the election of 1932. Although the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had run on the promise of further deflationary policies, once in office he instituted a number of measures designed to re-inflate the American economy. In this manner Roosevelt's New Deal somewhat resembled Keynes' ideas. However, despite this flurry of government activity and Roosevelt's immense personal popularity, the U.S. economy remained in the doldrums. Although national income had risen dramatically from its low point in 1932, by 1938 it still fell short of the 1929 level.
The Great Depression in Germany not only wrecked that
country's economy, but also destroyed Germany's fragile republic
and cleared the way for the Nazi dictatorship. Devastated by the
loss of American capital in the wake of the stock market crash,
Germany experienced a precipitous economic slide that by 1932
resulted in more than 6 million unemployed (about 35 percent of
the work force) and a decrease in industrial production of about
50 percent. After the collapse of the ruling socialist government
in 1930, a shaky conservative coalition under the leadership of
Heinrich Bruning governed Germany. Following classical economic
precepts, the Bruning government strove to balance the budget
by reducing state expenditures, cutting wages, and slashing unemployment
benefits. This course of action simply exacerbated an impossible
situation, increasing economic misery for millions of Germans
and causing the electorate to seek solace in the political extremes.
A major beneficiary of this misguided policy was Adolf Hitler, who came to power on January 30, 1933, and quickly turned Germany into a Nazi dictatorship. Following the advice of financial wizard Hjallnar Schacht, the Nazi State actively intervened in Germany's economic life. It made huge investments in public works, especially road building and arms production. This policy, combined with strong government controls over both business and labor, and a determination to achieve autarky, or economic self-sufficiency, helped to pull Germany out of the Depression. By 1936 German unemployment had dropped markedly and a miraculous economic recovery appeared to be under way. By 1938 Germany's economy was booming and German purchasing power had regained its 1929 level.
It is hard to gauge the effects of the Great Depression in Italy since that country's economy was---even by 1929--not fully developed. As a result, unemployment levels and the amount that national income decreased are difficult to determine. Furthermore, Benito Mussolini's fascist dictatorship set up a smoke screen of propaganda about its grandiose development projects in order to obscure the effects of the Depression. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Italy suffered an economic decline.
In response to the Great Depression, Mussolini's regime,
which had already experimented with corporatism, developed its
version of that concept more fully. In practice this meant turning
essential control of the country's economy over to the Italian
business community, although the government intervened when necessary
to bail out enterprises that appeared ready to go bankrupt. As
a consequence, the Italian government sometimes found itself owning
a controlling interest in a business or industry. Nevertheless,
the government usually left decision making for those industries
in the hands of the industrialists, preferring the support of
the Italian business community to the exercise of absolute power
over the Italian economy.
The course of the Great Depression varied from country to country. By 1938 some countries had virtually recovered their economic vitality, while others continued to lag behind or languished in economic disarray. Nevertheless, as important as the Great Depression was, the outbreak of World War II was about to overshadow it.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
World War II: 1939-1945
The origins of World War II are rooted in such causes as aggressive nationalism, expansionistic imperialism, virulent Social Darwinism, bitter resentment of the Treaty of Versailles that concluded World War I, and the global power vacuum that World War I helped to create. The first instance of violence associated with World War II occurred in 1931, when a belligerent, militaristic Japan seized the Chinese province of Manchuria. Despite condemnation by the League of Nations, the international body created after World War I to maintain global peace and security, Tapan continued to press China throughout the 1930s. Finally, in 1937 Japan launched a full-scale attack on China. During their offensive, the Japanese captured the city of Nanking, setting off a seven-week-long orgy of looting, rape, and murder that took the lives of perhaps 200,000 Chinese.
In Europe, Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933 foreshadowed the end of what proved to be a precarious peace. Intent on solidifying his hold on Germany, Hitler at first moved slowly in international affairs. Nevertheless, by early 1936 he had withdrawn Germany from the League of Nations, sponsored a failed coup d'etat in Austria, and announced the rearmament of Germany in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Beginning in 1936, Hitler increasingly turned his attention to foreign affairs. In March of that year he re-militarized the Rhineland in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. He also intervened on the side of the Spanish fascists in the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936. In March 1938, again in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, he annexed the independent Austrian State to his Third Reich.
The Anschluss, as the annexation of Austria was called, brought scant response from Great Britain and France, the chief guarantors of Versailles. Mired in the depth of the Great Depression and haunted by gruesome memories of World War I, the French and especially the British had determined to follow a policy of appeasement in their relations with Hitler's Germany. According to the architects of appeasement such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, war could be avoided by giving in to legitimate and limited German demands. Unfortunately, Hitler's demands were both illegitimate and unlimited, although for a long time Western statesmen refused to acknowledge this.
The height of appeasement occurred in September 1938 at the Munich Conference. There France and Great Britain disgracefully reneged on their real and implied commitments to Czechoslovakia and permitted Hitler to annex the Sudetenland, or that part of Czechoslovakia that bordered Germany. Appeasement died only in 1939 when Hitler broke his solemn promise and absorbed what was left of the Czech State. Shortly thereafter, Hitler began to threaten Poland. The Poles, relying nervously on promises of support from Great Britain and France, resisted. World War II in Europe began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Using a tactic called blitzkrieg, or "lightning war," the Germans soon overwhelmed the hapless Poles. Blitzkrieg called for massed mobile units having enormous firepower to punch a hole in the enemy lines and then race to the enemy's rear, cutting lines of communication and creating chaos. Two days after the invasion, Poland's allies, Great Britain and France, declared war on Germany. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, which had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany on August 23, 1939, also attacked Poland and annexed the eastern portion of that country. This proved to be the prelude to the Soviet seizure of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the summer of 1940. During 1939-1940, the USSR also fought a short war with Finland, the so-called Winter War, bringing the Soviets additional territory. After the conquest of Poland, military activity virtually ceased until the following spring, when Hitler turned his attention to Western Europe.
Beginning with the invasion and conquest of Denmark and Norway, Hitler moved against the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and attacked the important nation of France on May 10, 1940. Hitler's victory over France was unexpectedly easy. France, suing for peace on June 22, 1940, was divided between an army of German occupation in the north and a puppet regime called Vichy France in the south. Henri Petain, a World War I French war hero, and Pierre Laval, a prewar politician, administered Vichy France. These two collaborators were often referred to as "quislings," a term of scorn derived from Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi puppet who oversaw conquered Norway. Eventually, a vigorous resistance movement called the Free French, led by Charles de Gaulle, a French officer who had fled the Nazis, challenged both Vichy France's legitimacy and the Nazi occupation. As France fell, the British army, which had helped to defend France, barely escaped to Britain from encirclement on the French beaches at Dunkirk. Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy, had also joined his ally Hitler in the attack on France and was preparing an attack on Greece. Germany and Italy, the Axis powers, were experiencing great success.
Having defeated France, Hitler now turned his attention to Britain, where he faced a new leader, the resolute Winston Churchill, who had been named prime minister in May 1940. During the Battle of Britain in the fall of 1940, Hitler unsuccessfully tried to bomb the British into submission by striking at civilian as well as military targets. In 1941 the course of the war in Europe entered a new phase when Hitler launched a surprise attack on his erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, after having achieved additional military success in the Balkans. In December 1941 the German armies reached the gates of Leningrad and Moscow before their offensive bogged down and Soviet resistance stiffened.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe Germany's ally
Japan pursued a policy of conquest. Having occupied much of China
as well as the French colony of Indochina, Japan now challenged
the United States. In response to a surprise attack on its fleet
at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States declared war
on Japan. In a matter of days, Germany and Italy declared war
on the United States. Great Britain, the USSR, and the United
States now found themselves aligned against Germany, Italy, and
Japan. The former countries soon formed what came to be known
as the Grand Alliance and made the strategic decision to dedicate
the bulk of their resources to achieving victory in Europe. The
high-water mark for the Axis powers came in December 1941, but
the next three and one-half years witnessed a slow but steady
erosion of their position. During 1942 the British, under General
Bernard Montgomery, first stopped the Axis advance in North Africa
at the Battle of El Alamein, and then successfully counterattacked.
By the spring of 1943, British and American units had cleared
North Africa of Axis forces. The African victories set the stage
for the invasion of Sicily and then
the Italian mainland, which occurred later in 1943. The Allied triumph
in Sicily led to the overthrow of Mussolini and the opening of armistice negotiations between the Italian army and the Allies in July 1943. However, the Germans intervened, rescued the captured Mussolini, reestablished his dictatorship, and, most important, occupied Rome and proceeded to mount a staunch defense of their position on the Italian peninsula.
Perhaps the most consequential battle of the war took
place on the Eastern Front during the winter of 1942-1943. At
the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) on the banks of the Volga,
Russia's most important river, the Soviet, or Red, Army under
the leadership of Generals Vasily Chuikov and Georgi Zhukov surrounded
and annihilated its German opponents. The victorious Soviet army
lost more men at Stalingrad than the United States lost in combat
during the entire war. In July 1943 the
Soviets followed up their victory at Stalingrad by defeating the Germans at the Battle of Kursk, World War II's largest tank battle. These two crushing defeats broke the back of the German army and forced it to commence its slow and bitter retreat to Berlin.
Meanwhile, during 1942 the United States, with help from its British allies, stopped the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific theater of operations. After defeating the Japanese navy at the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, the United States adopted a strategy of "island hopping," which called for Allied forces to move toward the Japanese heartland one island at a time. Repulsing the Japanese at Guadalcanal and ousting them from the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana islands, U.S. forces under General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz moved steadily closer to Japan's home islands. In October 1944 the United States destroyed the remnants of Japan's fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf and liberated the Philippines.
During the latter part of 1943, Anglo-American units became bogged down in Italy while the Red Army gradually but decisively defeated the Germans on the Eastern Front. It was not until June 6, 1944, that the Western allies finally launched a much-anticipated cross-channel invasion when they went ashore at Normandy in France and opened the long-awaited "second front." D-day, as the invasion was known, proved to be a great success. Under the leadership of the American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Western allies cleared the Nazis from France. Paris was liberated on August 24, 1944.
By the start of 1944, the Red Army had expelled the Germans from Soviet soil and was beginning to move against Germany's allies in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The Soviets defeated Romania and Bulgaria, invaded Hungary and Slovakia, and liberated parts of Yugoslavia, including the capital, Belgrade. By late 1944 the Red Army had crossed into East Prussia, thereby bringing the war to German soil. The Soviet triumphs in Eastern Europe alarmed some Westerners who had never trusted Joseph Stalin and who regarded his communist regime almost as distastefully as they regarded Hitler's Nazi state. However, the Western leaders, Winston Churchill and the U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, early on had agreed not to ask Stalin tough questions about the nature of a postwar Europe for fear that Stalin might abandon the alliance and seek a separate peace with the Germans. Consequently, Allied wartime diplomacy tended to focus on other issues. Even before American entry into the war, Churchill and Roosevelt met at sea off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941 and signed the Atlantic Charter, which set forth a series of liberal principles to guide the postwar world. Almost a year earlier, Roosevelt defied isolationist sentiment at home and gave the hard-pressed British fifty aged but serviceable destroyers in return for ninety-nine-year leases on several British bases in the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean. In March 1941 Roosevelt persuaded the U.S. Congress to approve his policy of Lend-Lease, whereby the United States lent or leased to its allies billions of dollars worth of supplies with the understanding that they would be returned or paid for after the war. Originally designed to supply Great Britain, Lend-Lease was extended to include the Soviet Union once it entered the war.
Roosevelt and Churchill met again at Casablanca in January 1943. The Casablanca Conference resulted in a pledge to continue hostilities until Germany surrendered unconditionally. The next meeting took place at Teheran, Iran, in December 1943. With Stalin participating for the first time, the three allies discussed the occupation and demilitarization of a conquered Germany. They also discussed Roosevelt's proposal to create an international body designed to maintain global peace. In October 1944 Churchill, ignoring Roosevelt's belief that Stalin was manageable, and growing ever more worried about the expanding Soviet presence in eastern Europe, traveled to Moscow. The British leader sought to determine Stalin's intentions for the lands liberated by the Red Army. The result of Churchill's trip was an old-fashioned division of Eastern Europe into well-defined spheres of influence. However, postwar events rendered this agreement virtually worthless.
The last major wartime diplomatic conference convened in February 1945 at Yalta in the Soviet Union. Topics on the agenda included the disposition of Poland and, by extension, the rest of Eastern Europe, the future of Germany, Soviet participation in the war against Japan, and Roosevelt's international organization, the United Nations. Yalta took place against a backdrop of stunning Allied victories. After a December 1944 setback at the Battle of the Bulge, the British and the Americans, now joined by units of liberated France's army, pushed forward into Germany, crossing the Rhine River in March 1945. At the same time Soviet forces captured Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, Danzig, and Kijnigsberg, expelled the Germans from Poland, and pushed farther into Germany proper from the east.
In the course of reclaiming captured territory from the Germans, the Allies discovered a number of concentration camps where the Nazis had interned Jews, "undesirables" such as communists and homosexuals, and prisoners of war. At infamous camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek, millions of innocent people were put to death. Especially horrendous was the systematic murder of Europe's Jews, the "Final Solution" that Hitler applied to what he termed the "Jewish problem." Of the approximately 12 million who died in the camps, 6 million were Jews.
In late April 1945, with the war's end drawing near, Mussolini
was captured and executed by Italian partisans. A few days later,
on April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide in his besieged bunker
in Berlin. On May 7, 1945, representatives of the German military
surrendered to Eisenhower. One day later, the act of surrender
was repeated at Russian headquarters in the fallen German capital.
All that remained was to wrap up the war in the Pacific. Japan, which had lost Saipan in 1944, and Iwo Jima and Okinawa early in 1945, now faced a horrible new weapon of mass destruction. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; three days later Nagasaki suffered the same fate. Meanwhile, on August 8, 1945, in keeping with agreements reached at Yalta, the USSR entered the war against Japan. A formal announcement of surrender by the emperor was read to the Japanese people on August 15, 1945; on September 2 formal surrender ceremonies took place on the U.S. battleship Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. World War II had finally ended.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Cold War: c. 1946-1991
The Cold War dominated international relations during the latter portion of the twentieth century. It featured an intense and unrelenting rivalry between the United States and its allies on one hand and the Soviet Union and its supporters on the other hand. Cold War competition touched every facet of human activity. The Cold War influenced and in many instances drove politics, economics, diplomacy, culture, and technology. Despite several near misses, the animosity between the two prime antagonists never escalated into an armed clash, hence the term "Cold War."
The origins of the Cold War remain a source of great controversy. Prior to World War II, many Western leaders viewed the Marxist regime in Russia with a mixture of fear and hatred. Conversely, the Soviet Union of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin regarded the capitalistic West as its mortal enemy. Although the West and East eventually allied during World War II in a successful military struggle against Nazi Germany, in many ways the wartime experience served to confirm rather than allay prewar suspicions. Almost immediately after the Nazis surrendered in May 1945, the alliance began to break apart. Increasing Soviet domination of Poland--the country Great Britain and France originally went to war to defend--disturbed the West; U.S. President Harry Truman's unexpected decision in May 1945 to end Lend-Lease aid to the USSR upset the Soviets. An acrimonious quarrel soon developed.
Initially the Cold War focused on war-torn Europe. It was there that sides were first chosen and a sort of ground rules for the conflict emerged. A major point of disagreement was how to handle defeated and occupied Germany. The issue of reparations presented a serious problem. The Soviets, citing the extensive damage done to their country by the invading German armies, demanded that much of Germany's industrial infrastructure be dismantled and shipped to the USSR. The West, not wanting to support an economically destroyed Germany, and fearing that the Soviets wished to cripple the German economy in order to bring about a communist takeover, refused. In short order, the joint administration of occupied Germany broke down and each side began to formulate its own plan for Germany's future.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union continued to integrate formerly independent countries such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the USSR, and steadily consolidated its hold over Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, countries its Red Army had recently liberated. These actions, together with its German policy and Stalin's belligerent February 1946 speech citing the threat capitalism posed to Soviet security, caused former British prime minister Winston Churchill to declare in a March 1946 speech, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." The pivotal year 1947 opened with Great Britain informing the United States that it could no longer continue to support either Turkey or the conservative Greek government that was then fighting a communist insurgency. The implication was clear: Britain was abandoning its position in the eastern Mediterranean. Without much hesitation, the United States moved into the vacuum, replacing Britain as chief supplier to the Turks and the embattled Greeks. On March 12, 1947, Truman delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress in which he enunciated what became known as the Truman Doctrine. The U.S. promised to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." The Truman Doctrine became a cornerstone of U.S. policy during the Cold War.
The Truman Doctrine was greatly influenced by the work of American diplomat George F. Kennan and several other American statesmen who at this time formulated the policy of "containment." Containment postulated that the best response to perceived communist expansionism was to strengthen existing Western institutions in order to deny communism an opportunity to take root, to oppose (chiefly by economic measures) communist attempts to threaten the West's vital interests, and to wait patiently yet vigilantly until the insecure Soviet regime changed for the better or, as was the case, collapsed under the weight of its own shortcomings.
Implementation of the containment Policy also led to the Marshall Plan, named for U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, which followed quickly on the heels of the Truman Doctrine. Offering exceptional amounts of American aid to devastated Europe, the Marshall Plan proved instrumental in rebuilding the shattered economies of Western Europe. However, Stalin and his allies denounced the Marshall Plan as an insidious American trick to gain economic hegemony over Europe. The USSR refused to participate in the plan and ordered its satellites to do likewise. In order to secure congressional approval of the Marshall Plan, the Truman administration portrayed it as an effective way to combat communist expansion in Europe.
In the wake of the Marshall Plan, in September 1947 the Soviets established the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform, which, like the prewar Communist International (Comintern), served to bring the global communist movement under Moscow's close control and to tum that movement aggressively against the West. Following the Soviet lead, communist parties in Western Europe, particularly France and Italy, railed against the Marshall Plan and used their influence, especially with the working class, to try to disrupt normal life.
In February 1948, the communists masterminded a coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia that replaced a coalition government with one completely subservient to Moscow. Angered by events in Czechoslovakia, the West took steps to create a military alliance and also signaled its intention to form an independent West German state. Stalin retaliated by initiating the Berlin Blockade, one of the most dangerous crises of the Cold War. In June, Stalin cut off Western access to Berlin, the divided German capital located deep within the Soviet zone of occupation. Through something of a logistical miracle, the West managed to supply its portion of Berlin by air for almost a year. Stalin called off the blockade in May 1949, but by that time the West had already committed itself to the establishment of a German state closely allied to the West, and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance aimed against the USSR. Stalin responded by establishing an East German state tied to the Soviet Union and an opposing military alliance, the Warsaw Pact. Although initially centered on Europe, the Cold War soon became global in nature. As early as 1946, the United States and the USSR squabbled over the latter's claims to share control over the entrance to the Black Sea with Turkey and to establish a sphere of influence in northern Iran. On both issues the Americans took a tough stance. However, the USSR scored what appeared to be a major victory in 1949 when the Chinese communists under Mao Zedong defeated the American client Chiang Kai-shek and gained control over the most populous country in the world. It was almost universally assumed that Mao would do the Soviet Union's bidding.
In the following year, the Cold War actually heated up. On June 25, 1950, the communist government of North Korea under Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea. Responding to this invasion, the United Nations, the site of seemingly interminable East-West wrangling since its inception, became involved. Taking advantage of the Soviet delegation's boycott of the UN Security Council, the United States managed to have the UN brand North Korea as the aggressor and to enter the conflict on the side of South Korea. Three years later the parties to the Korean War signed a truce, but not before China had joined the fray on the side of North Korea and some American commanders had unsuccessfully urged the use of nuclear weapons.
With the truce in Korea and the death of Stalin in 1953, the Cold War's intensity slackened a bit, and East-West relations entered a phase of alternating periods of rapprochement and crisis that prevailed until the end of the struggle, The Cold War had become institutionalized. By 1955 Nikita Khrushchev had emerged as Stalin's successor in the USSR, and he embarked on a policy of "peaceful co-existence" whereby East and West were to continue their competition, but in a less confrontational manner. Propaganda blasts were interspersed with periodic summit meetings during which Soviet and U.S. leaders sometimes amicably discussed the international situation. Positive steps such as the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which provided for the end of Austria's occupation and the establishment of a sovereign but neutral Austrian state, were matched by negative steps such as a series of nerve-racking crises over Berlin, culminating in the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall, which physically divided the already politically divided former German capital. A truly terrifying arms race was another central feature of the Cold War. Both the United States and the USSR amassed huge arsenals of the most destructive thermonuclear weapons. Moreover, the two rivals also developed a myriad of systems including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with which to rain down a nuclear holocaust upon each other. In this respect the sides appeared to be evenly matched, leading to a stalemate sometimes described as "the balance of terror." Both sides subscribed to the MAD doctrine (Mutual Assured Destruction), and in a macabre way MAD served to restrain the competing superpowers. In fact, from the early 1960s onward, a growing realization of the dangerous nature of the arms race led to a series of nuclear arms agreements. This realization was hastened by the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost exploded into nuclear conflict. Disturbed by the behavior of Fidel Castro, the successful Cuban revolutionary who identified with Marxism, in 1961 the United States backed an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro elements that ended in disaster. The failed Ray of Pigs invasion prompted Castro to move clearly into the Soviet orbit. Eighteen months later, upon discovering that the USSR was placing missiles in Cuba that could easily reach the United States, President John F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum to Khrushchev to remove the missiles or face dire consequences. Although Castro was ready for a nuclear showdown, Khrushchev was not. The Soviets removed their missiles and a nuclear war was narrowly averted
Beginning in the 1970s, the policy of detente appeared to offer a possible end to the Cold War. Detente seemed an unlikely development at the time. The United States was still mired in Vietnam, fighting what it believed was a Moscow-inspired attempt to spread communism. The Soviet Union had only recently brutally repressed Czechoslovakia's attempt to achieve "socialism with a human face," a move that gave rise to the Brezhnev Doctrine whereby the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, claimed for the Soviet Union the right to intervene in any "socialist" country in order to preserve socialism. Nevertheless, under detente the United States, led by President Richard Nixon and his chief foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, and Brezhnev's USSR tried to relax tensions in their relationship and to find common ground on a number of issues of mutual interest. High points of detente included the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT I), which set limits on the number of offensive weapons the United States and the Soviet Union could produce and restricted each country's antiballistic missile defense system. In 1975, thirty-five nations including the United States and the USSR signed the Helsinki Agreements, a set of international accords that legitimized the post-World War II boundaries in Europe and also committed the signatories to honor their citizens' human rights and to expand cultural and trade relations.
Detente, however, was short-lived. In the West, numerous critics attacked detente as little more than thinly veiled appeasement. Their criticism appeared well founded when the USSR cracked down on Soviet dissidents despite a pledge at Helsinki to respect human rights, and expanded its military might at an alarming rate. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 and crushed the independent trade union Solidarity in Poland two years later, detente was dead. In 1980 Ronald Reagan, a strident anticommunist, was elected U.S. president. Within months of his inauguration, Reagan was publicly denouncing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." The coldest days of the Cold War had returned.
The Cold War also saw both the United States and the USSR attract and retain clients who frequently served as surrogates for the superpowers. This was particularly true of the Third World, or those countries that emerged from colonialism after the end of World War II. Quite often these clients had nothing to commend themselves to their masters other than a willingness to be bought. More dangerous was the fact that some clients tended to subvert or ignore their master's wishes, pursuing independent and sometimes perilous courses. Many Third World leaders became adept at playing off one superpower against the other in order to further their own aims.
In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union and, unexpectedly, the Cold War began to wind down. Realizing that the USSR faced massive economic problems, Gorbachev initiated a policy of reform known by the code words glaslzost (openness) and perestroikca (restructuring). He also sought better relations with the West. Real achievements in lessening East-West tensions were soon overshadowed as the reform process within the USSR spun out of control. When the Soviet Union officially disintegrated in December 1991, the Cold War was over.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Chinese Revolution: 1911-1949
China, the world's most populous country, has spent much of the twentieth century in a state of almost continual revolutionary upheaval. The origins of China's turmoil date to the nineteenth century, when the antiquated Chinese Empire came under relentless pressure from a technologically more advanced Western world. These pressures eventually shattered the Chinese status quo and ushered in the era of revolution. By 1839 the Qing dynasty had ruled China for almost 300 years. However, it had grown old and brittle, and in, the nineteenth century it showed clear signs of exhaustion. The Qing faced increasing discontent, manifesting itself in open rebellions that the rulers had difficulty repressing. Even more ominous for the Qing, aggressive European states had turned their attention to China.
In 1839 China and Great Britain went to war over the issue of free trade. Great Britain demanded that China accommodate British trading interests, especially the continued importation into China of opium from India. When the Chinese refused, war broke out. This First Opium War ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanjing, but it was soon followed by a Second Opium War that ended in 1858 with the Treaty of Tianjin. In both conflicts the Europeans (France had joined Great Britain in the Second Opium War) administered humiliating defeats to the Chinese. The result of the European victories was the so-called treaty system, a series of agreements that reduced Chinese sovereignty and extended to the Europeans and Americans special privileges such as extraterritoriality, a quasi-legal device that exempted foreigners in China from Chinese legal jurisdiction. The message of China's weakness was driven home in 1860 when an Anglo-French expedition marched to Beijing, the Chinese capital, and burned the emperor's summer palace to the ground. Simultaneously, the Qing faced a major domestic crisis. The Taiping Rebellion began in 1850 and dragged on for fourteen years. It drained the central government of what meager resources it possessed and contributed greatly to the breakdown of central authority. It was only with the help of foreigners that the Qing ended the Taiping Rebellion, but the dynasty now found itself more beholden to those foreigners than ever before, while at home its authority in many regions had virtually disappeared.
Taking advantage of China's weakness, other powers enriched themselves at its expense. For example, Great Britain claimed Hong Kong, France encroached in what was to become French Indochina, and in 1860 Russia forced China to surrender its claims to the lands north of the Amur River and east of the Ussuri River. This huge area became Russia's Maritime province, where the Russians then founded the city of Vladivostok.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Qing grip on power continued to weaken. Toward the end of the century, the dynasty experimented with reform in an effort to revitalize its decrepit state. Copying their Japanese neighbors (whom they despised), the Chinese hoped to foster both Western technology and efficiency in order to defeat those very same Westerners and to restore Chinese pride and sovereignty. While these efforts never really got off the ground, they did alarm the imperialists, who feared that a revived China would thwart their ambitions. The result was a wild scramble for control over bits and pieces of China.
War with Japan in 1894-1895 ended in yet another humiliating defeat for the Chinese, all the more galling this time because of their hatred of the Japanese and the fact that Japan, an Oriental state, had successfully copied the Western model in order to defeat China, another Oriental state. Although Japan was forced to relinquish many of its gains from the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the war, the defeat revealed China's utter helplessness. In a short time, Germany, Russia, France, and Great Britain staked out claims for themselves on China's prosperous east coast.
In their rush to fill the vacuum created by China's disintegration, the imperial powers sometimes collided with each other. The most spectacular collision resulted in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. The Japanese were victorious once again, and Japan's sphere of influence in East Asia expanded accordingly; however, Japan's victory held additional significance. For the first time in modern history, a nonwhite country had defeated a major European state. This event's significance was not lost on the other victims of European imperialism, including China. While these victims condemned Japan's imitation of European imperialism, they could not help but notice that Japan had made itself a formidable power by copying the West.
Among educated Chinese, the spectacle of their proud empire being devoured piecemeal intensified their desire for change. Not only did they passionately hate the imperialists, they also despised the Qing dynasty, which they viewed as either incompetent or traitorous or a combination of both. Secret societies proliferated and, in the case of the Boxers, launched deadly attacks on foreigners that prompted only further Western intervention in China.
In 1911 the dam of pent-up frustration burst. Revolution broke out and the Qing dynasty was quickly overthrown. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a leading opponent of the old regime, proclaimed a Chinese Republic. However, the revolution was only a partial success. Although the Qing had been toppled, a stable national government did not emerge. Sun's republic was stillborn, and the country plunged into acute anarchy characterized by the rise of warlords, individuals who commanded military detachments and who ruled in regions or provinces without any recourse to a national government. Eventually, a nominal government formed in the north at Peking while Sun remained strong in the south; but in fact central authority had disappeared, and the bulk of China was dominated by freebooting warlords.
In January 1915, Japan took advantage of Western preoccupation with World War I to expand its influence in China once again. Japan presented to the Peking government its Twenty-One Demands, a set of proposals that would have given Japan even greater sway over China's land and commerce than it already enjoyed. China at first resisted these demands, receiving support from the United States, which sought to safeguard its own interests. However, China eventually acquiesced to most of what Japan wanted, and Japan replaced Germany as the dominant foreign power in Shandong province and gained virtual control over Manchuria .
In 1917 China entered World War I on the side of the Allies. As was the case with many other exploited peoples, Chinese intellectuals were stirred by the ideals and ideas of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, and they looked forward to the Paris Peace Conference with great anticipation in the hopes of ending the treaty system and regaining full sovereignty. However, their hopes were shattered when the Paris conferees ignored China and instead confirmed Japan in its possession of Germany's former concession at Shandong, thereby validating Japan's increasing domination of China.
The shabby treatment accorded the Chinese gave rise to the May 4th Movement--named for the date in 1919 of the first of many demonstrations against the decisions of the Paris Peace Conference. The May 4th Movement galvanized the country; Chinese from all walks of life protested against foreign, but especially Japanese, interference in China. They pledged themselves to a course of revitalization and national unity. So significant was the May 4th Movement that noted historian Theodore Von Laue refers to it as "the first stirring of patriotic mass politics in China." In the course of the 1911 Revolution and the turmoil that followed, Sun Yat-sen, who strongly supported the May 4th Movement, emerged as the most important Chinese leader. Although Sun's movement, the Kuomintang (KMT) or Chinese nationalists, failed to supplant the Qing dynasty, he worked to extend its authority from its stronghold in the south and to bring the entire country under KMT control. Sun saw this as a first step toward achieving his twin goals of modernizing China and terminating all special privileges for foreigners. Sun's prescription for China's success was spelled out in his most important writing, The Three People's Principles.
Disappointed by China's treatment at the Paris Peace Conference, Sun turned to the new Marxist state in Russia. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were only too happy to encourage Sun, if for no other reason than to strike a blow at their capitalist enemies. Early in the 1920s, the Soviets began to send equipment and advisors to Sun. The Soviet advisors did a particularly good job of reorganizing the Kuomintang, turning it into an effective political force, and establishing a credible army capable of launching a military offensive. Furthermore, the ranks of the nationalists were augmented in 1923 when the tiny Chinese Communist Party, founded two years earlier, allied itself with the KMT under pressure from the Soviet-dominated Communist International, or Comintern.
In 1925 Sun Yat-sen died. He was succeeded as head of the Kuomintang by Chiang Kai-shek, a young general who had received training in the Soviet Union. Chiang resumed the Northern Expedition, a military and political offensive designed to unify the nation and to bring all China under Kuomintang rule. In 1927, in the middle of this successful campaign, Chiang, who was considerably more conservative than Sun, unexpectedly turned on his communist allies and massacred them. What was left of the Chinese Communist Party retreated to a remote area of southern China, where it tried to reconstitute itself. Meanwhile, in 1928 Chiang occupied Peking and declared the KMT to be the official government of a unified and sovereign Chinese state. While the KMT was clearly the strongest Chinese force, its authority in many regions remained nominal at best. Warlords and renegades continued to enjoy considerable strength.
Chiang's success alarmed an increasingly militaristic Japan, which wanted a weak and pliable China and feared that the KMT success would undermine its position. In 1931 Japan began to tighten its grip over the important province of Manchuria. In the following year, despite Chinese protests, Japan converted Manchuria into Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state. For the next several years, Japan systematically bullied China; then, in 1937, it launched a full-scale invasion. Chiang and the increasingly corrupt nationalists put up ineffective resistance, and Tapan overran much of eastern China. In response, Chiang moved his capital inland to the distant city of Chongqing.
Throughout the 1930s, as Japan devoured China, Chiang and the KMT continued to battle the Chinese communists. The communists, having regrouped in southern Jiangxi province after Chiang initially turned on them, in 1931 proclaimed the "Chinese Soviet Republic." However, despite some initial military success, they were too weak to ward off the nationalists, who attacked relentlessly. Finally, in October 1934, a rag-tag band of communists took flight to avoid annihilation. This was the start of the legendary Long March, a journey of some 6,000 miles undertaken by perhaps 100,000 hard-core communists that lasted more than a year. During the course of the Long March, Mao Zedong, a former teacher and librarian, outmaneuvered his rivals to emerge as the leading figure of Chinese communism, a position he held until his death in 1976. When the fleeing communists finally came to rest in the caves of Yenan in northwestern China's remote Shaanxi province, only a handful of the original marchers remained.
In 1937 the nationalists and the communists formed a united front to oppose the Japanese. But this was an artificial concoction, and it soon fell apart. For the rest of World War II, the nationalists and communists spent as much time competing- against each other as they did fighting the Japanese. Consequently, after the deaths of perhaps 2.2 million Chinese during World War II and the surrender of Japan in 1945, it was not surprising that civil war engulfed China. Despite significant aid from the United States, the KMT was defeated by the communists, who received considerably less aid and encouragement from the Soviet Union. On October 1, 1949, having driven Chiang and his forces from the mainland onto the offshore island of Taiwan, Mao Zedong and the communists proclaimed the People's Republic of China (PRC) with its capital at Beijing.
However, revolution in China did not end with the communist victory. Rather, during the past several decades the communists themselves have initiated a number of revolutionary programs. Some, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, have failed ignominiously; others, such as the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor, have shown great promise. In any event, all these programs represent a radical departure from Chinese tradition. Equally important, they have been carried out in a China free from foreign domination. No one today questions that China is both a unified and sovereign state.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The End of Colonialism and the Rise of the Third World: c. 1945-Present
On the eve of World War I (1914), Western nations controlled virtually the entire globe. Beginning with the explorations of the fifteenth century and continuing through the middle of the eighteenth century, Europeans extended their domination over vast reaches. After a hiatus of about 100 years during which the Western world focused on domestic developments, the process of swallowing up the globe began again. Over the next few decades, the Western nations completed their conquest of the world.
The triumphant march of colonial conquerors did not go unopposed; however, the native peoples simply lacked the requisite technology, particularly military hardware, to resist successfully. Nevertheless, those who found themselves oppressed by colonial masters deeply resented the inferior status imposed upon them. In the years before 1914, in the Ottoman Empire, China, and India, indigenous leaders began to rebel against the racial bigotry, economic exploitation, cultural imperialism, and political subjugation that were imperialism's hallmarks. World War I hastened this process. Many colonial soldiers fought for the mother country, and at least a few came away from this experience convinced that their sacrifice entitled their people to at least autonomy if not independence. Furthermore, although U.S. president Woodrow Wilson had not intended to stimulate anti-imperialist sentiment in Asia and Africa, his Fourteen Points (1918), which outlined an idealistic vision of the future, fired the imagination of subject peoples everywhere. More important, the 1917 Russian Revolution--a direct consequence of the war--brought to power the communists, who provided both encouragement for liberation movements among the colonial peoples (as a way of attacking their capitalist foes) and an alternative to the hated capitalism that many colonial peoples viewed as an exploitative and inhuman system imposed by their imperial masters.
Between the end of World War I and the start of World War II, Persia (which in 1935 began to call itself Iran), Turkey, and China achieved greater control of their own destiny, while India laid the groundwork for its future independence. In 1921 revolution in Persia brought to power Reza Khan, who was less inclined to do the bidding of the Western world. Mustapha Kemal, who later renamed himself Ataturk, dominated Turkey and instituted a series of reforms designed in part to free his country from subservience to the Western states. In China, the imperialists lost power as the nationalistic Kuomintang, under the leadership of first Sun Yat-sen and then Chiang Kai-shek, and a strong communist movement under Mao Zedong competed for power. Both the Kuomintang and the communists despised the Westerners who had manipulated China for much of the nineteenth century. In India, the English-educated lawyer Mohandas Gandhi led an increasingly popular struggle against the British rulers. Relying on a campaign of nonviolence and passive resistance, Gandhi undercut British authority and forced a number of concessions from the reluctant imperialists. However, Great Britain refused to capitulate on his main demand--independence for India.
World War II greatly accelerated the drive for independence among non-Western peoples. As was the case in World War I, colonial peoples supplied the war effort with necessary raw materials and finished products as well as soldiers. A strong feeling emerged among both the colonial peoples and some important segments of Western public opinion that the sacrifices of the native populations should not go unrewarded. This sentiment was further reinforced by the nature of the war, which seemed to pit the forces of good against the forces of evil. If the victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany represented the triumph of a liberal, humane, egalitarian, and democratic philosophy, how could the winners possibly continue to maintain an imperial system resting on racism, brutality, exploitation, and inequality? The professed ideals of the Western world were clearly at variance with imperialism.
Most significant, perhaps, was the destruction of the old relationship between the colonies and their imperial masters. For many in Asia, Japan's military victories reinforced the notion already born of Japan's success against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) that the white man was not militarily invulnerable. Furthermore, when the Japanese-who were as imperialistic as the Europeans-supplanted white colonial rule in the colonies of Asia, indigenous leaders who had opposed colonial rule before the war formed guerrilla units to resist them. Leaders such as Ho Chi Minh in French Indochina and Achmed Sukarno in the Dutch East Indies not only established effective fighting forces, but also gained a large popular following. With the end of the war, independence movements led by figures who enjoyed the support of their people and commanded well-organized and experienced fighting units confronted the returning imperialists. Restoration of the prewar colonial status quo now became unlikely, especially as the cost to the Europeans in terms of men and precious resources desperately needed to rebuild the mother country was simply too great.
Some imperial countries, such as Great Britain and the United States, quickly grasped the lessons of World War II. Others, such as France and the Netherlands, attempted to regain control of their colonies and became embroiled in costly and exhausting warfare. The largest and most populous colony was India, where the movement for independence from Great Britain was already significant before the war. In 1947 Great Britain vacated the great Indian subcontinent; however, religious and ethnic rivalry, an all too common curse among the colonial peoples, not only led to the assassination of Gandhi in 1948 but also prevented the formation of a single state. Instead, two states were created: India, with a Hindu majority, and Pakistan, with a Moslem majority. India, under the leadership of Gandhi's disciple Jawaharlal Nehru, who served as prime minister from 1947 until his death in 1964, developed an enduring constitutional democracy, a rare occurrence in the former colonial world, where dictatorship tended to be the norm. Nehru also guided India toward a socialist economy that became the model for several newly independent countries. Except for brief periods, Pakistan has been a military dictatorship. The rivalry that divided India and Pakistan at the start has continued, resulting in several wars and a seemingly permanent state of tension between the two countries.
In 1948 Britain also granted independence to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and to Burma, which renamed itself Myanmar in 1989. The Burmese refused to join the Commonwealth of Nations, a consultative organization of fifty former British colonies sponsored by Great Britain, preferring to follow a path of rigid isolation that has led to major human rights abuses and great poverty. Nine years later, in 1957, Britain granted independence to the peoples of the Malayan peninsula after putting down a communist insurgency.
In contrast to the bloodless emancipation of the former British colonies in Asia, the Dutch fought a debilitating colonial war from 1945 to 1949 in a futile attempt to retain the Dutch East Indies, or Indonesia. The Indonesian national liberation movement, led by Sukarno and including a large communist contingent, had resisted the Japanese during World War II and, consequently, was prepared to oppose the return of the Dutch.
France also tried to reclaim its empire in Asia. In Indochina a popular, well-organized veteran national liberation movement led by Ho Chi Minh administered a series of military setbacks to the French, culminating in the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Depicting the struggle as a communist inspired and led rebellion rather than a national liberation movement, the French interested the United States in Indochina, with devastating results for the Americans. This was a curious turn in U.S. policy, clearly reflecting the prevailing tensions of the Cold War, as evidenced by the fact that a few years earlier (1946) the United States had willingly granted independence to the Philippines, the principal U.S. colony in Asia.
The end of colonialism in sub-Saharan, or black, Africa came rapidly and unexpectedly. Unlike Asia, where organized anti-colonialism had existed for decades, black Africa had been quiescent until the end of World War II. Then, beginning in the 1950s, imperialism in sub-Saharan African collapsed in the space of about two decades, and several dozen independent, black-ruled countries emerged.
The process of African de-colonization began with the British Empire. In 1957 the Gold Coast (Ghana) gained independence under its charismatic leader Kwame Nkrumah. Six years later, in 1963, Great Britain granted independence to Nigeria, its largest colony in Africa and the continent's most populous country. Britain was able to surrender its West African colonies with relative ease: because so few whites lived there; however, the British were not so fortunate in East Africa, where white settlers had taken advantage of a moderate climate and good soil to settle permanently. These whites strongly resisted any suggestion of black rule. However, the unsuccessful Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s gave Great Britain a glimpse of how costly it would be to retain its colonies. Sobered by this experience and burdened by many problems home, Great Britain granted independence to Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1961 (in 1964 they merged to become Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere), to Uganda in 1962, and to Kenya under the popular Jomo Kenyatta in 1963.
In shedding its black African empire, Britain faced great difficulties in southern Africa, where a substantial number of whites had settled. Northern Rhodesia (Zambia--1964), Nyasaland (Malawi--1964), and Bechuanaland (Botswana--1966) achieved independence without undue strife, but the white settlers of Southern Rhodesia resisted national liberation until 1980, when Zimbabwe was born under the rule of black nationalist leader Robert Mugabe. The Republic of South Africa, where some whites had lived for centuries, is only now groping its way toward a compromise acceptable to black, colored, and white alike after a long period of apartheid (segregation) and rising racial tension. In comparison to its misguided colonial policies in Asia and North Africa, France's approach to its sub-Saharan empire was positively enlightened. Not only did the French freely release their black colonies, they consciously fostered a sense of "Frenchness" among the emerging black elite and willingly gave economic assistance to the newly independent states. As a result, French influence remains strong in sub-Saharan Africa.
The authoritarian Portuguese state, whose empire dated back to the late Middle Ages, determined to hold its possessions in black Africa at all costs. Consequently, Portugal found itself mired in a seemingly endless guerrilla war with national liberation movements in both Angola and Mozambique. The war had a corrosive effect on Portuguese life and was a major contributory factor to the 1974 coup that eventually brought democracy to Portugal. In the wake of the coup, Portugal gave up the fight and liberated its African empire.
In 1960 Belgium relinquished the Belgian Congo (Zaire), its large African colony. However, because of Belgium's utter disdain for the Congolese, few if any natives had been prepared for independence. Furthermore, the colony was fractured by tribal disputes, regional differences, and rivalry among its would-be leaders. With Belgium's departure, the Congo suffered a series of armed rebellions, secessionist movements, and civil war, all aggravated by Soviet and U.S. meddling in the affairs of the hapless Congo as part of their Cold War rivalry. The end result for the mineral-rich and potentially wealthy Congo was an independent but devastated and impoverished state ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko, an extravagant and brutal military dictator who was propped up by the United States.
The third great area where colonial empires disappeared was the Arab world, stretching from Morocco on the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. At the end of World War II, France's empire included much of North Africa. However, as was the case in Indochina, indigenous national liberation movements that predated the war worked to drive out the French. After failing to either cajole or repress the native populations, France granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia in 1956.
For France, however, its Algerian colony held special significance. France had governed it since 1830, and with at least 1 million Frenchmen living there, Algeria was considered an integral part of metropolitan France. When France categorically refused to consider independence for Algeria, the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) rebelled in 1954. The ensuing Algerian War lasted for more than seven years, involving 500,000 French troops and causing perhaps 1 million deaths. The war shook France to its very core, bringing that nation to the brink of civil war. In 1958 the Fourth French Republic collapsed and World War II hero Charles de Gaulle was summoned from retirement to save the nation. De Gaulle instituted the Fifth Republic, and over the objections of the French settlers and many French military men he conceded independence to Algeria in 1962.
De-colonization in the Middle East was not so rancorous for the Europeans, but it was made complicated and violent by the Israeli question. At the close of World War I, the defeated Ottoman Empire (Turkey) ceded its Middle Eastern possessions to the League of Nations, which in turn assigned them to Great Britain and France as mandates. Beginning with Egypt in 1922 and continuing into the post-World War II era, several Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Kuwait, gained their independence without much opposition from the mandate powers.
However, difficulties arose when European Jews took steps to establish a state of their own in the Middle East. Relying on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and fleeing European anti-Semitism, which had culminated in Hitler and the Holocaust, Jewish settlers proclaimed the state of Israel in 1948. The indigenous Arab population reacted violently to the Jewish state, and war ensued on several occasions (194&1949; 1956--the Suez War; 1967--the Six-Day War; 1973--the Yom Kippur War; 1982--the Lebanese War). Complicating matters was the interest both the United States and the Soviet Union showed in the region. Due to the Middle East's strategic location and its massive oil reserves, both superpowers became deeply involved in its disputes. Only with the end of the Cold War and the 1993 agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians has there surfaced even a slight possibility of peace for this region.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
European Unification: 1947-Present
The vision of a unified Europe is neither new nor novel. During the Middle Ages, western, or Latin, Christianity served as a conscious unifying force for much of Europe. However, the sixteenth-century Reformation, which fractured western Christianity, and the development of the nation-state during the Renaissance ushered in a new era. After the Reformation, Christianity was no longer the unifying force it had once been, and the nation-state's rigid commitment to unimpeded national sovereignty struck at the heart of European unity. For the last four centuries, European unification seemed possible only at the hands of aggressive conquerors such as Napoleon or Hitler. However, their efforts always failed, if for no other reason than that the European peoples resisted them. Nevertheless, a small handful ~f Europeans never abandoned the dream of a voluntarily unified Europe.
The savagery and carnage of World Wars I and II made European unity seem more attractive. These catastrophic conflicts called into question the legitimacy of the nation-state. Many reasoned that if the nation-state had brought such misery to Europe, perhaps it would be in Europe's best interest to jettison the nation-state and replace it with a unified Europe. Furthermore, the wartime destruction itself was so over headed by a High Authority that wielded extensive supranational powers.
ECSC's success paved the way for another step toward European economic integration. With Monnet once again providing the vision, on March 25, 1957, the ECSC members signed the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community (EEC or Common Market) with its headquarters in Brussels. The EEC sought to eliminate all tariffs between member states, to formulate a common tariff policy applicable to non-member states, and to facilitate the unimpeded movement of both labor and capital among the six member states. At the same time, the EEC states also created the European Atomic Community (Euratom) to conduct peaceful nuclear research. The member states also erected a supranational administrative structure comprised chiefly of technological experts committed to the idea of European unity. The EEC embraced 175 million Europeans, forming one of the largest trading blocs and one of the largest free trade zones in the world. The only sour note came when Great Britain rejected membership in the EEC.
While Western Europe made important strides toward economic integration, the drive for greater unity also encountered difficulties. The Council of Europe continued to languish, and an attempt to create a supranational European army, the European Defense Community, failed in 1954. When Charles de Gaulle became president of France in 1958, the quest for European unification became more difficult. While de Gaulle's objectives continue to generate debate among scholars, it seems that the French president supported the concept of a unified Europe as long as this Europe was led by France and worked to further French national interests above all. One thing was certain: de Gaulle resented the loose control that the United States exercised over Western Europe and wanted to oust American influence from the Continent. To this end, he removed French troops from NATO in 1966 and created a nuclear arsenal for France, the so-called force de frappe. While these steps certainly undercut U.S. authority, they also harmed the chances for European unification. De Gaulle also turned his attention to the EEC, where he twice vetoed Britain's belated application for membership (1963, 1967) because he believed that Britain was acting as a Trojan horse for the United States and, perhaps more important, because he feared that Great Britain's presence in the Common Market would diminish his and France's importance. He also insisted that the EEC bend to the wishes of France, and when he could not get his way he was willing to bring EEC activity to a halt, as he did in 1965. De Gaulle resisted attempts to transform the EEC into a vehicle for the political unification of Europe and attacked the already existing supranational nature of the organization. Demanding that national interests take precedence over supranational ones, he carried the day with the Luxembourg Agreement (1966), which gave each member state of the Common Market the right to veto EEC decisions whenever it felt that its national interests were at stake.
After de Gaulle, the EEC was not quite the force for European unity that Monnet had envisioned. Rather than serving as the embryo for European political union, it more than ever became an economic coordinating and planning body where the individual European states voiced their concerns and tried--sometimes successfully and sometimes not--to balance their competing interests. Behind the Common Market's supranational facade, national sovereignty or national self-interest prevailed. This is not to say that the Common Market's member states abandoned it. In fact, the member states were well aware that the EEC was a major reason for Europe's economic prosperity, and they were not about to dismantle it. However, they would not surrender their sovereignty to it.
Despite these setbacks, the EEC experienced some significant gains between 1967 and the mid-1980s. In 1967 the EEC consolidated its numerous supranational bodies into a single organization, the European Community, or EC. In 1968 the last internal tariffs disappeared, three to six years ahead of schedule. More countries also joined. After de Gaulle resigned as French president in 1969, Great Britain joined the EC in 1973. Ireland and Denmark entered at the same time. In 1981 Greece joined the EC, and Spain and Portugal followed in 1985. Thanks to the collection of external tariffs and a 1 percent value added tax (VAT) levied in all member states, after 1975 the EC enjoyed its own source of income and the greater independence such funds provided. In 1978 the EC created the European Monetary System. Although the system did not provide for a single European currency, it was an important step in that direction. One year later, the European Parliament-consisting of the assemblies of ECSC, EEC, and Euratom, and acting as something of a successor to the moribund Council of Europe--gained the right to elect its membership directly. Henceforth, individual Europeans would vote for representatives to the Parliament rather than having the governments of the member states choose the representatives.
While the EC enjoyed great success, especially in the economic realm, many problems continued to plague the organization. In attempting to balance conflicting national interests, EC regulations grew more complex and less rational. For example, the EC's less than coherent agricultural policy led to "mountains of butter and lakes of wine" in costly storage facilities. Furthermore, with the addition of six new members in twelve years, the EC lost some of its cohesion. This was particularly true with the admission of Ireland and the three Mediterranean states, whose economies were more agrarian and less advanced than the prevailing EC norm. Margaret Thatcher, British prime minister from 1979 to 1990, proved to be as obstinate as de Gaulle had been. Moreover, despite the elimination of tariffs, other national bureaucratic and administrative practices impeded free trade. Most discouraging, perhaps, the 1973 oil embargo and the subsequent severe economic downturn revealed the fragility of European union. Faced with rising unemployment and declining production, the European countries tended to act independently of each other. This every man for himself attitude dealt a severe blow to the cause of European unification.
In the mid-1980s, the EC's member states took steps to revitalize the institution. Spurred on by the need t-o compete more effectively with the United States and Japan, and fearful of falling behind technologically, the EC member states recommitted themselves to Monnet's original ideas about European unification. In July 1987 they adopted the Single European Act. Hoping to create a "single Europe" by 1992, the act called for an integrated market completely free of exchange controls and barriers to the movement of capital and labor. It also provided for more coordinated industrial and agrarian policies, and it bestowed greater power on the European Parliament. Most important, perhaps, it ended the veto power that individual member states had exercised since the de Gaulle era. Henceforth, binding decisions would require only a majority vote of the EC members.
However, during the early 1990s the renewed drive toward greater unification encountered some serious problems. The Treaty on European Union, the so-called Maastricht Treaty, designed to advance the Single Act of European Union, was rejected by Danish voters in 1992. Fortunately for the cause of European union, the Danes reversed their decision the following year when all the other EC countries ratified the Maastricht Treaty. For some, however, the ratification process proved difficult. Maastricht's provisions called for "an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe" and created a new, twelve-nation "European Union." The treaty also enhanced the powers of the European Parliament; increased cooperation among the member states on a wide range of issues including crime, the environment, and immigration; urged greater integration of foreign and security policy with an eye toward eventually creating common defense and foreign policies; and called for a single European currency by 1999.
Nevertheless, at the very time that the Maastricht Treaty was being ratified, its goal of creating a single European currency was being made more difficult to achieve. In August 1993, the European Monetary System's exchange rate mechanism (ERM), which set the value of European currencies in relation to each other, virtually collapsed under the pressure of international currency speculation. A temporary solution allowing currencies within the ERM to fluctuate against each other in bands of 15 percent rather than the previous 2.25 percent was cobbled together, but one former EC finance minister said that the crisis "meant the end of a single currency" for Europe. If in fact this is the case, then the ultimate goal of European unification must remain in doubt.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts
The Collapse of the Soviet Union: 1985-1991
On November 10, 1982, Radio Moscow took to the airwaves with a steady stream of dirges and somber classical music, the traditional signal that an important Soviet personage had passed from the scene. And in fact, Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and leader of the USSR since his ouster of Nikita Khrushchev in 1964, had died. At the time of Brezhnev's death, the Soviet Union was a mighty state, universally acknowledged as one of the world's two superpowers. However, beneath this glistening facade a number of serious problems challenged the Soviet leadership.
The Soviet economic model, little changed since Joseph
Stalin created it in the 1930s, was increasingly unable to meet
the demands of a modern society. Untouched by market forces, which
were virtually outlawed in the USSR, the Soviet Union's economy
continued to produce outmoded and shoddy products more appropriate
for the early stages of the Industrial Revolution than for a high-tech
world. Moreover, the gigantic Soviet military establishment had
first call on whatever resources the state possessed. The result
was a curious anomaly in which the Soviets could project their
military might across the globe and send their cosmonauts into
space for long periods of time, but could neither feed their population
without large and expensive grain imports nor house them
In addition to the critical question of economic stagnation, other difficulties confronted the USSR. At the end of World M7ar II, the Soviet Union had established its control over Eastern Europe. However, the Soviet satellite empire was a restive one. Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and others chafed under Soviet domination and yearned to break free. The ethnic minorities within the Soviet Union itself, who had never fully reconciled themselves to Soviet power, were potentially even more troublesome. Although these ethnic minorities were outwardly quiescent, events soon demonstrated that the spirit of nationalism had put down deep roots among the more than 100 different ethnic groups that comprised the USSR.
At the time of Brezhnev's death, the Soviet Union also found itself seriously overextended in its pursuit of a vigorous global foreign policy. Under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, the United States, the USSR's old rival, evinced both a renewed purposefulness and a willingness to spend billions on new armaments. At the same time, the Soviet Union was increasingly bogged down in a guerrilla war in Afghanistan that not only siphoned off money and manpower but also estranged the Soviets from the Islamic world. Finally, dozens of client states in the Third World casually squandered Soviet aid and then demanded more. Facing such an array of difficulties, it seemed unlikely that the old men who led the Soviet Union at the time of Brezhnev's death could muster the imagination and initiative to find solutions. And they couldn't. Although Yurii Andropov, Brezhnev's immediate successor, was unusually bright and sophisticated for a Soviet leader, he was already fatally ill when he came to power, and his plans for reform never got off the drawing board. Andropov's successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was a doddering old timeserver who accomplished virtually nothing from the time he was named general secretary in February 1984 until his death in March 1985.
With Chernenko's death, the CPSU finally turned to a younger
person to lead the Party and the state: Mikhail Gorbachev, a fifty-four-year-old
Communist Party functionary from the Stavropol region of southern
Russia. The son of a collective farmer, Gorbachev had risen rapidly through the Party ranks, gaining admittance to the Politburo, or inner council of the Party, in 1979.
After being named general secretary, Gorbachev moved to establish his control over the Communist Party. Older Soviet leaders died, retired, or were removed from positions of authority. Their replacements, like Gorbachev himself, were younger, better educated, and committed to reforming the system. Among those pushed out was Andrei Gromyko, longtime Soviet foreign minister and subsequently president of the USSR, who relinquished the latter post to Gorbachev; among those brought into the inner circle was Boris Yeltsin, an outspoken communist reformer from western Siberia.
The leadership vacuum of the previous few years had allowed the great difficulties confronting the Soviet Union to intensify. The domestic economy had slowed to almost a standstill as the rate of growth of the Soviet Union's gross national product dipped to less than 1.5 percent per year in the mid-1980s. A number of factors accounted for this precipitous decline: antiquated factories, a startling absence of high technology, costly and inefficient state and collective farms, a significant drop in oil production, which supplied the USSR with badly needed hard currency, and the diversion of badly needed resources for dubious military purposes. The apparat, the cumbersome, hidebound, venal, and incompetent bureaucracy that oversaw every aspect of life in the Soviet Union, greatly aggravated the situation.
Economic woes led to a decline in the already low Soviet standard of living. For a long time, a lack of good housing and an absence of decent consumer goods had plagued the average Soviet citizen. Now these conditions worsened. Furthermore, the health care system showed signs of collapse as the rate of infant mortality increased while life expectancy declined-demographic trends that were truly astonishing for an industrialized country. The amount of resources devoted to education decreased as well, and pollution in every imaginable form threatened to engulf the entire country. The Soviet population exhibited signs of serious demoralization. The divorce rate climbed, and corruption, a hallmark characteristic of both Russian and Soviet life, intensified. Alcoholism, a long-standing social problem, worsened and brought with it increased absenteeism, thereby further weakening the country's economic performance. The Soviet media's repeated references to the USSR's superpower status brought little consolation to a worn-out people.
However, even the Soviet Union's global position was in growing jeopardy. The war in Afghanistan dragged on, with mounting Soviet casualties. As always, the Eastern European peoples chafed under Soviet domination. Relations with the United States and its Western allies were less than cordial. And Third World client states drained limited Soviet resources without providing much in return.
Acutely aware of the problems confronting the USSR, and determined to sweep away the preceding decades' stagnation, Gorbachev initiated the policy of perestraikn, or renewal / reconstruction. At the heart of perestroika was a determination to reform, but not replace, the existing Soviet system. Perestroika called for extensive decentralization of the rigidly controlled Soviet economy. Both industry and agriculture were to have greater freedom in the form of self-management, while the role of the appnraf would be significantly reduced.
To make perestroika work, Gorbachev coupled it with the policy of gIasnost, or openness. Glasnost allowed, even encouraged, a frank and open examination of not only the problems confronting the Soviet economy but virtually all aspects of Soviet life. Gorbachev apparently launched glasnost in order to win over public opinion and to undercut any opposition from entrenched interests threatened by perestroika. Although never as clearly articulated as perestroika and glasnost, Gorbachev also determined to reassess the USSR's global position. He concluded that perestroika's success required better relations with the capitalist West and a reduced commitment to global activism.
Perestroika proved more difficult to implement than Gorbachev had imagined, while glasnost brought a tidal wave of criticism that challenged the Soviet state's very foundations. Sailing into uncharted waters, Gorbachev either introduced or permitted such radical (for the Soviet Union) concepts as economic decentralization, the profit motive, individual enterprise, a socialist or regulated market economy, and cost accounting. The role of the bureaucracy in general, but especially Gosplan, the omnipotent state planning agency, was curtailed. State subsidies for industries were reduced, and plans to transform the collective and state farms into private holdings were considered.
The perestroika reforms failed to achieve their objective. Deeply entrenched vested interests, including the apparat, factory and farm managers, much of the Party hierarchy, and some of the army opposed perestroika and successfully worked to undermine it. They were aided by the bumbling and inconsistent manner in which the naive and. inexperienced Gorbachev approached his task. Industrial and agricultural production declined. Store shelves were stripped bare. Inflation skyrocketed. Economic chaos and confusion set in, and the Soviet economy began to collapse.
Glasnost also led to unanticipated and, for Gorbachev, unpleasant results. Discontent with Soviet life, repressed for decades, now burst into full view. Open criticism of leaders, policies, and institutions--at one time unthinkable in the Soviet Union--now became commonplace. Ad hoc groups that originally formed to discuss current issues began to appear more and more like rival political parties in the making. Atheism, the official policy of the USSR, was rejected, and the various religions of the Soviet people, especially Russian Orthodoxy, enjoyed renewed popularity. Even the heretofore sacrosanct KGB, or secret police, was publicly taken to task.
Most ominous for the Soviet leadership, glasnost permitted
ethnic or national feelings, long condemned by the class-conscious
Soviet leadership as reflective of a petit bourgeois mentality,
to bubble to the surface. The Soviet Union was a multiethnic state.
Of the approximately 285 million Soviet citizens, only about one-half
were Russians. Nevertheless, the Russians clearly dominated the
USSR, a condition that the numerous ethnic minorities greatly
resented. With glasnost, these minorities now had the opportunity
to vent their frustration. If the cry of "Russians
Out!" was not yet heard on the streets, it was at least beginning to form in many minds.
As pressure mounted on Gorbachev, events rapidly spun out of control. Astoundingly, the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe collapsed. Taking advantage of Gorbachev's new course, the Eastern Europeans broke free of Moscow's embrace. Acts of defiance toward Moscow and the puppet Marxist rulers it had installed increased in frequency until a tidal wave of revolution rolled over the Soviet bloc in 1989. Poland withdrew from the Moscow-sponsored Warsaw Treaty Organization and the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON, or CMEA); Czechoslovakia underwent its "velvet Revolution"; and on November 9 the Berlin Wall, symbol of the Soviet Union's domination of Eastern Europe, came crashing down. The overthrow and execution of Nicolai Ceausescu, the Stalinist dictator of Romania, on Christmas Day, punctuated the complete collapse of the Soviet Union's position.
Meanwhile, the Soviet economy came perilously close to total collapse itself. While Gorbachev's incomplete and sometimes ill-conceived reforms caused growing chaos, the entrenched elite mounted a determined opposition to his policies. Consequently, Soviet agrarian and industrial production slowed dramatically. Supplies of food, fuel, and other necessities dwindled, and a rash of crippling strikes occurred. By 1991 inflation was running at more than 250 percent annually and the Soviet Union could no longer service its multibillion-dollar foreign debt. Emboldened by glasnost and spurred on by the Eastern European example, the economically hard-pressed ethnic minorities within the Soviet Union itself began to contemplate secession. The Baltic peoples (the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians), who had been forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, led the way. They were soon joined by the nations of the Caucasus (the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis). Neither threats of repression (and in the case of Lithuania the spilling of blood) nor promises of better treatment dampened the growing sentiment for independence. The emergence of a strong nationalist movement (Rukh) in Ukraine, the Soviet Union's second largest republic, seemed to call into question the USSR's continued viability.
Overwhelmed by events, Gorbachev turned to political solutions. In particular, he determined to break the CPSU's political monopoly and move the Soviet Union closer to the Western, liberal-democratic model in the hope that this would assure perestroika's success. To that end, in March 1989 he presided over elections to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies that were remarkably free and open by Soviet standards. Although the CPSU and its allies exercised their right to appoint 750 delegates, the Soviet people elected 1,500 delegates. Many of the elected delegates opposed the CPSU's privileged position, and some criticized Gorbachev for failing to push his reforms ardently enough. Andrei Sakharov, a leading Soviet dissident and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Boris Yeltsin, maverick communist who had once supported Gorbachev but now broke with him, led the charge against the CPSU and the USSR's military-industrial complex.
Stunned by the rising tide of popular sentiment that demanded further and more rapid reform, Gorbachev offered additional political concessions. In February 1990 the Supreme Soviet, the executive body of the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, abandoned Article 6 of the Soviet constitution, which had given the CPSU a monopoly over all political power in the USSR. Shortly thereafter, Gorbachev permitted the USSR's individual republics to hold parliamentary elections. The largest republic, the Russian Republic, elected a majority of delegates favorable to Yeltsin, who now emerged as a rival to Gorbachev for power.
While Yeltsin, who was overwhelmingly elected president of the Russian Republic in June 1991, pushed Gorbachev to quicken the pace of reform, Gorbachev's opponents within the Party and the crumbling power structure were not idle. With increased frequency and boldness, they objected to the entire program of reform and urged a return to traditional policies and methods. Buffeted from both sides, Gorbachev vacillated, first trying to placate his conservative opponents and then abruptly returning to the path of reform.
When Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Union's foreign minister, resigned in December 1990, Gorbachev chose to ignore his warning of an imminent attack from the threatened hard-liners. However, several months later Gorbachev's conservative opponents attempted a coup d'etat. With Gorbachev on vacation in the Crimea, a conspiratorial group of disgruntled Party chieftains, disaffected military officers, and KGB officials tried to seize power on August 19, 1991. Gorbachev was placed under arrest; but the coup failed when Yeltsin rallied his forces at the Moscow White House, the parliament building of the Russian Republic, and the Red Army refused to support the conspirators.
Although Gorbachev was freed and returned to Moscow, he was a spent force. The new man of the hour was Boris Yeltsin. The Soviet Union itself, already under attack on several fronts, was also a victim of the failed coup. Within Russia, Yeltsin proceeded rapidly to destroy the Communist Party and to lay the groundwork for Russia's secession from the USSR. As the CPSU disintegrated, other member states of the USSR moved toward independence, beginning with Ukraine, which declared its independence on August 24. Other republics followed suit, and when a Ukrainian referendum on December 1 resoundingly confirmed the decision to secede, the Soviet Union was dead. On December 25, the Soviet flag, the hammer and sickle, was lowered from atop the Kremlin, and on December 31, 1991, the USSR officially ceased to exist.
Thackeray, Frank W. and Findling, John E. Events That Changed the Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Review of Key Concepts