Exam preparation materials


Recent Stuff: Around 1914 to the Present


From 1914 onward, everything seemed to have global significance. Wars were called “world wars.” Issues were thought of in terms of their worldwide impact, such as “global hunger” or “international terrorism.” Organizations formed to coordinate international efforts, such as the United Nations. And economies and cultures continued to merge to such a degree that eventually millions of people communicated instantaneously on the World Wide Web, feeding a massive cultural shift known simply as “globalization.”

It’s a complex 100 years. We’ll help you sort through it. Here’s how we organized this chapter.

  I. Chapter Overview
You’re reading it now.

II. Stay Focused on the Big Picture
This section will help you think about and organize the huge number of global events that have occurred over the past century.

 III. The Twentieth Century in Chunks
This is the largest section of the chapter. In it, we plow through historical developments in four massive chunks. If you’re totally clueless on any part of this section, you might consider also reviewing the corresponding topic in your textbook. As you can see from the section titles, and as you hopefully remember from your history class, there were a bunch of very significant wars in the twentieth century. As you study, worry more about the causes and consequences than about particular battles, although with regard to World War II, it’s important to understand the general sequence of military and political events, so we’ve included quite a bit. Here’s how we’ve organized the information.

A. The World War I Era

B. The World War II Era

C. Communism and the Cold War

D. Independence Movements and Developments in Asia and Africa

E. Globalization and the World Since 1980

IV. Changes and Continuities in the Role of Women
Finally, equal rights (in some places).

  V. Pulling It All Together
Refocus on big-picture concepts after you review the specific developments in the previous two sections.

VI. Timeline of Major Developments Since 1914


As always, connections, causation, and big-picture concepts are important. As you review the details of the twentieth-century developments in this chapter, stay focused on the big picture, and ask yourself some questions, including the following:

1. How do nationalism and self-determination impact global events? As you review, notice how nationalism impacts almost every country that is discussed in this chapter. It serves as both a positive force in uniting people, and a negative force in pitting people against one another. Self-determination is closely linked with nationalism because it is the goal of most nationalists.

2. Are world cultures converging? If so, how? There’s plenty of evidence that world cultures are, in fact, converging, especially with regard to technology, popular culture, and the Internet. But on the other hand, there seems to be no shortage of nationalism or independence movements, which suggests that major differences exist. As you read the chapter, think about the forces that are making the cultures of the world converge and those that are keeping cultures separated.

3. How do increasing globalization, population growth, and resource use change the environment? Which resources are renewable and which are not? As the world grows ever more interconnected in trade and consumption of resources, think about what political, economic, and environmental decisions are made to maintain those trade relations.



By 1914, most of the world was either colonized by Europe, or was once colonized by Europe, so everyone around the world was connected to the instability on that small but powerful continent. Tragically, that meant that when European powers were at war with each other, the colonies were dragged into the fight. To be sure, European rivalries had had a global impact for centuries, particularly during the colonial period. The Seven Years’ War in the eighteenth century between the French and British, for example, impacted their colonial holdings everywhere. France, too, jumped in to help the U.S. in its revolution against the British.

But in 1914, a major fight among European powers had a far more substantial and destructive effect. The Industrial Revolution had given Europe some powerful new weapons plus the ships and airplanes that could be used to deliver them. Large industrial cities had millions of people, creating the possibility of massive casualties in a single bombing raid. A rise in nationalism fed a military build-up and the desire to use it. And after the unifications of Germany and Italy, Europe simply had too many power-grabbing rivals. Not a good combination of factors if you like, well, peace.

Shifting Alliances: A Prewar Tally of European Countries

In the decades leading up to World War I, the European powers tried to keep the balance of power in check by forming alliances. The newly unified Germany quickly gained industrial might, but it was worried that France, its archenemy since the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, would seek revenge for its defeat. So, before he resigned from office, Otto von Bismarck created and negotiated the Triple Alliance among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy in the 1880s. On the side, Bismarck also had a pact with Russia. Otto played to win.

Over the next few decades, the major players of Europe became so obsessed with a possible war that their generals were already putting plans into motion in the event of an outbreak. After William II ousted Bismarck from power in 1890, he ignored Russia and allowed previous agreements between the two countries to wither. With Russia now on the market for friends, France jumped at the chance to make an alliance. Because France is to the west and Russia is to the east of Germany, a Franco-Russo alliance helped keep Germany in check. Meanwhile, Germany’s 1905Schlieffen Plan called for a swift attack on France through Belgium, an officially neutral country that had a growing relationship with Britain. By 1907, Britain had also signed friendly agreements with France and Russia, creating what became known as the Triple Entente. Clearly, everyone was anticipating the possibility of war, which was a pretty safe bet considering the contentious climate.

Trouble in the Balkans: Europe in a Tizzy

Remember the Ottoman Empire? In the first two decades of the twentieth century, it was still around, but it was in such bad shape that Europeans were calling it the “sick man of Europe.” It kept losing territory to its neighbors. After Greece won its independence in 1829, the Slavic areas to the north of Greece, including Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, began to win their independence as well. Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, were under the control of Austria-Hungary, as decided by the Berlin Conference of 1878, the same conference that led to the European scramble to colonize Africa. Serbia wanted Bosnia and Herzegovina for itself. To complicate matters, Russia was allied with Serbia, a fellow Slavic country.

It was in this political climate that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, in 1914. While there, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, shot and killed the Archduke and his wife. In an age when Europe was so tightly wound in alliances, suspicion, and rivalry that a sneeze could have set off a war, the dominos quickly started to fall. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, allied with Serbia, then declared war on Austria-Hungary. Because Russia and Austria-Hungary were on opposite sides of the Triple Entente–Triple Alliance divide, the pressure mounted on France, Italy, Germany, and Britain to join in. Britain was reluctant to honor its commitments at first, but when Germany implemented the Schlieffen Plan and stormed through Belgium toward France, Britain joined the fray in order to protect France. Italy, on the other hand, managed to wiggle out of its obligations and declared itself neutral, but the Ottoman Empire took its place, forming with Germany and Austria-Hungary an alliance called the Central Powers.

World War I: The War to End All Wars?

Since the European powers had colonies or strong economic ties with most of the rest of the world, the original gunshot by a Serbian nationalist resulted in widespread casualties across the globe. More than 40 countries found themselves taking up arms, including Japan, which fought on the side of Britain, France, and Russia, now known as the Allies. In 1915, Italy managed to complete its about-face and joined the Allies as well.

The United States declared its neutrality at first, preferring to focus on its own internal affairs, a policy known as isolationism. But when a German submarine (wow, technology came a long way quickly) sank the British passenger liner The Lusitania in 1915, killing more than 100 Americans who happened to be on board, public opinion in the United States shifted away from isolationism. The next year, as Germany tried to cut off all shipments to Britain, thereby starving the island country, it attacked U.S. merchant ships en route to Britain, further fueling American sentiment toward war. Then the Zimmermann telegram—a secret message sent between German diplomats suggesting that Mexico might want to join forces with Germany and thereby regain the territory it had lost to the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846—was intercepted by the United States. The public and President Wilson flipped out. On April 2, 1917, America entered the war on the side of the Allies. On November 11, 1918, after brutal battles, trench warfare, and enormous loss of life, Germany and the Central Powers finally gave up.

The consequences of the war were staggering. Eight-and-a-half million soldiers were killed. Around 20 million civilians perished. The social impact on the home front was substantial as well. Most governments took over industrial production during the war, while instituting price controls and rationing of products that were needed on the front lines. With huge numbers of men taking up arms, women moved into the factories to fill empty positions. This experience revved up the women’s suffrage movement, and became the basis for a successful push by women in Britain and the United States to gain the vote after the war.

Of course, World War II hadn’t happened yet, so no one referred to the war as World War I. Instead, most people called it the Great War, mistakenly thinking that there would never again be one as big or bloody. Indeed, the war was so horrendous that commentators called it “the war to end all wars.”

The Treaty of Versailles: Make the Germans Cry

Signed in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles brought an official end to World War I. France and Britain wanted to cripple Germany economically, so that it could never again rise to power and threaten to invade other sovereign states of Europe. The resulting treaty was extremely punitive against Germany, which was required to pay war reparations, release territory, and downsize its military. It also divided Austria-Hungary into separate nations, and created other nations such as Czechoslovakia. The treaty was a departure from President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which was more focused on establishing future peace and a workable balance of power. However, Britain and France, for example, needed to justify the human and financial cost of the war and the duration of the war to their own demoralized populations and so found Wilson’s proposal unacceptable. So the victors blamed the war on Germany and then forced Germany to sign an extremely punitive treaty over the objections of the United States. The victors hoped that as a result, Germany would never threaten the security of Europe again. Instead, the treaty greatly weakened Germany’s economy and bred resentment among the German population, laying the groundwork for the later rise of nationalistic Adolf Hitler.

The League of Nations: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

President Wilson was the voice of moderation at Versailles. He had hoped that the postwar treaties would be an opportunity to establish international laws and accepted standards of fairness in international conduct. His Fourteen Points speech addressed these issues and called for the creation of a joint council of nations called the League of Nations. The leaders at Versailles agreed with the idea in principle, and they set out to create the organization to preserve peace and establish humanitarian goals, but when they got around to actually joining the league, many nations refused to do so. England and France were tepid, while Germany and Russia initially scoffed at the idea (though later joined). Worse, the United States openly rejected it, a major embarrassment for President Wilson, who couldn’t persuade the isolationist U.S. Congress that the league was a step toward lasting peace.

The Russian Revolution: Czar Out, Lenin In

The Russian Revolution occurred even before the war had ended. Russia entered the war with the world’s largest army, though not the world’s most powerful one, because the nation was not nearly as industrialized as its Western neighbors. Very quickly, the army began to suffer large-scale losses and found itself short on food, munitions, and good leadership. In February 1917, in the face of rising casualties and food shortages, Czar Nicholas was forced to abdicate his throne. The Romanov Dynasty came to an end. Under Alexander Kerensky, a provisional government was established. It was ineffectual, in part because it shared power with the local councils, called soviets, which represented the interests of workers, peasants, and soldiers. Although the provisional government affirmed natural rights (such as the equality of citizens and the principle of religious toleration—changes that were inconceivable under the czar), it wanted to continue war against Germany in the hope that Russia could then secure its borders and become a liberal democracy. But the working classes, represented by the soviets, were desperate to end the suffering from the war. The idealism of the provisional officials caused them to badly miscalculate the depths of hostility the Russian people felt for the czar’s war.

By 1918, the soviets rallied behind the socialist party, now called the Bolsheviks. Amid this turmoil, Vladimir Lenin, the Marxist leader of the party, mobilized the support of the workers and soldiers. He issued his April Theses, which demanded peace, land for peasants, and power to the soviets. Within six months, the Bolsheviks took command of the government. Under his vision of mass socialization, Lenin rigidly set about nationalizing the assets and industries of Russia. In March 1918, the soviets signed an armistice with Germany, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded a huge piece of western Russia to Germany, so Russia dropped out of World War I. It therefore wasn’t part of the negotiations during the Treaty of Versailles.

In the Baltic republics of what would soon be called the Soviet Union, and in the Ukraine, Siberia, and other parts of the former Russian Empire, counterrevolutionary revolts broke out. The Bolsheviks faced nonstop skirmishes between 1918 and 1921. To put down these struggles, the Bolsheviks created the Red Army, a military force under the command of Leon Trotsky. By 1918, the Red Army was a sizeable force, and with the support of the peasants, it defeated the counterrevolutionaries. But the counterrevolution had two lasting implications. First, the prolonged civil war deepened the distrust between the new Marxist state and its Western neighbors, who had supported the counterrevolutionaries. And second, the Bolsheviks now had a very powerful army, the Red Army, at its disposal.

Here Come the Turks: The Sick Man of Europe Is Put Out of His Misery

The Ottoman Empire, already on its last legs, made a fatal mistake by joining the losing Central Powers of World War I. In the peace negotiations, it lost most of its remaining land, and was therefore ripe for attack from the Greeks, who picked up arms in 1919.Mustafa Kemal, who later became known as Ataturk, “the Father of the Turks,” led successful military campaigns against the Greeks, and then overthrew the Ottoman sultan. In 1923, Ataturk became the first president of modern Turkey. He successfully secularized the overwhelmingly Muslim nation, introduced Western-style dress and customs (abolishing the fez), changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin, set up a parliamentary system (which he dominated), changed the legal code from Islamic to Western, and set Turkey on a path toward Europe as opposed to the Middle East. However, he instituted these reforms against opposition, and sometimes was ruthless in his determination to institute change.

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