Profile-The 20th Century: From Queen Victoria to Kosovo ; Two World Wars Have Cast a Dark Shadow over the Last 100 Years and, despite Dramatic Social and Technological Change, Big Solutions Are as Far Away as Ever
Healey, Denis, The Independent (London, England)
In theory the Victorian Age ended in 1901 with the death of the Queen herself. In practice its values were not seriously questioned until about 1910, with the rise of the suffragettes and the growth of movements such as the Cambridge Apostles, who developed the humanistic attitudes later associated with Bloomsbury.
The big changes came with the First World War, which put millions of women to work in factories and led to widespread questioning of the nationalism from which the conflict sprang. Yet although women began to get the vote in the early Twenties, they did not enjoy genuine equality with men until after the Second World War, as Virginia Woolf demonstrated in her seminal tract, A Room of One's Own. And despite the creation in 1920 of the League of Nations, with its concept of collective security, nationalism remained the decisive force in world affairs.
Though Communism, represented by the Soviet Union, dominated a fifth of the world, it failed to overcome nationalism, as Mao Tse Tung in China and Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia were to demonstrate.
The competing ideologies that produced Communism in Russia and Fascism in Germany and Italy needed force to maintain their totalitarian regimes. But it was the failure of free-market capitalism to produce social justice and prosperity that made the victory of totalitarianism possible in those countries. However in Germany after the First World War the refusal of the victorious allies to help its economy also played an important role.
All this, and the refusal of right-wing European governments to honour their commitment to collective security, made the Second World War inevitable. That war ended with Europe divided through the middle of Berlin and Vienna, and the Soviet Union imposing Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, in defiance of its wartime promises to permit free elections there. The Cold War became unavoidable.
Looking back, we can now see that the first great milestone of the century was the entry of the United States into the First World War, almost at the same time as the second great milestone: the storming of the Winter Palace by the Bolsheviks in St Petersburg.
The entry of the United States into the Second World War was not inevitable. Indeed the US Congress had passed a Neutrality Act in 1936 which in theory forbade it. Even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt might have confined the US's military activities to the Pacific theatre. And Stalin had signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler; it was only Germany's attack on the Soviet Union which turned the latter into an ally of the West.
But it was their victory in the Second World War that made the United States and the Soviet Union global superpowers, a position immeasurably reinforced by their possession of nuclear arsenals, which guaranteed that the Cold War could never become a Third World War (though even today the possibility of war between smaller nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan cannot be discounted).
It did not take long for Russia to realise that there was no chance of Communists taking over in any Western country, hence the Soviet Union's adoption of the policy of "Peaceful Co-existence". It still believed after the war, however, that Communism might yet triumph in the Third World, the developing countries of Africa and Asia that were emerging from imperial rule by the Europeans. Yet it soon became obvious that the former colonies had no intention of replacing European rule with rule by the Russians. The few that flirted briefly with Communism did so in the vain expectation of massive Soviet aid.
The collapse of the European empires after the Second World War reflected a desire for national independence. In Africa this led to new wars, since colonial frontiers simply represented the lines at which the different …
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Publication information: Article title: Profile-The 20th Century: From Queen Victoria to Kosovo ; Two World Wars Have Cast a Dark Shadow over the Last 100 Years and, despite Dramatic Social and Technological Change, Big Solutions Are as Far Away as Ever. Contributors: Healey, Denis - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 26, 1999. Page number: 19. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.