The Present in Perspective: A Look at the World since 1945

The Present in Perspective: A Look at the World since 1945

The Present in Perspective: A Look at the World since 1945

The Present in Perspective: A Look at the World since 1945

Excerpt

Centuries, as Gertrude Stein once observed, have a way of dying slowly. The eighteenth century took from 1789 to 1848 to merge into the nineteenth, and it can be argued that the twentieth took an equally long time to come into its own. It is quite natural, of course, for a generation to claim that it stands on the threshold of a new age. This was the way many people felt at the end of World War I. But as we now know, the world's major problems at that time were tackled with a regard for the past rather than for the future, which partly accounted for the breakdown of the peace settlement that was reached in 1919. The issues that were already sensed then and that are still with us now were not crystallized until three more decades had passed and another great war had been fought. The most important of these issues may be briefly summed up as: the eclipse of Europe's predominance and the rise of two superpowers, the United States and Russia, as determining factors in world affairs; the decline of colonial imperialism and the simultaneous emergence of the non-white peoples as a significant political force; and finally, the split of most of the world into conflicting Communist-totalitarian and liberal-democratic camps.

But behind these issues of recent origin remain still others that have troubled mankind from its earliest days and which for various reasons have assumed a unique importance in our own day. The "three scourges" -- famine, pestilence, and war -- so gruesomely depicted by medieval artists, are still very much with us today. Medical science, to be sure, has done much to curtail the dread of disease, and many of its greatest discoveries, from antibiotics to the Salk vaccine, have been made in recent . . .

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