Learning Lessons from the Blood-Soaked 20th Century

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 5, 2006 | Go to article overview

Learning Lessons from the Blood-Soaked 20th Century


Byline: By KAREN PRICE Western Mail

Violence in the Middle East could escalate far beyond current levels if the 'US empire' leaves the region, according to a leading historian. Niall Ferguson believes the conditions developing in the Middle East mirror those in some of the major conflict zones of the 20th century.

The author of new book War of the World, who splits his time between Harvard in America and Porthcawl, and who was a don at Jesus College, Oxford - the 'Welsh' college -, has devoted his recent studies to 'the most violent century ever'.

And speaking at Hay-on-Wye on Saturday he sent a stark warning that terrible conflict had the potential to flare up again - a conflict worse than the current strife in Iraq.

His new book examines the Second World War as a greater conflict which raged throughout the 20th century focused on two zones of intense violence - Eastern Europe and the Korean peninsula.

He describes four factors which contributed to the explosion of violence during the 20th century, including the disintegration of ethnically-mixed societies and economic volatility.

Combined with the decline of old empires and the rise of the east, he said conditions were ripe for violence as witnessed during the Second World War and the numerous global conflicts that book-ended it.

'Could it happen again? If I am right about what made the 20th century so violent, we have to be extremely cautious,' said Ferguson.

'In Iraq, ethnic disintegration is well under way.'

He said tensions between Sunni and Shia muslims were already in place and it may be the American presence that was keeping something of a lid on the situation, despite the current violence in the region.

'There is the possibility the US empire will decline in our time. If I am right about empires in decline, the greatest violence may be ahead of us.

'Precisely when America loses control of the Middle East is when we will see the greatest violence in that area.'

He said he thought the 'American empire' was facing stiff opposition from China already. 'About 100 years ago, British people started noticing that everything they bought had 'Made in Germany' stamped on it,' said Ferguson. …

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