The World Since 1945: A Brief History (2nd Edition)

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9780131897052: The World Since 1945: A Brief History (2nd Edition)

This brief book stresses the profound global transformation that has occurred since 1945 as a result of the collapse of the remaining great colonial empires, and the emergence of nation-states throughout the world. Its thematic emphasis makes clear as well the importance of the Cold War in influencing the process by which these nation-states sought to create new ideals and new institutions—to insure order and justice within their boundaries, and find places within the international community. The book also links the new nation-states in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, with the ethnic conflicts, local wars, and terrorist movements that became increasingly prevalent toward the end of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. For a world-historical perspective on contemporary civilization.

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From the Back Cover:

Tracing global events from the last years of the Second World War until the Iraq war of 2003, this brief but comprehensive volume on contemporary world history argues that the most profound transformation of global relations in this period has been the fall of the last colonial empires and the triumph of nation-states. The World Since 1945 offers its readers a basic chronology of the major events that have marked the history of the last half-century. Author Daniel Brower begins with a succinct discussion of the Second World War's revolutionary impact on the course of global affairs, emphasizing the disappearance of Western colonial empires and the beginning of the Cold War conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. He concludes with an analysis of the rise of Islamic terrorism and the international crisis leading to the U.S. war in Iraq 2003. The narrative account emphasizes three major factors that have shaped the key events in this extraordinary half-century:

  • The instability of nation-states caused by ethnic conflicts, poverty, and the rise of dictators
  • The changes in global balance of power from Cold War to U.S. hegemony
  • The economic fortunes of capitalism and communism

Brower argues that powerful forces of nationalism and social revolution, propelled by the turmoil following the end of the Second World War, quickly destroyed all colonial empires. He stresses the efforts at nation-building that followed these events and points to the widespread emergence of ethnic conflicts within and between these new states.

In each chapter thematic and biographical sections focus attention on the most important features of this history. Updated to incorporate recent events, the book discusses the efforts in the 1990s of international organizations and major states to implement new policies for peace and global security, and explains the factors behind the upsurge of local wars and terrorism, culminating in the 2001 Al Oaeda attack on the U.S. and the Afghan and Iraq wars.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Priding ourselves on shaping history, we function day to day as slaves of the events that inexorably unroll themselves before our eyes, and fear possesses us and hatred follows in its train.
— Jawaharlal Nehru, 1949

The moment in August 1947 when the British Empire liberated its Indian colony was a time of triumph and celebration for Nehru, who was India's first prime minister. There, as in other colonies that achieved independence in the postwar years, nationalist leaders hoped that liberation would open an era of freedom and progress for the former subject peoples. But Nehru discovered that the transition of power brought human tragedy as well as triumph. He gave voice to that disillusionment two years later, recalling the anguish, helplessness, and despair that he experienced in the first months of independence. Nehru's confession is a timely warning not to exaggerate the achievements or minimize the destruction brought by the postimperial age.

Forging a national community has been a fundamental, complex task following the fall of the Western empires in the years after the Second World War. The challenge was to create new political foundations for public life, and to forge new bonds of trust to hold together the peoples of the new states. These daunting tasks suggest the great scope of renewal that has been attempted in our postcolonial age. There exists as well a dark side to this story of transformation, for hostility and fear among peoples at times produced bitter conflict in the decades following colonial liberation. This ethnic and social unrest has undermined new governments and created political chaos within these states.

Nehru had imagined a far happier time for his newly liberated country. These shattered dreams are as much a part of the history of the world since 1945 as the achievements that countries such as India actually did experience. Knowledge of these events can help us to reach a balanced, sober understanding of human relations in our complex world.

Destruction and creation are inseparable parts of the history of the late twentieth century. The bitterness and suffering generated by this struggle of ideals and interests have made the world an uneasy, violent place. Perhaps the most appropriate—certainly the most optimistic—image of contemporary world history is provided by the Greek myth of the phoenix, the bird reborn from the ashes of its own destruction. To discern essential signs of the emerging new era represents the most challenging historical task of any survey of turbulent periods of change, particularly one so close to us.

The emergence of a world consisting of states claiming to be nations is the major theme of this textbook. The process has generated powerful new political ideals and created problems of human relations unknown to previous generations. It has thrust some peoples into unexpected prominence as a result of the violent history of this period. The textbook's chronological coverage extends from the closing years of the Second World War, when the Axis empires were close to defeat, and reaches forward beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War to a new era when nation-states gave shape to the political map of the entire world. In the same period, the power in the hands of a few states, especially the United States, gave them opportunities to shape the course of global relations. At the same time, that power and prosperity attracted enemies, some of whom took the path of terrorism to attack these states. Violence is an integral part of the story told here.

The world-historical perspective adopted in this text is especially meaningful to make clear the increasing interaction among states and peoples since the close of the Second World War. The principal questions I seek to answer follow directly from this premise: What have been the most significant trends shaping this interaction? How can we explain the emergence of these global trends? What has been their impact on peoples throughout the world? This brief survey cannot possibly explore in detail all the dimensions of this interaction; of necessity, it is very selective. To draw the reader's attention to important issues, each chapter contains a "Highlight" essay that addresses a key issue, and a "Spotlight" essay offering a biographical sketch of 'an individual whose life encapsulates an essential trend in contemporary world history. Throughout the text, three subjects have guided the selection of the major trends and events to be addressed. These are the international history of states; the role of ideology in shaping political movements and reshaping cultural and social values, and the evolution of world economic relations.

All three emphasize related aspects of global interaction. International history examines the essential factors that have shaped the foreign policies of governments and the relations among states. These include, first, the political ideals and national interests of states, second, the economic and political influence of states in global affairs, and third, the balance of power among countries. These three factors taken together explain in large measure the evolution of global conflict and cooperation from great confrontation of the Second World War to the Cold War conflict between superpowers following the world war, and finally to wars and peacekeeping after the end of the Cold War. International history offers crucial insight into the global forces that shaped the world as we know it.

The potent force of political ideology emerges from deeply felt convictions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, giving rise to powerful mass movements and guiding the policies of governments. The importance of these aspirations in our time is such that some scholars have suggested calling the twentieth century the "age of ideology." Liberalism was the dominant political faith among Western countries in the early century and it appeared in the late century to have won greater support around the world than ever before. During most of the century, Marxism provided the ideological guidelines for state policy-making and cultural controls in the socialist countries of the communist bloc and in the Third World. Nationalism, of Western origin but without any single intellectual source or text, places the emergence of national communities and the formation of the nation-state at the center of human endeavor. It is undoubtedly the single strongest political bond among peoples in the world today. In the late twentieth century, influential political movements claiming to defend the Muslim religious community drew strength from their ideological coherence. In studying these ideologies we can appreciate better the motives of important political leaders and the manner in which social discontent has been articulated and expressed in political movements.

Finally, economic history stresses the significance of productive resources, of new technology, and of ownership of these means of production. These factors have determined the profound differences separating developed and developing nations and the dispersion across the globe of wealth and poverty. Vital natural resources, such petroleum, have become essential to the well-being of the global economy. Countries possessing these resources have acquired vast wealth, and have attracted the attention, both helpful and destructive, of foreign powers.

These three realms of inquiry—international, ideological, and economic history—are guides to interpreting the global forces of change. They suggest where and how powerful new historical trends have emerged. In simplest terms, they illuminate the process by which human power in various forms has, for good and ill, reshaped the modern world.

The story told here adheres to the simple principle that history is a tale of the past revealed over the passage of time. Its emphasis on international, political, and economic trends focuses that tale on the formative influences that have made the world as we know it. Its frequent use of historical quotations and images of these trends, in the form of quotes from political leaders and observers, or reproductions of political posters and photographs, is inspired by the belief that the proper subject-matter of history is the lived experience of the past. The meaning and purpose that participants attributed to those events are as much a part of our history as the events themselves. The tale retold here is one that they first wrote. We may praise or condemn what they did, but first we need to understand what they sought to do.

The judgments that we bring to a past as close as the twentieth century are inescapably influenced by our immediate perception of the world about us. To those who might object that such interpretations commit the sin of "presentism," that is, of distorting the past to make it fit the needs of the present, I would respond that history as we teach and write it is necessarily a dialogue between the present and the past. The essential requirement for historical understanding is to allow the voices from the past to answer in their own terms the questions and concerns that we judge to be historically meaningful.

The thematic focus of this text is in large measure drawn from my experience as lecturer and textbook author in the field of modern world history. This undertaking has occupied me during nearly three decades of teaching this subject, and has benefitted from innumerable discussions with colleagues who have proven generous with their time and indulgent of my endeavor. The sober understanding of the past that we acquire with the passing of time is a privilege largely denied this text, whose last chapters touch on events that occurred only yesterday on a historical scale. Students in my twentieth-century world history course at the University of California-Davis have lived through the many stages of this work. The yearly renewal of this student audience has constantly challenged my conclusions and incited me to rethink the meaning of events for those who are creating the history of the twenty-first century.

I would like to thank the reviewers of this book, Frederick Dotolo, St. John Fisher College (NY), and Guoqiang Zheng, Angelo State University.

This book is dedicated to Matthew, Michael, and Natalie, with the wish that they may find the world a place to say "Fanfare for the Makers!"

Daniel R. Brower
September 20, 2003
Berkeley, California

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