Western Civilization since 1700

“The farther in the past we look, the farther ahead we can see.”
     Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister (1940-45, 1951-55)

Key web sites to remember:

Library of Congress Online: www.loc.gov

National Archives: www.access.gpo.gov/nara/

Encyclopedia Britannica Online: www.britannica.com

Encarta Online Encyclopedia: www.encarta.msn.com 

British Broadcasting Co.: www.bbc.com 

            Western Civilization covers the whole of the western experience, that is, primarily Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and the European colonies.  The United States, as it begins its rise, takes on an increasingly prominent role during this period.  America inspires the spread of democracy and fosters innovation and cultural changes across the globe.  Elements of American History and American participation in global events will receive scrutiny, but will be placed in the larger context of its role and its influence on the course of western civilization.



The Enlightenment saw an explosion of new works of art, science, and literature. The period of relative intellectual stagnation in the seventeenth century gave way to a flowering of the human imagination in Europe. Artists and philosophers explored the depths of emotion and spirituality. Adventurers sought new colonies and new worlds to explore. All around, there seemed to be new frontiers to conquer. The Enlightenment valued the ability of the human mind to reason, to sort out problems and create new possibilities. Reason became the intellectual standard during this period -- the ability to infer conclusions with an open mind unclouded by prejudice and to prove facts and theories with objective evidence. The ability to improve the conditions of all -- lift the world from poverty, ignorance, warfare, and injustice -- seemed entirely possible. The “philosophes,“ the intellectuals of this period, wrote on an array of subjects. Thinkers began to reconsider man’s relationship with the universe, his relationship with God, and his relationship with the state. Philosopher Immanuel Kant described the Enlightenment in 1784 as “man’s leaving behind his self-caused immaturity.”

Among the thinkers of the Enlightenment:

Bernard de Fontenelle (1657-1757) -- He wrote Plurality of Worlds in which he popularized the new scientific thinking emerging around the world.

John Locke -- An English philosopher, he also wrote the constitution for the Carolina colonies. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which the English overthrew King James II, Locke considered what the proper role of government should be. In 1690, he wrote Two Treatises on Government. In the first treatise, he refuted point-by-point arguments by Sir Robert Filmer defending the idea of an absolute hereditary monarchy. In the second treatise, Locke offered his alternative: a society in which individuals enter communities and governments voluntarily, sacrificing some of their absolute freedoms for common benefits. The purpose of any government, Locke wrote, was to defend the most basic rights inherent in all individuals: life, liberty, and property.  These ideas spread throughout the British Empire, influencing the colonists in America. When Thomas Jefferson led the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Locke’s ideas on government deeply influenced him as he condemned British actions against the colonies. Jefferson wrote that Great Britain had failed in its most basic responsibilities to its people: to protect the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Adam Smith -- In 1776, he wrote Wealth of Nations, a work in which he said that government has three basic functions: protection of society from invasion (military), defending individuals from injustice and oppression (police), and maintenance of public works (transportation infrastructure that individuals cannot afford). He condemned the mercantilist system in which the government would grant monopolies and special privileges to favored industries to allow them to compete abroad. Smith wrote that the “invisible hand” of the economy would drive prosperity. His “laissez-faire” economic theory was meant to condemn government favoritism but was used to justify abuses of workers in the nineteenth century and to prevent government attempts to regulate workers and consumers. Smith also wrote that industry should treat workers well and provide them training.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784) -- He compiled the 28-volume Encyclopedia, a collection of articles form philosophes on every conceivable intellectual subject.

Voltaire (1694-1778) -- French playwright and social critic. He also wrote Treatise on Toleration in 1763 in which he defended the idea of religious toleration and freedom of religion, stating that such policies had caused no significant social problems in England or Holland.

Mary Wollstonecraft -- In 1792, she wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in which she called for equality of women under the law and in politics and economics. Her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley became a renowned writer with the publication of Frankenstein.

Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) -- In 1762, Rousseau wrote The Social Contract, in which he concluded that the general will of the people represents society’s greatest aspirations and that what was best for all was best for the individual. Later in 1762, he published Emile in which he emphasized the importance of education.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) –Newton more than any other figure of this time revolutionized the way the West saw the universe.  His most important work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (Principia), spells out the universal laws of gravitation and motion still used by scientists to this day.  His three laws of motion: a body at rest stays at rest unless acted on by some other force (inertia), the rate of change of motion is proportional to the force acting on it (acceleration), and a body in motion will stay in motion at the same rate and direction unless acted on by another force (momentum).  His theory of gravitation changes the entire study of astronomy.  He develops calculus to demonstrate how these laws work mathematically.


Nations began to be swept up in the spirit of the Enlightenment, as a source of inspiration for some and a source for fear for others:


AUSTRIAN EMPIRE -- Vienna had become a cultural center during the Enlightenment, attracting artists, writers, and many other intellectuals. The city became renowned for its architecture. In 1740, Maria Theresa became the Empress of Austria. She proved an able ruler, centralizing some administrative functions and enlarging the nation’s military. In 1765, her son, Joseph II was declared co-regent. Joseph was filled with Enlightenment ideas and wanted to embark on an ambitious course of reform for Austria. His mother, much more traditional, was aghast at some of his ideas, particularly freedom of religion. The two clashed repeatedly.

In 1780, Joseph II became sole emperor upon his mother’s death. During his reign, he abolished the system of serfdom, and tried to help the newly freed serfs by giving them hereditary rights to some of the lands their families had worked for centuries for the manorial lords, limited the use of the death penalty, stripped special class privileges in the Austrian legal system by establishing the principle of equality of all before the law, and issued a decree mandating religious toleration -- allowing Protestants and Orthodox Christians to practice freely in the Roman Catholic state. During his ten-year reign, Joseph II issued 6,000 decrees and ratified 11,000 new laws. But the reforms proved too much too fast. The clergy, the upper classes, and the lower classes became increasingly restive and resentful at some of his reforms. The effort to make German the official bureaucratic language frustrated the non-Germanic minorities throughout the Austrian Empire. Joseph II died disappointed in 1790, and many of his reforms were dismantled by his successors.

PRUSSIA -- The Holy Roman Empire, once commanding the different states of Germany, had become virtually powerless by the eighteenth century and the dozens of different states comprising it began to compete for supremacy I Germany. Among the most powerful was Prussia, as it expanded west into Brandenburg and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

Frederick William I (or Friedrich Wilhelm, 1713-1740) -- Strengthened the power and prestige of Prussia during his reign, instituting many reforms for Prussia. He established the General Directory to centralize administration and established an effective system of civil servants -- emphasizing in all employees a code of obedience, honor, and service to the king. The army was enlarged from 45,000 to 83,000 men. Although Prussia was only the tenth-largest European nation in land area and the thirteenth-largest in population, by 1740, Frederick William I had built the fourth-largest army in Europe.

Frederick II (the Great) (1740-1786) -- Frederick the Great followed many of the intellectual traditions of other Enlightenment rulers, including a thirst for knowledge and a quest for reform. He believed the king was the first servant of the state and established a single code of laws for the Prussian territories and eliminated the use of torture except for cases of murder and treason. Too dependent on the nobility for political support, however, he did not abolish serfdom in Prussia. In 1741, as Maria Theresa tried to smooth over problems with her ascension, Frederick launched a war with the Austrian Empire, quickly seizing Silesia from the Austrians. This sparked two major wars with Austria: the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War, both of which embroiled the major European powers. Over the course of his reign, he enlarged the Prussian army to 200,000 men, increasing the importance of the military to Prussia’s reputation.

RUSSIA -- Since the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725), Russia had looked west. Peter I had initiated many western-style reforms for Russia. For the next century, his successors tried to emulate the grandeur of progress and reform that Peter had brought to the country. In 1762, the erratic Czar Peter III was assassinated by a group of nobles led by his wife’s lover. Peter’s wife quickly moved to become ruler of Russia in her own right. Catherine II (1762-1796), emulating Peter I, chose an ambitious course for Russia, awing many of her contemporaries. Some in Russia wanted to bestow upon her the title of “the Great,” but she declined, saying that only history could make that judgment. And history did. Catherine the Great called for elections in 1767 to a convention to reform and modernize Russia’s laws. She wrote the Instruction as a guide for debates, in which she questioned the wisdom of serfdom, torture, and capital punishment. She also called for the equality of all before the law. The convention, however, only strengthened the privileges of the nobility. From 1773 to 1775, she fought to defeat a fierce rebellion of peasants in southern Russia led by the illiterate serf Emelyan Pugachev. Pugachev’s Rebellion was defeated after his top lieutenants betrayed him and turned him over to Catherine’s officials. In 1785, she issued the Charter of Nobility which mandated rights for the upper classes, including trial by a jury of peers and exempting the nobility from corporal punishment. Russia continued to expand westward as it swallowed up Poland in three partitions in 1772, 1793, and 1795. Catherine once commented that if she could live 100 years, she would partition all of Europe.

ENGLAND -- The English system of government continued to evolve, with rights developing and changing according to legal precedents established by Parliament, established in the 1300s. England already had a system of due process of law dating back to the Magna Carta in 1215. Throughout the 1700s, Parliament steadily gained more power over the monarchs, but the king still had the power to call new elections and to name the prime minister, who controlled the legislative agenda.

The British Governmental Structure:

KING (hereditary) -- approves legislation,

names prime ministers and can call

parliamentary elections. Has veto power,

but veto not used since 1710s.




PARLIAMENT -----> HOUSE OF LORDS (hereditary)

Approves legislation from the Commons




Proposes legislation.

Prime Minister heads this body.

If Commons thrice approves legislation

over veto by the Lords, it automatically

goes to the king for approval. No set

terms, elections can be held at any time,

but must be held at least every five years.


Duties of the two houses and who is eligible to vote in elections for the Commons changes over time. Eventually, the prime minister was simply the head of the majority coalition in the Commons. Since the prime minister is a member of parliament (an “M.P.” in British terms), the prime minister’s term of office can vary from a few months to several years, and can even be prime minister on multiple occasions. Qualifications for voting for members of Parliament has varied greatly. Initially, only upper-class, landowning nobles could vote for members. This was gradually extended to the lower classes. With the 1884 Reform Act, essentially all men could vote. By 1919, the right to vote was extended to British women. See more on the British Parliament at: www.parliament.uk.

Anne I (1702-1714) -- She is the last of the Stuart Dynasty. During her rule, she approves the Act of Union in 1707, which unites England and Scotland. Since England also controlled Wales, this created the United Kingdom of Great Britain, commonly referred to as the “U.K.” She has no heirs, so Parliament asks a distant cousin to become king, the German George I, beginning the Hanover Dynasty.

George I (1714-1727) -- King George I did not speak English and did not understand many English customs, so he entrusted most of the administrative functions of the government to Parliament, allowing its power and influence to grow.

George II (1727-1760) -- Like his father, he was also unfamiliar with English legal customs, leaning heavily upon the influential Robert Walpole as prime minister, who served from 1721 to 1742.

George III (1760-1820) -- Grandson of George II, he came in as a highly popular king as Britain was flush with success in the Seven Years’ War. But over time, he became increasingly conservative and embroiled in fights with the colonies over the authority of Parliament over the local colonial assemblies. Later in life, he became mentally unstable, subject to delusions and sharp outbursts of temper. This condition was identified as porphyria, a hereditary illness. In 1810, his son, later to become George IV, was declared Prince Regent, to rule in the name of the king who was now too mentally disturbed to carry out his duties.  In 1801, though Britain had long controlled Ireland in some respects, the new Act of Union added Ireland to the United Kingdom, making the official title the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

George IV (1820-1830) -- officially became king until his death in 1830 as the Industrial Revolution accelerated throughout Western Europe, and Europe settled into the new peace following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

William IV (1830-1837) -- brother of George IV.

Victoria I (1837-1901) -- As British imperial power reached its height, Victoria symbolized the grandeur and moral vision that Britain envisioned for itself as her reign became called the Victorian Age.  She and her husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861, had nine children and 37 grandchildren. With the annexation of all of India under her reign, one out of every four people on Earth were under British rule.

Slavery continued throughout the colonial system. During the entire period from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, 9.3 million Africans were brought to the New World as slaves, with two-thirds just in the eighteenth century. This also factored into the economics of the day.  In 1770, the white European population still was larger than the African population because of the deaths from overwork, disease, and abuse that the slaves suffered. By 1780, most of the population in the Caribbean islands, whether under Spanish, French, or English control, was African. Large concentrations of slaves also persisted in the American South, Portuguese Brazil, and New Spain. The Triangular Trades developed as a system of supporting the slave-based economies of these regions. Slaves purchased from Africa would be sent to work the mines and plantation of the Caribbean region, and these materials would either be sent to the northern colonies (particularly sugar to New England, Pennsylvania, and New York to manufacture into rum) or to Europe where these raw materials would be processed into fine manufactured goods. These profits would then purchase more slaves to perpetuate the system.

Spain had acquired billions of dollars in gold and silver from its mining operations in Central and South America. Because of the raw materials France collected in its holdings in the Mississippi River Valley, the Caribbean, the Great Lakes region, and the St. Lawrence River Valley, its exports quadruped between 1716 and 1789. But its population never rose above 500,000. In British North America, generous immigration policies and land grants allowed its population to swell from 1.5 million in 1750 to 3.5 million just in the United States by 1790.


French and Indian War (1756-1763)

            Called the Seven Years’ War in Europe and the “Great War for the Empire” in England, a worldwide world war which had started with a 1754 skirmish between colonial volunteers led by George Washington hoping to stop the expansion of the French and professional French troops in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, had spread to the West Indies, India, and Europe.
           With English troops spread across the globe, the English colonists mainly had to manage on their own, fending off raids by Native American tribes allied with the French on the western frontier of the Ohio River Valley.  Most tribes, seeing Washington’s surrender after being surrounded and outnumbered by the French, saw this defeat as a sign of English weakness and allied with France.  By 1755, most English settlers had withdrawn east of the Alleghenies to relative safety.  In 1757, with the British war effort in peril, William Pitt, the British foreign minister appointed to head the war effort, brought recruitment in the colonies fully under British control and allowed the British army to forcibly impress colonists into service – simply kidnapping unsuspecting men on the streets and forcing them into the army.  Riots erupted in New York City in protests.  The  army began seizing supplies from merchants and traders without paying for them.  Fierce tensions between England and the  colonists emerged, forcing Pitt to relax many policies by 1758, reimbursing merchants for seized goods and returning control of recruitment to colonial assemblies.  France, suffering from poor harvests, can not maintain military successes.  The French fortress at Louisbourg (on the mouth of the St. Lawrence River) fell to the British in July 1758, and Ft. Duquesne in western Pennsylvania fell to the British without a fight that autumn.  In September 1759, the supposedly impregnable fortress at Quebec, perched on a cliff, fell to British in daring nighttime raid.  By 1760, the French army formally surrendered in Montreal, ending the American phase of the war.  England and its allies continued to fight France and its allies, including the Spanish who were brought into the war in 1761, elsewhere until 1763.

Treaty of Paris (1763)

            The Treaty of Paris of 1763 ends the French and Indian War.  The issue of North American colonial supremacy is settled in favor of the British, rapidly becoming the most powerful nation on Earth.  The French Empire in North America is eliminated and the Spanish, hobbled by years of debts and mismanagement, steadily fade from power.

The terms of the treaty:

            England gains from Spain: Florida

            England gains from France: Canada (the St. Lawrence River Valley and the Great Lakes region), East Louisiana (the

area east of the Mississippi River, and a number of possessions in the Caribbean Sea and India.

            Spain gains from France: Wet Louisiana (the area west of the Mississippi River).


Key British Legislation, 1763-1775

            The British have won a tremendous victory as a result of the war.  But it was a costly victory.  Saddled with heavy debts, the British government now must find ways of defending the newly enlarged realm, protecting the British economy, and saving the nation from fiscal ruin.  As a result, Parliament passes a series of acts designed to bring in more revenue for the government and tighten the efficiency of tax collection, but primarily succeeds in alienating the colonists by what they see as an infringement on their basic liberties as Englishmen.

Proclamation Line (1763) – Settlers are forbidden to go beyond the crest of the Appalachian Mountains in order to keep peace with Native Americans in the Ohio River Valley.  Settlements continue anyway.

An Act for the Encouragement of Officers Making Seizures (1763) – vice-admiralty courts created.  Smugglers are tried in military courts, without juries, instead of civilian courts for violation of civilian tax laws.  Port workers become increasingly angry at British seizures of goods and ships.

Sugar Act (1764) – revision of duties on imported sugar provokes protests in colonial assemblies.

Stamp Act (1765) – taxes were imposed on all printed materials, from books and newspapers to diplomas and playing cards.  Payment of these taxes would be proven through a stamp to be affixed to these materials.  The colonists furiously objected, staging massive protests across the continent.  Americans refused to buy British products in protest, stamp collectors were forced to resign and delegates from a number of colonies convene the Stamp Act Congress to lodge a series of protests against Parliament.  Under pressure, the British relent and repeal the act in 1766.

Quartering Act (1765) – This act mandated that colonists must supply the British with housing.  New York, headquarters of the British Army in North America, would fare the worst under the plan and refused to participate.  In response, Parliament briefly shut down the New York Assembly in 1767.

Townsend Revenue Acts (1767) – These acts placed new tariffs on a variety of products, including glass, paints, lead, and tea.  The Americans responded with a series of boycotts.

Tea Act (1773) – In order to save a major British corporation from bankruptcy, Parliament gives the East India Company special tax breaks and tax rebates to sell tea to the Americans.  The Americans refuse to buy the tea and one group in Boston dumps a shipment of tea into Boston Harbor in December, an act remembered as the Boston Tea Party. 

Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts) (1774) – Britain responds to the Boston Tea Party with a series of laws designed to punish Boston and Massachusetts until the tea was paid for.  These acts included banning public assemblies without British permission, making certain offices appointed rather than elected, and the closure of the port of Boston.

Quebec Act (1774) – The British establish a government in Canada, designed to suit French legal traditions but raising the ire of colonists.  Quebec given control of Ohio River Valley (claimed by Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut).  Quebec government will be unelected and will give a privileged position to the Roman Catholic Church, enraging the Protestant English colonists. 

Prohibitory Act (1775) – In response to the battles between British troops and Massachusetts minutemen at Lexington and Concord in April and the later battle at Bunker Hill, Britain decides to forcefully suppress the rebellion.  Under this act, New England was declared in rebellion, and a blockade established.  Continental Congress driven closer to decision for independence.

Declaration of Independence – By 1776, the colonial assemblies decided that reconciliation with Britain had become impossible and prepared to formally declare independence.  Believing that they must make a statement first, the Continental Congress formed a committee of five men led by Thomas Jefferson to draw up this declaration.  Jefferson did most of the writing.  The Declaration is essentially divided into two parts, with the first explaining what the duties of a good government and the second half explaining how the British had failed in those respects.  The Americans declared that liberty and equality were the cornerstones of any government, and the British had stripped this away.  Laying blame squarely with King George III, Jefferson listed 27 grievances, ranging from the legislation passed by Parliament after the French and Indian War to recent actions by the British army as the war raged.   The Declaration of Independence, while having no legal force, became an important statement on the American cause and the type of nation the newly independent states hoped to form after the war.

            Independence was approved by Congress on July 2, 1776, but the Declaration of Independence was not signed until July 4, which the United States celebrates as Independence Day.


            For more on the Declaration, see:



            The war did not go well for the Americans.  At several points, it seemed as though the revolution and the Continental Army would collapse under the weight low morale caused by supply shortages, disease, and difficult conditions that prompted many desertions.  The Continental Congress had made George Washington commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775.  Washington accepted the command on the condition that he would accept no pay – that he would not profit from the war.  In many instances, Washington supplied his troops with his own money.  He did not win many battles, but he kept an army in the field challenging the British each year of the war, thus keeping American hopes alive.

            For more on Washington, see:



Battle of Saratoga (1777) – American fortunes turned in 1777.  The British hoped to sever New England from the rest of the United States by moving forces north from occupied New York and south from Canada.  New York forces, however, were bogged down against Washington’s troops in Pennsylvania.  At Saratoga, New York, on October 7, 1777, Continental forces led by Gen. Horatio Gates encountered the British and forced an entire army to surrender.  The French had carefully watched events, and had secretly provided the Americans with gunpowder and money for the war.  The American minister to France, Benjamin Franklin, worked diligently to convince France to join in their fight against England.  The victory at Saratoga convinced the French that the American Revolution had a chance of succeeding.  In 1778, the United States and France concluded an alliance that led to the French declaring war on Britain.  By 1779, France convinced Spain to join in the war, and in 1780, England declared war on Holland for trading with the states.  With the help of France, the cause for the United States improved considerably.

Battle of Yorktown (1781) – By 1778, the British became convinced that they could not win the war in the North and turned their attention to holding the resources of the South.  The British had won a succession of battles in 1779 and 1780 in the region.  The English had marched north to Virginia to cut off Continental reinforcements.  The British found a combined French and American force meeting them at Yorktown, led by Washington.  For one of the few times in the war, the Americans outnumbered the British.  The two sides fought between September 28 and October 17, with the British slowly losing ground.  The British surrender, and the revolution is won.

            Treaty of Paris of 1783 – This treaty formally ends the American Revolution.  Great Britain recognizes American independence with a border at the Mississippi River.  The British convince the Americans to give up confiscated Loyalist property, while the Spanish regain Florida from the British.  The British evacuate the occupied cities, and many slaves and Loyalists flee with the British to Canada and England. 


French Revolution

            In the wake of the American Revolution, the French, long oppressed by a tyrannical absolutist regime and crushed by mounting debts, rise up and demand food and freedom.  The resulting revolution will sweep across Europe, envelop the foreign affairs concerns of the United States, and completely redraw the maps of Europe.

Pre-Revolutionary Era

1774 – Louis XVI becomes French king.  France had a tradition of absolutist monarchs, who ruled without any checks on their power.  Louis XVI follows in that tradition, becoming king at age 20 on the death of Louis XV, but completely unprepared for the demands of the task.

1786 – The French government, burdened by debts accrued by mismanagement and wars (particularly the French and Indian War and the American Revolution), is in danger of insolvency.  Aides inform him that he will have to call into session the Estates General, an advisory body formed in 1302 and comprised of the three classes of French society, to solve the crisis.  Fearful of losing power to a parliamentary system, the king declines.

1787 – King Louis XVI calls the Assembly of Notables, a group of noblemen, to discuss the financial crisis.  The Assembly urges the king to assemble the Estates General.


May 1789 – After the elections of 1200 delegates, the Estates General meets for the first time since 1614.

            The Estates General: the three classes of French society are divided into separate bodies and vote as separate bodies to decide financial matters for the kingdom.

                        Nobility – aristocracy

                        Clergy – Roman Catholic officials

                        Peasantry – the great masses of France, comprising some 97% of the population from all income levels.

            The Third Estate demands that the other estates meet as one assembly. 

June 17, 1789 – Third Estate and maverick members of the clergy unite to form the National Assembly to speak and act for all of France.  On June 23, the members take the “Tennis Court Oath,” refusing to disband until their demands are met.  Louis XVI recognizes the National Assembly.

            “Let them eat cake” – This infamous statement by Queen Marie Antoinette has come to symbolize the indifference many Frenchmen believed that the royal family had toward the common man.  In the real story, Parisian housewives walked to the royal palace at Versailles, some 20 miles from Paris, and asked for bread to feed their families.  The king had given away wheat in times of food shortages before.  The housewives explained that they had no bread to eat.  To which Marie Antoinette, without any understanding of the depth of poverty and hunger these families faced, replied, “Can’t they eat cake?”

July 14, 1789 – Angry Parisians storm the Bastille, freeing its seven prisoners inside, lynching the fortress’s commander and the mayor, and begin demanding reforms.  Louis XVI reluctantly accepts the new city administration chosen by the revolutionaries.

August 27, 1789 – National Assembly issues the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, claiming that government legitimacy came from the people and the people had the rights to liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

The Republic

August 1789 – National Assembly repeals the special privileges of the nobility and the last vestiges of feudalism.  The king is forced to be a constitutional monarch. 

October 1789 – “October Days.”  Angered over the king’s delays and obstructions in approving democratic reforms, angry Parisians force the king and the assembly to return to Paris from the royal palace at Versailles.

1791 – Civil Constitution of the Clergy.  Church lands are redistributed and church officials now elected. 

1791 – 745 newly elected deputies convene the new Legislative Assembly.  Insurrections continue throughout France.

1791 -- Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette attempt to escape France for the safety of Austria (Marie Antoinette’s homeland), but are captured just shy of the border.  They are returned to Paris under guard.  

1791 -- Slaves rebel in the French Caribbean colony of St. Dominique. The white population is driven out, and the newly freed slaves establish the independent nation of Haiti, horrifying slaveholding societies throughout the Western Hemisphere. This became the most successful slave revolt in history, as Haiti has resisted every effort to conquer the country and has remained independent since that time.

April 1792 – France declares war on Austria.

August 1792 – Legislative Assembly establishes Revolutionary Tribunal to maintain order, superceding some rights.

September 1792 – The National Convention and its 749 delegates meet to discuss a new constitution.  The monarchy is abolished.

January 21, 1793 – Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette executed.  His eldest heir and 10-year-old son remained imprisoned.  Royalists proclaim him King Louis XVII, but he is unable to rule.  He dies in prison, but his death is cloaked in so much secrecy that many staunch royalists believe that he is still alive and had fled abroad.  Dozens of claims spread across Europe from individuals claiming to be Louis XVII or representing him.

September 1793 -- “The Reign of Terror.”  Maximilien Robespierre heads the National Convention’s Committee of Public Safety meant to maintain order and repress any counter-revolutionary activity.  100,000 believed killed in France from executions and raging civil wars to 1794.  All vestiges of the old regime are abolished.  Churches are closed and church lands redistributed, even such things as the calendar are abolished. During the most radical periods of the republic, the government sought to abolish all vestiges of the royal regime. Since the Roman Catholic Church had been such prominent supporters of the king, with many bishops and cardinals serving in prominent positions at the royal court, and had been the larges landowners in France, the radicals (Jacobins) sought to have their influence eradicated as well. The National Convention and the Committee on Public Safety abolished the church, reorganized the calendar (with 10-day weeks and periodic festivals to replace Christian holidays), abolished old royal measurement systems (introducing the new metric system instead), and sought to arrest and execute all supporters of the old regime. This sparked massive rebellions in many areas of France.

1794 – thermidor (August by the pre-revolutionary calendar, see more on the Revolutioanry calendar at: http://webexhibits.org/calendars/calendar-french.html ).  Robespierre and the committee overthrown by the national assembly on charges that he was attempting to make himself a dictator.  Robespierre is executed.   The size of the French army surged as national pride swelled. The slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” emphasized the goals of the republic and the common French national character they all shared. By 1793, the French army stood at a massive 650,000 men. By 1794, it reached a record of 1,169,000 men.

1795 – The Directory established to prevent risk of dictatorship.  Only 30,000 have the right to vote and hold office.  The makeup of the new government:

                  Directory – Five Directors as the chief executives of France

                   Council of Elders – Upper Legislative House, limited to citizens over 40.

                   Council of 500 – Lower Legislative House.


September 1797 – Coup of 18 fructidor.  Radical Directors arrest right-wing politicians accused of plotting to restore the monarchy.  As a result, they overreach themselves and create many more enemies.

1798 -- Quasi-War -- One-time ally, the now-neutral United States, is frustrated by French restrictions on American trade with Great Britain which has resulted in 300 American ships being seized by the French. A cold war erupts between the two with sporadic naval battles, but French overtures stabilize the situation by the end of the year.

November 1799 – Military leaders, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, overthrow the Directory.  A new republican constitution in established with Napoleon as first consul.

The French Empire

1801 – France attempts to retake the Caribbean colony of St. Dominique (Haiti) lost to a slave rebellion in 1794 as a prelude of reclaiming the French Empire in North America.  France is unable to retake the colony.

1803 – France pressures the Spanish to return control of Louisiana to France.  France, in turn, sells the land to the United States for $15 million, doubling the size of the young nation overnight.

December 1804 – Napoleon proclaims himself emperor.

1805 – French navy suffers stunning defeat at Trafalgar.

1806 – After conquering and annexing the loosely allied German states, Napoleon officially abolishes the Holy Roman Empire.

1806 – Napoleon unveils the Continental System, in which France and its allies would blockade England.

1808 – Napoleon’s brother crowned King of Spain, sparking an insurrection in Spain.

1809 – Napoleon annexes the Papal States in western Italy.

1810 – Napoleon annexes northern Germany, the Netherlands, and northern Italy.

September 1810 – Russia withdraws from the Continental System, sparking a French economic slump.

June 1812 – Napoleon invades Russia.  Russian “scorched-earth” strategy leaves him unable to hold Russian territory.

June 1812 -- War of 1812 -- The United States, frustrated by years of being caught between British and French naval blockades on each other which resulted in the seizure of American ships, declares war on Britain. The British refuse to give ground on impressments of American sailors into the British Royal Navy and banning American ships from trading in the British West Indies. The war results in the capital of British Canada, York (modern-day Toronto) being burnt by American troops in 1813 and the American capital of Washington, DC, being burnt by British troops in retaliation in 1814. Neither side is able to score a decisive victory, and the war ends with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, ratified in 1815.

January 1813 – Napoleon’s shattered army returns to Poland.  His once-vaunted Grand Army of 600,000 reduced to a paltry 120,000. Prussia, Austria, and France’s allies begin to turn on Napoleon.

October 1813 – Napoleon defeated at Battle of Leipzig and forced to retreat across the Rhine.  Allies press toward France. March 1814 – Allies reach Paris.

The Restoration

April 6, 1814 – Napoleon abdicates and is exiled to Elba.  His infant son briefly becomes Emperor Napoleon II, though the governing power lies with Senate officials attempting to negotiate France’s surrender to the Allies.  Louis XVI’s brother installed as a constitutional monarch as Louis XVIII.

March 1815 – the “Hundred Days.”  Napoleon escapes Elba for France.  The people flock to him, and the king flees for his life. 

July 1815 – Napoleon invades The Netherlands to defeat the reassembling allied armies.  He is defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

1815 – Treaty of Vienna finalized, ending the Napoleonic Wars.  Napoleon exiled to St. Helena under British guard.



An agricultural revolution in the 1700s in Great Britain produced an abundance of new food, which spurred lower prices, a lower demand for farm labor, and an increasing population. Lower prices left more income for individuals to spend on other items. Colonies spread around the world provided the raw materials necessary to produce these goods. Coupled with Britain’s navy and financial system, the country could use its system of trade and small cottage industries (manufactured goods produced in small shops by a small group of craftsmen as opposed to the modern factory with hundreds or thousands of employees) to transform itself into an industrial power

However, the economic structure of Europe limited industrialization. Into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most of Europe relied on the mercantilist theory of economics. Although similar to the modern system of capitalism, mercantilism had key differences with modern business theories on how wealth is produced and distributed.


                              MERCANTILISM                                        CAPITALISM

Time period:                 to the 1800s.                                      1800s to present.

Wealth Creation:         amount of world’s wealth fixed.             amount of world’s 
                                                                                                   wealth limitless.

Ownership:                    private                                                  private

Scale:                   local, mom-and-pop variety businesses             global, large 
                                                                                                  appropriation of 
                                                                                                   manpower, money, 
                                                                                                   and resources

Money system:    strictly gold and silver, paper represents            vacillates 
                              these commodities.                                        between metallic 
                                                                                                    system and  
                                                                                              currency representing
                                                                                                value of goods and 
                                                                                                 services in an 

Foreign trade:       must be limited to keep wealth of nation.           Opinions vary 
                                                                                                     among economists
                                                                                                   protection through 
                                                                                                   tariffs and free 

Monopolies:        a necessity to shield nation from foreign             Opinions vary
                                                       Trade                                   1800s: acceptable
                                                                                               present: unacceptable
                                                                                                       limit on trade.


In both systems, profit is the key motive. Under mercantilism, since a nation can only gain wealth at the expense of another nation or colony, that nation must protect its wealth from draining away through trade through a variety of means. Government-granted monopolies and trade restrictions accomplish this. British laws such as the Navigation Acts and the Iron Act of 1750 limited industrialization in the American colonies and restricted trade with outside powers as much as possible to maintain British trade profits. Between 1660 and 1760, British exports quadrupled. By 1780, Britain had produced the highest standard of living in the world because of its profitable empire, raw materials, and system of transportation of roads, rivers, and canals.

Technology was now becoming possible to produce industrialization. The textile industry was among the first to benefit, as more people wanted to buy clothes already produced instead of producing it themselves. In the 1760s, James Watt produced a steam engine that revolutionized industry. This engine could drive machinery or pump water from mine shafts, increasing productivity and decreasing manpower needs. In fact, the watt is the standard of measure today for how much power a machine produces, named in honor of Watt. Steam engines came to symbolize industrialization, as factories, railroads, ships, soon became equipped with steam engines in some capacity.

Because of this, the British began dramatically increasing imports of cotton for its textile factories. In 1760, Britain imported 2.5 million pounds of cotton. By 1840, Britain was importing 366 million pounds of cotton annually, importing from such places as India, and most often, the American South. To power these steam engines in the textile mills, Britain needed more coal Between 1815 and 1850, British coal output quadrupled. Steel production surged. In 1740, Great Britain produced 17,000 tons of iron for steel production. By 1852, it produced 3 million tons of iron -- more than the rest of the world combined. Other nations industrialized as well. France also began to move into industry and factorization spread eastward across Europe. The United States slowly began to industrialize. Because of its vast resources, the US was able to overcome its initial lag behind Europe and become the world’s top producer of manufactured goods by 1890.

The British tried to maintain their competitive advantage in the early 1800s by restriction the distribution of its productive technology. Until 1825, British craftsmen could not travel to Europe; and the export of most types of factory machinery was illegal until 1842. But eager customers in Europe found ways to get this technology and machinery nevertheless.

Work conditions were difficult. No safety standards existed, nor was there workers’ compensation for injuries suffered on the job, nor any benefits. There were no vacations for workers in the 1800s in any country, low pay, and no retirements. Typical work hours ranged from 12 to 16 hours per day. Mines and factories were particularly hazardous, with no safety equipment and considerable pollutants contaminating the work space. Coal miners became susceptible to “Black Lung Disease” and such diseases as emphysema and lung cancer.

Child labor was increasingly common. By 1838, children under 18 made up 29% of the British labor force. Children as young as 7 worked 12 to 15 hours per day, 6 days per week in cotton mills, often alongside their parents. Parliament slowly became convinced of the need for reform. In 1833, the Factory Act limited children aged 9 to 13 to only 8 hours of work each day. Children 13 to 18 were limited to 12 hours. In addition, children aged 9 to 13 must receive at least two hours of elementary education each day. In 1842, the Coal Mines Act banned boys under 10 from working in mines, while all women were banned from working in the British mining industry. In 1847, the Ten Hours Act limited all women and boys aged 13 to 18 to ten hours of work each day. Other nations grappled with child labor issues. By the end of the nineteenth century, 20% of American boys aged 10 to 15 were employed for wages. The US Congress attempted to end child labor in the US with the Keating-Owen Act of 1916. The act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and child labor was not banned in the US until the 1930s. Even today, many developing nations often allow and encourage the use of children as factory labor.



Post-Napoleonic Europe: The Peace of Vienna

Legitimacy and order were the words that ruled European diplomacy in the decades after the fall of Napoleon. The European powers were unwilling to let another Napoleon rise and wreak havoc across the continent. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Prince Klemens von Metternich, led this drive to keep peace and stability in Europe. Conservatism began to take hold in Europe. Classical conservatism, as espoused by philosopher Edmund Burke (Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)), argued that the government must maintain order in society and that the social contract between the government and the people was binding for all generations. Therefore, sudden change was unacceptable and was only acceptable through the existing framework of government. The major European powers banded together after 1815 into the Concert of Europe, to maintain this new order. Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia entered the Quadruple alliance for this purpose -- to maintain the stability of Europe through the balance of power, ensuring that no nation could ever be strong enough to defeat the combined might of the other states. As the restored monarchs in France settled back into power, France was added to what was now called the Quintuple Alliance. Despite rivalries, the Concert of Europe was largely successful in maintaining stability in Europe to the mid-1850s. There would be almost a century of peace on the continent. The next major war in Europe following the Napoleonic Wars (relatively quick minor wars and rebellions would erupt such as the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the France-Prussian War) would be World War I beginning in 1914.

The spirit of the Enlightenment had dissipated. Russian Czar Alexander I (1801-1825) had come to the throne full of idealistic reforms for his empire. He relaxed censorship, freed political prisoners, and reformed the education system in his early reign. But after Napoleon’s invasion, he became paranoid and determined to protect his throne from any threats He soon reverted to strict censorship. His brother and successor, Nicholas I (1825-1855), became an active proponent of maintaining legitimacy throughout Europe, especially after a military faction rose up against him His reputation for intervening in rebellions, such as in Russian-occupied Poland, led many to call him the “Policeman of Europe.”

Napoleon’s dreams of empire instead left France and many other powers in shambles. The diplomatic order of Europe would never again be the same.


Other philosophies in addition to conservatism developed and flourished in the nineteenth century:

Liberalism -- Influenced by the American Revolution and the Enlightenment, liberals pushed for individual freedoms. Opinions on the meaning of freedom and the extent of reforms in their own countries varied, but liberals generally agreed that individuals should be as free from restraint as possible. They agreed with the ideas of classical economics, as espoused by Adam Smith, which rejected government favoritism and monopolies. Liberals also called for the protection of civil liberties, pointing to the American Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as the best guarantees of personal liberty.

British philosopher John Stuart Mill was among the most outspoken liberals in the mid-nineteenth century. His 1859 work, On Liberty, called for “absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment” and even supported women’s rights.

Nationalism -- The spirit of nationalism had been unleashed by the French Revolution. After Louis XVI had been deposed, French revolutionaries no longer saw themselves as subjects to a manorial lord or a king, but members of a common community, linked by common institutions, language, and customs. The nation as an idea extended beyond their local villages and towns to encompass whole regions and peoples beyond political borders. Nationalism became an increasingly powerful force in European politics, leading drives for the unification of Italy, Germany, and independence in Poland, Hungary, and the Balkan Peninsula.

Socialism -- This idea was introduced by German philosopher Karl Marx and others. Marx, seeing the dramatic inequalities that existed in Europe between the laboring poor and the wealthy aristocrats foresaw a showdown between the two classes in the future, and advocated socialism as a means of producing social and political equality. Marx, in his Communist Manifesto (1848, written with Friedrich Engels), saw history as a continuous class struggle. They predicted that one day the workers would overthrow the upper classes and a dictatorship would emerge to reorganize the means of production and build a classless society. In this society everything would be owned by everyone. Government would wither away and a cooperative society would result. Socialists called for government control of all industries. A mix of socialism emerged, with some calling for government ownership of utilities and railroads, while others called for communism -- the violent overthrow of the government to produce a socialist state in which the government would control everything.

A group known as “utopian socialists” emerged, stating that cooperation was superior to competition. They argued that the elimination of competition would improve the human condition. British cotton manufacturer Robert Owen was an example as he tried to convert two factory communities in the mid-1800s into socialist utopias. Owen argued that people would reveal their true goodness if they lived in cooperative societies. His cooperative communities, had mixed results. New Lamark, Scotland, thrived for a few years, while the effort at New Harmony, Indiana, faltered. Socialism moved slowly across Europe, gaining more adherents, but became a much more popular idea in the early twentieth century.

 The New Sciences -- A new science also emerged. Advances in chemistry, electricity, and medicine promised tremendous breakthroughs. Greater understanding of the makeup of the basic elements of matter also emerged. Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleyev in the 1860s produced the Periodic Table of the Elements, a classification of the elements based on atomic weight and similar chemical properties. Michael Faraday devised a system of electromagnetic induction, crating a primitive generator in the mid-1800s which laid the groundwork for wider use of electricity by the 1870s. By the 1890s, many cities in Europe and the United States had electrical power. New chemicals produced a multitude of new synthetic materials and products.

Charles Darwin emerged with startling new theories on the origins of life. After many scientists had observed changes in animals in the fossil record and the diversity of life around the globe, many began arguing that animals changed form over the span of generations. Darwin had developed his own theories and initially withheld them, but published On the Origin of Species in 1859 after learning that other scientists would soon publish similar conclusions. Darwin’s theory was that of evolution by natural selection, stating that certain traits came to dominate a species after a certain natural disaster (competition for survival from a new predator, immunity from a disease that wipes out other members of the species, long periods of famine or drought, or dramatic changes in the environment) left the survivors who possessed these traits as among the few members of the species left to reproduce for the next generation. Darwin shocked many with his 1871 work, Descent of Man, which stated that human beings were not immune from this process and evolved from other primates. See more on Darwin at: http://www.lib.virginia.edu/science/parshall/darwin.html.  See more on evolution here at: http://evolution.berkeley.edu.

In 1905, Albert Einstein unveiled his theory of relativity, revolutionizing the study of physics, astronomy, and the nature of the atom. See more on Einstein at: http://www.albert-einstein.org/ Sigmund Freud became famous for his theories on psychoanalysis, which altered care for mental illnesses.


Disintegration of the Spanish Empire -- By the early 1700s, the once mighty colonial and financial empire of Spain was in desperate trouble. Despite the billions of dollars in gold and silver mined in lands ranging from Mexico to Argentina, Spain went into bankruptcy several times in attempts to finance wars and opulent new cathedrals and palaces. The Napoleonic Wars effectively wrecked its empire in the Americas.

Argentina -- As Spain fell under the influence of Napoleon, Spanish colonies became a target for Great Britain. Britain attacked in 1806, forcing the viceroy to flee. Argentines fought to repel the British, leading the puppet rulers in Spain to appoint a new viceroy. This viceroy, an agent of Napoleon, was unacceptable to Argentina. In 1810, a revolt erupted as the elites fought to depose the viceroy. In 1816, Argentina declared its independence, but the nation was beset by a series of civil wars, alternating between democracy and dictators for decades.

Colombia -- Similarly upset with Napoleon’s control of the Spanish Empire, northern South America broke away. Simon Bolivar, incensed at the restrictions Spain had long placed on colonists and its corrupt rule, rallied the people to freedom. The revolt which erupted in 1810 at Bogota led to Bolivar’s clinching independence for the area by 1819. Panama and Venezuela were part of this new republic Bolivar called “Gran Colombia.” Bolivar, elected as the first president, embarked on military campaigns in Peru and Ecuador to liberate them from Spanish rule. The elites in Ecuador and Venezuela did not want to be ruled from Bogota, and broke away in 1830.

But each nation suffered serious political unrest and civil strife, leading to a series of civil wars and periodic dictatorships. These civil wars usually fell along political lines, especially in Colombia. The liberals usually favored a loosely organized government of federated states, rejected special privileges for the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocrats, and social and fiscal reforms. The conservatives generally favored the status quo of a strong, centralized government and the participation of the church in government and education. Offshoots of these early ideological dichotomies still exist in South America and many of these issues still play a prominent role in civil wars throughout the region. The aristocrats would usually tire of a reformist regime or feel threatened by it, and aided by conservatives in the military, allow the military to overthrow the government. A major civil war in Colombia from 1899 to 1902 left 100,000 Colombians dead and the conservatives victorious over the liberals. But it left Colombia too weak to stop a revolution in Panama, backed by the United States, to win its independence in 1903.

Nevertheless, Bolivar is still hailed as a great hero in Venezuela, Colombia, and the other former members of Gran Colombia. The Venezuelan quarter is inscribed: “Bolivar: Liberador” or Bolivar: Liberator.

Mexico -- Mexico was once the heart of the Aztec Empire, which fell to Spanish conquistadors in 1521. Like many other Spanish colonies in the New World, its population was a mix of Native Americans, African slaves, and Spanish aristocrats. Spain’s occupation in 1808 led to Father Miguel Hidalgo y (“y” is pronounced as “e” in Spanish, meaning “and”) Castilla to lead a rebellion on September 16, 1810. His “Grito de Dolores,” or “Cry of Dolores” called for racial equality and redistribution of lands to give the laboring poor a chance to sustain themselves independently. This sparked the War of Independence, which would embroil Mexico until 1821. Hidalgo was defeated in 1811, and a group of anti-monarchists were defeated in 1815, leaving the aristocrats in control of Mexico. In 1820, with a with a reformist group governing Spain, conservative clerics and aristocrats led a rebellion, leading to Mexican independence in 1821. Gen. Augustin de Iturbide, a royalist, proclaimed himself emperor of the independent monarchy. In 1823, Iturbide was overthrown in favor of a federated republic, which abolished slavery and proclaimed equality under the law. Many strongmen tried to claim control of the republic, destabilizing the nation.

Mexico suffered a number of setbacks at the hands of the United States Attempts to crush rebellions throughout the country led the Anglo-American settlers in Texas to declare their independence in 1835. The Texas Revolution ended with the Republic of Texas holding onto a tenuous independence in 1836. After Texas joined the United States in 1845, Mexico still attempted to cling to Texas. A border skirmish led to the Mexican War in 1846. Despite having a larger standing army, Mexico faltered under the resourcefulness of American troops who pushed into Mexico City by 1847. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo stripped away California, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona from Mexico in 1848. In twelve years, Mexico had lost one-third of its territory, the sparsely settled North, to the United States. Fragile governments collapsed one after the next, until France invaded in 1862 and established a puppet dictatorship. The Mexican people rallied to defeat the French in 1867 and reclaimed their independence.

Caribbean -- By 1895, the Spanish held only the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and a few scattered islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The merciless exploitation of Cuba to compensate for these losses sparked a fierce rebellion on the island that year, prompting the United States to intervene. Spain refused to relent in its harsh treatment of the Cubans, sparking the Spanish-American War of 1898. The US overwhelmed the Spanish, securing independence for Cuba and winning Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico for itself.


Portuguese Brazil -- Portugal, which had long rivaled Spain for colonial and economic supremacy in Europe, was faced with similar problems in America. Portuguese Brazil had long been the jewel in the kingdom’s colonial crown, but Napoleon’s ambitions threatened the small nation. In 1807, Napoleon invaded Portugal, forcing King John VI to flee to Brazil. The entire government moved with him for protection, and the kingdom was ruled from Rio de Janeiro by 1808. After Napoleon’s invasion was repelled, John VI continued to rule from Brazil until 1821 when he decided to return to Portugal. His son, Crown Prince Pedro, was left as prince regent to see to Portugal’s affairs in South America. But Pedro came under the influence of Jose Bonifacio, who urged the prince to declare independence. The economic and political elites of Brazil had grown accustomed to the prestige of being the seat of the Portuguese government. On July 7, 1822, the prince declares independence and proclaims himself Emperor Pedro I. But increasing discontent with his reign leads him to abdicate in favor of his son, Pedro II, in 1831. Brazil expand steadily into the Amazon jungle and into the expanding paths of its neighbors. Brazil fought several wars with Argentina and Paraguay in the 1850s and 1860s. The elites grew wealthy from the plantation economy of coffee, rubber, and sugar plantations, which depended heavily upon slave labor. Brazilian slaves were not freed until 1888, the last American nation to free its slaves. In 1889, a republic was proclaimed in Brazil with Marshal Manuel Deodora de Fonseca as president.


JULY REVOLUTION (Revolution of 1830)

Charles X ascended to the French throne in 1824 after the death of King Louis XVIII. King Charles, however, tried to return to the old system of repression and absolute monarchy. By 1830, many Frenchmen had grown tired of him. In July 1830, the “July Revolution” erupted as Parisians rose up against King Charles. Charles tried to maintain order, but angry crowds threw up barricades across the capital and engaged in pitched battles with the king’s troops. Leaders of the revolt chose the king’s cousin, Louis-Philippe, to become the new king as Charles X fled into exile. Louis-Philippe became known as the “bourgeois monarch” as he sought his support from the French upper-middle classes and abandoned the ornate trapping of the monarchy by living in a modest home and dressing as a middle-class businessman. He advocated a number of reforms, including the expansion of the number of eligible voters in France, doubling the number to 200,000. The 1830 Revolution spread beyond the borders of France as the Belgians rose up against control by the Dutch, creating independent, neutral Belgium. Revolts in Italy and Poland erupted but were quickly crushed.



Between 1781 and 1845, the population of Ireland doubled from 4 million to 8 million. Despite this surge in population, the Irish faced many hardships. Ireland, under the strict domination of Great Britain, had few political rights, and the lands were owned by the British, who exacted exorbitant rents from Irish farmers. The potato, originally imported from North America, helped keep the Irish nourished. The potato could be grown cheaply and efficiently, and it could be stored easily through the winter months. But by the summer of 1845, a fungus, previously inert, had begun striking the potato crop, turning the potatoes black and ruining them for consumption. All of Ireland was struck by the potato blight, leaving the Irish without any food of their own. The British did little to respond. The landlords mostly lived in England and did nothing to alleviate the high rents or the increasing desperation. Some famine relief was organized, but the amount given did not come close to relieving the Irish. The Irish began to starve. During the course of the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1851, one million Irishmen starved, and 2 million others left Ireland for the United States, Canada, and England.  Ireland (the Roman Catholic majority in the south) would gain independence in 1918.

The Irish Potato Famine still haunts the memories of Irishmen to this day. See:



A massive industrial and agricultural depression brought hardship to France in 1846. Scandals and corruption riddled the government while officials refused to expand the voting franchise any further. After refusing demands to press for more reforms, on February 24, 1848, moderate and radical republicans established a provisional government and ousted the king. The new regime called for the right to vote for all men, a new Congress called the Constituent Assembly, and a new constitution. These efforts produced the Second Republic, with a one-house national legislature of 750 members. These members would be elected through universal male suffrage and serve three-year terms. A president would serve a four-year term. In December 1848, Napoleon’s nephew, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte won a resounding victory to become president.

The revolutions spread across Europe as commoners pushed for liberty and democracy. In Prussia, King Frederick William IV (1840-1861) abolished censorship, established a new constitution, and worked to unite the disparate 38 German states. The Frankfurt Assembly was thus established in 1848 to push for unification. Members would be elected by universal male suffrage. But the assembly collapsed in 1849.

In Hungary, Louis Kossuth led a push for Hungarian autonomy within the Austrian Empire. A series of demonstrations throughout the empire led to the dismissal of the hated Metternich. An effort by the Czechs to create their own government was crushed. Emperor Ferdinand I (1835-1848) abdicated under pressure in favor of his nephew, Emperor Francis Joseph I (1848-1916). The new emperor was unable to control Kossuth until the Russians, fearful that the revolution would spread to Poland, intervened and ended the rebellion. Austria remained intact, but the problems of the German population of Austria attempting to dominate the half-dozen ethnic groups of the Austrian Empire by force grew as the spirit of nationalism remained.



The type of government in France has undergone radical transformations since the French Revolution. A breakdown of the different republics that have served France:

First: Revolution. After overthrow of Louis XVI (1792-1799).

First Empire. Rule by Napoleon (as first consul of republic, 1799-1801, as emperor, 1801-1814)

Restoration. Constitutional Monarchy (1814-1848)

Second: After overthrow of monarchy to rule by Napoleon III (1848-1852)

Second Empire. Rule by Napoleon III (1852-1870)

Third: After fall of Napoleon III to surrender to Nazi Germany in World War II (1870-1940)

Nazi Occupation and rule by puppet French regime at Vichy (1940-1944)

Fourth: After liberation from Nazis to presidency of Charles de Gaulle (1945-1958)

Fifth: After reforms by de Gaulle. (1958-present)


Second French Empire -- Napoleon calmly won the support of the new National Assembly and the French people. But in 1851, the National Assembly rejected his bid to run for re-election in 1852. His troops seized the government. He immediately held a referendum asking if the French Empire should be restored. The people answered with a resounding 97% approval. As emperor, Napoleon III controlled the civil service, the police, and the military -- all the operations of the government. He introduced a Legislative Council to assist in lawmaking, but it basically served as a rubber-stamp for the emperor. Napoleon III used the power of the national government to expand the economy through roads, railroads, harbors, and canals. By the 1860s, he reached out to the working classes by legalizing trade unions and granting workers the right to strike.

The Crimean War (1853-1856)

Russia hoped to continue its expansion westward into Europe, examining the decay of the Ottoman Empire. Greece had won its independence in a bloody revolution in 1830 and resentment against Ottoman ruled simmered in the Balkans. In 1853, Russia demanded the right to protect Christian pilgrims entering holy sites in Palestine, an Ottoman province. The Ottoman Turks had already granted this right to the French but refused to give it to the Russians. Russia in response invaded Moldavia and Wallachia (in modern Rumania). Fearful that Russian gains would disrupt the balance of power in Europe, Britain and France declared war on Russia in 1854 to stop their gains against the almost helpless Turks. By 1856, the powers ended the war with the Treaty of Paris, which preserved the peace of the Balkans for the time being, but destroyed what remained of the Concert of Europe.

The war was not distinguished by good military planning.  One disastrous battle was immortalized in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, one of the most distinguished Victorian poets in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”  To read the poem, go to:


For more on the Crimean War, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/timelines/britain/vic_crimean_war.shtml




American Civil War -- In 1861, eleven of the 34 states of the United States seceded from the Union, furious by what they saw was threats to slavery which had enriched their local economies. The fighting was intense. European military observers came to see the fighting and adapted a number of the techniques for their own militaries. Great Britain and France also considered intervening to help the southern states that seceded (as the Confederate States of America) win the war. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln changed the focus of the war by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in areas under Confederate control freed as a means of destroying the economic power of the Confederacy. This ultimately freed ¼ of all slaves in the United States. By 1865, the Confederacy surrendered, ending a war that left the South bankrupt, all of the slaves free, and more than 600,000 dead.

Dominion of Canada -- By 1860, the British stronghold in North America, Canada, began to seek more autonomy from Britain. Canada was essentially divided between Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), dominated by the English, and Lower Canada (Quebec), dominate by the French. The far west to the Pacific coast was sparsely populated by European settlers and Native Americans. The maritime provinces of the Atlantic coast, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, had smaller populations than Upper and Lower Canada, but were dominated by the English. All of Canada, however, had long been wary of American designs on their territory. During the American Revolution, the Americans staged an assault on Quebec to try to win Canada to the American cause. Quebec refused to go along. After the war, many Tory Loyalists in the United States fled to Canada. The United States made several attempts to try to win control of Canada or coax it into joining the Union, but each attempt failed. After the end of the War of 1812, Canada experienced more immigration. As civil war loomed in the United States, more Canadians became fearful of American designs. US Secretary of State William H. Seward openly advocated a plan in 1861 to invade Canada in the belief that an outside war would bring the seceding southern states back into the Union. America backed down, but Canadian concerns persisted. The leader of Upper Canada’s Conservative Party, John MacDonald, urged Canadian unity and pushed for self-government. MacDonald and others reasoned that if Canada won a degree of independence, the United States would lose interest in military conquest. By 1867, Great Britain relented and granted Canada dominion status -- Canada would make its own decisions regarding governance and legislation, but Queen Victoria would remain the head of state. MacDonald became the first prime minister of the Dominion of Canada.  See more on the Canadian government at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/index.asp?Language=E&Parl=37&Ses=2


The Rise of Italy

The drive for Italian unification had intensified over time. A revolt of Italian nationalists was crushed in 1848. In 1852, King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia-Piedmont (1849-1878) appointed Count Camillo di Cavour as his prime minister. The count accepted the appointment and began considering ways to further the cause of Italian unification. He began a program of raising government revenues and equipping a larger army. In 1858, Sardinia-Piedmont allied with France’s Napoleon III and provoked a war with Austria. With France’s help, the invasion was repelled and neighboring Lombardy was annexed to Sardinia. This inspired nationalists in Parma, Modena, and Tuscany to overthrow their governments and pledge their allegiance to Sardinia. At the same time, another Italian nationalist, Guiseppe Garibaldi, had been building an army to forcefully unite Italy. Garibaldi’s army, the 1,000-man force known as the Red Shirts, landed in Sicily to aid a revolt against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. By July 1860, Garibaldi controlled most of Sicily and charged into the mainland. By September, Naples and the remnants of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had fallen to Garibaldi. Seeing that Sardinia had taken the lead in Italian unification in the North, Garibaldi gave his newly-won domain to Sardinia-Piedmont. On March 17, 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel II as king. An exhausted Cavour died the following June. Two remaining Italian-dominated territories, Rome and Venetia, still lay outside Italy. After allying with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrians ceded Venetia (in northeastern Italy) to Italy. In 1870, as the French went to with Prussia, they were forced to withdraw their troops from Rome, allowing the Italian army to occupy the city. For the first time in 14 centuries, Italy was a united nation under Italian control.

The Rise of Germany

As Prussia gained strength, territory, and prestige, more Germans began to look to Prussia as the unifying force for all Germans. Wilhelm I (1861-1888) aided this by pushing for a larger and stronger Prussian Army. He was assisted by the shrewd veteran diplomat Count Otto von Bismarck, whom he made prime minister in 1862. In 1864, Austria and Prussia ganged up on Denmark over control of two of its provinces, Schleswig and Holstein. Denmark was quickly defeated in the Danish War, while Prussia took control of Schleswig and Austria took Holstein. Bismarck used the occupation to create a crisis atmosphere between Austria and Prussia, to force a confrontation that would naturally play into Prussia’s favor since Austria had no direct land access to Holstein. By 1866, the Austro-Prussian War erupted. With newer and better weapons and an advanced railroad network, the Prussians rallied to defeat Austria. Prussia had defeated its principal rival for German unification. Prussia proceeded to organize the willing German states north of the Main River (primarily Lutheran) into the North German Confederation, leaving out the unwilling Austrian Empire and a number of Roman Catholic German states to the south.

Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) -- The rapid rise of Prussian might in the mid-1800s drew the attention of Napoleon III. The French watched the rise of the North German Confederation with a cautious eye as this new power upset the balance designed after the Peace of Vienna in 1815. Bismarck realized that Napoleon III would never accept a unified Germany since it posed a direct threat to France. In 1870, Bismarck maneuvers France into war with Prussia, using a dispute over a candidate to the Spanish throne. The war unfolded quickly. On September 2, 1870, Napoleon III is captured at the Battle of Sedan. A provisional government quickly seizes power in Paris and later establishes the Third French Republic. By January 28, 1871, Paris falls to the Prussian Army. Ten days earlier, as the Prussians took the old French royal palace at Versailles, representatives from the south German states met with officials from the North German Confederation and agreed to join, creating the united Germany, with Wilhelm I as Kaiser of the Second German Empire (the first was the Holy Roman Empire). The Germans forced a humiliating peace upon the French, forcing them to pay a large indemnity to Germany and forcing them to give up territories in the east. The French swore revenge against the Germans.

“Ausgliech” -- The failures of Austria in the Austro-Prussian Wars exposed the ethnic tensions within the empire. In 1867, the Austrians reluctantly agreed to a confederate status for Hungary, creating a dual monarchy, in which the Austrian emperor, Francis Joseph I, would be ruler of both Austria and Hungary and both would have a common foreign policy, but both would have separate legislatures to independently deal with domestic concerns. This transformed the Austrian Empire into Austria-Hungary. But the serious problems with the other ethnic groups remained unsolved.


A New Age of Colonization

For nations of this period, colonies acted as a status symbol of sorts. Colonies provided raw materials for factories in Europe and lucrative markets for manufactured products. They also served strategic military interests and demonstrated to their neighbors a stake in international affairs. In the early 1800s, the European colonial powers swept into Asia. France took control of Indochina in Southeast Asia (the present nations of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam), and Great Britain annexed India (which included Pakistan and Bangladesh) in 1876 (after annexing small portions over time). In 1850, the British government began granting the different Australian colonies varying degrees of self-government. This led to the creation of a unified dominion in Australia in 1901.  See more on Australia and its government at: http://www.aph.gov.au/ New Zealand, which had been colonized in 1840, was given dominion status by Great Britain in 1907.  See more on the government of New Zealand at: http://www.parliament.govt.nz/ Russia continued to move into Ottoman territories on the Black Sea in the 1830s and into the Caspian Sea region bordering Persia (modern-day Iran) and Afghanistan in the 1880s. The British soon scooped up Afghanistan into a protectorate as they became concerned with Russian advances into South Asia. As the Chinese Empire withered away, Europe began to divide China into “spheres of influence” -- essentially exclusive trade zones for these nations -- Britain, France, Russia, and Germany. As Russia moved into the Pacific region, Mongolia, and Manchuria, it encountered a rising Japanese Empire anxious to claim a stake in China. The Russian attempt to find a port free of ice year-round led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japan’s victory shocked the world and humiliated Russia. The Japanese annexed Korea as a result and established itself as a power in the region.

By 1880, the only areas on the world largely untouched by colonization were the Pacific islands and Africa. France had taken possession of a considerable number of Polynesian islands. Germany, Great Britain, and the United States competed for others. The United States had taken possession of a number of islands in the equatorial region in the 1850s and annexed the Midway Islands in 1867. By 1898, it had added the Hawaiian Islands. Britain, Germany, and America also competed for the Samoan Islands, with Germany and the US ultimately dividing the islands in an 1878 treaty.

“Scramble” -- Before 1880, Europe controlled very little of Africa Control of the North African coast by the Ottoman Turks for centuries had frustrated European efforts, with the exception of Portuguese Angola and French Algeria. Algeria had been slowly stripped from the Ottomans in a series of military conquests starting in 1830. By 1879, the French had established a civilian government (which was considered a part of France, not just an imperial colony). The French pressed for control of more the continent‘s interior. By 1900, the French had control of Tunisia and most of West Africa. By 1912, France established a protectorate over Morocco. The French also added portions of central Africa to its domain.

In 1869, the French completed the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Britain, concerned with its ability to access India, seized control of Egypt in 1882 (granting independence to Egypt in 1922) and soon added Sudan. Cecil Rhodes pushed for British domination of southern Africa, especially with the region’s vast wealth of gold and diamonds. The colony of Rhodesia was named for him (present-day Zambia). Britain also gained control of portions of eastern Africa, including Kenya. The British also hoped to gain control of the scattered Dutch colonies on the southern tip of Africa. This sparked the bloody Boer War of 1899-1902, with the British ultimately gaining control of South Africa.  See more on the Boer War at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/timelines/britain/vic_boer_war.shtml By 1907, the regions of Transvaal and the Orange Free State were given representative governments. They were joined into the Union of South Africa and given dominion status in 1910.

Germany added Cameroon to its colonial possessions. King Leopold II of Belgium (1865-1909) pushed for a colony in central Africa. His goal was achieved with the founding of the Belgian Congo in 1876. Italy, hoping to join in the Scramble, launched a disastrous attack on Ethiopia in 1896. The Ethiopians repelled the Italians, marking the first victory of an African army over a European army since antiquity. The Italians compensated for this by taking Somaliland on the eastern tip of Africa and seizing control of Tripoli. By 1911, Italy had control of all of Libya.

By 1914, only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent, from a continent almost devoid of colonial domination a few decades earlier. Ethiopia had remained independent by using its rugged topography and competent military, while the United States discouraged any actions against Liberia, founded by former American slaves in the 1850s and 1860s.


Urbanization and Immigration

By 1794, London had reached a population of one million, the first city to reach that level since Rome centuries before. Paris had reached 600,000, and twenty European cities had populations with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Western Europe was rapidly moving toward urbanization due to the change in economics that brought more people to the cities in pursuit of factory work. New advances in architecture and transportation (railroads by the 1820s) made this possible. By 1800, Britain had become an urbanized nation. The United States would not reach this point until the 1920s as it enjoyed a healthy mix of agriculture and industrialization. By the eve of World War I in 1914, Germany was 60% urbanized and France was 45% urbanized.

Attracted by the many new opportunities unavailable in their homeland, millions of Europeans began immigrating in pursuit of a new life. Thousands of Poles moved into Germany in pursuit of factory work. Factory jobs and available lands prompted a mass exodus to the Americas. Between 1821 and 1850, 110,000 immigrants arrived in the United States from western Europe every year. Between 1880 and 1914, an average of 1 million immigrants per year arrived in the United States -- mostly from southern and eastern Europe. Thousands of immigrants from southern Europe also immigrated to Argentina and other locations across South America in the late 1800s. By 1900, three American cities had populations with more than 1 million: New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia -- surpassing the population of the entire country in 1790. In 1900, the population of London reached 6.5 million, while Berlin had reached 2.7 million (compared to 172,000 in 1800).

The condition of laborers improved slowly. Between 1850 and 1900, the real wages (value of wages adjusted for inflation) of British workers rose two-thirds and increased one-third in Germany. Women also began to make gains, winning the right to own property separate from their husbands in Britain by 1870, in Germany by 1900, and France by 1907. By the turn of the century, women had the right to vote in Finland and Norway, and were making progress elsewhere. Women would win the franchise in Great Britain in 1919 and would win it nationwide in the United States in 1920.

Many nations, pushed by liberals interested in social and personal improvement, began pushing for improvements in education opportunities. Germany pushed strongly for a system of free public education after 1875, believing that a better-educated population produced a better military. In German schools, the sexes were separated, with girls concentrating more on domestic skills with little math and no science education and boys concentrating more on skilled trades and sometimes on military training. Schools in the United States had very mixed support in the 1800s as communities alternated between the need for an educated populace to help build communities to the need for children’s labor in the fields and the factories. American schools concentrated on teaching rudimentary skills of reading, writing, math, and moral social skills. Only 36 of the 50 states and territories had compulsory school attendance laws by 1914. In 1862, the Morrill Land Grant Act provided lands to the states, proceeds from which would help fund state colleges. This ultimately produced 69 state colleges across the United States, including the University of Arkansas. By the 1880s, nearly 2/3 of grammar school teachers in the United States were women and women’s colleges opened across the country. The French, however, discouraged women from seeking university educations, with only 3% of university students being women in 1900 and only 10% by 1914. In West Europe, the United States, and Canada, education programs had all but eliminated illiteracy. But in nations with no education programs, such as Serbia, Rumania, and Russia, literacy rates stood at only 20% in 1900.

Revolution in Transportation and Technology -- The end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century saw great advances in technology, many leading to the modern conveniences that shape the modern world. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, allowing instantaneous voice communications around the world. Over time, this led to the intricate telephone networks around the world which improved communications and business transactions and ultimately led to computer data transmission by telephone (the Internet) by the 1970s. Thomas Edison developed the incandescent light bulb, allowing homes to be safely and cheaply lighted. Among Edison’s many other inventions, he developed a motion picture camera (which he called a kinetoscope) which ushered in the age of movies. He also developed a process for recording sound (the phonograph cylinder, a forerunner of records), recording the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as the first human voice ever recorded. Guglielmo Marconi developed a system of “wireless telegraphy,” producing the means to transmit an electrical signal over large distances. In 1901, he transmitted the first such signal across the Atlantic Ocean, simply transmitting the Morse Code signal for the letter “S”.  This technology expanded, and by 1919, commercial radio broadcasts emerged, with the first broadcast stations in Argentina followed by the United States in 1920.

By the 1880s, streetcars and subways had appeared in every major city in the United States, Canada, and Europe. By 1885, European scientists had perfected the internal combustion engine Automobiles began to appear soon afterward. By 1900, a mere 9,000 cars existed in the world, mostly in Europe. France was the leading automobile producer in the world. By 1906, with the founding of the Ford Motor Co. by Henry Ford, the United States overtook France in production of cars. The durable and cheap Model T put America on the road, and many Europeans began buying the product. In 1914, a Model T cost $950, with the price of a new Model T dropping to $290 by 1929. By 1916, Ford was producing 735,000 cars per year. In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully completed the first flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft, the airplane. In 1900, the zeppelin airship was produced by German scientists. This rigid-frame lighter-than-air craft was a forerunner of the modern blimp. The hot-air balloon had been in existence since 1783, but the zeppelin revolutionized air travel. Hundreds of people traveled across Europe in zeppelins every year. Early airlines advertised trans-Atlantic travel by connecting flight with the passenger zeppelins. World War I stimulated aircraft travel and design, and by the late 1930s, airplanes surpassed the zeppelins in safety and comfort which forced the zeppelin to fade into obscurity. In 1905, Massachusetts school teacher Robert Goddard successfully launched the first liquid-fuel rocket, a primitive forerunner of the massive rockets launching satellites and manned moon missions by the 1960s.




“Entangling Alliances” -- German Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck knew that the unification of Germany had upset the balance of power in Europe. The defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War would only complicate this. Bismarck feared that France and Russia could form a powerful alliance against Germany, sandwiching the nation. A bitter Austria-Hungary could also be persuaded to join an anti-German alliance. To prevent this, Germany and Austria-Hungary entered into a defensive alliance in 1879. Italy joined the two to create the Triple Alliance in 1882. And to counter any moves by France, Germany also singed a separate treaty with Russia to prevent any Russian-French alliance. The new German Kaiser, Wilhelm II (1888-1918) was not impressed with Bismarck’s delicate diplomacy. He dismissed Bismarck as prime minister and pushed for an aggressive expansion of German power. Wilhelm II expressed Germany’s need for more colonies and greater international prestige, what he called Germany’s “place in the sun.” Believing the alliance with Russia was at odds with his alliance with Austria-Hungary, the Kaiser dropped the Russian alliance. As Bismarck had feared, Russia signed an alliance with France in 1894. Great Britain joined the defensive alliance in 1907, creating the Triple Entente.

“Bosnian Crisis” (1908-1909) -- In 1878, Bosnia-Herzegovina became a protectorate of Austria-Hungary, but annexed outright in 1908. This dashed Serbian hopes of creating a Slavic kingdom. The Russians, feeling a kinship with Serbia from their common Orthodox Christian faith and Slavic ancestry, backed Serbia and opposed the annexation of Bosnia. Wilhelm II intervened, demanding that Russia accept the annexation or face war with Germany. Russia, weakened from its recent loss in the Russo-Japanese War, relented. The Bosnian Crisis was defused for the time being.

This and other crises in southeastern Europe were prompted through the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Ethnic groups, freed from domination, attempted to exert themselves and reestablish their national pride and prestige. Newly independent nations fought with one another over hastily drawn borders. Larger nations, such as Russia and especially Austria-Hungary, saw these as weakly protected lands ripe for annexation.


Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) – In 1910, civil war erupted in Mexico as factions rose across the country against the dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz.  Many were frustrated by years of stolen elections and corrupt governments.  Others, particularly peasants in southern Mexico, led by Emiliano Zapata, and in northern Mexico, led by Pancho Villa, were upset by the loss of peasant lands to the large landholders.  Diaz was overthrown in 1911, but a series of unstable governments took control of the country, one after another.  Fighting was intense in many areas.  Mexico became the first nation to use aircraft in combat in 1913 when reconnaissance pilots started dropping grenades and small bombs over enemy positions.  In 1914, the US Navy shelled Veracruz to protect American oil interests.  The war produced colorful folk heroes still revered in Mexico to this day.  Zapata became famous for his statement, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”  In 1916, Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, hoping to drag the US into the conflict.  His forces killed a number of inhabitants, but lost far more in the retaliation by local residents.  This led to a punitive expedition by the US Army to find Villa.  Gen. John J. Pershing led the expedition, but he could never locate Villa.  Numerous refugees flooded to the US.  The war ultimately killed one million people before it ended in 1920.


The War to End All Wars

At the turn of the century, Relations between the major European powers were strained. The quest for overseas possessions caused fierce rivalries between the nations and jealousies among the powers that had fewer colonies, namely Germany. The British Empire was the most powerful nation on Earth, with possessions spanning the globe — Caribbean, the Canadian Dominion, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Far East, and Africa. France had possessions in Africa, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and in the Caribbean as well. Germany was a new nation. Before 1871, it was a series of city-states, loosely united by a common language and heritage. And the Germans wanted to make up for lost time.  In 1871, Germany humiliated France in the Franco-Prussian War. Afterward, a series of entangling alliances drew the nations of Europe into a tighter web. An arms race developed on the continent as nations rapidly built navies, modernized their weaponry and tactics, and increased the size of their armies.

The great problem was the dying Ottoman Empire, which at its height in the 16th century controlled North Africa, Turkey, Greece, the whole of the Balkans, and most of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, “the sick man of Europe,” saw its domination of the Balkans decline for decades as the various ethnic groups asserted themselves and threw off the yoke of Turkish suzerainty. New ethnic states arose in the Balkans, steadily agitating the Turks and the great power to the north, the Austrian Empire, and expanding their influence. Rumania (1878), Bulgaria (1908), Serbia (1878), Albania (1913) all won their independence from the Ottoman Turks. They steadily pushed for more territory. Serbia annexed Montenegro in 1913, while Rumania and Bulgaria annexed sea ports on the Black Sea. Austria, however, was having its own internal ethnic strife. It controlled most of central and eastern Europe and was eyeing new territory in the Balkans as the Turks retreated. Late in the 1800s, the Austrians agreed to a dual monarchy with its agitated Hungarian population, creating the new state of Austria-Hungary.

By 1913, a complex series of alliances existed. If one country went to war with another, then its allies would attack the aggressor. But the aggressor nation’s allies would also rush to its defense as a result of its alliances. This was further complicated because many nations did not advertise their alliances. A nation could inadvertently stumble into a trap. The two main alliances were: The Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The Triple Entente included Great Britain, France, and Russia.  A few small wars had erupted in the Balkans from 1911-1913 but had been settled through mediation. Austria-Hungary controlled Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and what is now northern Serbia (part of Hungary at the time) and had its eyes on Serbia and the new Balkan nations. On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Bosnia through a Serb-supported organization. Austria-Hungary immediately demanded Serbia apologize for the incident, refuse to send out any inflammatory propaganda against Austria-Hungary, and asked that the perpetrators be handed over to Austrian courts.

The Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II, had offered Austria-Hungary the “blank check,” offering to support them militarily in any endeavor.  Encouraged, the Austro-Hungarians pushed Serbia around; and Russia prepared to come to the aid its ally, loosely connected by the Orthodox Church and Slavic ancestry. Germany realized what the situation meant. If Russia went to war, Germany would have to declare war on Russia to defend Austria-Hungary. France, in response, would have to declare war on Germany. Germany had developed a plan for this contingency — the 1905 Schlieffen Plan, which was to quickly mobilize its troops, invade France through Belgium, and quickly knock out France. Then, the Germans would turn around and prepare for a longer war with Russia, which had more men it could mobilize and plenty of land to retreat on in the meantime. On August 3, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia and France, and within four days, the interlocking system of alliances kicks in and the continent was plunged into warfare. This became a world war as all of Europe and their global colonies became embroiled in it. Italy refused to go along with Austria-Hungary and Germany, declaring that the Triple Alliance was for defensive purposes only.  After a period of neutrality, Italy joined the Allies (Triple Entente) in 1915.  Portugal and Rumania joined the Allies in 1916, while Greece joined in 1917. Bulgaria, sandwiched between Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, opted to join the Central Powers (the former Triple Alliance) in 1915. Japan joined the Allies in 1915 and quickly knocked out German possessions in China. The colonial powers called in their reserves from their overseas possessions.

The war had horrible new weapons, the century’s great promise of new technology. Aircraft began to be used as military weapons, not just for reconnaissance. Machine guns saw their introduction. Trench warfare as the European theater bogged down into a stalemate. Nerve gas (mustard gas, chlorine gas). The Germans had perfected submarines, the “U-boats.” Some primitive submarines had been attempted in the American Civil War (unsuccessfully); but they were now much more practical and Germany used them to counter British surface superiority, crippling its supply lines.

            By 1914, Russia had the largest army in Europe with 1.3 million men, France and Germany followed with 900,000, while Britain, Italy, and Austria-Hungary had armies between 250,000 and 500,000.

Germany had hoped to defeat both France and Russia with the two-phased Schlieffen Plan.  The plan had been developed by German army chief of staff Alfred von Schlieffen, who had served between 1881 and 1905.  Germany would quickly attack France through neutral Belgium, using most of its forces to bypass the main French defensive lines who would be fighting a second German force on the border.  These troops would surround the French and force their surrender, freeing the whole of the German army to concentrate on Russia.  In the meantime, a limited number of German troops would fight a defensive action against the Russians while they waited for the reinforcements from the west.   Despite Russia’s superiority in numbers, the army was poorly trained and did not even have enough guns for its troops. It also took a long time to mobilize its army. 

The Schlieffen Plan did not work out as well as Germany had hoped, and a war that everyone expected to be over within a few months began to drag into years. British propagandists began to exploit German atrocities of looting, pillaging, and raping in France and Belgium to inflame passions against Germany. The U.S. was horrified. But opinions were mixed on which side to take. Eight million Germans lived in the U.S. and four million Irish had a joint hatred of England. But many Americans had a sympathy with their Anglo heritage and sided with England. “The Rape of Belgium” also soured U.S. feelings toward Germany. US President Woodrow Wilson urged his nation to stay neutral: “We must be impartial in thought as well as in deed.” But subsequent events would make this exceedingly difficult.

In the meantime, German victories at Tannenburg (Aug. 26-30, 1914) and at the Masurian Lakes (Sept. 15, 1914) left the Russians unable to threaten German territory.

A brief truce in honor of Christmas was arranged in 1914. Soldiers climbed out of the trenches to celebrate the holiday with their allies and their enemies After Christmas, the fighting resumed.  And the stalemate in the west continued.

Italy joined the Allies in 1915 and launched an attack on Austria-Hungary in May. The attack, however, faltered. The western front continued its stalemate, but the Central Powers gained in the east. The Russians were routed in Galicia, suffering 2.5 million casualties. By September 1915, joined now by Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Germany effectively pushed Serbia out of the war. Russian losses compelled Czar Nicholas II (1894-1918) to leave Moscow and oversee the fighting at the front personally, though he had no military experience.

The Ottomans attempted to gain a foothold in the Caucasus Mountains. They launched vicious attacks on the Armenians, killing more than 1 million Armenian men, women, and children in atrocities that the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge to this day.

America was slowly being dragged into the war in Europe. Wilson demanded neutral rights, to continue its relationships with Europe unmolested, but Europe uninterested in US desires.  To choke off supplies bound for Britain, Germany announced a policy of submarine warfare to attack Allied merchant ships. Germany promised not to attack American ships, a promise they kept until 1917. In March 1915, an American citizen died when a German u-boat torpedoed a British ship off the Irish coast. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan urged Wilson to forbid Americans to travel into the war zone. But Wilson remained determined to uphold America’s neutral rights.  Meanwhile, war was good for business. Europe needed supplies to keep their war machines running and sent orders to the U.S. To pay for these goods, the Allies turned to American bankers. By 1917, American loans to the Allies totaled $2 billion, while loans to Germany only reached $27 million. America enjoyed an economic boom unparalleled previously in its history, bringing it closer to the Allied cause.

Lusitania disaster — On May 7, 1915, a German u-boat sank a British passenger liner, Lusitania, killing 128 Americans. America was outraged. Wilson demanded that Germany promise never to repeat such an outrage and the Central Powers affirm their commitment of neutral rights — of neutrals to continue to trade with warring powers. The Germans eventually agreed, but tensions mounted. The result was not the American entry into the war, but a souring of relations with Germany and an increased resolve by the U.S. to defend the rights of neutral nations.

Wilson demanded reparations for American losses and that the Germans protect passenger vessels. Bryan, at odds with Wilson’s ideas of neutrality and a devout pacifist, resigned as secretary of state and was replaced by Robert Lansing. In 1916, the Allies announced they would arm merchant vessels to sink submarines, and Germany announced it would sink merchant ships without warning.  In February 1916, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare against all armed ships. The Germans fired on an unarmed French steamer, Sussex, a few weeks later, injuring several Americans. Wilson protested, and the Germans eventually relented. Lansing urged Wilson to break off relations with Germany, but Wilson simply demanded that Germany back down. The Kaiser asked that Wilson compel the Allies to withdraw their blockade of German ports, but Wilson declined.

Wilson was not ready to fight a war. In 1915, he began building up U.S. defenses; and in 1916, armament for a possible conflict was underway.  Wilson won a narrow re-election victory in 1916 promising to keep America out of the war.  As late as January 1917, Wilson had stated that it would be a crime against civilization to enter the war. A month later, he said it would be a crime against civilization not to enter the war.

By the beginning of 1917, Germany was desperate. They attempt a desperate push against the Allied lines on the western front and announced that they would attack all ships — Allied, American, and neutral -- to break the Allied war effort.

Zimmerman Letter -- On February 25, 1917, the British gave Wilson an intercepted telegram form the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, to the Mexican government, offering to help Mexico regain its lost provinces in the north -- Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico -- if it allied itself with Germany. The Zimmermann telegram helped inflame American public opinion for war.  Mexico, still embroiled in its civil war, was far too preoccupied with its own problems to take the German offer seriously.

On April 2, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, he said, “for democracy . . . for the rights and liberties of small nations. . .” Congress applauded the message. Afterward, Wilson commented, “My message today was a message of death for our young men.” Pacifists tried to hold out action. But on April 6, the US declared war on Germany, with 50 Congressmen and 6 senators voting against the war.

But the situation was desperate for the Allies. In 1916, the Battle of Verdun was fought, leaving a million dead. The battle was a stalemate.  A British drive in Flanders had failed miserably. French soldiers mutinied that April, and the Germans sank 881,000 tons of Allied shipping.

America at War — Wilson repeated throughout the war, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”  The war energized American patriotism.  The government attempted to mobilize every resource available for the conflict – to mobilize Americans mind, body, and spirit.  America censored movies and newspapers for content. Super-patriotism was the order of the day. Anything sounding German was immediately suspect.  Dachshunds became Liberty Pups, hamburgers became Liberty Sandwiches, and sauerkraut became Liberty Cabbage. Some German towns change their names to sound less German. Brandenburg, Texas, for example, became Old Glory.  In Russia, St. Petersburg became Petrograd to sound less German.

Gen. John J. Pershing ordered to be in command of the American Expeditionary Forces, but the U.S. not ready for a war. In April 1917, the U.S. army had 200,000 officers and men, 300,000 old rifles, 1,500 machine guns, 55 outdated airplanes, and 2 field radio sets (shortwave radios were becoming popular at this time but radio stations would not become operational until after the war.).  In May 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring men between 21 and 30 to register for the draft. This later changed to men between 18 and 45. In June 1917, 9.5 million men registered for the draft. The act ultimately registered 24.2 million men, about 2.8 million of whom were inducted into the army.

The U.S. paid for the war through $10 billion in new taxes (in part with new income taxes) and $23 billion in “Liberty Bonds.” The war would cost $32 billion. Patriotic fervor was so intense, that in one case, neighbors accused a man of not buying enough liberty bonds, and sold his car to buy more bonds. The Committee on Public Information launched propaganda films, had “four-minute men” deliver four minute speeches around the country on why we were fighting. The economy was placed under the War Industries Board, which converted the entire economy to wartime production. Bernard Baruch, head of the board, decided which factories would convert and set their prices. The National War Labor Board helped settle labor disputes. Because of this, union membership increased by 1.5 million from 1917 to 1919.

But in this atmosphere, there were fears of sabotage and spying. In 1917, the government passed the Espionage Act gave the government powers to combat spying, sabotage, or obstruction of the war effort all loosely defined terms. The Sabotage Act and the Sedition Act, both in 1918, soon made it a crime to criticize U.S. participation in the war.  Criticizing the war, insulting the American flag, disparaging the uniform of the armed services, flying the flag of an enemy nation, discouraging enlistment, and discouraging the purchase of Liberty Bonds were federal offenses under the Espionage Act, punishable by up to twenty years in prison.  These acts were aimed at radical groups like the Industrial Workers of the World, or the Wobblies, and the Socialist Party. American Socialists never gave up their pacifist views unlike European socialists. Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs was arrested under the Espionage Act.  He was sentenced to ten years in prison but was pardoned in 1921.  He ran for president while in jail in 1920.

Both sides appealed to patriotism and nationalism in their attempts to bolster recruitment and morale. In Britain and the US, advertisers crafted patriotic posters to encourage enlistment and to drive resentment against the Central Powers. The British appealed to a bandwagon mentality, organizing units by boroughs and villages. The result was that friends who had grown up together did enlist together, but the savagery of the trenches wiped out entire generations of young men from villages. In 1914 and 1915, the British had more than one million men serving in the army, all volunteers. Manpower shortages forced the British to resort to the draft in 1916. At the height of its strength in 1916, the Germans had 5.5 million men serving in active units. When the Americans entered the war in 1917, the US government immediately adopted the draft. No particular name for the war had emerged. For many years, the war was referred to as the Great War or the World War. Not until the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 did the conflict become referred to as World War I.

But the situation was desperate for the Allies. A British drive in Flanders that spring had failed miserably. This disaster inspired one of the most famous and touching poems from the war, “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian physician John McCrae in 1918.  To see the poem, go to:


French soldiers mutinied that April, and the German sank 881,000 tons of Allied shipping. Morale was breaking on both sides.  The ten-month siege at Verdun in 1916 left one million dead and wounded -- the bloodiest battle in human history. Despite the bloodshed, it ended in stalemate.

Fourteen Points — In 1918, Wilson outlined his proposals for the postwar peace. In the Fourteen Points, his plan for a lasting world peace, he envisioned a fair world, free from colonialism, imperialism, or tyranny. He called for open treaties and alliances to be openly arrived at, freedom of the seas for neutral powers, free trade, restoration of Belgium, Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro, an independent Poland, and Serbia getting access to the sea, evacuation of France and return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, self-determination for the former subjects of Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, and the establishment of a League of Nations, an international organization dedicated to peace, to afford mutual guarantees of independence and territorial integrity.  His grand vision for the world saw half of his plans never fully realized.  He intended his Fourteen Points to become a model for the reconstruction of a democratic world, but instead they became a symbol of the failure of his worldwide progressive vision.  See Wilson’s Fourteen Points at: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/wilson14.htm.

Russian Revolution (1917-1918) -- Russian czars since Catherine the Great had alternated between reform and repression. Idealistic czars would attempt to modernize their government and social structure only to have these hopes crushed by the nobility or uprisings. Others would respond by brutally crushing any resistance to their rule. Czar Alexander II (1855-1881) had freed the serfs in 1861 (the last nation to do so) and organized more local rule for communities. But the serfs had to reimburse the nobles for their freedom and the serfs had little land on which to provide for their own families. Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The repressive Alexander III (1881-1894) succeeded him, censoring and arresting his critics and placing entire districts under martial law. He was followed by Nicholas II in 1894. Nicholas was a weak ruler and unpopular among all classes of Russians. Russia had a rising industrial infrastructure by the turn of the century, enriching many but leaving a frustrated workforce in its wake.

Nicholas had been forced to accept democratic reforms in the wake of the Bloody Sunday protests in which his soldiers shpt and killed dozens of peaceful protestors in 1905. The Duma had been organized as a legislature, but Nicholas II routinely ignored them. Russia, like the other major powers, had mobilized all of its resources into the war, further imperiling the difficult situations many Russians faced. His unpopular wife, a German, had been left in charge of the palace while he led Russian troops on the eastern front. Massive food shortages from rationing plagued the people of Russia. On March 8, 1917, some 10,000 women in Petrograd (renamed for the war from St. Petersburg, to make it sound less German) marched, calling for “Peace and Bread.” Two days later, a general strike erupted. On March 12, the Duma deposed Nicholas II in favor of a provisional republican government with Alexander Kerensky in charge. Despite the unpopularity of the war and massive desertions of troops, Kerensky nevertheless pledged to continue fighting to preserve Russia’s honor. The czar, horrified by reports of uprisings, attempted to return. His train was stopped, and he was forced to abdicate the throne and to abdicate for his young son as well. His brother refused to take the crown, and the monarchy ended.

The Communist Party, organized in 1898 as the Marxist Social Democratic Party, had seen its leaders arrested and pushed into exile. Leaders had worked against the czar while outside Russia. German officials, emboldened by the events inside Russia, sent a leading exiled dissident, Vladimir I. Lenin, back to Russia in April 1917. Lenin and his fellow communists began working to undermine the Kerensky regime. On November 6, the communists launched a coup, coupled with massive strikes and protests, appealing to the people through the slogan “Peace, Land, and Bread.” On Nov. 8, Lenin was put in charge of the new communist government. The communists now worked to end the war. In desperation to end the fighting, they signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers in 1918, enacting a separate peace with them. The Central Powers gained the Ukraine, Poland, and a large portion of western Russia in the treaty. This left the Central Powers free to deal with the western Allies and launched a massive offensive in spring 1918 which stalled out.

With the United States in the war, the Allies, with morale and manpower exhausted, now had the strength to end the war.  By July 1918, the US and the Allies defeated the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne and began advancing to the German border.  In late September, the Allies launch the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which finished the worn-out Germans.  By October, the exhausted Central Powers began to leave the war. Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, remained determined to fight on. On Nov. 3, frustrated sailors at Kiel, Germany, staged a mutiny, which quickly spread across Germany. On November 9, the Kaiser abdicated and fled into exile in the Netherlands, where he would remain until he died quietly in the 1920s. The Social Democrats gained control of the new government and committed Germany to arrange an armistice.

Armistice — Germany knew that it was losing the war. Although Allied troops had yet to swarm across the German border, Germany asked Wilson for an armistice (cease-fire) on October 6, 1918. By the end of October, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Austria-Hungary had left the war. In a rail car at 4 AM on November 11, Germany and the Allies agreed to a cease-fire that would go into effect at 11 AM — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Thus the fighting ended on November 11, 1918. Years afterward, the day was observed as Armistice Day to honor the veterans of the Great War, as it was then called. Memorial Day was originally set aside to honor Civil War veterans, primarily Union veterans. Some Southern states adopted Confederate Heroes Day as state holidays. After World War II, the scope of observance on Nov. 11 changed to honor all veterans; and Veterans’ Day has been observed ever since in the United States. For more on World War I, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/timelines/britain/cen_ww_one.shtml


The fortunes that the great powers of Europe had amassed after centuries of colonization overseas were spent. Europe would never be as rich again. An entire generation of young Europeans had been wiped out. France, although victorious, had spent its lifeblood for this Pyrrhic victory and would never be as strong again. The British Empire, saddled with debts, and fewer men to draw upon, entered a slow decline. Germany, largely untouched by the ravages of marching armies and artillery, had lost its men, its world influence, and its fortune. The economy was shattered and would later be saddled with heavy reparations that would further cripple it. War, which had been seen as a glamorous, romantic adventure, was reviled afterward. The idealism which young men had went off to war was replaced by cynicism and bitterness. Future political leaders would be far more hesitant to go to war.

In Germany, a young corporal blinded by a gas attack swears revenge against everyone who had robbed Germany of his greatness, and promises that if he regains his eyesight, he would become the leader of Germany and do just that. Adolf Hitler regains his eyesight and begins a monstrous career that culminates in the second world war.

Fifteen million people lay dead as a result of World War I, including 112,000 Americans.

            Treaty of Versailles — The cease-fire was in place, but the conditions of a lasting peace had yet to be settled.  The leaders of the four major Allied nations, the “Big Four,” met at the old French royal palace at Versailles, just outside Paris. The four, Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French President Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Premier Vittorio Orlando, all came with different ideas about the postwar world. Wilson was greeted by two million ecstatic Parisians on his arrival and wanted a just peace without vendettas. But the Allied leadership, and many of the people, wanted retribution for Germany’s actions. David Lloyd George campaigned in 1918 promising to execute the Kaiser. Clemenceau wanted to end the German menace once and for all. Wilson was forced to abandon key portions of his ideas of national self-determination that he espoused in the Fourteen Points. Germany and Austria-Hungary were dismembered in the treaty — creating two new independent states, Poland and Czechoslovakia, which had large German minorities. The disparate Slavic nations of the Balkans were hobbled together into Yugoslavia. Poland was given free access to the sea at Danzig, but this arrangement split Germany into two.

The Treaty of Versailles was five separate treaties with the separate nations of the Central Powers: Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey (the Ottoman emperor had been deposed), Austria, and Hungary (the two had formally split). Versailles completely redrew the maps of Europe. Ukraine had been made independent, but fell to Russian communist forces. Article 231 (the “War-Guilt Clause”) forced Germany to take sole responsibility for the war. The treaty forced it to reduce the size of its army to 100,000, eliminate its air force, and reduce its navy. Alsace-Lorraine, which it had won in 1871, was retroceded to France, while most of Prussia was given to Poland. The Rhineland was established as a demilitarized zone east of the Rhine River to halt German moves west. German colonies in Africa and Asia were divided up among the Allies, and Germany was forced to pay the Allies $33 billion in reparations.  Turkey, now a republic led by a group of radical reformers called the “Young Turks,” saw its empire dismantled into a number of new states. These states, however, were turned into League of Nations mandates, essentially colonies, to be controlled by Britain and France. France gained control over Lebanon and Syria, while Britain gained Palestine (granted independence as Israel and Palestine in 1948), Iraq (which gained independence as a monarchy in 1932), and Trans-Jordan (lands east of the Jordan River, present-day Jordan). Self-determination was only given to European nations.


The palace of Versailles has been the center of many important historic events.  See more on the palace at: http://www.chateauversailles.fr/


League of Nations -- For Wilson, the key to a lasting international peace lay in mediation.  He believed that if two powers could discuss their problems, war could be avoided.  Wilson believed that it was not man’s fate to live in a constant state of war.  The League of Nations was quite similar to the United Nations which emerged after World War II.


LEAGUE OF NATIONS                               UNITED NATIONS

(1919-1945)                                               (1945-present)

                                                               General Secretary                              

US, Great Britain, France,                                Security Council: US, Great

Italy, Japan, and 5 nations                           Britain, France, Russia, China and chosen by the other members                     ten nations chosen from the               
|                                                                          General Assembly

|                                                                                        |

|                                                                                        |

General Assembly (all nations)                          General Assembly (all nations)



                                                                  UNICEF, World Health Org., UNHCR


The structure of both organizations is very similar, but with a few key differences. The League of Nations met in Geneva, Switzerland, but the United States refused to participate. Without the moral, political, and economic strength of the United States, the League of Nations could accomplish nothing. The sole power that the League of Nations had to punish other nations was through economic sanctions. Like the modern UN, the only power and money the League had was through the support of the member nations. The five permanent members (established in 1919 and 1945, respectively) have a veto over any resolution. The upper councils can defeat any resolution form the General Assembly in both organizations. In 1945, a convention of world nations met in San Francisco, California, to draft the General Charter of the United Nations. The US remained determined to participate this time, constructing the headquarters of the UN in New York City. A number of permanent organizations were created within the UN, most notably UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Education Fund) to help feed, educate, and medicate children around the world, the WHO (World Health Organization) to promote public health initiatives around the world, and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) to care for refugees fleeing wars in their homelands. The General Secretary presides over the UN, but the position is largely ceremonial.

Wilson returned home from Versailles to a rousing welcome. Most Americans favored the League and 33 governors endorsed it. But many Republican senators opposed it. The League would include a general assembly and a smaller council composed of the U.S., Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and 4 nations to be elected by the delegates from the general assembly. The League would also establish a court of international justice and would submit member nations to arbitration in any dispute that threatened the peace. When the U.S. failed to enter, much of its potential influence was taken with it. It became little more than a debating society when the U.S. refused to enter. Because it had so little influence, the League could do nothing when Japan invaded China in the 1930s or when Germany started rearming itself. But despite its failures, it laid the foundation for the United Nations after the end of World War II.

Almost immediately upon Wilson’s arrival, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voiced his objections to the League and presented a Round Robin with the signatures of 37 senators pledging to vote against the League if no amendments were added to it. This gave Lodge enough votes to defeat it. See more on Lodge at: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=L000393

A furious Wilson went back to Paris, attacking his critics, and negotiated a few amendments to the treaty, getting the Allies to agree that the League would not interfere in domestic affairs and members could opt out of the League. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. Fourteen Republicans, including Lodge and William Borah of Idaho, were “irreconcilables” — opposed to the treaty and the League at all costs. Sen. Frank Kellogg of Minnesota and 12 others were “mild reservationists,” supporting the League with certain conditions. Concerns about constitutionality and national sovereignty were the utmost in their concerns. Wilson brushed these aside in favor the larger issues of international cooperation and preserving peace. He hoped Americans would never again have to fight in foreign lands, and the League was the key. Lodge managed to delay the vote on the treaty; and Wilson took his case to the people, campaigning tirelessly for the League. The strain led Wilson to suffer a stroke on October 2, 1919.  Immediately after the stroke, Wilson was in poor shape. His wife, Edith, strictly limited his visitors and work schedule, and even guided his hand for him to sign documents. Vice-President Thomas Marshall refused to assume the duties of the presidency during Wilson’s convalescence, even though Wilson was in no shape to carry out his duties, on the fears of how Wilson could reassume the presidency after he recovered.  See more on Marshall at: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000164

In the meantime, Lodge reported the treaty out of committee with fourteen reservations, one for each of Wilson’s fourteen points. On November 19, 1919, following Wilson’s orders, the Democrats voted against the treaty with Lodge’s reservations, 39 to 55. A motion to approve the treaty without reservations failed 38 to 55. Pleas for compromise went out, but neither Wilson nor Lodge were willing to budge. The treaty with reservations came up for a second vote in March 1920, failing again by 49 to 35, seven votes short of the 2/3 majority needed to approve. Lodge’s efforts manage to defeat the League, and the organization was stripped of the strength the United States would have added, leaving it unable to effectively mediate between nations.

Spanish Flu Epidemic — In the spring of 1918, a horrible flu epidemic erupted. The Spanish flu killed 22 million people around the world, and it spread as returning veterans inadvertently brought the disease home with them. In the US, 500,000 people died from 1918-1919 of the flu. This prompted health officials to close public meeting places, bars, churches, schools in an attempt to stop the spread of the flu. Fines were imposed on people who spit on the ground, not using a handkerchief when they sneezed, and many people took to wearing surgical masks when going to work. These helped little, if any. And the Spanish Flu disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.



Russian Civil War (1918-1921) -- Although Russia had left the war, the new Bolshevik government faced an even greater military challenge. Numerous groups challenged the communists. In 1918, the Bolsheviks seized the royal family and took them throughout Russia. Fearing monarchists would continue to rally around them, the Bolsheviks had the former czar, his wife, and their young children murdered. The communists, also called the Red Russians, continued to fight from their strongholds in the industrial heartland of Russia, the areas of Moscow and Petrograd (now Leningrad). The White Russians, the anti-communists, fought from different directions to try to dislodge the communists. Although the White Russians had international support, the were badly organized and deeply divided among republicans, monarchists, and an assortment of aspiring dictators. The Bolsheviks defeated the one at a time. The newly independent Poland attempted to overthrow the communists themselves, but were driven back almost to their capital of Warsaw. By 1921, the Bolsheviks had total control of Russia.

After the Bolsheviks had won the war, the established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. The war had cost millions of Russian lives. A massive drought between 1920 and 1922 compounded the situation, causing a horrifying famine that left another 5 million dead. The economy had collapsed. Industrial output in 1921 stood at 20% of 1913 levels. Lenin pushed for his New Economic Policy in 1921, modifying the communist system. Peasants were allowed to sell produce openly, open small retail shops, and even start small industries as long as they employed less than 70 people. But heavy industry, banking, and mining were still controlled by the government. By 1922, Soviet agriculture had climbed to 75% of its prewar levels.

Lenin’s death in 1924 sparked a power struggle. Communist Party General Secretary Josef Stalin emerged as leader and began solidifying his power. He eliminated anyone who posed even the most remote threat to his rule. In 1929, he began having the “Old Bolsheviks” -- party leaders who had led the revolution -- killed. He instituted a series of 5-year plans to bolster Soviet industry. Industrial output surged, but real wages of Soviet workers dropped 43% between 1928 and 1940. Stalin forced peasants to abandon their holdings in favor of large collective farms. By 1934, 26 million family farms were consolidated into 250,000 units. These policies caused another famine in 1932 and 1933 which left between 10 million and 11 million Russians dead. Dissidents were sent to forced labor camps in Siberia or executed. Military leaders were arrested and executed. Between 1936 and 1938, Stalin had more than 8 million Russians arrested for suspicion of plotting against him. Many were executed; most were sent to Siberia never to return. Perhaps 20 million Russians died under Stalin’s rule. The extent is still being calculated more than 50 years after Stalin’s death.


Radio -- Among the new conveniences of the postwar world was radio. Radio provided news, music, comedy and drama programs, and brought nations together into a closer-knit community. The first commercial broadcast station began operating in Argentina in 1919. British radio stations appeared by 1920, as they did in the United States. The first private US station was KDKA in Pittsburgh, and the first publicly-owned station, WRR in Dallas, both began operating that year. By 1922, radio had spread across Europe and into Canada and Japan. The first radio networks appeared in 1926 -- in Britain, the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), and in the US, the National Broadcasting Co. (NBC).


Allied Reparations Committee -- In 1921, the Allied Reparations Committee set the bill for Germany to repay the other nations for their losses in the war at 132 billion marks (or $33 billion, in 1921 dollars, or roughly $700 billion in current dollars). This put a sever strain on the German economy. Germany was able to pay in 1921, but defaulted in 1922. France sent in troops in 1923 to ensure that Germany would pay, sparking massive strikes across Germany. The pressures of its own war debts, faltering economy, and reparations caused the German economy to collapse. The value of the German mark disintegrated, going form 4.2 marks to the US dollar in 1914 to 4.2 trillion marks to the US dollar by November 1923. Charles Dawes, an American investment banker, reorganized German debt payments with the Dawes Plan of 1924. This reduced reparations payments and stabilized the German economy by allowing the Germans to pay on the basis of what they could afford and helping Germany with a $200 million loan from the US. With this, German hyperinflation dissipated and the German economy stabilized for a brief period.


Disarmament -- For a short time in the 1920s, the nations of the world remained committed to try to make the war indeed become “the war to end all wars,” as Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed. The US, Britain, and Japan entered into a number of treaties limiting naval tonnage in the Pacific. The 1925 Treaty of Locarno between Germany and France guaranteed a German border with France and Belgium. The treaty was hailed as a breakthrough to a lasting peace in Europe. The Geneva Convention stipulated the humane treatment of prisoners of war. But the spirit of peace was fading by the 1930s. A 1932 Geneva conference on disarmament failed.


Women’s Movement – The quest for equal rights for women began to accelerate in the years following World War I, with many European and North American nations granting women the right to vote.  More rights in the fields of labor laws, education, family law, and other areas would follow in the years following World War II across Europe and America and the globe.



Pitcairn Island               1838 (The descendants of the mutineers of the HMS

Bounty, later a British territory).

New Zealand                1893 (dominion status from Great Britain, 1907)

Australia                       1902 (to whites only, race restrictions lifted in 1962)

Finland                        1906

Norway                        1913 (vote if meet economic qualifications, 1907)

Denmark                      1915

Canada                        1918 (vote in 1917 if close relative serving in military)

Germany                      1918 (after the fall of the Kaiser, under new Weimar Constitution)

Sweden                        1919

The Netherlands           1919

Great Britain                 1919 (vote in 1918 if married or university graduate over 30)

United States                1920

Iceland                         1920

Ireland                          1922

Turkey                         1930

Brazil                            1932

Cuba                            1934

France                          1944 (after liberation from Germany, initial attempt fails 1919)

Italy                              1945

Japan                           1945 (reforms by US occupation)

Rumania                       1946

Yugoslavia                    1946

Pakistan                       1947 (upon independence from Great Britain)

Argentina                      1947

Honduras                     1951

Greece                         1952

Lebanon                       1953

Mexico                         1953

Iraq                              1958

Kenya                          1963 (upon independence from Great Britain)

Iran                              1963

Libya                            1964

Afghanistan                   1965 (repealed when Taliban seizes power in 1996, restored 2003)

Switzerland                   1971

Syria                            1972

Portugal                        1975

Zimbabwe                    1978

Jordan                          1984

Liberia                          1984

Liechtenstein                 1984

            This is a partial list of dates when women are given the right to vote on a nationwide scale.  Some nations still do not give women the right to vote as late as 2006, and many of these nations do not allow the men to vote either or the franchise is severely restricted.

Source: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/Gallery/Suffragists/world.html


Great Depression --

The benchmark for gauging the value of the American stock market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, was created by an investment firm in 1896, averaging key industrial stock prices.  Between 1906 and 1927, stock prices rose modestly, keeping in step with the profits of their corporations.  But by 1927, stock prices began climbing rapidly as a frenzy of speculation and get-rich-quick fever swept over the stock markets.  At the beginning of 1928, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood  at just over 200 points.  By the first trading day of 1929, the average opened at 307 points.

The stock market peaked on September 3, 1929, with the Dow Jones average closing at 381.17.  Afterward, the market began to slide as the reality of overpriced stocks began to sink in.  On "Black Thursday," October 24, 1929, investors panicked and tried to cash in on their stocks, trading a record 16 million shares in one day.  A growing sense of concern began to grow across the nation as stock prices dropped.  Prominent businessmen and investment firms tried to reassure a nervous public by pumping millions of dollars into the stock market.  But it was not enough to reassure investors.   The stock market closed the week with averages just below 300.  On Monday, October 28, the bottom fell out of the stock market with the stock average dropped 38.33 points, closing down 12.8%, the largest percentage drop up to that time.  Unfortunately for the nation, this was just the beginning.  The next day, the stock average lost 30.57 points, or 11.7%. 
By November 13, the meltdown stopped for the time being, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at 198.6.  It would start sliding again, hitting bottom at 41.22 by July 8, 1932, after having lost an astounding 89% of its value.  The stock average would not reach its pre-crash level until 1953.

Stocks had been traded at ridiculously high levels for some time. Until 1927, stock prices went up with the profits of a company. But after 1927, a mania of speculation sent stocks to dizzying heights. RCA stocks, for example, went from under $100 in March 1928 to $500 in September 1929, solely on speculation rather than sales, profits, or breakthroughs announced by the company. After the crash, RCA lost half of its value. The crash ushered in the Great Depression as the economy fell apart right around the crash.  Despite the surge in stock prices, real problems existed in the economy.  The steady expansion in the sale of consumer goods had saturated the economy.  Everyone had bought cars, radios, and appliances and didn’t need any more. So the companies couldn’t sell any more, prices dropped to try to meet consumer demand, but so many factories and companies had shut, no one could afford them.  In 1927, the economy stalled as the national economy began to reach this saturation point.  The nation quickly rebounded but still had the same problem of a limited purchasing power of the American people.  Corporate leaders could have responded to this by raising wages or lowering prices, but did neither.  The Federal Reserve instead lowered interest rates to stimulate the flow of cash in the economy. Instead of new investments in housing and factories, the excess cash went into the stock markets.  The nation continued on its spending spree, with consumers urged to buy on installment plans. Nevertheless, production figures began to dip slightly in 1928.  Consumer debt was rising.

Only three million people owned stock in 1929, and only 500,000 were active buyers and sellers. The surge in stock prices had become something of a national obsession, with the rise in stock values a steady assurance of the strength of the economy. From 1925 to 1929, the value of the stock market surged $40 billion to $67 billion. People bought stocks on margin at the same time (essentially with a small down payment which allowed them to buy more stocks), betting that the rise in stocks would be enough to pay back their original stock prices and secure a tidy profit. Banks sold stocks, loaning money to potential buyers.  Corporations loaned money to brokerage houses to help finance these margin buys. In 1929, Standard Oil was loaning $69 million per day to brokerage firms. The value of the nation’s stock portfolio dropped $15 billion in October 1929, 14% of the Gross National Product, or the total value of goods and services in the economy, valued at $104.6 billion.

The New Deal — Never before and never since had the US been in such a desperate situation. Poverty, unemployment, and desperation have never been on such a scale in American history. Today, the conditions that the people endured during the Great Depression are unthinkable.  Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) said on election night 1932 that if he ended the Great Depression, he would be the greatest president in American history. If he did not, he feared that he would be the last president.
      FDR took the oath of office on March 4, 1933. The nation was in a shambles. To prevent more banks from collapsing, banks were closed in 38 states. Governors in New York and Illinois closed the banks in Chicago and New York City, bringing the nation’s financial transactions to a halt. The people were scared. Some 2,300 banks failed in 1932, bringing the total to nearly 6,000 failures since 1929. Runs on banks were made by terrified depositors to rescue their savings from failing banks. FDR reassured the nation that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The nation liked the new president and the people gather around their radios religiously as FDR delivers his “fireside chats” to the country, explaining his latest proposals and reassuring the nation. FDR had mastered radio, making his speeches sound like a regular conversation with a very comforting tone. 
      On March 5, he declared the Bank Holiday, which closed all the nation’s banks and calls Congress back into session to pass new banking legislation. On March 9, Congress passed sweeping banking reform laws, culminating in the Banking Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall Act) which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and prohibited banks from selling stock, insurance, or directly financing corporations. The FDIC insured deposits of up to $2,500, an amount raised to $5,000 in 1934, and now stands at $100,000.  The FDIC has protected the savings of millions of Americans from being forever lost to bank failures.  The FSLIC was later established for savings and loans and had to pay trillions to depositors in the 1980s and early 1990s after the S&L industry collapsed. On March 12, FDR addresses the nation by radio, explaining the reforms he had put into place and that many banks would reopen the next day. Other banks would reopen later, once their finances had been stabilized. FDR assured the people that banks were much safer than burying their money in the backyard or hiding it under the mattress. The next day, the nation’s largest and strongest banks opened their doors, and customers deposited more money than they withdrew. The Banking industry stabilized and bank failures effectively ceased.

European industries also faced major problems. Britain had lost major industrial market shares to Japan and the US in the 1920s. The coal industry was mired in a slump as industrialists moved to oil and hydroelectric power The German economy had soared in the late 1920s as foreign investors gobbled up German bonds, some 23 billion marks, between 1924 and 1929. As the stock market in the US soared, American investors pulled out of German bonds to buy stocks. After the crash, what they had left in German bonds had to be sold to pay debts. American investments in Europe disappeared in the wake of the crash, leading European markets to collapse.

In 1931, Vienna’s largest bank closed and German unemployment reached 27%. By the height of the Depression in 1932, unemployment in the US stood at 25%, at 25% in Great Britain, and a staggering 40% in Germany. Between 1929 and 1932, industrial production dropped 50% in the US and 40% in Germany. Homelessness and poverty swelled in the US and Germany. With the collapse of the economy, many began to lose faith in democracy itself The Europeans had little experience with it, so the ideas of free representative government had not been so deeply ingrained in the national imagination as in the US. Desperate people began listening to increasingly radical solutions, from communism to fascism, for solutions to their misery and hope to keep their families fed.

Britain had many economic protections in place already, including deposit insurance in the Bank of England. A national coalition government in Parliament in 1931 moved to balance the budget and impose protective tariffs to stabilize the economy pulled Britain through the worst of the Depression.  The many structural problems the US economy faced, much different than Britain, forced a more dramatic series of reforms. Attempts to balance the US budget failed and a 1931 tariff, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, choked off what little trade remained.

In France, the Depression caused tremendous political instability, causing 6 government cabinets to fall in 19 months in 1932 and 1933. In June 1936, the leftist Popular Front coalition pushed for the right to collective bargaining, a 40-hour work week, two-week paid vacations, and a minimum wage for French workers. Despite this, the Depression persisted in France.

World War I destroyed the economy of Europe, making the 1920s a very difficult and unstable decade. Governments were overthrown, nations experimented with both socialist and fascist governments. The Great Depression of the 1930s further imperiled the economic and political situation in Europe. The Allies hoped to finance their war debts through German reparations, but with the German economy in a shambles, these payments were not forthcoming. In 1923, the French occupied the Ruhr valley, an industrial area, to attempt to speed up German payments which were not forthcoming. The German economy was reeling under the reparations and the fragile Weimar Republic which governed it always seemed on the brink of collapse. Germany suffered from debilitating hyperinflation in the 1920s, with the price of a loaf of bread reaching a billion marks. Schoolchildren were given hundred-thousand mark notes as scratch paper. In this situation, Adolf Hitler, German National Socialist Workers Party (the Nazis) began to take root as Hitler provided scapegoats for their problems.


Italy -- During the war, Benito Mussolini was expelled from Italy’s Socialist Party for favoring the war, in opposition to the party’s neutrality. In 1919, he established the League of Combat (Fasci di Combattimento) or the Fascist Party, also called the “Black Shirts” for the distinctive black uniforms members wore. In 1920 and 1921, the Fascists attacked Socialist offices and newspapers and violently broke up strikes. By 1922, the growing Fascist Party threatened to march on Rome if King Victor Emmanuel III refused to hand power to Mussolini. The king relented, and Mussolini became premier, establishing a police state in Italy. In 1926, he passed laws that gave his government authority to ban publications critical of the monarchy, the Roman Catholic Church, or his government. He was also given the power to rule by decree. All non-Fascist parties were banned.

            His and other fascist regimes rose on brute force, contempt for democracy and intellectuals and just about anyone else, and calling for a renewal of national prestige. In Germany, the Weimar Republic was beset by weak leadership and an array of two dozen parties competing for power, each desperately fighting each other even though they may differ on only a handful of minor issues. In such a hotly divided atmosphere, it is easy for a fringe group to achieve a great deal of influence with a very small group of supporters. Strikes crippled Germany and many longed for a restoration of order and national prestige, and for revenge.

Germany -- Hitler, a bitter, unemployed veteran, assumed control of the right-wing German Worker’s Party in 1921, and renamed it the German National Socialist Worker’s Party (or Nazi, in its German abbreviation). Many veterans belonged to the party, and he organized a paramilitary force, effectively an army for the Nazi Party. In 1923, with the Nazi organization having 55,000 members and 15,000 paramilitary members, Hitler organized the “Beer-Hall Putsch,” an attempt to overthrow the local government in Munich. The putsch was quickly crushed, and Hitler and other Nazi leaders were sent to jail. In prison, Hitler wrote his autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in which he outlined his ideology and plans for world domination. Upon his release, he reorganized the Nazis, overseeing the growth of the Nazis from 27,000 members in 1925 to 178,000 by 1929, and 800,000 members by 1932.


German Reichstag, 1928-1933


PARTY           1928    1930    1st election,1932         2nd election, 1932       1933

Nazi Party        12        107      230                              196                              288

German Nat’l

People’s Party 73         41        37                                52                                52

German People’s

Party                45        30       7                                  11                                2


People’s Party

(Catholic)         19        22        20                                18                                0

Center Party    

(Catholic)         62        68        75                                70                                74

German States

Party                25        20        4                                  2                                  5


Democrats        153      143      133                              121                              120

Communists      54        77        89                                100                              81

Other Parties    51        72        11                                12                                7


Hitler offered the revenge and order that many Germans longed for, but to many others he was simply a buffoon. However, many prominent Americans helped his rise to power. In 1933, Germany had suffered from 6 million unemployed (40%) and the government was taking the move of banning some of the more violent political groups. Desperate for leadership, the president and vice-chancellor offered the chancellorship of Germany to Hitler, although his party had lost several seats in the Bundestag in the previous election. The vice-chancellor and opportunist and cynic, though they could control Hitler. Hitler quickly formed a weak governing alliance between his Nazis and the conservative National Party and set forth on his nightmarish reign.

Hitler had long publicized his hatred of Jews, communists, Catholics, and trade unions. Once he became chancellor, he did not stop.  He continued to castigate Jews and other minorities. He assumed more powers to quell strikes and unrest, which he had vowed to stop. He assumed emergency powers that had been created for previous chancellors and started banning opposition parties that he said were a threat to the security of Germany. He banned trade unions, ending strikes but crippling a massive source of potential opposition. In a divided atmosphere of two dozen or so political parties, few could object. Soon, he banned the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, making the Nazis the only political party in Germany. The 1933 Enabling Act allowed him to dispose of constitutional government for four years. All Jews working in the civil service were fired.  He began to open his concentration camps, at first slave-labor prisons for political opponents. Trade unions were banned. In 1934, after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler assumed the presidency as well and proclaimed himself Fuhrer of Germany. He had his minions burn down the Reichstag, and, blaming the communists, sought broader powers to increase police control.

He attempted to build a pure German race, one he believed was superior to all others, and banned marriages between Jews and Germans. He began rearming the German military -- in violation of Versailles -- to re-energize the German economy. Unemployment dropped, but oppression rose. Heinrich Himmler was put in charge of the secret police, the SS, to enforce Nazi ideology and to oversee the concentration camps. The Hitler Youth was established to brainwash the children of German into Nazi thinking. Women were prized as mothers, the mothers of Hitler’s “master race,” and were pushed out of industry, the professions, and the universities. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped German Jews of their citizenship.

The Night of Broken Glass -- On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, Hitler unleashed Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” in which thousands of Nazi thugs threw rocks in the windows of Jewish stores, burned and looted Jewish communities, and lynched Jews across the country. Kristallnacht left 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed, 100 Jews dead, and resulted in 30,000 Jews being sent to concentration camps. New laws forbade Jews from owning retail stores. Then Hitler herded them into ghettos and began rounding up his enemies. Intellectuals, labor leaders, opposition politicians, Jews, and socialists began to be interned in concentration camps, originally just prison labor camps with horrible conditions. It was not until the early 1940s, did Hitler relent on his “Final Solution” and began systematically exterminating Jews and other non-German minorities.  Ultimately, six million Jews were butchered in these camps. 


Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) -- Spain, languishing for decades, had seen its international prestige disintegrate. Its colonial empire was gone. A new republic was now in charge, but many resented its egalitarian laws. In 1936, Gen. Francisco Franco launched a revolution against the republic. He quickly seized the initiative, but followers of the republic mounted a furious defense. The war soon became internationalized as the Spanish Civil War became a symbol of the clash between democracy and fascism. The Fascists gained money, men, and arms from Germany and Italy. The new German air force experimented with its new warplanes during the conflict in Spain. The Russians sent panes, trucks, and military advisors to help the republic. Hundreds of American volunteers went to fight for the republic. On March 28, 1939, Franco captured Madrid, where he would rule Spain until his death in 1975.


In 1935, Hitler’s new draft increased the size of the army from 100,000 to 550,000. Britain, France, and Italy issued a condemnation of Germany, but nothing more was done. In March 1936, the Nazi occupied the Rhineland. The French refused to stop the Nazis without Britain’s help. The British declined to intervene. After Mussolini’s 1935 invasion and conquest of Ethiopia, Italy was criticized by Britain and France. Italy, as a result, began moving closer to the Germans. Italy and Germany signed a pact in 1935, pledging mutual cooperation, “The Axis Pact.” In 1937, they extended their alliance to include Japan as the Tri-Partite Pact.  In 1935, Hitler annexed Austria (in what was called the “anschluss”) and in 1936 moved in to reoccupy the Saar Valley and Rhineland, moving in without opposition. In 1938, he demanded the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia with a large German population. The Allies, alarmed at Hitler’s activities, attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain secured a promise form Hitler, the Munich Pact, not to seek anymore territory if Hitler got the Sudetenland.  Hitler broke his word and seized Czechoslovakia later in early 1939.  Mussolini annexed Albania in 1939.

            “Abdication Crisis” -- In 1936, Britain’s King George V died after a 26-year reign; and his unmarried son, Edward VIII, ascended to the throne. The new king became romantically involved with a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, and voiced his plans to marry her. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1935-37) and his cabinet were publicly aghast that the king would marry a commoner with such a scandalous past (by the standards of 1930s Britain).  New evidence suggests that much more may have been involved.  British intelligence noted that Simpson was a Nazi sympathizer and also with involved with two other men at the same time. British government officials forbade the marriage. In 1937, rather than break off his relationship, Edward announced he would abdicate the throne to be with her. This left his brother, George VI, as king to face the growing Nazi threat. Over the next several years, Edward met with several Nazi officials as he traveled across Europe.  In 1940, rather than return to Britain as ordered during the British retreat at Dunkirk, Edward instead went to Spain where he agian met with Nazi officials, a fact kept secret by the British government for years afterward.

The Rise of Japanese Militarism — Japan had been seeking greater influence in Asia for decades. It seized Korea in 1905 and steadily worked to expand its navy and army, shunning several disarmament treaties it signed in the 1920s. In 1931, Japan stunned the world by invading Manchuria. The League of Nations protested, and in response, Japan withdrew from the League. And in 1937, Japan invaded China.

            Isolationism — The U.S. was uninterested in world affairs at this point, shaken by World War I and the Great Depression. A generally anti-military feeling had taken hold of the US and a desire to shy away from world affairs. Historians began to criticize Wilson for abandoning neutrality and leading America into the war. In April 1934, students and professors across the country walked out of their classes to attend anti-war rallies. The pacifist mood in the U.S. in the 1930s, forced FDR to tone down his opposition to the rising military powers of Europe and Japan. But FDR worked quietly to oppose Hitler.


Outbreak of War in Europe — The Allies had reached their breaking limit with Hitler. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, subduing it in three weeks.  Great Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany two days later. The rest of Europe fell to the Nazis in rapid succession. Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Luxembourg had all fallen in 1940 in the German blitzkrieg, or lightning war, barreling through resistance. The French and British were busy building up their defenses in preparation for the war. The French had prepared for another German attack by constructing the Maginot Line, a heavily fortified line along the German border. They originally wanted to construct it all the way to the sea, but Belgium objected, fearing it would provoke the Germans. For several months, it was the “sitzkrieg,” the phony war as the Allies and Axis exchanged fire lazily across the border.

On April 9, 1940, Hitler invaded and subdued Denmark and Norway. On May 10, 1940, he attacked Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, bypassing the vaunted Maginot Line.  The Allied armies were split. The British -- 330,000-strong -- were trapped on the coast at Dunkirk. A hastily assembled flotilla rescued the British army back to England -- allowing them to fight again another day.  By May, the French were forced to surrender.  Hitler humiliated the French by forcing them to sign the surrender documents in the same car in which Germany had signed the armistice in 1918.  Roughly 3/5 of France went under direct Nazi control. The remaining 2/5 went under the control of Marshal Petain under a puppet government at Vichy.


Italian Frustration -- The British defeated the Italians in Ethiopia in 1941, and Hitler sent troops to North Africa to aid the Italians. Mussolini attempted to invade Greece in 1940, but failed. The Nazis took control of Yugoslavia and Greece in spring 1941, leaving the Italians to occupy portions of these lands, but it was rapidly becoming apparent that Italy did not have the strength it pretended to have.

Winston Churchill — After the Chamberlain government fell, Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1940-1945, 1951-1955) came to power in the darkest days of the war, rallying the British people and urging FDR to assist the UK. His leadership saved Britain. After the fall of France, the UK was the only country facing Germany. And in the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain was waged, as Germany bombed Britain for weeks, used u-boats to sink shipping, and threatened a land invasion. Churchill rallied the spirits of Britons as they waged a valiant defense. Churchill said of British fighter pilots defending Britain form the overpowering German air force, “never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Britain was within weeks of losing the war when Hitler inexplicably turned his attention elsewhere.

Attack on Russia -- In 1939, before Hitler invaded Poland, he made a pact with the Soviets, offering a ten-year peace with the Soviets and secretly offering them eastern Poland and the Baltic states while he would sweep in and seize western Poland. The Soviets followed their end of the bargain and Stalin felt confident that Hitler would never attack Russia. The Russians fought a few skirmishes with the Japanese in 1939 and 1940 before the Japanese signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviets in 1941.  Stalin fought a brief war with Finland in 1940 over a few strategic islands in the Balkans, yet still felt secure that Russia was safe from attack.  On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, and invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviets were unprepared for the attack; and the Nazis swept through easily, mercilessly slaughtering opposition and surrendering Russian soldiers. The news stunned Stalin and he sat in his office for several days, unsure of what to do. He had spent most of the 1930s purging the military of any potential rivals, killing millions of dissidents and wiping out the best minds in Russia. When aides marched in to see him after the invasion, Stalin thought they were going to arrest him. Instead, Stalin was urged to marshal together Russia and fight Germany. As winter fell, the Germans approached Moscow, but Hitler had not sent his troops any winter uniforms. The German drive stalled as the weather worsened, and many froze to death. The drive stalled in December 1941, just 20 miles short of Moscow. Today, a burnt-out German tank stands at the position of the nearest German advance.

Kateyn Forest Massacre (1940) – After the Poles fell to the Russians in the east, Stalin remained determined that no resistance to Soviet rule would ever emerge.  In early 1940, he executed 9,000 Polish officers and had them buried in a mass grave.  When reports of the massacre surfaced in 1943, the world was stunned.  At a meeting of the major Allied leaders, Stalin was asked for his explanation of what happened to the officers.  Stalin answered dismissively, “They went away.”

Lend-Lease Policy — FDR’s policy of aiding the Allies. The Johnson Act of 1934 forbade the US from loaning money to nations at war, but Britain was running out of money fast. FDR proposed the lend-lease policy to bypass this policy. FDR told the nation that the us must become “the arsenal of democracy.” In January 1941, he announced his policy, which would give the Allies the weapons they needed — whether lending, leasing, selling, or exchanging — any arms or equipment the president deemed vital to the defense of countries whose survival was imperative to the U.S. FDR likened it to loaning a neighbor whose house was on fire a garden hose, explaining that young wouldn’t stand around arguing about a price. FDR asked that the program be appropriated $7 billion. The Lend-Lease Bill, HR 1776, was blasted by isolationists who feared it would draw the US into the war. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, an isolationist, denounced Lend-Lease as the triple-A of New Deal foreign policy, saying it would plow under every fourth American boy. The bill was passed in March 1941, and the Allies were greatly aided by the goods, perhaps saving the Allied war effort.

On Sept. 4, 1941, a German submarine fired on a US Cruiser, the Greer. A week later, FDR issued his “shoot on sight” orders to attack any German submarine on sight. On Oct. 17, the destroyer Kearny was severely damaged by a German u-boat, prompting FDR to declare that America had been attacked. This was followed by the sinking of the Reuben James on Oct. 30.

Relations with Japan had been disintegrating. Japan had engaged in brief skirmishes with Russia but signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviets in 1941. The U.S. was shocked by Japanese actions in Asia. People were rounded up and forced into slave labor, women were forced into prostitution by the Japanese government, and the Japanese experimented with chemical and germ warfare on the civilian population. After the French surrendered to Germany, Japan forced the puppet Vichy regime to surrender control of French Indochina to Japan. The U.S. responded to these incidents by imposing n embargo on Japan.

Pearl Harbor — The US had broken the Japanese code by this time and knew in late 1941 that Japan was about to go on the attack. The question was, where would it occur? U.S. intelligence assumed a massive offensive in Southeast Asia but could not confirm it. At 7:53 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japan launched a sneak attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Nineteen ships were sunk and 2400 Americans lost their lives in the attack. The attack forced the U.S. into World War II. And although a disaster, most of the ships damaged were repaired and saw later service in the war.

Some have charged that the US or Britain knew the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming but did nothing so the US would enter the war. While both governments had pieces of evidence to believe that an attack was coming, no one was able to piece it all together and say that Japan was about to attack the U.S. This led to the creation of a new U.S. intelligence service which became the CIA after the war.

In the war, the US employed a key advantage that only the U.S. had — unwritten indigenous languages. Almost no Native American language had been written to this time, maybe only adopting the English alphabet such as had been done by the Cherokees. Native Americans, particularly Navajos, were used to broadcast messages in Navajo, which neither the Germans nor the Japanese could ever figure out. Navajo words would be substituted for military terms “Potato” for “grenade,” for example.

The Tide Turns:

El-Alamein —Times were desperate for the Allies in early 1942. The Nazis were pushing the Allies across North Africa. The Philippines had fallen to the Japanese with thousands of Americans taken prisoner and marched to brutal prison camps in what became called the “Bataan Death March.”  Several small islands off Alaska had been taken by the Japanese.  By the end of the year, Allied fortunes improved.  At El-Alamein, Egypt, the British turned back the Nazis in North Africa after a two-week battle from October 23 to November 4. The tide of the war began to turn against the Nazis. On November 8, 1942, the U.S. invaded Morocco and Algeria. By May 1943, the Axis powers had been pushed out of North Africa.

Battle of the Coral Sea -- May 7-8, 1942 -- The Japanese fleet advanced on Australia. American naval forces spotted the task force, and after a fierce battle, forced it to withdraw. US Naval forces had stopped the Japanese advance and prevented the invasion of Australia.

Stalingrad — From August 1942 to February 1943, the Nazis lay siege to Stalingrad but were slowly worn out and surrounded by resilient Soviet troops. Hitler refused to allow them to withdraw. In February 1943, some 300,000 surviving German troops were forced to surrender, ending Hitler’s offensive in the East.

Midway — June 3-6, 1942 — The U.S. had broken the Japanese code and knew the Japanese were priming to finish off the Pacific fleet before the productive power of the U.S. could roll over Japan. America knew the Japanese fleet was coming but could not figure out if the target was Midway or Hawaii. The Japanese used a code word for their target.  American military intelligence sent out a fake message to have the Japanese reveal their hand. Midway has little natural water and needs to have drinking water brought in to maintain the base, so Midway sent out a fake message saying that they had run out of water. The Japanese heard this message and relayed that their target has a problem, revealing Midway as their target. US turns tide in Pacific Massive defeat of Japanese navy renders their hopes of winning the war but fight on for 3 more years. The Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers (to the U.S. loss of one), which proved decisive later in the war as aircraft were needed much more over the wide expanse of the Pacific. The U.S. regained control of the central Pacific.

Mobilization -- Like in World War I, nations mobilized men, industry, and finances to gear every part of their nations to the war effort. In different nations, this meant different emphases.

Soviets -- Stalin called the effort to produce weapons “the battle of the machines.” The Soviets needed time to recover from the Nazi onslaught. The great distances gave the Russians the time they needed by retreating, destroying anything the Germans could use, and drawing them further into hostile territory. The same strategy had wrecked Napoleon’s army in 1814. The Russians dismantled their factories and rebuilt them in the relative safety east of the Ural Mountains. The Soviets produced 78,000 tanks and 98,000 artillery pieces during the war. Almost 55% of the Soviet Gross National Product went for the military (compared to 15% in 1940). The massive concentration on military production caused massive housing and food shortages during the war.

The Germans killed an estimate 3 million to 4 million Soviet prisoners. Stalin responded just as fiercely. After 1941, Red Army officers were ordered to shoot anyone seen retreating. Prisons were emptied with prisoners used as shock troops to soften up German defenses against a second, tougher Soviet attack. Women were used in the military as snipers, bombardiers, and pilots. An estimated 20 million Russians died in they call the “Great Patriotic War.”


Americans -- Largely spared the ravages of war on its territory (except for brief incursions by the Japanese into the Aleutian Islands in 1942 and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941), President Franklin D. Roosevelt vowed the US would become the “arsenal of democracy.” The US produced weapons for any nation fighting the Axis through the Lend-Lease program, including China, Russia, the Vietnamese, Britain, and the free French forces in exile. Major commodities, from bread to gasoline to scrap metal were rationed. At the peak of production in Nov. 1943, the US produced 6 ships per day. Sixteen million men and women were enrolled in the military, but women were restricted from combat positions. Sixteen million Americans relocated to work in defense factories.   America mobilized in a way it never had before. Bond drives, rationing of all products — food, gas, scrap metal, and more. Rallies were held to round up excess rubber, scrap, and other useful products. Racial paranoia gave way, and in 1942, all Japanese citizens were interned in camps throughout the U.S., fearing that they would undermine war efforts against Japan, interning 127,000. The Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1944, citing national security concerns. Although as early as 1943, Japanese could leave the camps if they pledge their loyalty to the U.S. Thousands of Japanese served with distinction in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. Germans and Italians were not rounded up.   Idle assembly plants now hummed with activities making the instruments of war and putting millions to work. The war led to a massive migration of the population, from city to city from state to state and from the farms to the cities. Millions of women went to work as factory workers, giving them new opportunities while their husbands were off at war.

Germany – To boost civilian morale, Hitler refused to commit Germany to full mobilization.  Consumer goods continued to be produced in large quantities.  As the Nazi offensive stalled, Hitler ordered a massive increase in the size of the army and war production.  Production of war materiel tripled, but there was little decline in consumer production.  In July 1944, as the second front opened, the Nazis ordered total mobilization, closing schools, theaters, and cafes for the duration of the war.  But the Nazis still refused to allow women to work in defense plants, as Allies had in their bid to stop the Nazi nightmare. 

In 1943, after Sicily fell to the Allies and invaded the Italian mainland, Mussolini was overthrown and executed. The new government changed sides, but the Germans fought on in Italy.

Kursk – July 5-12, 1943 – In an effort to stop Russian advances, the Germans attack the Red Army using the experimental new heavy tank.  The Germans are badly defeated in intense fighting and are pushed further west.  By the end of 1943, the 900-day siege of Leningrad was lifted, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were retaken in 1944, and Warsaw was liberated by January 1945. 

D-Day — Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 — At five landing sites by the Americans, British, and Canadians, the Allies began to take back western Europe.  After a day of intense fighting, the Allies managed to gain a toe-hold on the beaches. D-Day was the largest amphibious landing ever. This opened up the long-awaited second front in Europe, and ultimately signaled the beginning of the end of Hitler.  After canceling the June 5 landing because of bad weather, troops land on the morning of June 6. Fighting and casualties were high. Gen. Eisenhower feared failure, but by the end of the day, the Allies had secured the beaches. Eventually, three million troops flooded across France, liberating Paris by August, and soon afterward moved into Germany.

Battle of the Bulge – December 1944 – As the western Allies approached the German border after a number of stunning successes that summer and autumn, disaster struck.  The Nazis struck back in a last-ditch offensive into Belgium.  The line of control that separated the two sides on military maps bulged with the Nazi advance into the small pocket of Belgium, hence the name “Battle of the Bulge.”  The Nazis threatened to retake vital port cities before clearing weather allowed Allied planes to bombard German positions and allow the Allies to regroup and thrust the Germans out of the area.

Yalta — In February 1945, the Big Three, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met at Yalta in the Russian Crimea. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the final stages of the war and the postwar peace. America and Britain were still recovering form the Battle of the Bulge, a last-ditch Nazi offensive in the West. The Soviets were advancing to within 50 miles of Berlin. Stalin drove a series of hard bargains. The Soviets had suffered intensely during the war. They would suffer 20 million dead in the war out of a population that perhaps 180 million. At the height of the German invasion in 1942, 300 Soviet divisions were fighting 250 German divisions, while the U.S. and Britain had used only 58 divisions at Normandy. FDR was too tired and sick to debate the testy Stalin, and Churchill’s Britain was too weakened by the war to offer much resistance. Stalin refused to give up communist domination of Poland and the Balkans but agreed to FDR’s request for a Declaration of a Liberated Europe, which called for free elections although it failed to provide for any method of enforcement or supervision. Stalin also promised to enter the Pacific war three months after the end of the war in Europe. FDR offered extensive control over Manchuria in exchange for the Russian entry into the war with Japan. Critics charged that FDR had sold out eastern Europe, and Yalta represented a major diplomatic victory for the Soviets. However, with Soviet armies firmly in place in Poland and East Europe, there was little that the US and Britain could do. FDR said that it was not a good agreement but it was the best he could do.

The trip to Yalta had worn out Roosevelt. After his return to the US, he delivered his report to Congress on his meeting with Churchill and Stalin. At this joint session of Congress, he admitted for the first and only time publicly that he was paralyzed. FDR sat as he delivered his speech and offered an apology for sitting. He offhandedly explained that it was easier than “having to carry ten pounds of steel in his legs” and quickly added that the had just completed a 10,000 mile trip. In early April, FDR left for a brief vacation to re-energize his spirits and prepare for the final push of the war. But on April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Georgia, FDR suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Harry Truman was summoned to the White House and sworn in as president. The nation mourned Roosevelt, the man who led them through the most desperate times in American history, through the trials of the Depression, the heartaches of the war, and nearly to victory.

As Truman assumed office, the Soviets were pounding Berlin, slowly surrounding the city and moving through the streets. The two fronts linked up on the Elbe River in late April as the Allies slowly swept through Germany and consolidated control. Hitler had been in his bunker, dejected and muttering about he had been betrayed. On April 30, as the Soviets approached his bunker, Hitler killed himself. One week later, on May 7, with Berlin now in Allied hands and the once-vaunted “thousand-year Reich” in ruins, the Nazis surrendered.

The liberation of Nazi Germany revealed the true horrors of Nazi rule. The Allies liberated the dozen or so concentration camps and death camps across Germany and Poland where millions of innocent Jews and others were slaughtered by the Nazis. Six million people died in these camps. After the war, as the Allies occupied the area, Gen. Eisenhower ordered that all the Germans would be forced to see these camps, to see what the Nazis had done while they stood by.

The war in Europe was now over, leaving the Allies to face only Japan. The Japanese, however, were putting up a furious struggle. Allied commanders originally predicted that it would take 18 months after the end of the war in Europe. The Allies, however, moved much more quickly. Admiral Chester Nimitz led a sweep through the Gilbert, Caroline, and Marshall Islands at a dizzying speed in 1944. As the Allies swept steadily deeper into the Pacific, more airfields were constructed for planes to bombard deeper into Japanese territory. But as they moved in further, Japanese resistance became stronger. In October 1944, the Americans landed at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, and Manila fell by the end of the year. The Japanese navy attempted one last desperate gamble at the Battle of Leyte Gulf on Oct. 24-26, 1944, but they lost 4 carriers and the back of their navy was broken.

After the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were taken in heavy fighting in early 1945, the Allies could bomb Japanese cities at will. Few fighters were left to resist American attacks. The Japanese were engaging in suicide attacks to thwart the American advance. On the night of March 9-10, 1945, a US bombing raid on Tokyo killed 100,000. The Japanese knew they were nearing defeat but refused to surrender.

Truman knew nothing about the Manhattan Project when he took office. Since 1939, the US had spent $2 billion developing an atomic bomb. Germany and Japan had also worked on atomic bombs, to no avail. Some of the best scientific minds in the U.S. worked at labs across the country working on ways to create a fission bomb using either plutonium or uranium. At Los Alamos, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated, too late to use in Europe against Hitler, but the war in the Pacific raged on. Japanese guerilla fighters continued to fight in the Philippines, the war in China still continued. The ship that delivered components of the atomic bomb to Tinian Island, the Indianapolis, was sunk a few days afterward, losing 900 lives. With or without the atomic bomb, the US feared that it would have to invade mainland Japan to end the war. Operation Olympic, scheduled for Nov. 1, 1945, would have landed troops on the southern island of Kyushu. Some 20,000 American deaths were predicted for the first month alone and countless Japanese deaths. The Japanese were training women and children to strap explosives to their bodies in preparation for suicide attacks. The US warned Japan to surrender or face destruction but Japanese officials remained determined to fight to the last man, woman, and child.  Truman made the fateful decision.

Hiroshima — The first atomic bombing, on August 6, 1945, left 70,000 dead. The city was flattened. Japan remained determined to fight on. 

Nagasaki — The second atomic attack three days later left another 70,000 dead and suffering the same effects from radiation burns and sickness.  

Emperor Hirohito decided that it was time to end the war. He taped a message to the people of Japan telling them that Japan was surrendering. The night before the message was to be broadcast, several soldiers attempted to overthrow the government and destroy the tape, but were captured. The Japanese people heard the voice of their emperor, whom many had worshiped as a god, for the first time.  Japan finally surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, signing the surrender papers on the USS Missouri, ending World War II.  

More than 60 million people had died in the bloddiest war in human history, all started by the mad designs of men determined to destroy those different than themselves.  More than 20 million died in the Soviet Union, 20 million more dead in China, 450,000 Brtions killed, 418,000  Americans, 2.6 million Japanese, 45,000 Canadians, and 7.5 million Germans.   Fifty-seven nations fought in the war, a war fought over a wider area and with a deeper scale of carnage that had ever been seen.


            The Holocaust burns into the imagination as the ultimate depth of man’s inhumanity to man. Individuals so consumed with hate became numb to the sufferings and feelings of others.  Hatred and rage became so important to the Nazis that it effectively strangled their consciences.  Basic human feelings drive history as much as ideas.  Hope, love, and happiness shape societies and events as much as hate, anger, and greed.  Moral philosophers since antiquity have struggled to overcome the vilest animal instincts which has so often led to the destruction of personal lives and the lives of others (whether by design or accident) and appeal to our nobler instincts.  Nevertheless, despite the inherent goodness of many millions, such heartless depravity erupts with the senseless destruction of whole societies.  In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Nazi control of nations was based entirely upon race. In Germanic or “Aryan” nations as the Nazis erroneously referred to themselves (“Aryans” do not exist), the nations remained under a civilian administration, controlled by the Germans. For the Latin races (particularly the French), the military was in direct control. Resources were mercilessly exploited through slave labor and forced resettlement. Himmler was placed in charge of resettlement. He, with Hitler’s approval, uprooted 1 million Poles from western Poland and 2 million Germans were sent in by 1942. Those who resisted were arrested and executed. Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians were to be used as slave labor to build Hitler’s Nazi empire. Hitler envisioned that once he defeated Russia, Moscow itself would be destroyed and turned into a lake.

By 1939, many Jews were encouraged to “emigrate” from Germany or be placed in concentration camps. By early 1941, Nazi leaders agreed upon the “Final Solution” -- that all Jews were to be exterminated. More than 1 million Jews were killed by roaming SS troops -- murdered and stacked in mass graves. Another 5 million were killed in concentration camps and death camps, camps established explicitly for murdering the Jews and other non-German minorities. At the death camps, 30% were sent to slave labor camps while the rest were immediately executed by being gassed to death in chambers that would be filled with hydrogen cyanide or by being shot. The gas chambers were most commonly used against women, the elderly, and children. Others were killed or mutilated in horrifying medical experiments. The following list presents the death toll by nation:


NATION    1939 JEWISH            NATIONAL              ESTIMATED    PERCENTAGE          
               POPULATION           POPULATION           JEWS KILLED    JEWS KILLED

Austria             60,000           6,760,000                    40,000                  67%

Belgium            90,000           8,090,000                    40,000                  44%

Bulgaria            50,000           6,070,000                    7,000                    14%

Czechoslovakia 315,000         14,730,000                  260,000                83%

Denmark          8,000                3,700,000                    100                      1%

Estonia             8,000               1,120,000                    uncertain           uncertain

France              350,000           41,180,000                  90,000                  26%

Germany          210,000            69,460,000                  170,000                81%

Greece             75,000               7,340,000                    60,000                 80%

Hungary           404,000             9,310,000                    200,000               50%

Italy                  57,000               42,910,000                  15,000                 26%

Latvia               95,000                 1,950,000                    85,000                89%

Lithuania           150,000              2,020,000                    135,000              90%

Luxembourg     5,000                    297,000                       1,000                 20%

The Netherlands 150,000              8,920,000                    90,000               60%

Norway            1,800                     3,000,000                    900                    50%

Poland              3,300,000              32,100,000                  2,800,000          85%

Rumania           850,000                 16,120,000                   425,000             50%

Soviet Union     2,100,000              170,460,000                 1,500,000          71%

Yugoslavia        75,000                    13,930,000                    55,000             73%

TOTAL                                                8,353,000                  5,974,000      71.5%


The extermination of Jews and other groups was at its most intense in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. Among those forced into concentration camps was the one-time mayor of Prague, Czechoslovakia. The King of Denmark, Christian X (1912-1947), refused to allow the mistreatment of the Danish Jews, wearing the gold star the Nazis forced the Jews to wear during the occupation. The Danes quietly worked to have the Danish Jews sent to the safety of neutral Sweden. Numbers of those killed in Estonia have been difficult to accurately ascertain. But given that in neighboring areas, the death toll is in the 70%-90% range, it can be assumed that this range holds true for Estonia. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials following the war, the surviving leaders of the Nazi regime did not deny that these events occurred. They meekly defended themselves by claiming that they were only following orders or that someone else was responsible. The Allied judges condemned this defense, as there are orders that are illegal and too immoral to carry out. The above list was compiled by Professors Bullitt Lowry and Henry Eaton from German government documents and Holocaust histories. Historian Sir Martin Gilbert notes that the Nazis and their allies killed an additional six million non-Jewish civilians between 1939 and 1945 in concentration camps, reprisals, and forced-labor camps. This included 4 million Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians. Some 400,000 Gypsies were executed -- 40% out of a prewar population of 1 million. The victims also included the elderly, the handicapped, and homosexuals, either German or non-German.



 The Cold War and Europe in the 1950s

The euphoria of peace is dampened by the wanted to claim the spoils of war and the US and Britain were trying to build a new peace in a democratic Europe.

At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) met with Stalin and the new British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, whose Labour Party had defeated Churchill in the recent elections. Potsdam, a city just outside Berlin, had managed to escape the massive destruction that the Allies had wreaked upon Berlin and most other major German cities. Truman and Stalin clashed over the Polish border and the fate of eastern Europe. The Russians wanted to rebuild their industry using German industry while the US feared that it would be saddled with the cost of caring for Germany. Neither side could agree on how to govern postwar Europe, so they began to divide it. Each side, it was decided, would take reparations primarily from its own occupied territories in Germany.

As a result, Russia dismantled all surviving and repairable machinery in East Germany and shipped it to Russia. The temporary zones of division gradually hardened into permanent divisions as both sides entrenched themselves further. In eastern Europe, Russia, who had liberated the area form the Nazis, were intent on avoiding any future invasion of Russia from the West and determined to set up loyal communist governments in East Europe. Although promised fair elections, balloting was rigged in Poland, and it fell to the communists. Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia fell in rapid succession in 1946 and 1947, crushing any resistance that stood in their way. Czechoslovakia’s democratic government was overthrown in March 1948 with the assistance of the Red Army, heightening tensions between the East and West. The West began to see Stalin, a man who had brutally slaughtered millions of his own people, as a new Hitler, bent on world domination. Churchill darkly warned that an Iron Curtain was descending across Europe, separating the communist East from the democratic West.

By 1946, the US and Great Britain were refusing to allow Russia to take reparations from western Germany and the Russians continued to communize its own sector, fearing a resurgence of German military power. By 1947, the US, Britain, and France were ready to transfer their authority to an independent West Germany. The entire situation was complicated by the atomic bomb. The US had it and the Russians were well on their way to having it. After World War II, not only did the Russians take machinery back to Russia but also prominent German scientists who were working on rockets and the atom bomb. The world was faced with the prospect of a nuclear war that could destroy the entire world. But until the Soviets developed the bomb, the US remained confident as they were the only nation to have it. The US, in a project called Paperclip, began taking German scientists back to the US, initially for scientific debriefings about the nature of their projects and would soon be sent back to Germany. But the rising Cold War hysteria, Truman changed the program in 1946 to bring German scientists into the US to work for the West during the Cold War and to offer citizenship to any scientist who had not been a Nazi. Many Nazis, however, were granted citizenship.

In 1945, the nations of the world established the United Nations to replace the League of Nations as a world peacekeeping organization.  The leading members would be the United States, Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union.  But tensions between the East and West limited its effectiveness as the U.S. and the Soviets often vetoed each others’ resolutions.  The United States, however, remained determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 1920s and 1930s, and joined the UN, housing the organization in New York City.  Since then, the UN has also been involved in efforts to rebuild war-torn nations and provide health care and food for the poor.  See more on the UN at: www.un.org.


Truman Doctrine — In 1946, State Department official George Kennan outlined a memo stating his belief that the US should adopt a policy of containment against the Soviets to prevent any more democracies from falling into their grips. It was a long term policy in which the US would be patient but firm, not resorting to a direct military confrontation, but one that would force the Soviets to adopt a more reasonable stance.

In February 1947, the British told Truman that they could no longer afford to keep giving aid to Greece or Turkey. Greece was in the midst of a civil was against communist guerillas and Turkey was being pressured by the Russians for greater access to the Mediterranean. In March of 1947, Truman asked Congress for $400 million in economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey. Truman now agreed with the concept of containment, to support free people against oppression, making it known as the Truman Doctrine. This in effect, was the opening salvo of the Cold War, in which the US and the Soviets would stare each other down for the next 40 years.

Marshall Plan — In 1947, many Americans feared that western Europe, still struggling to recover from World War II, was in danger of communist domination, despite nearly $9 billion in piecemeal loans to England, France, Italy, and other European nations. Food was scarce and heating oil was scarce in the bitter winter of 1947. Resentment and discontent led to greater communist voting strength in Italy and France.

So to halt further communist infiltration, the US decided to throw the full weight of its industrial might into western Europe in a massive rebuilding effort. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a broad policy of extensive economic aid to every country in Europe that wanted it. This he felt would create a working economy that permit social and political conditions that would allow free institutions to exist.

The Soviets saw it as an attempt to weaken their control over eastern Europe and refused to participate. Moscow ordered its satellite countries in the east not to participate either, although Poland expressed a strong interest in the plan. The US loaned $17 billion to Europe over the next 4 years, rebuilding and feeding West Europe. Because of this, Western Europe developed a self-sustaining, prosperous economy by the 1950s and Soviet advances further west were checked.

Berlin Airlift — The Soviets resented the Marshall Plan and the reunification of West Germany by the occupying powers of France, England, and the US. In April 1948, the Soviets began slowing traffic into West Berlin, the divided capitol of Germany which was split into 4 sectors. The three western sectors became an island in a sea of communism, and the Soviets became determined to force them out. On June 23, the Soviets cut off West Berlin entirely. The West was determined to defend West Berlin at all costs and challenge the Soviet blockade. But the West realized the gravity of the situation. An American commander told his troops that if the Soviets attacked West Berlin, they would all have two hours to live.

Truman was not about to back down. But the next problem would be how to sustain and defend a city 100 miles inside Soviet territory. West Berlin had over 2.2 million people and had to bring in everything that the people needed to live on from the outside. Fuel and food all had to be brought in. One estimate stated that 4500 tons of food and coal had to be brought in every day and trying an overland run would be impossible. An airlift was a remote possibility. All that material would have to be flown in using C-47 transports, which had a limited carrying capacity and there were few in Europe. But the Allies moved fast, and within a matter of days the Berlin airlift was underway. By October, more than 5000 tons was being brought in day and night. And the Soviets could have stopped it at any time with overwhelming force, but did not. And all this effort to defend the freedom of a former enemy.

These were still lean times. West Berliners bartered with farmers on the outskirts of the city in the Soviet sector for food and fuel. The American Commandant in Berlin meanwhile initiated his own blockade against the Russians but cutting off a gas main that ran through the American sector into the Russian commandant’s house, forcing him to move.

The “Candy Bomber” — One day, an American pilot saw some hungry German kids hanging around the airfield watching the relief flights. He divided a stick of gum between two kids but didn’t have any more to give out to the rest. He made a deal with the kids, that if they came back the next day, he would drop a package of candy to the kids on the condition that they share it with the other kids. The next day, using a handkerchief as a parachute, he dropped the package of candy. The children were grateful and he continued to drop the candy, giving him the nickname of the “candy bomber.” He received tons of letters from children throughout West Berlin, and his superiors soon found out about it. They were so impressed by the gesture that they used it as propaganda against the blockade, pointing out that innocent children were the true victims of the blockade. The American people were touched by the candy bomber’s gesture and began sending in handkerchiefs and candy for the German children. Major candy companies in the US also donated candy. An East German child one day wrote and asked why he couldn’t bring candy to East Berlin. So the pilot decides one day to go off course and drop a package of candy into East Berlin. His commanders have a fit and he quickly discontinues it, especially after the Russians complain that the US was trying to buy the loyalty of East German children.

The Berlin airlift continued until May 1949, with the tension surrounding the situation each day. At a Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Paris, the Russians finally agree to end the blockade on May 12, 1949. The airlift had brought in 1.5 million tons of food and fuel. West Germany regained its sovereignty in 1955 while the Soviets organized the east into communist East Germany in 1949.


Between 1947 and 1962, because of the collapse of European political and economic supremacy, the colonial powers could no longer afford to maintain control of their possessions.  In July 4, 1946, the US granted independence to the Philippines.  It had planned to do so earlier, but the Japanese occupation had delayed these plans. 

The Sun Sets on the British Empire – It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire because its possessions spanned the globe.  But after World War II, Britain began to dismantle its foreign holdings.  In 1947, after years of strikes and nonviolent protests led by Mahatma Gandhi, the British granted independence to India, but divided it into Hindu- and Muslim-majority countries.  The Hindus controlled India while the Muslims controlled Pakistan (which included Bangladesh as East Pakistan).  Tensions remained, and India and Pakistan fought three wars over control of a Muslim-majority Indian province, Kashmir, from 1948 to the 1970s.  In 1971, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan.  Tensions remain over Kashmir, and the situation is compounded by the fact that both India and Pakistan now have nuclear weapons. 

  In 1948, the British granted independence to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and Burma.  By 1961, the British began granting independence (under pressure from local residents) to its possessions in Africa, beginning with Tanzania.  By 1963, Kenya was independent, followed by Zambia and Malawi in 1964.  Mozambique won its independence in 1975.  The last possession to gain its independence was Zimbabwe in 1980.   

France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal – Other nations began granting independence in Africa, by choice or otherwise.  In 1956, France granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia, following with Ghana in 1957.  In 1960, the bulk of France’s remaining African possessions, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, were granted independence as nine different countries.  Libya, occupied by the Allies until 1945, was granted independence as a monarchy in 1951 as it was freed from UN control.  In 1960, Belgium granted independence to the Belgian Congo.  Somalia won its independence from Italy in 1960.  Citizens renamed the country Zaire.  But after a civil war in the 1990s, the new government changed the name to Democratic Republic of Congo.  In 1975, Portugal lost control of Angola after a bitter war.  African independence was marred by extreme poverty and civil wars between different tribes and ethnic groups that have left many in a constant state of war and countless dead.

Charles de Gaulle and the new French Republic

            By the 1950s, chaos was again enveloping France.  The parliamentary government of the Fourth Republic seemed unable to cope with the multitudes of problems facing the country.  Independence movements grew in Africa and Southeast Asia, growing in violence.  The French lost the war in Indochina in 1954.  Algeria, with two million Frenchmen, was considered a part of France.  An armed insurrection against French rule had erupted as France attempted to keep control of the region.  Deep social divisions developed as the Roman Catholic Church and intellectuals rose up against the colonial wars.  The hero of World War II, Charles deGaulle, who had led the French resistance and the free French forces still operating outside France, was called in to head the nation.  He began to embark on reforms to stabilize the government and prevent a civil war.  The result of his reforms was a new constitution in 1958, marking the new Fifth Republic.  This new government expanded the powers of the president, deGaulle.  He moved to increase France’s role in the world by granting independence to Africa, thereby gaining stature in the Third World, agreed to end the Algerian Crisis by granting Algerian independence in 1962, and developed a French atomic bomb in 1960.  The French economy expanded rapidly between 1958 and 1968, but the government had developed large deficits by the late 1960s.  In May 1968, a series of strikes by students and trade unions shut down most of the country.  Charles deGaulle became increasingly unpopular and resigned in April 1969.  He died heartbroken in 1970.


The Rise of the Social-Welfare State

            A consensus began to develop in the west that the best way to protect the liberties of the people was to ensure that they had access to the most basic needs.  Poverty, disease, and ignorance, many believed, was not inevitable.  Nations began to build systems to care for the neediest of their citizens.  Between 1883 and 1889, in order to stop the growth of the socialist Social Democrats, Bismarck enacted a slew of social welfare programs to help Germany’s poor, including worker’s compensation benefits.  After World War II, the new chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963), sought new respect for West Germany as he reconciled with France, pledged that the German military could only be used for defense, opened the doors for refugees around the world to come t live in West Germany, and began payments in 1953 to Holocaust survivors and Israel to try to make restitution. 

In the Great Depression, the United States moved to expand government services to help the poor.  The Social Security system was developed in 1935 to aid the elderly, the blind, disabled, and dependent children with aid payments.  President Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson worked to establish equality under the law for Americans regardless of race, color, or creed.  They also worked to improve education systems, food programs for the poor, and more.  In 1961, Kennedy established the Peace Corps to help Third World communities build and operate schools, hospitals, and basic services.  In 1965, Johnson established the Medicare program, guaranteeing medical care for the elderly.  In Canada, under Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a national social security system (similar to the United States) and a national health care system of guaranteed health care for all Canadians was established.

For more on modern Canadian politics, examine the different party websites at:

http://www.liberal.ca/lpc/default.aspx (Liberal Party)

www.conservative.ca (Conservative Party)

www.blocquebecois.org (Bloc Quebecois Party, a party of French Quebec nationalists, in French only)


Under Prime Minister Clement Attlee (1945-1951), the British government took direct control of the Bank of England.  Parliament passed the National Insurance Act and the National Health Service Act in 1946.  The National Insurance Act provided a system of aid to the elderly and the poor throughout Great Britain.  The National Health Service Act provided a system of guaranteed health care for all Britons.  No one would be denied health care because of inability to pay.  By the late 1950s, 90% of British doctors participated in the national health system. 

For more on modern British politics, see the different party websites at:

www.lr.org.uk (Labour Party)

http://www.conservative-party.org.uk/ (Conservative Party, the “Tories”)

Korean War (1950-53) — At the end of World War II, Korea was divided into two halves at the 38th parallel after the Japanese had ben driven out. The North, slightly more industrialized, was controlled by communist strongman Kim Il-Sung. The South, more agricultural, was controlled by Syngman Rhee. After the war, the US had been slowly diminishing its military presence in the Far East. In 1950, a State Department official made an offhand remark that the US considered Korea to be outside its defense perimeter. Encouraged by these developments, North Korea plotted to attack the South. Suspected, but not generally known at the time, the Soviets helped plan and encouraged the North to attack and drive the western influence out of Korea. 
          On June 25, 1950, the North struck. Truman saw it as a clear case of Soviet aggression and went to the UN to secure a resolution condemning North Korea as an aggressor and calling on the member nations to participate in freeing South Korea. 18 nations participated, but it was overwhelmingly an American affair. The Soviet Union was boycotting at the time, and the resolution passed. Within a few days, US troops stationed in Japan were fighting the North Koreans but faring badly. Most Americans believed this was the beginning of World War III. But by August, the US had stopped the advance in a small pocket near Pusan, called the Pusan Perimeter. In September, Gen. Douglas MacArthur staged a daring amphibious assault at Inchon, delicately playing on the timing of the tides at the shallow bay, and quickly recaptured Seoul. The North was quickly pushed back across the border and the US pursued. 
      Truman, encouraged by MacArthur and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, now pushed for the reunification of a democratic Korea. As US forces chased North Korea to the Yalu River, the border with China, disaster struck. The Chinese had warned the US not to approach the border, but the US pressed on and in November China entered the war, with hundreds of thousands of troops pouring across the border. US forces were routed. MacArthur now pressed for a full-scale war with China, publicly criticizing Truman for limiting his options, and stating that the US should use nuclear weapons against Chinese positions in Manchuria. Furious with MacArthur’s disrespect of his authority and his criticisms, Truman relieved MacArthur of command in April 1951. The Truman administration pointed out that not only would a war with China prove drawn-out and disastrous, it would leave Europe open to Soviet attack. MacArthur returned home to a hero’s welcome but MacArthur slowly faded away. The war in Korea bogged down into a stalemate, finally ending with an armistice on July 27, 1953. No formal peace settlement was ever reached and the two Koreas technically remain in a state of war with the border now the most heavily fortified in the world. North Korea and China lost more than 1.5 million people while the US lost 33,000 in combat.     

The Brink of Destruction

Bay of Pigs Invasion – In 1959, Fidel Castro and his communist revolutionaries seized control of Cuba, horrifying the U.S.  The Eisenhower administration had been planning to overthrow Castro with a plan of dropping some 1,500 Cuban exiles into Cuba at the Bay of Pigs with American air cover and inspiring a revolution to oust Castro.  When Kennedy came into office in 1961, he reluctantly agreed to the plan.  On April 19, 1961, the exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs, but Kennedy realized the plan had no chance of succeeding and withdrew American air support.  The exiles were quickly captured, and Kennedy assumed full responsibility for the incident. 

            In June 1961, the Soviets constructed the Berlin Wall, once and for all cutting off East Germany from the oasis of freedom that West Berlin represented – trapping thousands desperate for a life of freedom in the west.  The wall became an enduring symbol of the Cold War and froze relations between East and West once again.

Cuban Missile Crisis – On October 14, 1962, U.S. spy planes detected Soviet missile sites being constructed in Cuba, 90 miles from American shores.  The threat was obvious.  Castro was fearful of another U.S. invasion and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was willing to help his new ally.  But with the missiles so close, the Soviets could wipe out most of the U.S. before America even had a chance to respond.  The U.S. could not accept the presence of the missiles.  The choices ranged between surgical air strikes of the silos or a blockade of Cuba.  Either one could spark a nuclear holocaust.  
          On October 22, JFK announced to the nation the existence of the missile sites and the world held its breath for the next week.  Kennedy announced a “quarantine” of Cuba, and Khruschev announced that the Soviets would ignore it.  A Soviet ship did challenge the quarantine line, but it only carried food supplies and the U.S. did not fire upon it.  A U.S. plane was shot down over Cuba on a reconnaissance mission.  On October 24, five Soviet ships armed with missiles stopped short of the quarantine line.  And waited.  The next day, a Soviet embassy official approached an American television reporter with a possible offer: the Soviets would withdraw the missiles in Cuba in exchange for U.S. promises not to invade Cuba.  Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent word that the U.S. was interested, but the crisis was not over yet.  Khruschev sent two messages the next day, one repeating the original offer, and the second message stipulating that the U.S. must remove its missiles from Turkey.  Kennedy had already ordered the removal of the obsolete missiles, but on the advice of his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president decided to agree to the first message and ignore the second.  On Sunday, October 28, Khruschev agreed to remove the missiles and World War III was averted.  The U.S. and the Soviets came within hours of going to war with each other.

            In the aftermath, a “hotline,” a direct link between Washington and Moscow was established to keep both sides in contact with each other at all times.  America also agreed to sell the Russians surplus American wheat and remove obsolete missiles from Turkey, Italy, and Britain.  The Russians pulled their bases and missiles from Cuba and entered into the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty in 1963.  This treaty banned the test detonation of nuclear weapons on the ground, in outer space, or on the seas.  Underground testing continued until the 1980s.


Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos had all been colonized as French Indochina in the 1800s. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Indochina, and after the war, the French reoccupied the region. But the Vietnamese had fought bitterly to evict Japan and did not want France controlling them again. In 1946, Ho Chi Minh and others created the Viet Minh, a communist-led independence movement, launched a guerilla war against the French. In May 1950, Truman sent $10 million in aid to the cash-strapped French to continue their efforts in Indochina. By March 1954, French soldiers were pinned down at Dien Bien Phu. France appealed to the US and the British, but Eisenhower was unwilling to involve the US in another Asian land war so soon after Korea. The British also refused. The US, however, had been aiding the French effort in Vietnam since 1950. Ike feared that direct intervention would compromise the US tradition of anticolonialism.

On May 7, 1954, the French surrendered and an international peace conference divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. Elections to elect a single Vietnamese government were scheduled for 1956. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) balked at the idea of an election, fearing that Ho would be elected overwhelmingly, and South Vietnam canceled its participation in the election. The US afterward began steadily bolstering the democratic South Vietnamese government. The North organized the Viet Cong as a guerilla movement to force the unification of Vietnam. The South responded by brutally repressing dissent, undermining support for the government. Although Ike feared that division after division of American troops could be swallowed up by the jungles of Indochina, he began sending in military advisors by 1960 to help train the South Vietnamese Army to prevent the country from falling to the communists. John F. Kennedy upped the ante by sending in more advisors who began taking a more active role in the fighting. The South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a land of Buddhists, is overthrown by the military in 1963, further destabilizing the situation in Vietnam.

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964) -- President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) continued Kennedy’s policies in Vietnam initially. On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days later, American ships and NVA patrol boats engaged in another skirmish in the Gulf of Tonkin. On August 5, 1964, LBJ asked Congress to pass a resolution giving him all necessary authority to prevent attacks on US positions. Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which led to the escalation of the war in rapid succession. In 1965, LBJ began full-scale bombing of the North and increased American troop strength from 23,000 to 184,000. More soldiers began dying in combat and more soldiers were sent in to combat the communists. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara promised that the escalation of the US presence in Vietnam would lead to the disintegration of communist forces. But, the North was relying on equipment supplied by China and Russia — not on its manufacturing in Hanoi. And every year, thousands of North Vietnamese men turned 18 and began fighting for the North. Johnson began to fear that a full-scale escalation would lead to World War III, while a pullout would cause a backlash at home, cause the whole of Asia to fall to the communists. Johnson was determined not to become the first US president to lose a war. By 1968, more than 536,000 American troops were fighting in Vietnam. And the nation grew increasingly concerned over the direction of the war as the casualties mounted.

Tet Offensive (1968) — In 1968, during the Vietnamese holiday season of Tet, the communists took the war from the countryside to the cities. US officials were convinced that the war would be over soon and were stunned by the ferocity of the Viet Cong attacks. The US pushed the Viet Cong out of the cities with tremendous casualties. The Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the Viet Cong, pushing their military efforts back for years, but the offensive shattered the American public’s faith in the war and began to intensify the push for the return of US troops.

When Richard Nixon (1969-1974) campaigned for the US presidency in 1968, he promised “peace with honor” in Vietnam, but the war lasted four more years. He gradually began a policy of “Vietnamization” in which US troop levels were gradually reduced and responsibility for the war fell more on South Vietnam.

In 1970, Nixon authorized the bombing of Cambodia in an attempt to cut Viet Cong supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The result was that the peaceful kingdom which had been spared the carnage in Vietnam was thrust into turmoil. The reining Prince Norodom Sihanouk was ousted in a military coup. The communist rebel group Khmer Rouge rose up and overthrew the military government in 1975 and began a reign of terror. The Khmer Rouge began an odd social experiment in which they tried to remake Cambodian society by emptying out all the cities and executing anyone with an education or who resisted and put the population onto farming collectives. An estimated 2 million Cambodians were killed before the Vietnamese (the Hanoi government) overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Not until the 1990s did Norodom Sihanouk return to power and the Khmer Rouge finally disintegrated.

In 1971, Nixon began an invasion of Laos. Outcry against the war continued in the US. In 1970 and 1971, more than one million protestors marched throughout the streets of Washington demanding an end to the war in the largest protests in US history. Nixon refused to listen to the protestors, instead fearing that they wanted to overthrow the US government.

Life in the Communist Bloc – Soviet economic growth slowed in the 1950s and 1960s.  Khruschev, hoping to stem corruption within the Soviet government, attempted to curb the privileges of high communist party officials.  As a result, he was ousted from power in 1964 and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, who would rule until his death in 1982.  Despite Soviet military domination of East Europe, many were not happy with the extreme restrictions.  Churches were shut down.  Teachers and writers were arrested.  The secret police regularly spied on individuals and arrested them for no reason and held without trial.  Dissident movements rose throughout the eastern bloc.  In 1956, a massive uprising against communism erupted in Poland.  The Soviet Army moved into Poland and crushed the rebellion.  Marshal Tito, Yugoslav dictator, was an avowed communist, but his maverick tendencies refused to allow him to become a pawn of the Soviet Union.  On Nov. 1, 1956, Imre Nagy, a popular and idealistic communist leader called for free elections in Hungary.  Three days later, the Soviets invaded Hungary.  Nagy was arrested and died in prison.   The US considered responding to these crises, but US President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), was incapacitated by a heart attack.

The Cold War seemed to be cooling in the late 1960s until Prague Spring of 1968. The new chairman of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, Alexander Dubcek, began pushing for greater freedom of the press and of free speech in 1968. The Czechoslovakian people responded enthusiastically, horrifying the Soviets. In August 1968, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, toppling the Dubcek regime in favor of a hard-line communist regime. Fears of war erupted in the US, but soon faded.

Détente -- Nixon, an old Cold Warrior who had built his reputation on fighting communism began to favor a new approach to the Soviets, one of rival powers rather than competing ideologies. His policy of detente sought to improve relations with the Soviets through cooperation (selling grain and some technology to Russia) and improving relations with the Soviets’ chief competitor for supremacy in the communist world, China. By playing China and Russia off of each other, Nixon and his security advisor and eventual secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, concluded the US could gain more leverage with both nations. In 1972, Nixon went to China, meeting with Chinese leaders and lessening the hostility that the nations had shared since 1949.

Also in 1972, Nixon signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) with the Soviet Union, limiting the number of antiballistic missiles the two nations had and freezing the number of offensive ballistic missiles. This represented the first significant step in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons between the superpowers.  The SALT II treaty would be signed in 1979.  By the 1980s, the two nations turned to disarmament with the START treaties, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties. 

The idea of détente would dominate the relations between the Soviets and the United Sates in the late 1960s into the 1970s.  The concept of brinksmanship, favored by both sides in the 1950s, had won very little for either side and almost resulted in a nuclear war.  By the time of the Nixon administration, both sides seemed resigned that the other would not go away any time soon.  Cooperation, at least on a limited basis, seemed far more advantageous, but deep mistrust and differences remained.

End of the Cold War -- The severe economic problems of the Soviet Union forced Gorbachev to cut back on aid to the other Warsaw Pact nations in 1987. The forces of perestroika and glasnost were too little to reform the Soviet system but just enough to allow open criticism of the corrupt, dying system that had repressed East Europe for decades. The nations of eastern Europe were sharing in the economic crisis of the Soviet Union and dissident movements had been stirring in these nations for years.

In 1978, a Polish cleric became pope as John Paul II.  His election sent the spirits of Poles soaring, giving them hope that they could defeat the communists.  The Solidarity movement, led by electrician Lech Walesa, struck with massive protests that overwhelmed the Polish communists.  Fearing a Soviet invasion, the government cracked don on the movement, arresting many leaders.  Pope John Paul II secretly aided Solidarity and anti-communist movements across Europe, helping keep these movements alive.  In 1989, Solidarity arose again.  The Soviets chose not to intervene as they had previously. The government agreed to free elections in June, in which the communists were swept out of power and the Solidarity union thrust into power, ending communism in Poland.  Lech Walesa was elected president.

A new, free regime had come to power in Hungary in September and began allowing free travel to the West. East Germans, long frustrated by their own repressive government, began streaming to Hungary to the open border and then to freedom in the west. And one by one in 1989, the communist regimes fell, almost without a shot. Hungary’s communists fell. In Czechoslovakia, the “Velvet Revolution” erupted with massive strikes and protests which swept away the communists, and brought in a new government dominated by former dissidents, including the new president, playwright Vaclav Havel. In East Germany, protests broke out in November but the communists again were overwhelmed and soon gave in to the demands of protestors. On November 9, the East German government announced the opening of the Berlin Wall, and the people stormed to the wall and families from East and West Berlin were reunited for the first time in years. The people of Berlin danced on top of the wall and around the wall and began tearing it apart with pick axes and bulldozers. The great symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall had collapsed. In 1990, the two Germanies reunited for the first time since 1945. The communist governments also fell in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

But in December 1989, the Rumanian communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was faced with strikes from coal miners in Timisoara. He responded by having his police shoot at them, killing many. The communists realized the gravity of their situation and quickly organized a rally in support of their dictator. At the rally, Ceausescu thanked the organizer of the rally for bringing him the warm show of support, but the thousands who had gathered (long oppressed, overworked, and in desperate poverty), turned on him and began heckling him. Ceausescu and his wife quickly made a hasty escape by having an aid force a helicopter pilot fly them away (at gunpoint) but the pilot soon landed and Ceausescu was captured. He was tried and executed on Christmas Day.

By 1991 the Warsaw Pact had collapsed. Communist hardliners in Russia tried to seize power from Gorbachev on August 18, placing him under house arrest, while they plotted to take over the government. But the newly elected president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, immediately took to the streets and denounced the coup, dramatically reading a speech while standing on a Soviet tank. The people immediately rallied to Yeltsin and prepared o defend their elected government against the soup plotters. Tens of thousands of Muscovites prepared to use themselves against human shields against any attempt by the Red Army to put down Yeltsin. For three anxious days, the world held its breath as the world waited to see if the Red Army would support the coup plotters or Yeltsin. By August 20, the tide against the plotters was rising as Siberian coal miners went on strike in protest of the coup. By August 21, many of the 15 republics making up the Soviet Union had declared their independence, including the Baltic States which had been given to Stalin by Hitler in 1939. The coup plotters realized they had lost and surrendered. Gorbachev was freed and agreed to the formal dismantling of the Soviet Union by the end of 1991, ending European communism and the Cold War.

New Challenges in Europe -- After the Cold War, the divisions between East and West eroded, but many new problems erupted. Germany developed considerable economic problems as it tried to absorb East Germany and its deeply indebted system and disintegrating industrial infrastructure. The ethnic tensions that had been essentially frozen in time by the communist police states in East Europe exploded. In Czechoslovakia, the Czechs and Slovaks, long uncomfortable with the marriage arranged by the Treaty of Versailles separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in January 1993, with the Czech capital at Prague and the Slovakian capital at Bratislava. The Czechs, led by Vaclav Havel made the transition to democracy easily, and along with Poland, joined NATO by the late 1990s. Slovakia, however, remained uncertain how to deal with unrest, and the people began suffering abuses of civil liberties, distancing it from the West.

Yugoslavia shattered. Slobodan Milosevic became head of the Yugoslav Communist Party in 1987. As democratic reforms swept across East Europe in 1989, Milosevic quickly agreed to reforms and changed the name of the Communist Party to the Socialist Party and openly emphasized Serbian nationalism. Dominated by the Serbs in Belgrade, the plural presidency of Yugoslavia collapsed, and the disparate republics decided to secede. In 1991, Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia seceded. The Serbs, however, were unwilling to let them go. The Serbs attacked Croatia. Thousands were slaughtered by marauding bands of Serb nationalists who hoped to carve a “Greater Serbia” from the remains of Yugoslavia. In 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded, and the land became a slaughterhouse as Bosnians and Croats alike were murdered by Serb nationalists as European peacekeepers stood by. By 1995, the three sides agreed to a cease-fire as 250,000 Bosnians lay dead. In 1999, as Albanians attempted to secede from the region of Serbia known as Kosovo, Milosevic attempted to crush the rebellion with the same force he had used in Croatia and Bosnia. NATO intervened, launching a series of air raids on Serbia in 1999. The Air War forced the Serbs to back down and agree to autonomy for Kosovo. Milosevic was eventually ousted from power and sent to The Hague, Netherlands, to stand trial for the atrocities he ordered in the civil wars. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the remaining republics of Serbia and Montenegro formally dissolved Yugoslavia and agreed to coexist in a confederation.

The nations of Western and Central Europe had also formed an economic superpower in Europe, abolishing all tariffs, border restrictions, and even adopting a single currency for most nations of Europe. By 2003, the European Union began attempting to form a political union, uniting most of Europe into a single government, but serious differences on a constitution remained.

The Middle East, 1918-2006

            As the history of the West begins with the civilizations of the Middle East, the West today looks to the ancient and troubled region as the West grapples with a difficult fight for peace and self-determination.  Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the newly emerging states of the region have attempted to confront ethnic disputes, deep economic problems, and intense debates over the direction of their societies and religious institutions.  A brief summary of the major events of the Mideast:

 1918 – World War I ends, Ottoman Empire broken into different states.

1920 – Balfour Declaration calls for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  League of Nations establishes Iraq, Palestine, and Trans-Jordan as British Mandates.  Lebanon and Syria established as French Mandates.

1921 – Britain and Soviet Union end occupation of Iran.  Reza Khan overthrows Iranian government, made Shah in 1925.

1922 – Egypt gains independence from Britain.

1926 – Iraqis rebel against British rule.

1932 – Iraq gains independence.  Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established.

1936 – Oil discovered in Saudi Arabia.

1941 – Lebanon and Syria gain independence.

1946 – Jordan gains independence.

1948-49 – War of Independence: UN partition of Palestine calls for both Arab and Jewish territory.  As Israel is created and British depart, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq invade, with most Palestinians fleeing Israeli territory. By Jan. 1949, Israel had increased its holdings by about one-half, Jordan had annexed the Arab-held West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem, and Egypt held the Gaza Strip.

1949 – Three separate coups in Syria leads to a military government that lasts until parliamentary rule is restored in 1954.

1951 – Libya gains independence.  A monarchy is established.

1953 – CIA-engineered coup overthrows socialist regime of Premier Mossadegh in Iran in favor of dictatorial shah.  Egyptian monarchy overthrown in favor of a republic.

1954 – Col. Gamal Abdal Nasser assumes power in Egypt.

1956 – Suez Canal Crisis: Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal and expels British oil and embassy officials from Egypt.  Israel, barred from the canal and antagonized by continuing guerrilla attacks from Gaza, invaded Gaza and the Sinai peninsula along with Britain and France, who attacked Egypt by air.  A cease-fire is declared one week later.

1958 – Military coup overthrows Iraqi monarchy and proclaims a republic.  Egypt and Syria unite into the United Arab Republic, which lasts until the Syrians rebel and break away in 1961.  Yemen also joins the UAR, but civil wars force its withdrawal in 1967.  US forces intervene to suppress an attempted coup in Lebanon. 

1963 – Ba’ath Party elements in the Syrian military assume control of government.  Ba’ath Party insurgents in the Iraqi military seize control of the government.

1964 – Palestine Liberation Organization founded, dedicated to destroying Israel and creating an independent Palestine.  Yasser Arafat becomes chairman in 1968.  PLO sponsors numerous terrorist attacks on Israel over the next four decades.

1967 – Six Day War: In a pre-emptive move, Israel attacks Syria and Egypt.  Jordan attacks Israel in response.  In six days, Israel seizes the Golan Heights of Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

1969 – Moammar Khadaffi overthrows Libyan monarchy.

1970 – Nasser dies; Anwar Sadat becomes Egyptian president.

1973 – Yom Kippur War: Egypt and Syria attack Israel on the Jewish holy day.  The war ends with a UN cease-fire 17 days later as Israeli forces approach Damascus and recovers from Egyptian attacks near the Suez Canal..  Afghan king is overthrown in a coup.

1975-88 – Outbreak of civil war in Lebanon between Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims.  Multinational forces in 1978 and 1982-1984 fail to maintain peace in Lebanon.  By 1991, Lebanon effectively controlled by Syria.

1975 -- Iraqi Kurd revolt fails.

1978 – Camp David Accords, sponsored by US President Jimmy Carter secures peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.  Shah of Iran, besieged by protests flees the country and a radical fundamentalist government, led by the dissident and formerly exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, seizes control.

1979 – Saddam Hussein assumes full power in Iraq.  56 American hostages seized in Iran by radical students.  Soviets invade Afghanistan to prop up a communist government.

1980-88 – Iran-Iraq War – One million killed on both sides.

1981 – American hostages released.  Egyptian president Anwar Sadat assassinated by his own troops.   Israel destroys Iraqi nuclear reactor in daring raid.

1982 -- Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad massacres 20,000 Muslim fundamentalists.  Israel invades and occupies southern Lebanon to thwart Palestinian terrorists from staging attacks on Israel and western interests from the area.

1983 – 200 US Marines killed in terrorist attack at US Embassy compound in Beirut.

1986 -- US bombs Libyan targets in response to terrorist attacks in Europe.

1988 -- Iraqi Kurd rebellion suppressed by gas warfare.  Thousands killed.

1989 – Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan after failing to protect communist government.  A series of civil wars continues to destabilize Afghanistan as Taliban fundamentalists gain control of capital at Kabul in 1996. 

1990-1 – First Persian Gulf War.  Iraq invades Kuwait over oil right dispute, United Nations demands that Iraq withdraw.  Iraq refuses and Allied forces overpower and repel the Iraqis, with an estimated 30,000 dead.  Iraqis piece together remnants of army to crush rebellions from Shiites and Kurds.

1992 – Iraqi Kurds establish an “autonomous region” in the country’s north, protected by UN “no-fly” zones against Saddam’s incursion in the northern and southern areas of Iraq.

1993 – Oslo Accords: A peace agreement between Israel and the PLO allows Palestine to gain a degree of autonomy.  Al-Qaeda formed by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.

The Arab states used the vast oil monies they received to try to modernize health care, transportation, and education systems. Leaning toward the models of West European social welfare states, the governments tried to guarantee employment and education while restricting freedoms and tightening their control over their people. But they were unresponsive to the needs of changing economies and restive populations. As their economic growth stagnated, the population became increasingly frustrated. Islamic extremists began capitalizing on this frustration by the 1970s and 1980s by offering their own scapegoats -- Western cultural influences. By the 1980s and 1990s, many of these states, particularly Saudi Arabia, had resorted to subsidizing radical Islamic clerics and quietly encouraging rabid criticisms of the United States and Israel to deflect any criticisms of the corruption and abuses of civil liberties within their own countries -- to use external sources as a means of venting frustrations and hiding the real problems within their homelands. In some cases, these payments helped finance terrorist groups.

1994 – Israel and Jordan conclude peace treaty.

1995 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by radical Israeli upset by peace prospects with the Palestinians.

1996 – US military barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia bombed by Al-Qaeda.

2000 – American ship USS Cole bombed by Al-Qaeda terrorists, killing dozens of Americans.

2001-2 – Afghan War: After suffering a horrifying terrorist attack that kills three thousand Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, US attacks fundamentalist Taliban government that sponsored Al-Qaeda terrorists, sweeping it out of power and pursued Al-Qaeda operatives in the region.

2003 – Second Persian Gulf War or Iraq War: American President George W. Bush convinces many Americans that Iraq posed an imminent threat to American safety through alleged terrorist connections and weapons of mass destruction development.  The United States invades and barrels through the Iraqi army, overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein, with an estimated 13,000 Iraqi troops dead.  Seven months later, Saddam is captured, but American forces continued to face resistance from remnants of Saddam’s forces, terrorists, and Islamic radicals.  Violence between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims expands into civil war in the coming years.  It is later revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction program and the government had no contact with terrorist organizations.

2004 – A new Afghan government is organized as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

2006 -- Enraged at continuing attacks from Hamas militants in Palestine and Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, Israel launches a brief invasion of both areas to stop the attacks.  While the militants stay intact, the attacks subside.  In Iraq, the civil war continues as one estimate puts the Iraqi death toll from murders, bombings, and disease at 500,000.  US death toll passes 3,000.  Saddam Hussein found guilty of crimes against humanity and hanged in December.


Tsunami – In December 2004, a massive earthquake in the eastern Indian Ocean caused a massive tsunami.  The wave crept silently into Indonesia and Malaysia, spreading out across the sea westward to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Africa.  Everything in its path was destroyed.  Approximately 230,000 people were killed in the disaster.  The tsunami horrified the world and aid rushed to the disaster sites.  The nations of the Indian Ocean began considering a warning system in the future to prevent another such catastrophe.  Even as the twenty-first century dawns, we are continually reminded of the beginnings of humanity when man was trying to stay a step ahead of total disaster.  Even though technology may afford humanity a few creature comforts, Man is still at the mercy of the forces of nature. 

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