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A Time of Change 1948-1962

de gaulle

All times are, more or less, times of change, but the changes that took place in the 1950’s and 1960’s were extraordinary. This was particularly true in the part of the world dominated by the Soviet Union. During Stalin’s rule, the satellite countries — East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania — were like provinces of Russia. The one exception in Eastern Europe was Yugoslavia. In 1948, the Yugoslav government, headed by Josef Tito, refused to follow Stalin’s orders and insisted on maintaining its independence. This was possible for two reasons. There was no Russian army in Yugoslavia, as there was in other countries and Yugoslavia did not border on the Soviet Union. Tito’s defiance enraged Stalin, who boasted, “I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito. He will fail.” Stalin was certain Tito would fail because Yugoslavia carried on almost all of its trade with Eastern Europe and lacked the resources to be self-sufficient. Stalin had not reckoned with the United States. Realizing that it would be wise to support Tito in his struggle with Stalin, the United States gave military and economic aid to Yugoslavia. The little country prospered and gained complete independence from Russia. Stalin and not Tito, had failed. For five years the people of Eastern Europe were quiet. Then in June of 1953, three months after Stalin had died, the workers of East Germany rose up against the government of Walter Ulbricht, who had been hand-picked by Stalin. The Communist government might have been overthrown if the Russian army had not been called in. The troops crushed the revolt and Ulbricht remained in power — but the uprising was a warning of what was to come. Three years later, after Khrushchev’s famous “de-Stalinization” speech, Eastern Europeans asked themselves …

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War in Korea 1945-1953


Although the cold war was the most important fact in the politics of the post-war world, few persons could have foreseen that it would lead to fighting in the small, remote country of Korea. Yet, as small and remote as it was, Korea had a strategic location. It was near three large powers — Russia, China and Japan — and the Japanese said it “points like a dagger at the heart of our country.” The Japanese won control of Korea in the Russo-Japanese War and by 1905 they ruled it as part of their empire. During World War II, the Allies promised that “in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” When Japan surrendered, they agreed that Russian troops would occupy Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel and American troops would occupy Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. A provisional government would then be set up and after a period of no longer than five years, Korea would govern itself as an independent nation. The occupation of Korea was carried out as it had been planned, but the United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on a provisional government. Each set up a provisional government friendly to itself and in 1947 the United States brought the dispute before the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly decided to hold elections in Korea, but the Soviet Union refused to allow United Nations representatives to enter its occupation zone. Elections were held outside the Russian zone and in 1948 the Korean Republic was established in South Korea. The city of Seoul was made the capital and Syngman Rhee was elected president. Thirty-two nations, including the United States, recognized the new government; the Russians and “their supporters did not. Instead, the Soviet Union helped to set up a new and separate …

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A World at War 1939 – 1941

world war 2

Now the people of Europe began to hear a new sound, a sound that would haunt them throughout the years of war — the wail and shriek of air-raid sirens. At night, the lights of Europe went out and the “blackout” made familiar streets strange places of darkness. Street lamps were left unlit and windows were covered with heavy draperies. Any stray gleam of light might help guide enemy bombers to their targets. Hurrying about their wartime duties, the people of Britain and France began to wonder. They had not wanted war and yet war had come. Why? What had happened? It seemed mysterious and impossible to understand, but as they thought about it, certain things became clear. Some of the problems that led to World War II were left-overs from World War I. Germany and Italy had remained “have-not” nations. They needed more territory for raw materials and more markets for their goods. The Germans felt that the Versailles Treaty was humiliating, unjust and the Allies had done nothing to change it. The League of Nations, especially without the participation of the United States, had been weak and had not carried out its promise of real disarmament. The United States had not wanted to get involved in Europe’s problems and had followed a policy of “isolation.” These were some of the causes of the war; there were others as well. France had suffered greatly in World War I and was afraid of being drawn into another conflict. Her generals had hesitated to send troops against Hitler at a time when it was still possible to stop him and then there was the distrust of the Soviet Union and Communism. Many French and British statesmen, such as Chamberlain, had believed that Fascism would protect Europe against Communism. Unlike Churchill, they …

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Totalitarianism Versus Democracy


AS THE 1930’s drew to a close, only eight countries in Europe, besides Great Britain and France, were still democracies. They were Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Three of Europe’s most important nations were dictatorships. The Soviet Union was communist; Germany and Italy were fascist. There had been dictatorships before, but these went further; they were totalitarian. The word “totalitarian” comes from the word “total,” and total control is what these dictatorships were after — total control of their people, total control of their actions and thought. There were differences between the totalitarian countries. While Stalin exterminated his opponents as ruthlessly as the fascists, he sought to spread his power less by war than by internal revolt. Nor did the Soviets openly preach racial war and genocide. In Germany, however, the Nazis loudly boasted that the Germans were the master race, destined to conquer all other, inferior, peoples. “Today Germany,” they said, “tomorrow the world.” Furthermore, the fascists claimed to be the only ones who could stop Communism and the communists considered the fascists their worst enemies. As a result, the communists in some countries found themselves lined up with the defenders of democracy against fascism. In France they were part of the Popular Front. In the United States they supported Roosevelt and the New Deal. In Spain they fought against Franco side by side with men who believed in democracy, although the communists later betrayed the Spanish democrats. Three ideologies competed for control of the world and as events turned out, one totalitarian nation — the Soviet Union — would finally be forced to stand with the democracies against the totalitarians of Germany, Italy and Japan in the most terrible war in the history of the world.

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The 1905 Revolution


SOME DAY there would be no tsars, but there was little sign of that during the last years of the nineteenth century. Alexander III still held Russia in a firm grip. When he died in 1894, his son Nicholas II came to the throne. Nicholas was twenty-six years old. He was a handsome young man and a few months after his father’s death he was married to a German princess. They were in love and it looked as though Nicholas would be a popular ruler. His reign began badly. In 1896, a great crowd gathered on a field in Moscow to celebrate his coronation as tsar. It was the custom to hand out little presents, such as handkerchiefs and cups, at these celebrations. Afraid that there might not be enough for everyone, the crowd surged forward. When mounted police tried to hold back the crowd, men, women and children were pushed into ditches and two thousand persons were killed. To make it even worse, that same night the tsar and the tsarina, his wife, danced at a ball held at the French embassy. People grumbled that the tsarina was a foreigner who had no feeling for Russians and the tsar was not much better. Nor did the people like the tsar’s reply to a message of congratulation from the officials of a town near Moscow. The officials said that they hoped “the rights of individuals and public institutions will be firmly safeguarded.” Nicholas answered that he would support the principle of absolute rule just as firmly “as it was preserved by my unforgettable great father.” It was plain that under Nicholas the Russians could expect no greater freedom than they had had under Alexander III. There would be no civil liberties, no better treatment of the peasants and of minority …

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The Storm Breaks 1914


JUNE 28, 1914, was the Feast of Saint Vitus, an important holiday in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. The city was decorated with flags displaying the two-headed eagle of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a blazing sun shone down on the throngs of people in the streets. A small procession of four automobiles moved slowly along, making its way toward the city hall. In the second car, wearing a military helmet covered with green feathers, sat the old emperor’s heir Archduke Francis Ferdinand. He was Paying a state visit to this province of the empire he would one day inherit. Beside him, shielding herself from the hot sun with a parasol, sat his wife, the Countess Sophie. Near the Cumuria Bridge, a bomb came hurtling through the air. It missed the archduke and his wife, but exploded in the street, and flying splinters injured some of the archduke’s party and a number of bystanders. The procession went on to the city hall, where the archduke shouted at the mayor: “One comes here for a visit and is received with bombs. Mr. Mayor, what do you say? It’s outrageous. All right, now you may speak.” The mayor, who had been in the first car of the procession and had not seen the bombing, read his speech of welcome. The archduke made a little speech in reply. Then, in spite of the danger of another bombing, he decided to go to the hospital and see the injured persons. Again the four cars set out, but at an intersection the first two made a wrong turn. As the cars stopped to turn around, a young man on the street raised a pistol and fired two shots one at the archduke and the other at his wife. At first it seemed as if the bullets …

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Storm Clouds over Europe 1882-1907


AS THE year 1899 drew to a close, Europeans and Americans began to wonder when, exactly, the nineteenth century would end and the twentieth century begin. Most people thought that this would take place at midnight of December 31, 1899, but historians disagreed. They pointed out that the first hundred years after the birth of Christ had ended with the final seconds of the year 100. Therefore, they said, the twentieth century would not begin until January 1, 1901. As they toasted the new century that New Year’s Day most people in Europe and America were satisfied and hopeful. Life was better for them than it had been for their fathers and grandfathers, they were certain that it would be better still for their sons and grandsons. They believed in human progress and looking back over the century just past, they could find good reasons for this belief. There had been no widespread fighting in Europe since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The last war between European powers, the Franco-Prussian War, had taken place in 1870. Since then, thirty years of peace had brought tremendous benefits to the advanced countries of Europe. The growth of industry and trade had steadily enriched these countries and raised their living standards. With the spread of education, millions of people had learned to read and write. Democratic ideas were advancing everywhere; by now, most European countries had law-making assemblies with elected members and more people had the right to vote than ever before. As the powers had acquired territories on other continents, European ideas, beliefs and methods had come to dominate the entire world. Europeans were proud of their civilization and confident of the future. True, they had problems at home and abroad, but they were sure that their parliaments and …

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The Race for Empire 1870-1914


While the peoples of the West were concerned with the problems that grew out of industrialization, their governments were taking part in one of the greatest land grabs in history. By the end of the nineteenth century they had brought within their grasp most of the earth’s land surface and half its inhabitants. This development created new empires and enlarged old ones, it was called imperialism. Imperialism came about in many ways, from armed invasions to polite talks that led native rulers to place their countries under the protection of an imperialist power. It took many forms, from colonies which one power ruled outright, to “spheres of influence,” in which one power enjoyed rights, particularly trading rights, denied to other powers. So, it arose from many causes — economic, political and cultural. Empire-building was not new; it was as old as civilization. In ancient times, the Romans had built a vast empire that ruled peoples in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the fifteenth century, European nations had colonized the Americas and conquered the Indians. Elsewhere they had not challenged native rulers, being content to set up trading posts, where they bought native wares for resale at home. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, most of British North America became independent, as did the United States. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, almost all of Latin America won its freedom from Spain and Portugal. During the next half-century, while industry went through its first slow stage of growth, goods circulated freely throughout the world and governments cared little about building up their empires. The French, to be sure, occupied Algeria, the British strengthened their hold on India, the Dutch developed the East Indies and the western powers, including the United States, opened Japan to trade and started …

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Democracy Spreads 1867-1905

DEMOCRACY IN the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland followed the pattern of the three large democracies. Everywhere during this period there was a trend toward constitutional government, elected law-making bodies, cabinet ministers with responsibility to the people, liberty, personal rights and voting rights for all men in the lower classes. In Canada, the most difficult problem was nationalism. At the time of the Civil War in the United States, Canada consisted of a number of British provinces, most of which were independent of each other. The oldest of these was the province of Quebec in the Saint Lawrence valley. As it was originally a French colony‚ its people still spoke French, obeyed laws similar to those of France and worshipped in the Catholic Church. Although they had lived under the British flag for many years, they were afraid that the great flood of immigrants from England would destroy their way of life and felt that as Frenchmen they should form a nation of their own. At the same time, British subjects in other parts of Canada felt that all the provinces should join together in one large nation. The problem was finally solved by uniting all the provinces in one nation, but allowing each province to retain control of local affairs. The Canadians wrote a constitution for the new nation, which was approved by the British Parliament in 1867 when it passed the British North America Act. The constitution provided that the Dominion of Canada should have a parliament with a cabinet responsible to the political party in power. At that time, the Dominion consisted of four provinces — Quebec‚ Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Manitoba became a province in 1870 and British Columbia in 1871. The Canadian Pacific Railroad was built to connect these western provinces with …

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The Terror 1793 – 1795


The execution of the king stunned the rulers of Europe. They were stunned as well by the French military victories in Belgium and along the Rhine River. Furthermore, the French government was offering to come to the aid of any people willing to fight for their liberty. The revolution threatened to spill over into other countries, becoming a crusade of peoples against kings and nobility. If successful, it could destroy every kingdom in Europe. England and most of the European powers, therefore, joined together in 1793 to crash the revolution and to place another king on the throne of France. The French attempted to raise a large army to defend the country, but rebellion broke out in a region called the Vendée to the west of Paris. The Catholic peasants of the Vendée turned against the government because it had closed monasteries, taken control of the Church, sold much of the Church property and put to death, imprisoned, or otherwise mistreated many of its priests. The civil war in the Vendée and a number of military defeats at the borders of the country were enough to frighten the French people. There was a serious food shortage again. Unemployment was rising. Prices were going up. Food riots broke out in many large cities, including Paris. The government was too weak to cope with such emergencies. To provide stronger leadership, a committee of Public Safety was set up to guide the ministers and to serve as the head of the government. Danton was the first Jacobin leader to dominate this committee. The political group then in power, the Girondins, was blamed for all the ills of the nation. Radical Jacobins demanded the arrest of Girondin leaders. The demand was made again and again without results. The radicals finally stirred up a revolt …

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