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1900s – The last of the 'Gilded Age'
The ‘Gilded Age’: an unprecedented age of glamor and splendor – not only for the West's monarchs and aristocrats but also for its industrial-urban upper-middle class.
But European peasants are feeling the pinch of population growth and land shortage – relieved only in part by moving to America, where, with the last of the Indian lands on the ‘frontier’ being settled, cheap land is now also in short supply; there they are forced to work in grim iron and coal mines, steel plants, slaughter houses, etc. – or find homes in crowded urban slums.
The hardships of the working class stir the sympathies of progressivists, socialists and communists.
Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Taft go ‘trust-busting’ to break up the big business monopolies that are taking advantage of the surplus of laborers by keeping workers wages at poverty levels.
Class war in the Western world is avoided by focusing national hopes and dreams outward, to the challenge of national imperialism abroad, to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even Latin America
The West is proud of its world empires – though Germany's Wilhelm is hungry for more
1910s – The ‘Great War’ (World War One)
A tragedy in Serbia sets off a chain of reactions as Austria attacks Serbia, pulling in Russia against Austria, which pulls in Germany against Russia, which pulls in France against Germany, which attacks France through Belgium, which pulls in England – starting World War One (Aug. 1914)
But the war on the Western Front stalemates in northern France just north of Paris and in Western Belgium, forcing enemies to dig into unmovable positions – which are shelled and bombed mercilessly resulting in a massive loss of life; the misery endures, year after year.
On the Eastern Front the battle is more mobile, with battle lines moving back and forth – but also with a massive loss of life. Russia suffers the most, putting most of her farmers and laborers on the front lines, resulting in a lack of food, clothing and military supplies.
Intense war weariness collapses the Russian Tsarist government ('February' 1917), which is replaced by Kerensky's Constitutional Democracy, which nonetheless continues in the war, bringing about a second ('October') revolution which brings Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power and plunges Russia into a long and bloody civil war (1917-1921) which the Bolsheviks win
Seeing Russia with a new ‘democratic’ government, US President Wilson is ready to bring America into the War (April 1917) in order to make the ‘Great War’ a ‘Crusade for Democracy.’
The Germans attempt a last massive push for Paris before the Americans can arrive in great numbers – but fail to reach their objective and find themselves exhausted. When large numbers of American troops arrive in the spring of 1918 the Germans fall back in retreat.
Wilson gets an ‘armistice’ (truce), ending the Great War (November 1918) – with no true winners, only vengeful and exhausted losers (though the British + French believe themselves somehow to be the ‘winners’).
Wilson attempts to negotiate a fair end to the slaughter with an Armistice – but fails to connect American power with American diplomacy – and the English and French take the opportunity to pounce upon the exhausted Germans to wreak an expensive revenge (which merely sets the scene for a return engagement 20 years later in the form of World War II)
1920s – The ‘Roaring Twenties’
This getting on with life translates itself in the rural areas of Europe and America into a deep desire of rural Westerners to return to the past – especially as economic hard times set in after the War
In the cities it takes the form of a deep desire to get on toward a better future – a future promising vast new wealth (radios, cars, appliances), more leisure, more excitement and very much more personal freedom – and a kind of mindless regard for life summed up as ‘Existentialism’
In America the rural-urban cultural
divide is deepened by a cultural war over:
In Europe the conflict is wrapped
up in a rural fascination with a religious-cultural traditionalism
In Asia the War and Wilson's Idealism stir post-war fires of anti-colonial nationalism. In China a modernizing nationalist movement takes shape in the early 1920s around the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party. In India, the former British lawyer Gandhi assumes the character of an Indian mystic and organizes a nationalist campaign urging Indians not to cooperate with British authorities, thereby forcing the British to ‘Quit India.’ Japan, already well down the nationalist and modernization road, tends to identify itself as ‘Western’ and moves to adapt itself more closely to the Western (democratic) political and social model.
A spirit of pacifism leads to a number of naval conferences (notably Washington: 1921-22 and London 1930) cutting back on the size of the British, American, Japanese, French and Italian navies (the Germans had already had their war-making powers greatly reduced) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 in which some 65 nations agree to outlaw war as a means of conducting foreign policy!
In Russia by the late 1920s Stalin holds total control over the Communist Party – and over the whole of Russian society – through a regime of terror – born of his own personal paranoia and his desire to push the country to rapid industrialization (at the expense of the impoverished countryside – and anyone else who would dare oppose him)
Wildly speculative investments, farm failures, and saturation of consumer market suddenly collapse the stock market and bring down the foundations of Western capitalism
1930s – Depression and Fascist dictatorship
The entire West is collapsed into a state of deep poverty and joblessness (the Great Depression) – stirring a rural reaction of “I told you so” – but stiffening the character of America nonetheless
Hitler exploits the Depression and this spirit of traditionalism to bring his Nazis to power in Germany in 1933 and from there maneuvers himself into a position of total control over German society
In Russia, millions of people (mostly farmers) die of starvation delivering all their food to Stalin's new industrial society, in accordance with his ‘Five-Year Plan’ of industrial development
A bloody cultural war which erupts in Spain (second half of the 1930s) becomes a proxy war for others: Germany and Italy supporting Franco's traditionalist Fascism (winners); England, France, and Russia supporting Republicanism (losers)
In the north of China the Japanese are becoming increasingly aggressive against the Chinese. In July of 1937 the Japanese invade south into China, quickly occupying most of coastal China in the process. They destroy the huge commercial center of Shanghai and brutalize the population of the Nationalist capital Nanking (Nanjing). The world does little in response to this outrage.
In March of 1938 Hitler's Nazis successfully pull Austria into his expanded 3rd or Nazi Reich (Empire) – again with no international opposition. In September (1938) English Prime Minister Chamberlain agrees to let Germany seize the German-speaking borderlands (Sudetenland) of Czechoslovakia – on Hitler's promise that this was all of Czechoslovakia that he wants. But in March of 1939 his Nazis overrun the rest of Czechoslovakia – and Chamberlain, sensing that Poland is next, threatens Germany with war if Hitler grabs Poland.
But in August Hitler signs a secret pact with Russia's Stalin (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty), the two agreeing to split up Poland between them (Stalin hoping thereby to redirect Hitler's ambitions westward toward France). When at the end of August Hitler moves into Poland to take his share of the split, England declares war on Germany [Russia's hand in the aggression is at first not understood – then overlooked ]. Russia also overruns the Baltic states and attacks Finland – bringing condemnation but no action from the West. Mussolini, not to be left out of the fun, invades little Albania. World War Two has begun in Europe. America passes the Neutrality Act (November), staying out of the war.
1940s – World War Two and the onset of the Cold War
After a winter of no action by England and France – Germany attacks (spring 1940) and quickly defeats Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium – and France! Mussolini declares war on France just as France is about to fall. Ultimately France is divided in two: the northern 2/3s of the country coming under direct German control; the southern 1/3, under the presidency of P?tain, being allowed to exist as ‘Vichy France.’
Hitler's attempt to defeat England (Battle of Britain - summer 1940) fails in the air.
Hitler decides to suddenly invade Russia (June of 1941), advancing quickly 400 miles into Russia. But then the Russians are able to slow down the German advance just outside Moscow and Leningrad as the winter sets in.
With Gen. Tojo as the new Japanese premier, the Japanese decide to destroy the US Pacific naval fleet at Pearl Harbor (December) in the hopes of breaking America's will to oppose Japan in China. America declares war on Japan – and Hitler replies by declaring war on America as part of Germany's treaty of alliance with Japan.
The next year (1942) the Germans head toward Stalingrad in southern Russia but are stopped there. With another bad winter and the loss of a whole German army, Germany begins to retreat.
In 1943 the British and Americans drive the Germans from North Africa and then invade Mussolini's Italy from the south; the Germans take over the opposition to the British and Americans in Italy
In 1944 Americans and British open up a Western front in France against the Germans
Slowly America and England (and members of the English Empire or Commonwealth) in the West and Russia in the East squeeze Hitler into retreat – and America and England push Japan back in Asia and the Pacific
In 1945 both Germany (May) and Japan (August) are brought to complete defeat
This thoroughly nasty war leaves only America and Russia remaining in some kind of strength; they now face each other in deep distrust – producing a ‘Cold War’ between them
Russia takes control of Eastern Europe, placing Stalinists in command in every country behind the ‘Iron Curtain’
America shores up the Western democracies against Russian-directed Communism with the Truman Doctrine (1946), promising American military assistance for governments fighting (Communist) insurgents; the Marshall Plan (1948), offering economic assistance to war-torn countries in (Western) Europe; the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949) bringing food and supplies into Berlin when the Soviets tried to squeeze the West out of its position in the Western part of the city; and NATO (1949), a military alliance (with America, France, England, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada) formed against (Russian-Soviet) aggression
Meanwhile a Labourite English government begins to abandon England's global positions: India is given independence – setting off a murderous round of Hindu-Muslim ethnic cleansing; England abandons Palestine – also setting off a long and bloody (and continuous) Jewish-Arab hostility as Israel establishes itself on formerly Palestinian land (1948)
America pressures its Dutch ally to get rid of its ‘imperialist’ holdings in Asia (Indonesia - 1949)
To America's great shock Mao's Communists take control in China (1949)
In 1949 the Soviets explode their own atomic bomb – and Americans suspect that even Americans in high places might have helped the Soviets in this development. A ‘Red Scare’ develops – aimed particularly at ‘fancy’ intellectuals suspected as having once been caught up in Communist idealism (largely during the Great Depression)
1950s – Raging Cold War Idealism
The Soviet-American Cold-War deepens as Communist North Korea invades ‘democratic’ South Korea (1950) – and Truman responds with American military assistance to South Korea – which in turn draws the Chinese in on the side of North Korea (resulting in a bloody stalemate); cease-fire or Armistice brings the war to a halt in 1953
Both the Soviets and Americans now possess the H-bomb (and China the A-bomb)
American fears of global Communist ambitions (early-mid 1950s) are turned by Senator Joe McCarthy into a witch hunt of virtually every American institution – including even the US Army; he largely succeeds only in totally alienating American intellectuals from middle class culture, helping create a huge cultural divide that still haunts America to this day.
The Soviets crush uprisings in Germany
(1953) and Hungary (1956) – while America does nothing;
In an economic-cultural showdown with 'Godless Russian Communism,' America smugly showcases the material blessings of 'Christian-Capitalist-Democracy' (and adds ‘under God’ to the pledge)
American parents prepare their ‘Boomer’
children to resist all potential appeals of authoritarian Communism by
teaching them to challenge all authority and listen only to their own ‘inner
voices’; unknowingly, they have created a monster.
In 1957 the Soviets launch into orbit the first satellite (Sputnik I) – indicating that the Soviets possess the means to deliver virtually unstoppable nuclear weapons; the West is frightened by an apparently growing ‘missile gap’
In 1958 China undertakes a ‘Great
Leap Forward’ dreamed up by Communist leader Mao Zedong.
America pressures its Belgian ally
to get rid of its ‘imperialist’ holdings in Africa (Congo - 1959)
In Cuba a young revolutionary, Castro, takes over the country (1959) – and then seizes American industrial property in Cuba – declaring a socialist program for the country; Soviet premier Khrushchev rushes to befriend Castro – driving a deep wedge between Cuba and America.
1960s – The Idealistic and simplistic
Cold War world
A youthful Senator Kennedy beats out former Vice President Nixon for the presidency – and inspires a political-cultural idealism in America as a new approach to the Cold War; American youth join the Peace Corps in an attempt to bring the ‘Third World’ (Africa, Asia and Latin America) to American-style democracy
But his idealism is tested at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba (April 1961) and at the new Berlin wall (July 1961) – where Kennedy backs down; this prompts Khrushchev to test Kennedy's will over Soviet missile sites built in Cuba (October 1962) – although this time Kennedy did not back down
Race relations in the South are a constant embarrassment for America in the Cold War; Kennedy and Rev. Dr. ML King work together to stir a new commitment to racial civil rights in America
For reasons never clear to America, Kennedy is assassinated in November 1963 – bringing Johnson to the presidency (the glamor of the Kennedy ‘Camelot’ is thus over)
In 1963 Betty Friedan joins the chorus of intellectual attacks on American middle class culture with her book The Feminine Mystique, which depicts the American housewife as caught in a terrible mental trap that only dumbs down women.
French President de Gaulle attempts to rebuild bruised French national pride around a strong anti-Americanism. He kicks NATO headquarters out of France (1964). He tries but fails to get Germany to join him in his anti-Americanism.
In Southeast Asia Communism seems to be advancing – especially in Vietnam. Johnson (1965) announces a full-scale military intervention in Vietnam to save the country from Communism.
At the same time, Johnson develops the idea of a ‘Great Society’ developed and managed by a huge D.C. bureaucracy as a way of waging a ‘war’ on racism, poverty, illiteracy, etc. in America – and also giving America a better Cold War image
But the war in Vietnam drags on inconclusively – as more American youth are put in uniform to fight a confusing battle where peasant friends and enemies are indistinguishable (Also: American troop levels there eventually exceed 500,000)
And the Civil Rights movement turns nasty - with young Black militants become more – not less – radicalized by new advances in Black civil rights; the summertime burning of inner cities becomes a regular occurrence as the militants call out: ‘Burn, baby, burn’; also the inner-city crime rate skyrockets
In China, Mao, with his ‘Cultural Revolution,’ encourages the Chinese youth to attack the older generation of Chinese – including even local Communist party officials – for lacking revolutionary spirit. China is thrown into convulsion – and the Red Army is finally called in to restore order.
1968 is a major turning point in America:
During the ‘Tet’ holiday early in the year the Viet Cong enemy stage a major uprising all through Vietnam, making a seeming mockery of the US military's claim that America was gradually winning in VietnamMeanwhile In Europe (also 1968) a similar rebellion of European (particularly French and German) youth against their ‘Establishments’ breaks out. In Czechoslovakia (1968) a serious anti-Soviet uprising is crushed by Russian tanks
The decade ends with hippie youth celebrating their freedom at the Woodstock Music Festival (1969)
That same year (1969) a bit of American patriotic pride is nonetheless stirred with the American moon landing
The French tire of De Gaulle and fail to back him in a plebiscite (1969); he sulks off into retirement. France lives on!
1970s – A new political Realism
is challenged by
Surprisingly the old anti-Communist Nixon backs America away from its Cold War stance (D?tente or a ‘backing down’): 1) opening commercial relations with China and 2) working out nuclear arms limitations agreements (SALT) with the Soviets and 3) beginning to pull American troops out of Vietnam
But this fails to satisfy the hostility of the Boomers and their Liberal tutors – who still see middle class ‘Establishment’ enemies everywhere – especially in the ‘imperialist’ White House
Another Establishment symbol, Christianity, comes under attack – and with the help of a Liberal US Supreme Court is chased from its traditional position as the foundation of American culture (‘Secularism’ is instead moves into that position)
All in the Family, a TV series that is highly popular throughout the 1970s makes a sad joke of the ‘typical’ middle class American family, especially of the father, Archie Bunker, who supposedly epitomizes all the bad traits of the White Anglo male; while America laughs, the traditional American family is demoralized. The divorce rate in America skyrockets to new heights as individual personal or professional ambitions among young Americans become more important than family.
In 1974 Nixon is ‘uncovered’ as a ‘conspiring, power-hungry, evil genius’ (the Watergate scandal), offering Boomers, leftist journalists and a very liberal (Democratic Party controlled) Congress the opportunity to hound Nixon from the ‘Imperialist’ White House. Ford replaces Nixon as President.
This leaves the Ford White House powerless – and Congress (led by the remaining Kennedy brother, Ted) on a quest for a ‘new democracy’ directed not from the White House but from Congress itself
A ‘power-is-evil’ mentality in Congress abruptly ends all financial support of the South Vietnam Government – which panics and quickly falls to the North Vietnamese Communists (1975)
Sadly, Communist victory in Vietnam
inspires a horrible Communist ‘Killing Field’ next door in Cambodia (1975-1978)
This undermines the troubled regime of America's major ally in the Muslim world, the Shah of Iran, and brings to power in Iran a bitterly anti-US Shi’ite theocracy – which in turn seeks to topple other secular, proto-Western Middle Eastern governments
The 1970s also reveal the great vulnerability of America to a shut-off of its Middle East oil supply – twice in the decade: in 1973-74 with another Arab-Israeli war, and in 1979 with the fall of the Shah and the disruption of the Iranian oil supply.
The second oil price hike creates a massive inflation which Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker only adds to with huge interest rate increases – plunging the American economy into a deep three-year recession – and Carter into deeper disrepute.
1980s – The 'Regan Era' marks a decade of a return to more traditional values
Former actor and 2-term California governor Reagan (of the old ‘Vet’ generation) crushes Carter in the 1980 election.
Reagan pursues American foreign relations negotiating from strength (not ‘moral purity’) - challenging Russia in a new arms race in outer space (‘Star Wars’) – which infuriates Liberals.
Russia tries to keep up – but begins to break down from its own built-in economic inefficiency. Gorbachev tries to reform the Russian Communist system with glasnost (personal freedom) and perestroika (new economic and social programming) – but merely exposes all its weaknesses.
In England Conservative Party Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher breaks the trades unions power to cripple the economy – and masterminds the military defeat of the Argentineans in their grab of British islands (the Falklands) in the South Atlantic (1982), making her the ‘Iron Lady.’ The British economy and spirit finally soar. She a Reagan become close friends.
Meanwhile America initiates a veritable revolution in communications technology based especially on the personal computer.
A new minority ‘victim’ group is found for Liberals to champion: homosexuals dying from AIDS. How exactly they are ‘victims’ is not clear since their disease is entirely self-inflicted; but sympathy for AIDS ‘victims’ gives Liberals a new way to vent against (straight) White Anglo male domination of American culture. Feminists join the homosexuals in the anti-male campaign.
With the Boomers moving up into positions of social influence, the cultural revolution spreads along a number of fronts – united by a clear vision of ‘ the enemy: the Anglo, Christian, straight, White male who has so long directed American life
Traditional (Christian) America fights back, with the issues of abortion, prayer in public life, and a free choice in schooling (vouchers) being the major points of contention
For a while it looks as if Liberals have found their opportunity to chase another Conservative president from the White House with the ‘Iran-Contra Affair.’ Congress had passed laws shackling the president in the conduct of foreign relations – which Reagan ignores. The exposure of his secret dealings looks as if Liberals now have their cause – except that the American people make it very clear to Congress that they do not want a repeat of Watergate. They like their president.
In 1988 Vice President Bush is elected President – and the Reagan policies continue much as before.
Toward the end of the 1980s the Soviet empire falls apart. Countries in Eastern Europe are set free (East Germany, Poland, Hungary, etc.) and even former Soviet Republics declare national independence (Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, etc.)
China, under the direction of Deng Xiaoping, meanwhile has been moving away rapidly from its Communist or Maoist past in an attempt to gain access to the larger world of international investment and trade by which Deng hopes to modernize China.
1990s – The sole Superpower
enjoys a decade of incredible prosperity
A Bush (Sr.) victory against Iraq in the Gulf or ‘Desert Storm’ War (late 1990-early 1991) puts Vietnam defeatism behind America – restoring a sense of America's rightful place as a sole superpower leading the world
But US economic difficulties (another economic bubble in the US housing and banking bursts) undercuts Bush in his re-election bid – and brings in the Boomer (former Arkansas governor) Clinton to the White House in 1993
Clinton undertakes a Liberal reform agenda (national health insurance and open homosexuality in the military) which explodes in his face – and he backs down
Gingrich’s Contract with America turns into a Republican takeover of Congress (1994), based on the promise to balance the budget, reduce Federal government spending (especially endless welfare payments) and lower taxes.
To save his presidency, Clinton moves to take up Gingrich’s program himself – as Gingrich himself self-destructs morally (divorce) and politically (arrogance in front of a very critical press corps)
Towards the end of his presidency Clinton gets caught in a sex scandal (Monica) – but manages to survive politically (and even morally)
Ethnic strife in Bosnia and Kosovo (former Yugoslavia) refine America's role as world policeman – separating the warring ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia and bringing some degree of peace to the region
Yeltsin's Russia struggles with corruption
in its effort to find stability as a ‘democracy.’ The Russian love
of Western culture cools.
2000s – Rising global threats put America's superpower status into question
Putin comes to power in Russia (2000) to put the country back on a more traditional authoritarian political course – to the distress of America
Republican Bush (Jr.) narrowly defeats Democrat Gore in the 2000 presidential elections.
Bush, as a ‘compassionate conservative,’ proposes a new look for the Republican party – which slowly reveals itself as being rather similar to the Democratic Party's vision of political ‘progressivism’ run from Washington: Bush, Jr. pushes hard for his ‘No Child Left Behind’ program – which proposes to put American education under close federal government supervision (is this even constitutional?).
But Muslim (al-Qaeda) terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center (9-11 2001) refocuses Bush's presidency, producing American military/diplomatic resolve in Afghanistan against the al-Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban hosts (who have sworn themselves to the total destruction of Western civilization)
But his Boomer tendency to confuse personal goals with society's goals – plus the strong push of his Neo-Conservative advisors Cheney and Rumsfeld for ‘democratic nation-building’ in Afghanistan and Iraq – draws him instead into Iraq in an effort to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, for which he holds a family grudge. This embroils the US in an on-going cultural struggle for which it was ill-prepared. The American involvement in Iraq drags on through the rest of Bush's 8-year presidency, costing much and gaining little for America.
American-style democracy for Russia looks like a ‘no-go’; corruption undermines all ‘reforms’ in the former Soviet Union. In more typical Russian fashion, Putin responds to the challenge by bringing Russia again under the tighter political and economic discipline of the Kremlin.
A rapidly growing (nuclear) India is becoming potentially a new democratic super-power
China has moved into the position of now being one of the economic powerhouses in the world – running up a huge surplus in the balance of trade with America – and helping offset a growing American national indebtedness by buying American public debt.
Nuclear North Korea and near-nuclear
Iran (with only mild disapproval from Russia and fast-rising China) move
to challenge Western (American) world dominance
A ballooning American government deficit takes on monumental proportions (growing from $5 trillion to well over $10 trillion in the 8 years of the Bush presidency).
Also near financial meltdown of a
number of major American banks pushes the international financial world
to the brink of collapse ( the end of 2008); but a US government
‘bailout’ in the last days of the Bush presidency provides an expensive
a rescue of the banks.
Obama, a curiously inexperienced political celebrity, takes over the White House (early 2009)
Obama follows Bush's program of a buyout of troubled American businesses upon entering office in 2009, extending the Federal buyout to much of the American automotive industry (GM and Chrysler). He also runs up the public debt with ‘economic incentives’ to try to put life back into the economy.
Obama delivers a speech in Cairo, Egypt, affirming America’s new support for the Islamic world (Jun 2009)
A Democrat-controlled Congress pushes through Obama’s national health program (Nov-Dec 2009)
China and America are locked in a creditor-debtor relationship that complicates the economic policy of both countries
During the ‘Arab Spring’ (2011) the Middle East is shaken by the rise of Muslim rebel groups:
Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is overthrown in Libya by rebels ... with NATO air cover support (Feb)... merely throwing Libya into a state of civil war
Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak resigns in the face of growing civil rights protests (Feb) and is soon arrested (Apr)
In Egyptian elections (Jun 2012) fundamentalist Muslim Mohammed Morsi is narrowly elected President. Morsi then orders the arrest of his secular opponent ... throwing Egypt again into turmoil ... resulting in the military takeover of Gen. al-Sisi (Jun 2013)
But efforts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria fail
(2011) ... and throw Syria into a cruel civil war (still ongoing)