The history of war is inseparable from the history of humanity. It is impossible to understand the world today without first understanding how war has shaped our lives. The Russian Revolution proliferated communism. The American Civil War ended slavery. World War II shifted the global balance of power. From the Crusades to the Mongol Conquests, from the French Revolution to the Vietnam War—wars can expand and dismantle empires; end nations and birth new states; claim untold lives, erase cultures and peoples, swallow up families, communities, and even entire civilizations. But war can also stimulate scientific innovation, earn captive people the right to be free, and show the potential for courage, principle, and heroism in ordinary people.
So which wars shaped the world as we know it, and how have these wars made us who we are today? As part of our ongoing series of Study Starters, we take a look at the 20 wars that shaped the modern world–the conflicts that have fractured the planet and rebuilt the global balance, setting us on our current path.
The Study Starter series is meant to provide an introduction to the subject matter, a view of war from the top. But war is complex, and there are always numerous overlapping reasons that humans take up arms against one another. Our condensed look at each of these major wars is, by necessity, a simplification of a complicated subject.
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Every war included here is considered a transformational war—a conflict that had a profound influence on the world because of its enormity, or because of the ideas represented by competing sides, or because of the shifts in geopolitical power left in its wake. Our history begins near the turn of the 11th Century.
This time frame is not intended to overlook the impact of ancient wars like the Greco-Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, The Wars of Alexander the Great, or Qin’s Wars of Unification in 3rd Century BC China. These and countless other wars in the period predating the Crusades and the age of European exploration reflect conflict in a much smaller world, where limitations in technology, warfare capabilities, and geographical reach imposed some restraints on the scale, scope, and carnage possible in warfare.
These limitations diminished rapidly over the course of the 1000 years represented here, chronologically, across the 20 Wars That Shaped the Modern World.
The Crusades were not a single war but a period of near-constant warfare across the known world, waged on religious grounds and enveloping all the kingdoms of Europe and beyond. The Crusades are typically broken into historical periods known as the First Crusade through the Ninth Crusade, but in most cases, shorthand reference to The Crusades refers to the First Crusade which revolved on a campaign to capture the Holy Land.
The Crusades were launched in 1095 at the Council of Clermont, when Pope Urban II called for military support of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I in his campaign to push the Seljuk Turk population out of Greece. This was a call to arms by the Latin Catholic Church to the kingdoms of Europe to proliferate the Christian faith by force, beginning with a march to the Holy Land and its “reclamation” from Muslim rule. This initiated a centuries-long period in which people of every station—kings, armies, clergy, feudal lords, and peasants—found purpose in rooting out heretics and non-Christians from the far reaches of Europe, into Eurasia, and the Mediterranean.
This set off an unending series of battles and wars between Christian Crusaders and Muslim armies in Jerusalem, the broader Near East, and the Iberian Peninsula during the 12th Century. The Muslim armies were famously led by the Egyptian sultan Saladin, who in his own right expanded the Ayyubid dynasty across the lands of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and more. This expansion brought two diverging religious practices into constant conflict with one another. The Crusades also included clashes with and massacres of Jewish settlements, campaigns against pagan slavic tribes in Northern Europe, and, by the 13th Century, against Christian heretics such the Cathars (Christian gnostics) of Languedoc.
When historians refer to the Crusades, this most often refers to the First Crusade, whose primary impetus was to capture the Holy Land. This crusade initiated with Pope Urban’s 1095 proclamation, climaxed with the 200-year Christian occupation of Jerusalem in 1099, and ended when the Crusaders were besieged and chased from all Crusader States, the last of these being Tripoli in 1289 and Acre in 1291.
However, as noted above, the First Crusade would inspire centuries of confrontation across countless lines of both papal and royal succession. Subsequent crusades saw campaigns against the proto-Protestant ascetics called the Waldensians in Savoy and the Hussite Christians in Bohemia during the 15th Century; and against the Protestants throughout Europe during the 16th Century. The 14th Century also initiated a period of confrontation with the rising Moorish Ottoman Empire that would persist for the next 400 years.
The number of wars, kings, and theaters implicated by the Crusades is lengthy, and the ebb and flow of power in key locations like Jerusalem, Antioch (parts of present-day Turkey and Syria), Edessa (present-day Sanliurfa, Turkey), Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), and Tripoli is complex.
It is not an exaggeration to argue that the Crusades were a prime driver of both territorial power and religious rule for at least the first five centuries of the previous millennium. Moreover, it is inestimable just how many individuals, communities, and states were converted to Christianity, or routed of non-Christians, during this period. The Crusades were a major force in linking the Christian faith with various seats of power throughout the known world.
Byzantine Emperor Alexios I (Greek: Ἀλέξιος Α′ Κομνηνός, 1056/1057 – 15 August 1118), Latinized Alexius I Comnenus, was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to curb the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the Komnenian restoration.
Pope Urban II (Latin: Urbanus II; c. 1035 – 29 July 1099), otherwise known as Odo of Châtillon or Otho de Lagery, was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 12 March 1088 to his death. He is best known for initiating the Crusades.
Peter the Hermit (c. 1050 – 8 July 1115 or 1131), also known as Little Peter or Peter of Amiens, was a priest of Amiens and a key figure during the People’s Crusade, the Rhineland massacres, and the First Crusade. He is sometimes called Blessed Peter the Hermit, though he has not been beatified in the Catholic Church.
At the beginning of the 12th Century, Central Asia was ruled by various tribal confederations who shared occasionally hostile relations with one another. Toward the end of the Century, the head of one such confederation, Temujin pursued a series of alliances that ultimately unified these tribes into a single ruling entity. As the ruler of the emergent Mongolian Empire, Temujin was anointed the “universal ruler,” Genghis Khan. The first great emperor of the Mongols, Genghis Khan rapidly ascended to legendary status as a conqueror, and achieved great infamy for the devastation wrought by his conquests.
During the 13th and 14th Centuries, the Mongol Empire expanded rapidly and aggressively, employing its powerful land forces to sweep across much of Eurasia. Through an ongoing series of invasions and conquests, the Mongols accumulated grazing lands for their singular wealth of cattle and cavalry. Beginning with a series of victories across Asia in the early 1200s, the Mongols had penetrated Eastern Europe by the 1240s.
The Mongol hordes that swept across the continent invoked terror for their singular brutality. They toppled cities, destroyed villages, and killed millions in their wake. Some estimates hold that anywhere between 37 and 60 million people were killed by invading Mongolians with the largest concentration of carnage occurring in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
In addition to their violent and destructive tactics, the Mongols carried Bubonic Plague with them to many targeted settlements, only further magnifying the impact of their presence. Some estimates regard the Mongolian conquests as the deadliest conflict in human history. This assessment holds up to scrutiny when one considers the Mongolian Empire was, at its peak in the mid-13th Century, the largest contiguous empire in history. This peak can be pinned to the year 1271, when Kublai Khan conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty, which would rule the expansive Chinese state for a century.
Even as the empire began to splinter through ongoing conflict with various Eastern European powers, the Mongols ruled China for much of the 14th Century, held sway over Persia through the 15th Century, and served as a direct bloodline to the Mughal conqueror, Babur, who spent the 16th Century expanding his empire through India, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. The influence of this latter Mughal Empire persisted in India well into the 19th Century.
The decline of the peak Mongolian Empire began with the death of Kublai Khan in 1294. His departure coincided with a series of internal wars that saw the singular khanate splintering into at least four major powers—the Yuan Dynasty, the Golden Horde, the Chagatai Khanate, and the Ilkhanate. This touched off a century of independent development for each of the khanates. By the 14th Century, constant violent internal wrangling fractured the khanate structure, ultimately led to a dismantling of the unified Mongolian horde, and prompted the gradual contraction in its occupied territories.
The Mongolian Conquests are notorious for the violence and death they visited upon cities and villages—massacring populations, engaging in widespread executions, carrying infectious disease, enslaving their captives, and broadly displacing peoples across an enormous swath of land. In fact, there are some historians who view the Mongolian invasions as a catalyst to the subsequent spread of the Bubonic Plague and the consequent deaths of untold millions of Europeans and Asians.
These events would shrink and shape populations all over the Eurasian subcontinent, altering the disbursement of various ethnic groups across an enormous expanse. But the lasting impact of these conquests is not unilaterally negative. While Genghis Khan and his successors are rightly recognized as violent conquerors who left unthinkable bloodshed in their wake, the Mongol civilization was itself the seat of tremendous technical and scientific progress. The Empire’s growth brought with it countless advances in the areas of mathematics, medicine, printing, and warfare itself.
It is also noteworthy that Genghis Khan believed in the practice of religious freedom, and the early Mongolian rule allowed for the growth of major world religions in the region. This unique tolerance was passed down among Mongol rulers, who it is even said, would hold public religious debates between competing religious clerics for captivated audiences.
Thus, for all of the violence and devastation that would have a lasting impact, the Mongolian conquests also helped to spread a somewhat enlightened perspective on religious worship while promoting a series of modern advances throughout the known world.
Genghis Khan (c.1158 – August 18, 1227), born Temüjin, was the founder and first Great Khan (Emperor) of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. After founding the Empire and being proclaimed Genghis Khan (an honorary title possibly derived from the Turkic “tengiz” — sea, meaning “the oceanic, universal ruler”), he launched the Mongol invasions that conquered most of Eurasia, reaching as far west as Poland in Europe and the Levant in the Middle East. Campaigns initiated in his lifetime include those against the Qara Khitai, Khwarezmia, and the Western Xia and Jin dynasties, and raids into Medieval Georgia, the Kievan Rus’, and Volga Bulgaria.
Kublai (/ˈkuːblaɪ/; Mongolian: Хубилай, romanized: Hubilai; Chinese: 忽必烈; pinyin: Hūbìliè; 23 September 1215 – 18 February 1294), also known as the Emperor Shizu of Yuan, was the fifth khagan-emperor of the Mongol Empire, reigning from 1260 to 1294, although after the division of the empire this was a nominal position. He also founded the Yuan dynasty of China in 1271, and ruled as the first Yuan emperor until his death in 1294.
Babur (Persian: بابر, romanized: Bābur, lit. ‘tiger’; 14 February 1483 – 26 December 1530), born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the founder of the Mughal Empire and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty (r. 1526–1530) in the Indian subcontinent. He was a descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan through his father and mother respectively. He was also given the posthumous name of Firdaws Makani (‘Dwelling in Paradise’).
The Aztecs were a broad cross-section of populations living in the Mesoamerican territories who pursued imperial expansion during the 14th-16th Centuries. The Aztecs were a relatively advanced civilization, evolving around a system of city-states all paying taxes to a single imperial power seated in the capital city-state of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs developed a rich culture with a dense mythology, sophisticated artistry, and advanced architecture.
They also achieved considerable military might, which they used to expand the Empire of Mexica. Reaching its peak size in 1519, the Aztec Empire would in this very same year come face to face with its own destruction. Having already established a presence in the Caribbean, the Spanish set forth on the path of expansion into the Americas. Thus, conquistador Hernan Cortes would lead an expedition to confront the Aztec Empire which was seated in present-day Mexico.
While we think of the conquering of the Aztecs as European aggression against indigenous peoples, Cortes actually formed an alliance with the bevy of civilizations who opposed the expansion of Mexica. City-states that joined Cortes in felling the Aztecs included Tlaxcalteca and Texcoco. Over a period of two years, the Spanish and the Aztecs claimed significant casualties against one another. And in some respects, the two sides were technologically matched in their war-making capabilities. But the Europeans inadvertently carried infectious diseases into battle with them, proliferating smallpox and prompting famine. These factors substantially weakened the local populations and made the indigenous rulers especially vulnerable to the bold (some might argue naively optimistic) Spanish attack on the Aztec empire’s superstructure.
Because the Aztecs had developed a relatively advanced system of city-states, Spanish conquest largely revolved on the occupation of these city-states and their conversion into feudal territories with allegiance to the Spanish Crown. So when Tenochtitlan fell to Cortes and his allies, it offered a ready-made capital—the future Mexico City. Moreover, the configuration of city states facilitated ready-made Spanish rule and propped up a system of local noblemen who helped to collect taxes, enforce the rule of the crown, and spread Christianity among formerly indigenous religious traditions.
In just two years of conflict, the mighty indigenous empire of the Aztecs had fallen. This signaled the beginning of the Spanish Empire in the Americas as well as the founding of Mexico and the establishment of Mexico City as the new capital. The collapse of the Aztec Empire opened Central and South America to total Spanish rule. It was also a relative first for the Spanish Crown. The military tactics that led to Spanish victory in Mexico would soon serve as the template for conquests throughout South and Central America. As a consequence, Spanish culture, language, and forms of worship spread throughout the New World in a way which remains readily apparent today on a continent where Spanish is a dominant language.
Moreover, the Spanish conquests, and centuries of occupation and genetic intermingling have eradicated numerous indigenous cultures, with the practices of peoples such as the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans fading into historical obscurity. Thus, a clear and lasting impact of this war would be the wholesale replacement of numerous native cultures with a more monolithic Spanish-European culture.
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca (/kɔːrˈtɛs/; Spanish: [eɾˈnaŋ koɾˈtez ðe monˈroj i piˈθaro altamiˈɾano]; 1485 – December 2, 1547) was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Charles V (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519 to 1556, King of Spain (Castile and Aragon) from 1516 to 1556, and Lord of the Netherlands as titular Duke of Burgundy from 1506 to 1555. As he was head of the rising House of Habsburg during the first half of the 16th century, his dominions in Europe included the Holy Roman Empire, extending from Germany to northern Italy with direct rule over the Austrian hereditary lands and the Burgundian Low Countries, and a unified Spain with its southern Italian kingdoms of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Furthermore, his reign encompassed both the long-lasting Spanish and the short-lived German colonization of the Americas.
Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (c.1466 – 29 June 1520) [moteːkʷˈsoːma ʃoːkoˈjoːtsin] modern Nahuatl pronunciation (help·info)), variant spellings include Motecuhzomatzin, Montezuma, Moteuczoma, Motecuhzoma, Motēuczōmah, Muteczuma, and referred to retroactively in European sources as Moctezuma II, was the ninth Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan and the sixth Huey Tlatoani or Emperor of the Aztec Empire, reigning from 1502 or 1503 to 1520. The first contact between the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europeans took place during his reign, and he was killed during the initial stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, when conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men fought to take over the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. During his reign, the Aztec Empire reached its greatest size.
The Thirty Years’ War was among the most destructive and deadliest conflicts in world history. Centering around a long and bloody dispute over control of the European continent, this 17th Century showdown pitted the Habsburgs of Austrian and Spanish lineage against the French House of Bourbon. The conflict was waged within the broad European expanse known as the Holy Roman Empire.
The dispute for imperial control of the Empire began with the deposition of Ferdinand II, King of Bohemia, in 1618. The unseated king was replaced by Frederick V of the Palatinate, which was a strategically important region in the southern part of Germany. Though the Bohemians revolted, they were quickly dispatched. But the consequential nature of the Palatinate region attracted the interest of other opportunistic royal families. This region’s proximity to the major trade and military route known as the Spanish Road made it particularly consequential to the seats of power throughout Europe. Civil war in Bohemia and Palatinate broke out even as the Eighty Years War (1568–1648) persisted. In this longer conflict, the Spanish Crown fought against the Dutch Republic to suppress revolt across the so-called 17 provinces that make up parts of the present-day Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The internal splintering in Germany attracted the involvement of both the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Crown, who expanded the focus of their ongoing conflict into the now-contested Palatinate region. Kings with their own designs on expansion invested in the war, including Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. As a consequence, the war for control expanded widely throughout Europe, bringing a terrible toll to bear for the entirety of the Holy Roman Empire.
The war is typically divided into two periods. The first period is largely thought of as a civil war between competing imperial states, lasting until 1635. This portion of the conflict was somewhat more geographically contained in the disputed regions of Germany. By 1635, the conflict had widened dramatically, pitting France, with support from Sweden, against the Spanish Crown and Emperor Ferdinand III. The war was finally drawn to a conclusion with the 1648 agreement known as the Peace of Westphalia, but not before it claimed anywhere between 4.5 and 8 million lives. Some estimates hold that as many as 60% of all Germans may have been killed in this conflict.
The Peace of Westphalia permanently altered European power dynamics, with the treaty’s provisions granting greater autonomy for individual states within the Holy Roman Empire, including Bavaria, Saxony, and a newly-independent Dutch Republic. This growing independence would signal a contraction of the ruling Habsburg family’s control over Europe. In doing so, these events tilted the balance of power in favor of the French, ultimately laying the groundwork for the French military, political, and cultural dominance of Europe in the next era. The half-century that followed would see the initiation of the Wars of Louis the XIV—the Franco-Dutch War (1672 to 1678), the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714).
Frederick V (German: Friedrich, Czech: Fridrich; 26 August 1596 – 29 November 1632) was the Elector Palatine of the Rhine in the Holy Roman Empire from 1610 to 1623, and reigned as King of Bohemia from 1619 to 1620. He was forced to abdicate both roles, and the brevity of his reign in Bohemia earned him the derisive sobriquet “the Winter King” (Czech: Zimní král; German: Winterkönig).
Christian IV (12 April 1577 – 28 February 1648) was King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Holstein and Schleswig from 1588 to 1648. His reign of 59 years, 330 days is the longest of Danish monarchs, and of all Scandinavian monarchies.
Gustavus Adolphus (9 December [N.S 19 December] 1594 – 6 November [N.S 16 November] 1632), also known in English as Gustav II Adolf or Gustav II Adolph, was King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, and is credited for the rise of Sweden as a great European power (Swedish: Stormaktstiden). During his reign, Sweden became one of the primary military forces in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, helping to determine the political and religious balance of power in Europe. He was formally and posthumously given the name Gustavus Adolphus the Great (Swedish: Gustav Adolf den store; Latin: Gustavus Adolphus Magnus) by the Riksdag of the Estates in 1634.
The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty ruled China for just under 100 years, from 1271 to 1368. (See Mongol Conquests above) The collapse of the Mongolian empire brought about the rule of the Ming Dynasty of Han Chinese lineage. For nearly 300 years, the Ming Dynasty ruled China with an emphasis on an enormous and powerful standing army and a highly agrarian society driven by land ownership. This was a historical divergence from China’s Confucian meritocratic bureaucracies.
Under this new model, the Ming Dynasty navigated China through various periods of both economic struggle and prosperity. The Ming Dynasty left behind a number of lasting achievements in China’s cultural history, including the establishment of the capital city of Beijing, the construction of the Forbidden City and, several decades hence, completion of the Great Wall of China. Also of great consequence, the Ming Dynasty saw the Chinese Empire through the age of exploration, when European traders—with their tremendous interest in Chinese goods—brought an influx of riches to China.
However, a series of unfortunate events would render this a short-lived time of prosperity. A combination of sustained cold-weather conditions, crop failures, flooding, changes in Japanese and Spanish trade policies, and the permeating impact of the The Great Plague all served to weaken the Ming Dynasty’s hold over China. Thus, China was ripe for the taking. In the midst of this struggle and discontent, revolts to the empire sprung up like leaks all over China. Prominent among them was one by rebel leader Li Zicheng, who founded and subsequently declared himself emperor of the Shun Dynasty before beginning the march toward Beijing.
Even as this rebel force advanced, a much broader coalition of resistance formed at the initiation of Manchu Chinese groups. They led the armies known as the Eight Banners, a force which increasingly came to include those absorbed through conquest such as defeated Mongols and Han Chinese.
In fact, many Han Chinese from the Ming Dynasty’s military class were wooed away to the Eight Banners army as a reprieve from the discrimination they generally experienced in the now collapsed dynasty. Because the Manchu welcomed Han defectors and even allowed defecting officers to hold their existing titles and command their own Han units, the Han Chinese were soon the dominant portion of the competing army. By 1631, Han Chinese defectors were at the helm of the military strategy for the emergent Qing Dynasty.
Still, even as the Ming Dynasty attempted to ward off the Qing armies, the emperor was more concerned with the array of rebel groups raising resistance across China. The Ming Chongzhen Emperor was right to be concerned. In 1644, rebel leader Li Zicheng entered Beijing and seized power. The emperor called to his armies for help, leaving his position in the stronghold of Ningyuan outside the Great Wall of China unprotected. As the Ming armies departed to save the capitol, the Qinq seized an enormous expanse of territory.
Back in Beijing, it was Li Zicheng’s intent to declare himself Emperor and share rule with the deposed Emperor, but that opportunity never came to pass, for as the rebel army enveloped the capitol, the Emperor retreated behind the walls of the Forbidden City and hanged himself. He would be the last Ming emperor in China’s history.
The Qings saw their opportunity to avenge the death of the Emperor, and declare the Mandate of Heaven to rule China on behalf of the Manchu prince. Beijing was sacked by a multi-ethnic army of Manchu, Mongols, and Hans, a fact which distinguished this not as an ethnic conflict but a class war. Still, the Qinq faced a sprawling territory marked by both rebel resistance and lingering Ming authority in nearly every region.
The next four decades would be marked by conflict throughout the Chinese Empire as the Qing Empire established its authority. Where the Qing were met with capitulation, they spared the surrendering cities. Where they were met with resistance, they massacred populations mercilessly. It is said that the wars of succession claimed the lives of as many as 25 million people.
When at last the Qing achieved a unified rule in the 1680s, they established the Chinese state, which was held to include the present-day regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibret, Zinjiang, and more. The Qing Dynasty was the first to recognize China as an inherently multi-ethnic state, reflecting the nature of the Eight Banners that brought about the end of the Ming Empire.
It would be a century before China would recover from the economic devastation of the bloody conflict. The Qing, however, would rule China for centuries, in fact serving as the final imperial line before the revolutionary overthrow of the emperor and the 1912 formation of the Republic of China.
Li Zicheng (22 September 1606 – 1645), born Li Hongji, also known by the nickname, “Dashing King”, was a Chinese peasant rebel leader who overthrew the Ming dynasty in 1644 and ruled over northern China briefly as the emperor of the short-lived Shun dynasty before his death a year later.
The Chongzhen Emperor (Chinese: 崇禎; pinyin: Chóngzhēn; 27 January 1611 – 25 April 1644), personal name Zhu Youjian (Chinese: 朱由檢; pinyin: Zhū Yóujiǎn), was the 17th and last Emperor of the Ming dynasty as well as the last ethnic Han to rule over China before the Manchu Qing conquest. He reigned from 1627 to 1644. “Chongzhen,” the era name of his reign, means “honorable and auspicious.”
The Shunzhi Emperor (15 March 1638 – 5 February 1661) was Emperor of the Qing dynasty from 1644 to 1661, and the first Qing emperor to rule over China proper. A committee of Manchu princes chose him to succeed his father, Hong Taiji (1592–1643), in September 1643, when he was six years old. The princes also appointed two co-regents: Dorgon (1612–1650), the 14th son of the Qing dynasty’s founder Nurhaci (1559–1626), and Jirgalang (1599–1655), one of Nurhaci’s nephews, both of whom were members of the Qing imperial clan.
>The American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War for Independence, was waged between the British Crown and the representatives of the 13 colonies of North America.Though they were subjects to the British Crown, the colonies were largely accorded the freedom to govern independently since being founded in the 1600s. But the mid-18th Century brought change and instability to the British Empire.
The French-Indian War (1754-1763) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) were both fought in the colonies. The wars had a permeating impact on resources for the Brits and the colonists alike. The former had been plunged into deep debt by their participation in these long, sustained conflicts. And the colonies had also supplied the British, at their own expense, with encampment, equipment and resources at a cost of millions.
The result was economic tension on both sides of the Atlantic. The British magnified this tension by imposing a series of expenses on the colonies, most notably through the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. These acts granted the British Crown the power to impose taxes upon the colonies at will. The early 1770s saw tension escalating into outright violence, most notably at the Boston Massacre in 1770, where an outnumbered contingent of British soldiers opened fire on an unruly mob of colonists, killing five.
The event sparked a growing movement of resistance among colonists, which was further catalyzed in the writing of prominent New Englanders—and future Revolutionary heroes—like Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. 1773 saw the famous Boston Tea Party demonstration in which a mercantile group called the Sons of Liberty protested British taxation in the colonies by dumping an entire shipment of British East India Company Tea into the Boston Harbor.
This proved a breaking point in the tensions, and signaled an inevitable escalation in the battle for control over the colonies. The British parliament responded with a set of laws called the Intolerable Acts which, among other things, stripped Massachusetts of its right to self governance and deprived Boston of its right to control its own commerce. These impositions only instigated further protest among the colonies, who responded by convening the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and subsequently petitioning Britain’s King George III to immediately repeal the oppressive new laws.
Instead, the British only clamped down harder on the colonists, violently repressing displays of rebellion. Then, in April of 1775, British forces destroyed the colonial Assembly’s powder store. This act was met with confrontation by the Massachusetts militia in Lexington and Concord. By June, the Second Continental Congress convened to appoint George Washington as General of a newly established Continental Army. One month later, the colonists sent a petition to the King and British Parliament seeking peace negotiations. When this was rejected, the colonists issued the Declaration of Independence, setting off a series of confrontations in which the colonists ousted the Brits from Boston, the Brits responded by capturing New York, and shortly thereafter, George Washington famously crossed the Delaware for major victories in Trenton and Princeton.
A notable 1777 victory in Saratoga over the Brits was followed soon after by the King’s capture of Philadelphia. It was then that Washington and his troops retreated for a harsh winter encamped in Valley Forge. Under intense conditions, the bedraggled army was overseen by a Prussian named General von Steuben, who used this time to transform the army into an organized unit capable of making war on the British.
Of major consequence, the French stepped in at this juncture, joining the Americans in their battle against the Brits. They hoped to prolong the conflict so as to weaken the sway of the British Empire, and soon signed both a commercial treaty and a Treaty of Alliance with the colonies. This was a major boon of resources and strategic support for the colonists, who faced the Brits on fronts from Louisiana to Quebec, fighting major battles in Charlotte, Charleston, Pensacola, and Savanna.
The last major battle of the war took place in Yorktown, where the British General Cornwallis faced overwhelming force from American and French forces. His surrender marked the final stage in the war between the British Crown and the American colonies.
Though war persisted between France and Britain for two more years, the Brits and Americans signed the Treaty of Paris in September of 1783, which dictated that King George recognize American independence, evacuate British troops, surrender all territory east of the Mississippi River, and respect the seafaring and fishing rights of the new nation.
The lasting impact was far-reaching, birthing not just a new nation in the United States, but setting forth a model for independence and Constitutional self-governance that would alter the course of global history. This marked the beginning of a transition away from the age of colonization and toward the emergence of the Constitutional Republic. The model would take hold in struggles for independence throughout the world during the next 150 years and beyond.
Moreover, this marked the founding of a future major world power, one whose influence would do nothing less than shape the world in the 20th Century. More immediately, this marked a major blow to the sphere of power held by the British monarchy.
George Washington (February 22, 1732– December 14, 1799) was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father of the United States, who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Appointed by the Continental Congress as commander of the Continental Army, Washington led the Patriot forces to victory in the American Revolutionary War, and presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established the Constitution of the United States and a federal government. Washington has been called the “Father of the Nation” for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the country.
George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 1738– 29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two kingdoms on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and Prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg (“Hanover”) in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was a monarch of the House of Hanover but, unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language and never visited Hanover.
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, KG, PC (31 December 1738 – 5 October 1805), styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as the Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army general and official. In the United States and the United Kingdom he is best remembered as one of the leading British generals in the American War of Independence. His surrender in 1781 to a combined American and French force at the siege of Yorktown ended significant hostilities in North America.
The French Revolution was an internal struggle driven by profound inequality, social unrest, and structural failures in 18th Century France. While the struggle was contained within French borders, its philosophical and practical implications reached far and wide, instigating attention and debate throughout Europe and the Americas.
In the nearly 90 years between the start of 1700s and the outbreak of revolution, France’s population swelled from 18 million to 26 million. However, it remained a highly feudalist state where the harshest taxes were imposed upon the poor urban and rural populations. While King Louis XVI was sympathetic to the plight of France’s peasantry, he lacked the power or political will to stand up to a ruling elite class. As a result, crises of food shortage, rising prices, and massive unemployment spiraled out of control. The French court drew much of the public’s resentment, including infamous figures like the Austrian-born Queen Marie Antoinette, whom the public viewed as an outsider and a spy whose lavish lifestyle was funded by taxation on the poor.
This resentment collided with the philosophical period known as the Enlightenment. Works by thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a profound impact on ideals about freedom, liberty and equality among intellectuals and an increasingly literate public. The result was a movement to oppose the monarch. This movement merged multiple French classes against the king. The kingdom was enveloped in violent protest.
In response to the growing crisis, King Louis XVI summoned the Estates General of 1789, a general assembly composed of representatives from three distinct classes—The First Estate (clergy); the Second Estate (nobles); and the Third Estate (commoners). Held in close proximity to the palace in Versailles, and reflecting a drastically unequal structure that largely prevented the Third Estate from exercising its position on any given dispute, the assembly only exacerbated tensions.
The commoners brought an end to the assembly by forming the National Assembly and inviting their fellow estates to join in a fight against the crown. 100 members of the First Estate joined. This event marked the initiation of the period known as the French Revolution. The National Assembly announced its intention to gather, an act which Louis XIV attempted to prevent by closing off the intended venue—Salle des États. The Assembly instead gathered at a nearby tennis court, and was joined by the entirety of the First Estate as well as a significant portion of the Second Estate. They asserted that they would remain assembled until the monarchy accepted the creation of a new Constitution.
The King was forced to accept these terms, but others in the royal family—Antoinette among them—pushed for a more forceful response. As rumors swirled that the Swiss Guard might soon be called in to quash the gathering, members of the general public flowed into the streets to support the new National Assembly. Not only did the elite Gardes Francaise soldiers refuse to disperse the crowd, but many joined in storming the prison fortress called the Bastille.
The Bastille’s rapid destruction on July 14th, 1789 would become a major symbolic flashpoint in the Revolution. The newly-empowered National Assembly abolished feudalism, removed the exemption to taxation previously enjoyed by nobles, established equality before the law, opened public office to all citizens, and established religious freedom. With direct influence and support from Thomas Jefferson, recently victorious in his own American revolution, the French produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Many historians would argue that in its explicit abolishment of feudalism and other elitist privileges, this document went further to proliferate Enlightenment principles than did America’s Declaration of Independence.
In just four months, the existing structures of power in France had been dismantled by radical revolution. Soon after the first shockwaves of the revolution, France entered a period of relative calm. However, unrest and armed conflict continued throughout parts of the country where a new central authority had yet to establish itself. Moreover, the various dimensions of the National Assembly—which now included a reluctant Louis XVI—splintered into suspicion, disagreement, and spinoff parliamentary assemblies. Even the military was divided in its loyalties with most officers coming from nobility and most soldiers descending from common stock.
As local peasantry rose up against the nobles who once held domain over them, many nobles fled to other parts of Europe, where they pleaded with other monarchies to join in the effort to defend the French crown. By 1792, the French Revolutionary armies faced opposition from numerous European powers who feared the spread of anti-monarchical revolutionary thinking. A confrontation in April between the French army and the aligned forces of the Prussian and Austrian armies, led to an eventual victory for the newly-minted French forces.
Empowered by their victory, the National Convention abolished the monarchy and initiated the trials that would soon lead to the execution by guillotine of both Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Indeed, this would mark the initiation of the Reign of Terror, a period during which thousands—particularly of the noble and clergy classes—were publicly beheaded for perceived counter-revolutionary sentiments. This marked the establishment of the First Republic of France.
The years immediately after the Revolution and the Reign of Terror saw France dramatically consolidating its power. The following years saw France capturing the Austrian Netherlands and Dutch Republic, and establishing peace with Spain and Prussia. By 1796, a young General named Napoleon Bonaparte was beginning his first campaign through Italy.
The next decade would see France extend considerable influence over Europe. This period of conflict was known as the French Revolutionary Wars, and to an extent, marked the effort of other European monarchies to protect their future against the Enlightenment ideals which so thoroughly transformed France. While France experienced both victory and defeat during the period—which is said to have ended by the turn of the Century and the onset of the so-called Napoleonic Wars—the ideas introduced by the Revolution spread far and wide. The core principles of liberté, égalité, and fraternité seized popular thought, and became core ideals for struggles against inequality everywhere, even persisting through the socialist revolutions in Russia and beyond more than a century hence.
Georges Jacques Danton (French: [ʒɔʁʒ dɑ̃tɔ̃]; 26 October 1759 – 5 April 1794) was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, in particular as the first president of the Committee of Public Safety. Danton’s role in the onset of the Revolution has been disputed; many historians describe him as “the chief force in the overthrow of the French monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic”. He was guillotined by the advocates of revolutionary terror after accusations of venality and leniency toward the enemies of the Revolution.
Louis XVI (Louis-Auguste; French pronunciation: [lwi sɛːz]; 23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as Citizen Louis Capet during the four months just before he was executed by guillotine. In 1765, upon the death of his father, Louis, Dauphin of France, he became the new Dauphin. Upon his grandfather Louis XV’s death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title King of France and Navarre, until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of King of the French until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), known in the United States as Lafayette (/ˌlɑːfiːˈɛt, ˌlæf-/, French: [lafajɛt]), was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830. He has been considered a national hero in both countries.
In 1836, a cross-section of colonists and Tejanos from Texas staged a rebellion against the Mexican government, which claimed authority over the territory. Rising tensions between the growing population of colonists from the United States and the increasingly centralist Mexican government of General Antonio López de Santa Anna led to the Texas Revolution. This revolution would set a series of events in motion that would have significant long term implications for the shared border between the neighboring states.
Central to the dispute was ongoing disagreeent over the future of chattel slavery in the United States. Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, motivated largely by the desire to discourage the influx of Americans immigrating to the Texas territory. This, alongside a series of property taxes and increased tariffs on American goods, heightened tensions. In the midst of these tensions, Mexico closed the Texas border to further arrivals. Undeterred, Americans continued their illegal migration to the future state.
In March of 1836, American settlers declared Texas an independent Republic. This move was actually part of a larger series of Mexican Federalist Wars in which various territories resisted Santa Anna’s authority. The General entered the Texas territory and routed the Texian Army in a series of battles, most famously the bloody Battle of Alamo, where a small and poorly-armed contingent of Texian soldiers was besieged and massacred by Santa Anna’s army. General Sam Houston of the Texian Army reversed the course of conflict by drilling his soldiers into fighting form, confronting a complacent Mexican Army, and ultimately capturing Santa Anna himself. The Texans traded his life in exchange for recognition of their independence.
While Santa Anna was forced at the threat of death to sign this agreement, tension and conflict persisted between Texas and Mexico over the next decade. It came to a head with the election of the U.S. President James K. Polk, who entered office with the promise that he would expand America’s territory into Texas and Oregon. In 1845, he made good on this promise by peacefully annexing the independent republic. This move instigated a conflict over America’s proposed border, which placed the dividing line between the two nations at the Rio Grande. Mexico asserted that the border should instead be placed at the more northern Nueces River.
The result was a disputed territory resting between these two rivers. Polk sent U.S. troops to the territory, ultimately instigating Mexican forces to initiate hostilities. Upon being attacked, the U.S. declared war. U.S. forces quickly obtained the upper-hand in the conflict, occupying, in addition to Texas, the regional capital of Santa Fe in the future state of New Mexico and the province known as Alta California, which included the Baja California peninsula, as well as all of California, Nevada, and Utah as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
However, when Mexico refused surrender, U.S. troops expanded their occupation into Mexican territory, including the capital Mexico City. This strategy ultimately pressured Mexico to sit down at the negotiating table. Though domestic politics made this a very difficult and prolonged negotiation, a treaty was reached in 1848 in which Mexico ultimately recognized America’s new borders, and in which America agreed to pay $15 million (in addition to more than $3 million in debt forgiveness) for reconstruction after the war.
The Mexican-American war had several profound repercussions, not the least of which was the expansion of American borders on a massive scale. On the other side of the newly established demarcation at the Rio Grande, Mexico emerged with crippling financial woes and political disarray.
The U.S. would face down its own crisis in the aftermath of the war, however. The slavery dispute arose in earnest for the new state of Texas and highlighted the philosophical divide on this issue between America’s North and South. The former held that there was to be no further expansion of the practice of chattel slavery, whereas the latter, with considerable support from many inhabitants of Texas itself, believed it was destined to become a slave state.
Ongoing disagreement on this subject would help set the stage for the American Civil War. Indeed, it is noteworthy that a great many soldiers who helped achieve victory in the conflict against Mexico would be squaring off against one another just 15 years hence.
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (Spanish pronunciation: [anˈtonjo ˈlopez ðe ˌsan’taːna]; 21 February 1794 – 21 June 1876), usually known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, was a Mexican politician and general. His influence on post-independence Mexican politics and government in the first half of the nineteenth century is such that historians of Mexico often refer to it as the “Age of Santa Anna”.
James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11th president of the United States, serving from 1845 to 1849. He previously was the Speaker of the House of Representatives (1835–1839) and Governor of Tennessee (1839–1841). A protégé of Andrew Jackson, he was a member of the Democratic Party and an advocate of Jacksonian democracy. Polk is chiefly known for extending the territory of the United States through the Mexican–American War; during his presidency, the United States expanded significantly with the annexation of the Republic of Texas, the Oregon Territory, and the Mexican Cession following the American victory in the Mexican–American War.
Nicholas Philip Trist (June 2, 1800 – February 11, 1874) was an American lawyer, diplomat, planter, and businessman. Even though dismissed by President James K. Polk as the negotiator with the Mexican government, he negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War. The U.S. conquered Mexican territory and vastly expanded the United States. All or part of ten current states were carved out of former Mexican territory.
Alternately known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, the Taiping Rebellion was a terrible conflict waged between the ruling Manchu Qing Dynasty and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, led by a Han-Hakka Chinese ethnic group. The latter staged a massive revolt against the Qing empire based on an overlapping set of ideological and political goals. Led by Hong Xiuquain, who had proclaimed himself the brother of Jesus Christ, the Hakka-Han forces were motivated by a combination of Christianity and the goal of political transformation of the Chinese state.
Rather than seeking to supplant the existing dynasty, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom wished to establish a new dominion and began by carving out an enormous sphere of influence in Southern China. From within this sphere, both sides engaged in a decade of minor skirmishes along their Yangtze Valley.
By 1850, these various skirmishes had coalesced into all-out war. The conflict that followed ranks among the most horrific in human history. It was the most significant conflict in China since the Manchu conquest of 1644 (see Ming vs. Qing Dynasty above), and as with the previous battle for authority over China, this one covered a vast expanse of regions.
The Hakka were notoriously intolerant of their enemies, and celebrated occupation of new territories with massacres and strict religious edicts. These tactics helped to make this the single bloodiest conflict of the 19th Century and the deadliest Civil War in human history. Historians place the number of casualties between 30 and 50 million, with another 30 million displaced by the fighting.
The decentralized nature of the conflict meant that Hakka forces faced not just the armies of the Qing dynasty, but also an array of unaffiliated troops determined to defend their regions. It was in conflict with one such force—the Xiang Army in Nanjing—where Hong Xiuguan was killed. One month later, the city fell, and the rebellion was over.
Though the Qing Dynasty was able to preserve its seat of authority for the time being, the toll of the war was absolutely enormous. The cost in terms of money, destruction and human life was so extreme and damaging that it may be argued that the Qing Dynasty never recovered. After nearly 200 years of uncontested rule, the Qing was now only 50 years away from collapse.
The next several decades saw a fracturing of its authority and a rise in regionalism across the expansive state. This splintering was hastened by tension between various Chinese ethnic and religious groups. These forces had the impact of significantly weakening imperial power, ultimately setting the stage for an early 20th century rebellion and, by 1911, a total revolutionary overthrow of imperial China. Emerging from the smoke of conflict would be the newly-established communist Republic of China.
Hong Xiuquan (1 January 1814 – 1 June 1864), born Hong Huoxiu and with the courtesy name Renkun, was a Hakka Chinese revolutionary who was the leader of the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing dynasty. He established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom over varying portions of southern China, with himself as the “Heavenly King” and self-proclaimed younger brother of Jesus Christ.
Zeng Guofan, Marquis Yiyong (traditional Chinese: 曾國藩; simplified Chinese: 曾国藩; pinyin: Zēng Guófān; Wade–Giles: Tseng1 Kuo2-fan1; 26 November 1811 – 12 March 1872), birth name Zeng Zicheng, courtesy name Bohan, was a Chinese statesman and military general of the late Qing dynasty. He is best known for raising and organizing the Xiang Army to aid the Qing military in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion and restoring the stability of the Qing Empire.
Li Hongzhang, Marquess Suyi (Chinese: 李鴻章; also romanised as Li Hung-chang; 15 February 1823 – 7 November 1901) was a Chinese politician, general and diplomat of the late Qing dynasty. He quelled several major rebellions and served in important positions in the Qing imperial court, including the Viceroy of Zhili, Huguang and Liangguang.
The American Civil War, or the War Between the States, was fought between Union forces, made up of the Northern United States, and the Confederacy, made up of eleven seceded Southern states. At the heart of this civil war was the issue of chattel slavery.
Between 1774 and 1804, every northern state abolished slavery, though it’s worth noting that the practice was never particularly widespread in the Northeast or New England regions. While there was always a fair share of opportunists and businessmen in the North who participated in the slave trade, the practice of African slavery was largely a Southern phenomenon. In fact, the first half of the century saw most of the world’s major powers in Europe and the United Kingdom criminalize the slave trade and abolish slavery.
The highly agrarian economy of the southern United States, by contrast, depended wholly on the source of labor provided by the African slave trade. This, combined with a permeating belief in white supremacy, inclined the South to rally around what was otherwise a dying institution. The threat against the practice of slavery was, to many southerners, a threat to their very way of life. While the northern states influenced the passage of various laws criminalizing the international slave trade and restricting the expansion of slavery into new territories, the South dug its heels in and resolved to defend its right to slavery.
The Republican Party was, during this period in time, an explicitly anti-slavery party, whereas the Southern Democrats who took their queue from the presidency of Andrew Jackson, argued for continued Western expansion not just of the United States, but of slavery as well. When the conclusion of the Mexican-American war dramatically expanded America’s territorial holdings, it also ignited a decade of tension over how slavery would be addressed in these new territories. These tensions came to a boiling point during the 1860 presidential election, when the Republicans nominated the vocally anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln vowed that, if elected president, he would stand in the way of any efforts to expand the practice of slavery. In return, the southern states promised that a victory for Lincoln would be the end of the Union. Upon Lincoln’s election, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas seceded from the United States, and declared themselves the Confederate States of America (CSA). Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia followed soon after. Two territories that had not yet been granted statehood, Kentucky and Missouri also joined the Confederacy.
Though an array of economic, cultural and political issues were implicated in the long and bloody war which followed, slavery was truly at the heart of the conflict. Of the 32 million people living in the United States at the time, some 4 million were African slaves. For the Confederacy, this followed a centrally held belief, expressed in a prominent speech by Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
The war itself began on April 12th of 1861 when Fort Sumter in Charleston was besieged by the South Carolina militia. Though the United States Army returned fire, the fort was ultimately captured by the militia, bringing about the start of hostilities which would persist for four years. Though the emergent Confederate Army succeeded in carving out an expansive sphere of territory at the outset of the war, Union troops quickly stifled the Confederacy in the West, crushing their river navy and dismantling their western armies entirely by 1862.
That same year, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making the practice of slavery entirely unlawful in the United States. Soon thereafter, the North captured New Orleans, split the Confederate Army in half at the Mississippi with its victory in Vicksburg, and by 1863, had stifled Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces at Gettysburg, ending any attempts at capturing northern territory.
With his success overseeing the army’s western campaign, Ulysses S. Grant became the General of all Union armies in 1864, and used the authority to bombard the Confederacy from all angles, blockading all Southern ports with superior naval power, capturing the city of Atlanta and leaving it in smoldering ruins as General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops on their famous March to the Sea.
Heavy losses were experienced on both sides—an estimated 600,000 to 750,000 fallen soldiers and untold numbers of civilians—but the greater destruction was ultimately visited upon the South. The war effectively ended in April of 1865 when General Lee signed his surrender to General Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The Confederacy was disbanded and efforts began to both return the Southern states to the Union and to navigate the practical abolition of slavery in the South.
The most obvious, important and immediate impact would be the abolition of slavery. With their return to the Union, the Southern states that had long relied on African slavery to fuel their plantation system and agrarian economy were now forced to transform their society and economy. Millions of freed slaves departed for opportunities in America’s Northern cities, a pattern that would alter the racial makeup of the United States in perpetuity.
Those that remained behind faced a Southern racial hierarchy that was not only unchanged by the war, but was in some ways only magnified by the bitterness and resentment of the defeated South. The period immediately after the war is known as the Era of Reconstruction in which national resources, and Union troops, were dispersed in the south to help rebuild its decimated infrastructure and integrate the population of freed slaves. However, tensions and political change—particularly with the 1876 presidential election of Rutherford B. Hayes—brought an end to reconstruction.
As Union troops filtered out of the southern states, a new form of racial hierarchy known as Jim Crow took hold. For the next century, the South maintained a system of racial segregation that continues to have a defining impact on America’s cultural, racial and political outlook to date.
Abraham Lincoln (/ˈlɪŋkən/; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, the country’s greatest moral, cultural, constitutional, and political crisis. He succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.
Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; /ˈhaɪrəm juːˈlɪsiːz/ HY-rəm yoo-LIS-eez; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American military leader who served as the 18th president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. As president, Grant was an effective civil rights executive who created the Justice Department and worked with the Radical Republicans to protect African Americans during Reconstruction. As Commanding General, he led the Union Army to victory in the American Civil War in 1865 and thereafter briefly served as Secretary of War.
Robert Edward Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870) was an American general best known for his service to the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, during which he was appointed the overall commander of the Confederate States Army. He led the Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy’s most powerful and important field formation, from 1862 until its surrender in 1865. During the war, Lee earned a solid reputation as a skilled tactician, for which he was revered by his officers and men as well as respected and feared by his Union Army adversaries. Ultimately however, the Confederate military faced insurmountable odds and Lee proved unable to overcome the massive advantages the Union held in manpower, technology and resources.
>This highly complex war was, up to that point in history, the farthest reaching and deadliest conflict in global history. Spurred by a densely woven fabric of related events, and facilitated by a forward leap in the technological capacity to make war, World War I was a war without equal at the time. The sheer scale of troop mobilization would be unprecedented as the war rippled across Europe and ultimately involved approximately 70 million military personnel. That it would also coincide with the pandemic spread of the Spanish influenza would make this an incomparably deadly war.
What began as a conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary soon exposed the complex and interdependent interests of every European nation, including the continent’s greatest powers. The march toward war began as part of a revolutionary movement within both Serbian society and the nation’s military. A cross-section of the population supported unification of Yugoslavia, which required Bosnian independence from Austria-Hungary’s 1908 annexation. Against this backdrop, on June 28th 1914, a 19-year old radical from a group called Young Serbia, Gavrilo Princip, with alleged backing from Serbian military intelligence, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne during a visit to Sarajevo.
This event would prompt an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary, and immediately thereafter, posturing for a military confrontation. Allies to both sides of the conflict quickly rushed to protect their various interests in the region. The Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain supported the Serbian cause while the already existing Triple Alliance merged the interests of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire, and Italy. The last of these, Italy was reluctant to enter the conflict and chose neutrality.
When Austria-Hungary bombarded the Serbian city of Belgrade, just miles from the Russian border, Russia entered the war on behalf of its neighbor. Germany responded by entering the conflict on behalf of neighboring Austria, and thus declared war on Russia. France came to Russia’s support. When the German Empire attempted to confront France by passing through the neutral state of Belgium, the Belgians invoked an 1839 treaty with the United Kingdom which required the latter to enter the war against Germany.
By the end of 1914, Japan had entered the war on Britain’s behalf, and the Ottoman Empire joined the Austria-Hungary/German alliance. By the war’s end, the allied powers would add Portugal, Greece, Montenegro, the defecting Italy, and eventually, the United States. Bulgaria would join the three empires comprising the Central Powers.
These two distinct alliances shaped the dynamic of a conflict which began in the Balkans, spread throughout Western Europe and ultimately extended as far as Africa, the Asian Pacific and the Middle East. The Germans anticipated a quick victory over the French and, subsequently, a more protracted strategy against the Russians. But the two sides largely sat at stalemate on the Western front for most of the following three years.
On the Eastern front, Germany enjoyed far greater success, defeating Serbia in 1915 and occupying Romania by 1917. America had remained largely neutral, though it did support the Allied effort with financing and weapons. In 1917, the Germans initiated a naval campaign with a series of attacks on neutral merchant ships, including those belonging to America. When revelations also emerged that Germany was secretly plotting to draw Mexico into a conflict with the U.S., America initiated the mobilization of two million troops.
As these events played out in Eastern Europe, the Russian Empire faced widespread internal upheaval. Even as the events of The Great War—as it was then called—shifted the power structures of Europe, another kind of revolution rippled through the continent. Revolutionary Marxist groups were rapidly gaining influence and growing bolder in their tactics. In Russia, these forces were especially motivated by discontent over the sacrifices made to the war effort. When the October Revolution of 1917 unseated the tsarist rulers of the Russian Empire and formed the Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the new nation’s first acts was to withdraw from the war.
Germany seized on the opportunity and advanced further into Eastern Europe while the Allies retreated and regrouped. But in 1918, the United States redoubled its efforts, pumping 10,000 new troops into the conflict every day and ultimately undertaking a decisive campaign called the Hundred Days Offensive. As the Germans struggled to defend against their advance, the Central Powers alliance splintered. Over two months in the autumn of 1918, U.S. troops forced the surrender of Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and the Hungarian-Austrian Empire respectively. With no allies left beside it, and with the Marxist revolution also rippling through its own nation, Germany surrendered to the allies on November 11th.
The aftermath of WWI saw nothing less than a reconfiguration of the world powers. At the start of the war, four empires—the Ottoman, Russian, German, and Austria-Hungarian—held sway over considerable portions of the world. At the end of the war, all four had ceased to exist. An array of new nations formed in their wake.
Moreover, the victorious allied powers of Britain, France, Italy and the U.S. imposed harsh terms on the defeated German nation. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles is said to have essentially crippled the German capacity for recovery. The result was an economic crisis that spiraled directly into the Great Depression, prompted a period of hyperinflation that totally devalued German currency, and ultimately foretold the rise of Hitler, European fascism, and the eventuality of World War II.
The United States also emerged as a greater world power, with its determinant role in allied victory helping to elevate its stature and influence on the world stage. Also noteworthy were the lasting technological advances of making war through more powerful weaponry and a greater capacity to impose mass casualties. With an estimated 8.5 million combat deaths, 13 million civilian deaths, and anywhere between 17 and 100 million deaths from the Spanish influenza which the war helped to proliferate throughout the world, the cost in terms of human life would be massive.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria of Austria (18 December 1863 – 28 June 1914) was the heir presumptive to the throne of Austria-Hungary. His assassination in Sarajevo is considered the most immediate cause of World War I.
Gavrilo Princip (Serbian Cyrillic: Гаврило Принцип, pronounced [ɡǎʋrilo prǐntsiːp]; 25 July 1894 – 28 April 1918) was a Bosnian Serb member of Young Bosnia who sought an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the age of 19, he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and the Archduke’s wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. Princip and his accomplices were arrested and implicated as members of a nationalist secret society, aiming to remove Habsburg colonial rule, which initiated the July Crisis and led to the outbreak of World War I.
Wilhelm II (Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert; 27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941), anglicised as William II, was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918. Despite strengthening the German Empire’s position as a great power by building a blue-water navy and promoting scientific innovation, his tactless public statements and erratic foreign policy greatly antagonized the international community and are considered by many to be one of the underlying causes for World War I. When the German war effort collapsed after a series of crushing defeats on the Western Front in 1918, he was forced to abdicate, thereby bringing an end to the House of Hohenzollern’s three-hundred-year reign.
The Russian Revolution was a five-year conflict that would transform the long-standing Russian Empire into the world’s first self-proclaimed socialist state. Brought about by the combined forces of World War I and a sweeping Marxist sentiment among various portions of the Russian military and working classes, the Russian Revolution initiated with the 1917 February Revolution. Increasingly disillusioned by their role in a losing war effort, members of the Russian military began to mutiny against their leadership. Thus when socialist revolutionaries attacked the capital of Petrograde (known today as St. Petersburg), Tsar Nicholas II recognized that he lacked sufficient military support to protect his throne.
He stepped down, bringing an end to more than 300 years of rule by the Romanov dynasty. However, a Russian Provisional Government propped up by the Russian parliament and largely composed of nobles and aristocrats remained in place. On the grassroots level, community assemblies known as Soviets held sway over both the military and the working class, as well as an increasingly leftist middle class.
With the tsar dispatched, the Provisional Government faced widespread instability in the form of protests, worker strikes, and militia revolts. A diversity of socialist groups formed and battled for influence over the emerging state. Most prominent among them were the Bolsheviks, led by Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin.
Lenin’s platform included an immediate end to involvement in the European war, widespread land grants to the peasantry, and bread distribution for urban workers. The Bolsheviks also formally militarized workers, transforming worker militias into the Red Guards. Soon identified as the Red Army, this was the seedling for the Russian military force that would exert so much power over the peoples of the Soviet Union in the subsequent century.
The Soviets and Bolsheviks shared interests and strategy. So when the Russian Provisional Government refused to withdraw from World War I, this served as grounds for the October Revolution, a full-scale 1917 coup. The Bolsheviks led an armed insurrection into Belgrade, deposed the Provisional Government and relocated the seat of power to Moscow.
Under Lenin’s rule, and with support from the Soviets, the Bolsheviks established a socialist state—the first of its kind. By March of 1918, Lenin had fulfilled his first promise, signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and immediately withdrawing from the war. The next act of consolidating power involved the establishment of a secret police and the purging of those deemed enemies of the revolutionary cause. Modeled closely after aspects of the French Revolution, this stage saw widespread imprisonment and execution of political opponents to the Soviet and Bolshevik alliance, including the tsar and his family.
All out war persisted between the Bolsheviks, or Reds, and the counter-revolutionary forces who identified as Whites. Over four years of conflict, the Bolsheviks emerged with decisive control of Russia, and subsequently expanded their control into the neighboring states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. This signaled the 1922 unification of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) with Lenin at the helm of a single-party political system.
Lenin died of ill health in 1924 but his influence would loom large not just over Russia but over much of the world. The brand of Marxist communism practiced by Lenin would create a model for nations not just in Eastern Europe but throughout the world. The style of rule merged a proletariat dictatorship with a “revolutionary vanguard” of political leaders, and ultimately created the mold for an authoritarian style of communism that proliferated widely in the coming decades. This proliferation was the spark for domestic conflicts, civil wars, and regional conflagrations over the 20th century, and would indeed set the world on a course toward the Cold War.
Equally as impactful though was the establishment of a new and soon-to-be dominant power player on the world stage. Over the next several decades, the USSR expanded its territory and the Red Army grew into one of the world’s largest fighting forces. In fact, the Red Army would compose a dominant strand of the Allied forces in the rapidly approaching World War II. It would not be an overstatement to say that the Russian Revolution, combined with the events of World War I, would contribute to nearly every major conflict which occupied the world stage in the 20th Century.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870 – 21 January 1924), better known by his alias Lenin, was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia, and later the Soviet Union, became a one-party socialist state governed by the Soviet Communist Party. A Marxist, he developed a variant of this communist ideology known as Leninism.
Nicholas II or Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov (18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918), known in the Russian Orthodox Church as Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, was the last Emperor of Russia, King of Congress Poland and Grand Duke of Finland, ruling from 1 November 1894 until his abdication on 15 March 1917. During his reign, Nicholas gave support to the economic and political reforms promoted by his prime ministers, Sergei Witte and Pyotr Stolypin. He advocated modernization based on foreign loans and close ties with France, but resisted giving the new parliament (the Duma) major roles. Ultimately, progress was undermined by Nicholas’s commitment to autocratic rule, strong aristocratic opposition and defeats sustained by the Russian military in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. By March 1917, public support for Nicholas had collapsed and he was forced to abdicate the throne, thereby ending the Romanov dynasty’s 304-year rule of Russia (1613–1917).
Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (/ˈkɛrənski, kəˈrɛnski/ KERR-ən-skee, kə-REN-skee; Russian: Алекса́ндр Фёдорович Ке́ренский, IPA: [ɐlʲɪkˈsandr ˈkʲerʲɪnskʲɪj]; original spelling: Александръ Ѳедоровичъ Керенскій; 4 May [O.S. 22 April] 1881 – 11 June 1970) was a Russian lawyer and revolutionary who was a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the February Revolution of 1917, he joined the newly formed Russian Provisional Government, first as Minister of Justice, then as Minister of War, and after July as the government’s second Minister-Chairman. A leader of the moderate-socialist Trudovik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, he was also a vice-chairman of the powerful Petrograd Soviet. On 7 November, his government was overthrown by the Lenin-led Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. He spent the remainder of his life in exile, in Paris and New York City, and worked for the Hoover Institution.
The Chinese Civil War is generally broken into two distinct periods, intersected by the cessation of hostilities over the course of World War II. The first phase of the war persisted from 1927 to 1937 and pitted the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The two sides actually began as part of an alliance aimed at bringing stability to China in the decades following the fall of the Qing Dynasty. This alliance also enjoyed direct support from the newly-formed Soviet Union which saw in China an opportunity to extend the influence of Soviet-style communism.
Soviet involvement caused increasing tension both in the alliance between KMT and the CCP, and within the KMT itself which was divided into left- and right-leaning factions. Led by Chiang Kai-shek, who himself had received military training in Moscow, the KMT grew suspicious of Russian involvement and called outwardly for the suppression of communist activities. On April 12th, 1927, this suppression took the form of widespread arrests and executions of communists in Shanghai. Chiang Kai-shek purged both the CCP and leftist elements of the KMT from their seats of authority and pursued a militaristic strategy of nationalism.
These events spawned a decade of insurgency among China’s leftists, with the communist party receiving ongoing support from the Soviets. Led by Mao Zedong, revolutionary forces attempted intermittently to seize major cities, undertake rural rebellions, and effectively divided China into two separate states. While Beijing remained the technical capital of the Republic, nationalist forces extended their influence from a seat of power in Nanjing and the CCP established its capital in Wuhan. Though the KMT was largely successful in defending its own territories, it also failed to penetrate Mao Zedong’s sphere of influence, called the Soviet Chinese Republic.
By contrast, Mao Zedong gained increased power as the decade wore on, marching deeper into KMT territory, defeating warlords along the way, and amassing support from the Chinese peasantry throughout his journey. However, as Chiang Kai-sheck’s power wavered, a major external threat presented itself. The outbreak of war in Europe, and the subsequent initiation of hostilities with the Japanese required the opposing forces in the Chinese Civil War to mount a fitful and uncomfortable unity against a common foe. This became a major theatre in World War II, and remained as such until the war’s conclusion in 1945. (See entries on the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II below).
This immediately initiated the second stage of the Chinese Civil War. The unconditional surrender of the Japanese, as negotiated by the United States, was largely an agreement between the Japanese and the KMT. Shortly thereafter, Chiang Kai-shek met with the intent of negotiating peace. This effort failed, and by 1946, the two sides were in full-scale conflict once again.
By this time, the Communist Party had increased dramatically in size and power, with its growing military and Soviet support providing Mao Zedong with the means to achieve victory. He did so in October 1949, reestablishing Beijing as the singular capital city of China and proclaiming the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Chiang Kai-sheck and roughly two million nationalist supporters fled to the island of Taiwan, which he consequently declared the Republic of China. No treaties or peace agreements have ever been signed between these two parties.
In addition to extending the influence of the Soviet Union, the events of the Chinese Civil War would create the largest and longest surviving communist state. The forces that assumed control of China under Mao Zedong remain essentially unchallenged in the present day. Today, China holds enormous influence over its region, the global economy and geopolitical affairs. The events of the Chinese Civil War helped deliver it to this position, even to the extent that China’s Soviet-style government has long outlived that of the Soviet Union itself. Territorial disputes continue to the present day between China and Taiwan.
Chiang Kai-shek (31 October 1887 – 5 April 1975), also known as Chiang Chung-cheng and romanized via Mandarin as Chiang Chieh-shih and Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China from 1928, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan, until his death in 1975.
Sun Yat-sen (/ˈsʌn ˌjætˈsɛn/; born Sun Deming; 12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925) was a Chinese statesman, physician, and political philosopher, who served as the provisional first president of the Republic of China and the first leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China). He is called the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China, and the “Forerunner of the Revolution” in the People’s Republic of China for his instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. Sun is unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for being widely revered in both mainland China and Taiwan.
Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976), also known as Chairman Mao and popularly rendered as Mao Tse-tung, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who was the founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which he ruled as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 until his death in 1976. Ideologically a Marxist–Leninist, his theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism.
In some regards, the Spanish Civil War is viewed as a preliminary microcosm of World War II. This is because the internal conflicts which divided Spain mirrored many of the ideological and political elements that would soon bring the entire world into direct conflict. For a decade leading up to the start of war, Spanish politics were beset by ideological division. Two sides vied for control, with an alliance of communists, anarchists, and left-leaning Republicans forming the Popular Front and a cross-section of conservatives and monarchists forming the Nationalist movement.
When a 1936 election delivered control to the Popular Front, a military coup ensued. The nationalist forces behind this movement represented a fledgling form of fascism, and aimed to stifle what they viewed as a slide toward communist revolution. Because of these important ideological implications, the initial participants in World War II viewed the outcome of the Spanish Civil War as having strategic importance.
Nazi Germany and the fascist Italian state provided support to the Nationalist movement, which soon coalesced behind military general Francisco Franco. The Soviet Union and Mexico joined the conflict on behalf of the Republican forces. Though officially neutral, the United States, U.K. and France recognized Republican authority as well. To their perspective, the growing threat of a military dictatorship in Spain represented the creeping threat of fascism. That fear was justified as Franco rapidly captured the Northern coastline of Spain in 1937, occupied the Catalonian region over the next two years, and ultimately came to control the space between Madrid and Barcelona. By 1939, the Republican efforts were stymied, with thousands fleeing over the border to France.
The Republicans who remained faced violent political purging in the form of widespread arrests and mass executions. Franco assumed the role of dictator, a post which he held until his death in 1975.
While the Spanish Civil War was, to an extent, contained within the Spanish state, it carried important philosophical implications for the broader struggle at the heart of World War II. Franco’s rise to power represented an existential threat to democracy much in the same way that Hitler and Mussolini presented this threat in Germany and Italy. While Spain lacked the capacity of its European allies to wage a war of expansion, Franco reflected the increasingly totalitarian instincts of a fast-rising generation of autocrats.
Moreover, whereas Hitler and Mussolini were fully vanquished at the end of World War II, Franco succeeded in keeping Spain under the grip of authoritarian rule until 1975. This made it one of the last Western European powers to eventually achieve some form of Democracy.
Francisco Franco Bahamonde (Spanish: [fɾanˈθisko ˈfɾaŋko βa.aˈmonde]; 4 December 1892 – 20 November 1975) was a Spanish general who led the Nationalist forces in overthrowing the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War and thereafter ruled over Spain from 1939 to 1975 as a dictator, assuming the title Caudillo. This period in Spanish history, from the Nationalist victory to Franco’s death, is commonly known as Francoist Spain or the Francoist dictatorship.
Miguel Cabanellas Ferrer (1 January 1872 – 14 May 1938) was a Spanish Army officer. He was a leading figure of the 1936 coup d’etat in Zaragoza and sided with the Rebel faction during the Spanish Civil War.
José Sanjurjo y Sacanell (Spanish: [saŋˈxuɾxo]; 28 March 1872 – 20 July 1936), was a Spanish general, one of the military leaders who plotted the July 1936 coup d’etat which started the Spanish Civil War.
Both before and after the Second Sino-Japanese war, China was embroiled in its own internal Civil War. Thus, when tensions ultimately spilled over into a Japanese invasion of mainland China, it was against a Nationalist government that was dramatically weakened by its ongoing conflict with the Community Chinese Party (CCP). Though these sides would eventually forge a flimsy alliance, shaky relations within China made this alliance particularly vulnerable to Japanese aggression.
>The Second Sino-Japanese War began on July 7th, 1937 over an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. When Chinese nationalist soldiers opened fire on Japanese Imperial troops in a dispute over a missing Japanese soldier (who later returned safely to his post), the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion of the Chinese mainland. The aggression reflected a decades-long effort on the part of the Japanese to grow their Empire. As the Great Depression seized the global community, the Japanese population responded to economic struggles with an increasingly militant nationalism.
Though European tensions wouldn’t escalate into war for another two years, some scholars argue that Japan’s efforts at expansion marked the official beginning of World War II. The Soviet Union and the United States both provided direct aid to China in an effort to help stave off the expansion of the Japanese Empire. Japan’s superior military forces rapidly seized control of China’s major cities, but struggled to gain a foothold in the enormous rural portions of the country. Then, in December of 1941, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, drawing the United States directly into the Pacific theatre of the war.
This resulted in a global merging of the European and Pacific theaters, and ultimately made the United States a determinant player in the outcomes of both the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. To an extent, the remaining history of this war is inextricably linked to the events that played out in World War II. Thus, in 1945, following two American nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, and all previously captured territories were returned to China.
More than anything else, the Sino-Japanese War came to be seen as the first front in the global conflict that would touch every part of the world. Japan’s effort to expand into China, and the U.S. involvement in resisting this effort were likely major catalysts in the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbor. This attack drew the U.S. into World War II on both the European and Pacific fronts. In doing so, it likely set in motion the events that would decide the outcome of this terrible and massive global war.
Thus, it can be argued that the Second Sino-Japanese War would have a significant bearing on how World War II proceeded and concluded. Moreover, America’s defeat and occupation of Japan would initiate the emergence of Western capitalism and representative democracy in the Asian Pacific, as well as cast the mold for America’s nation-building ambitions in the decades thereafter.
In a regional context, the lasting impact of this conflict is a continued sense of resentment that prevents true progress in Chinese-Japanese relations to date. Memories still persist in China of Japan’s brutality, its massacres, its sexual abuse of its female captives, and the nationalist military fervor that it visited upon Chinese civilians. While more than 4 million military personnel were killed on both sides of this war, estimates hold that between 10 and 25 million non-combatant Chinese citizens were killed in this conflict.
Finally, and perhaps most consequential today, the end of the conflict would bring about a return to internal hostilities in the temporally suspended Chinese Civil War. Upon Japanese surrender, internal struggle resumed almost immediately, and ultimately precipitated the emergence of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong.
Prince Fumimaro Konoe (Japanese: 近衞 文麿, Hepburn: Konoe Fumimaro, often Konoye, 12 October 1891 – 16 December 1945) was a Japanese politician and prime minister. During his tenure, he presided over the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and the breakdown in relations with the United States which ultimately culminated in Japan’s entry into World War II. He also played a central role in transforming his country into a totalitarian state by passing the National Mobilization Law and founding the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.
Emperor Shōwa (昭和, 29 April 1901 – 7 January 1989), better known in English by his personal name Hirohito (裕仁), was the 124th emperor of Japan, ruling over the Empire of Japan from 1926 until 1947, after which he was Emperor of the state of Japan until his death in 1989. He was succeeded by his fifth child and eldest son, Akihito. Hirohito and his wife, Empress Kōjun, had seven children, two sons and five daughters. By 1979, Hirohito was the only monarch in the world with the title “emperor”. Hirohito was the longest-lived and longest-reigning historical Japanese emperor and one of the longest-reigning monarchs in the world.
Hideki Tōjō (December 30, 1884 – December 23, 1948) was a Japanese politician, general of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and war criminal who served as Prime Minister of Japan and President of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association for most of World War II. He assumed several more positions including Chief of Staff of the Imperial Army before ultimately being removed from office in July 1944. During his years in power, his leadership was marked by extreme state-perpetrated violence in the name of Japanese ultranationalism, in much of which he was personally involved.
The events leading up to World War II, the overlapping causes of the war, its impact on the world as it played out, and the aftermath are all deeply complex and multitudinous. The simplest way to capture its enormity is to recognize that World War II fractured the world into pieces, and that the effort of rebuilding this world thereafter would shape the globe as we know it today.
That said, the condensed version below will, by necessity, leave out a great many details in attempting to capture the sweeping reality of this conflict. Several events serve as a prelude to World War II. See the entry directly above to understand the connection between the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Pacific theatre of World War II. As Japan pursued its imperial ambitions, the various powers of Europe faced violent internal tremors. As socialist ideals rippled through the various working classes of Europe, an opposing force called fascism emerged. The authoritarian style of totalitarian rule was modeled by Italy’s Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, who upon seizing power by force in 1922, imposed a brutal police state.
Mussolini proved influential as totalitarian autocrats emerged to oppose swelling socialist fervor throughout Europe. Among them, military dictator Francisco Franco would assume power, and set off a three year civil war, in Spain. And most consequentially, Austrian-born Adolph Hitler would would brew a toxic mix of racialism, nationalism, and fascism in Germany, giving rise to the Third Reich and the Nazi Socialst German Workers’ Party. The far right Nazi Party was a populist movement that swept up a German public embittered by its defeat in World War I and the consequent economic hardship and hyperinflation which followed.
At the end of 1924, Hitler had just completed a prison sentence for a prior attempt at overthrowing the government. In 1925, he reconstituted his Nazi Party and began to hold increasingly massive and popular rallies in which he convinced Germans that Jews and Bolsheviks were to blame for the nation’s economic woes. Germans proved receptive to this message and Hitler sailed to rising popularity on the strength of the nation’s passionate nationalism and antisemitism. This popularity peaked with the Nazi Party’s majority victory during the 1932 elections. Hitler was appointed Chancellor the following day, and almost immediately eliminated most German civil liberties, decreed that laws could be passed without parliamentary procedure, abolished labor unions, purged opposing political parties and begin building concentration camps for enemies of the state.
Germany had become a fascist state, with Hitler as its dictator. The next several years saw the increased authority of the Nazi police state and the onset of specific laws targeting Jewish homes, businesses, organizations, and houses of worship. As these restrictions grew, so did national fervor against the Jews, which escalated into an event known as Kristallnacht. On November 9th and 10th, 1938 a combination of Nazi paramilitary forces and civilians engaged in violent pogroms against Jews in Austria, Germany and Sudetenland. Rioters demolished and burnt down Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues, dragging unarmed civilians into the streets and beating them.
Not only did authorities stand aside as this occurred, but they subsequently arrested more than 30,000 Jews and sent them to concentration camps, initiating what the Germans called the Final Solution. This was the beginning of the Holocaust, a systematic genocide inflicted upon German Jews, gypsies, the disabled, and others who didn’t match the pure German Aryan identity. Millions would perish in the concentration camps and death camps established throughout Germany.
Germany sought to expand both its Final Solution and its brand of Nazi fascism by invading neighboring Poland on September 1, 1939. This is typically marked as the beginning of the European front in the war. Two days later, the U.K. and France would respond to this aggression by declaring war on Germany, which at the time held a pact with Russia promising to divide conquered territories into spheres of influence across Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic States. Hitler would ultimately break this pact. In fact, it is said that Russian premier Joseph Stalin was genuinely hurt when Hitler violated this agreement and invaded Russia in 1941.
This would ultimately provide the dividing line between the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), and the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Russia and, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States). The Axis Powers would make tremendous gains in the early part of the war, coming to occupy significant swathes of Eastern and Western Europe, defeating France, and opening campaigns in Africa.
Until the German invasion of Russia and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the war was fought primarily between Britain and Germany. However, the addition to these two major world powers to the Allied side of the fight would alter the dynamics of the war. Germany’s attempted invasion of the Soviet Union was met with an absolutely enormous show of manpower, which ultimately found the two sides in a war of attrition. Germany’s considerable scientific, technological and military resources were funneled into this losing effort.
And by 1942, the influx of U.S. forces into the Pacific began to repel the expansion of Japanese imperial ambitions. The Axis forces suffered a series of consequential defeats in the following two years that helped precipitate the Allied invasion of France. D-Day, as the surprise U.S. landing on the Beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 is commonly known, was a major turning point in the European War. Intense land fighting followed as Allied forces churned through Europe, liberating various regions from Nazi occupation.
As the Russians turned back their German invaders and Nazi campaigns in Africa floundered, the Axis Powers sagged under the weight of their defeat. By the spring of 1945, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had penetrated Germany, occupying Berlin, prompting Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th.
The U.S. responded to a subsequent refusal of the Japanese to surrender by dropping two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima (August 6th) and Nagasaki (August 9th). Japan surrendered on August 15th, bringing an end to World War II.
The effects of World War II are massive. It was, without equal, the deadliest and most far-reaching conflict in human history. More than 100 million troops joined the fight from more than 30 countries. A combination of fighting, genocide, massacres, bombings, diseases, and famine led to the death of anywhere between 70 and 85 million people, a vast majority of them civilians. Notable among these deaths are those who perished in concentration camps throughout Eastern Europe. Some estimates hold that the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust constituted 2/3rd of Europe’s Jewish population. These events would verily shape the identity of the Jewish people, even strengthening the resolve to form a national homeland. Israel would declare its independence just three years later.
Also important to note is that World War II dramatically expanded the capacity of man to wage war, introducing aerial warfare, atomic weaponry, and a host of advances in military strategy. By the time its troops returned home, America would emerge from World War II with the world’s most powerful military, a fact that itself would very much shape geopolitical affairs in the coming decades.
Another major consequence of the war was the establishment of the United Nations, a coalition of nations designed to facilitate diplomacy and mediate conflicts so as to avoid another war on the scale of WWII.
Beyond this scope, the entire geopolitical landscape of the 20th Century would be shaped in the aftermath of the war. In particular, the U.S. and the Soviet Union emerged as the determinant forces in attaining victory. However, the uneasy alliance between these two ideologically divergent powers would immediately fracture into open competition. Western Democracy squared off against Soviet Communism in an effort to rebuild a broken world. The competing visions for this world, and the resulting spheres of influence carved out by these forces, would initiate the Cold War, which is best captured by the partition of Berlin.
These divisions would also present in Korea, where the 38th Parallel was used to divide North and South Korea upon the retreat of Japanese occupiers. This would set the stage for the next conflict on our list.
Adolf Hitler (German: [ˈadɔlf ˈhɪtlɐ] (listen); 20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician who was the dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945. He rose to power as the leader of the Nazi Party,[a] becoming Chancellor in 1933 and then assuming the title of Führer und Reichskanzler in 1934. During his dictatorship, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust, the genocide of about six million Jews and millions of other victims.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili; 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1878 – 5 March 1953) was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet political leader who governed the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. He served as both General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the country as part of a collective leadership, he ultimately consolidated power to become the Soviet Union’s dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism while his own policies are known as Stalinism.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (/ˈroʊzəvəlt/, /-vɛlt/ ROH-zə-velt; January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic Party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which defined modern liberalism in the United States throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II, which ended shortly after he died in office.
For much of the latter 19th and early 20th Centuries, Korea existed under the Japanese imperial sphere of influence, first through a series of treaties and, after 1910, through formal annexation. With the end of WWII and its formal surrender in 1945, the Japanese Empire essentially ceased to be. With its occupation of Korea ended, the peninsula was—like much of the world—divided into two spheres of influence. Partitioned by the 38th Parallel, North Korea emerged from the war under Soviet influence while South Korea was occupied by U.S. troops.
The goal was not occupation, but the facilitation of eventual independence. This was attained in 1948, when an election of questionable integrity installed Syngman Rhee as president of South Korea. South Korea became the First Republic of Korea, a capitalist, authoritarian state. North of the parallel, the Soviets reached an agreement that installed Kim Il-sung as supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Soviet and U.S. troops both departed the region between 1948 and 1949. However, from the outset, each of the peninsula’s newly independent states declared itself the sole nation of Korea, and both sides disputed the permanency of the border established by U.S. and Soviet forces. Thus, tensions persisted between the two sides.
Moreover, North Korea viewed the western powers as the greatest threat to their existence, and felt especially threatened by America’s support for Chinese Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Thus, in addition to supporting communist revolutionaries in China, North Korea actively supported a communist insurgency in South Korea. This, combined with poorly defined national lines of demarcation, resulted in near-constant bloodshed.
Communist revolts in South Korea were met with brutal suppression, with tens of thousands executed even before the official start of war. These tensions ultimately prompted the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) to cross the border into South Korea on June 25th, 1950. The recently-established United Nations condemned the act as an invasion by North Korea. 21 nations pledged troops and support to South Korea, with 90% of forces coming from the United States.
Upon their arrival, U.S. troops, fighting alongside the South Korean Army, suffered a series of defeats. Following initial retreat, the U.S. and UN launched a naval counteroffensive that drove communist forces back over the border. However, when UN forces undertook their own invasion of North Korea, the China’s People’s Volunteer Army intervened. Their support, alongside covert air support from the Soviet Union, signaled not just a new phase in the war, but a new stage in world history.
Waging a war by proxy between the ideals of capitalism and communism, the U.S. and UN locked horns with China and Soviet Union in a manner that would define the Cold War thereafter. The Korean War was now the first major theater in a conflict of ideas that would swallow the whole world over the next 40 years.
And as would typify the Cold War in many theaters, little would be solved by this tug-of-war conflict. As the major world powers pumped soldiers and resources into the support of their respective partners on the Korean Peninsula, this war was inevitably headed for stalemate. Indeed, the capital city of South Korea would be captured by, and retaken from, communist forces no fewer than four times. However, by 1951, U.S. and UN forces had at least succeeded in pushing communist forces back north of the 38th Parallel. This led to a war of attrition on the ground, with neither side achieving any meaningful gains, even as U.S. airstrikes relentlessly bombarded North Korea for the final two years of the war.
On July 27th, 1953, after more than 3 million lives were lost and all of Korea’s major cities obliterated, both sides signed the Korean Armistice Agreement. Though fighting ended, and a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established to buffer the two sides, no formal treaty has ever been signed.
The conflict left unsettled by the Korean War remains a volatile situation to this date. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the relative normalization of relations between China and the rest of the world, North Korea is an isolated nation. Though inspired initially by Soviet socialist principles, North Korea today is more accurately described as a totalitarian dictatorship built around the absolute power of the Kim dynasty. Kim Jong-un is North Korea’s supreme leader, and is the third in a line of family succession. Under Jong-un, North Korea is regarded as a rogue state where human rights abuses are rampant, individual liberties are nonexistent, and a huge portion of the population lives in deep poverty, the latter a consequence of both famine and economic sanctions.
South Korea, by contrast, is among the world’s most rapidly growing economies, a fully modernized state more reflective of the Western capitalist philosophies in other developed Asian Pacific economies like Japan and Singapore. South Korea enjoys normalized relations with the broader global community.
North Korea’s isolation, the unpredictability of its leadership, and its nuclear ambitions make it a dangerous state. Because relations between North Korea and both South Korea and the United States are still hostile, this remains a potentially volatile situation with broader implications to both the region and the global balance of power.
In 2018, both sides met to begin the process of establishing a formal peace agreement. However, until this does occur, the two sides are technically still engaged in a frozen war.
Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만, pronounced [i.sɯŋ.man]; 26 March 1875 – 19 July 1965) was a South Korean politician who served as the first President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960. Rhee was also the first and last president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea from 1919 to his impeachment in 1925 and from 1947 to 1948. As President of South Korea, Rhee’s government was characterized by authoritarianism, limited economic development, and in the late 1950s growing political instability and public opposition.
Kim Il-sung (/ˈkɪm ˈɪlˈsʌŋ, -ˈsʊŋ/; Korean: 김일성, Korean pronunciation: [kimils͈ʌŋ]; born Kim Sŏng-ju (김성주), 15 April 1912 – 8 July 1994) was a North Korean politician and the founder of North Korea, which he ruled from the country’s establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He held the posts of Premier from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994. He was also the leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1966 and as General Secretary after 1966). Coming to power after the end of Japanese rule in 1945, he authorized the invasion of South Korea in 1950, triggering an intervention in defense of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States. Following the military stalemate in the Korean War, a ceasefire was signed on 27 July 1953. He was the third longest-serving non-royal head of state/government in the 20th century, in office for more than 45 years.
Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States, serving from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as the 34th vice president in early 1945. He implemented the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy of Western Europe and established the Truman Doctrine and NATO to contain communist expansion. He proposed numerous liberal domestic reforms, but few were enacted by the Conservative Coalition that dominated Congress.
The Vietnam War was a 20-year conflict that engulfed significant portions of Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The three nations became essential theaters in the Cold War. And like most other conflicts at this moment in history, the stage was set for this one in the aftermath of World War II. The region once known as Indochina had been a French colony from the late 19th Century up until the Japanese invaded during World War II. Throughout the course of this occupation, communist revolutionaries led by a man named Ho Chi Minh rebelled against Japanese rule with direct support from the Soviet Union, China and the U.S.
Thus, when the war ended and Japan surrendered, Ho Chi Minh established the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with its government seated in Hanoi. Less than a month later, France ousted the DRV and attempted to regain control over its former colony. Resistance from a group called the Viet Minh prompted the First Indochina War in 1946. The French faced fierce internal resistance. This resistance only escalated when China and the Soviet Union formally recognized the DRV and Ho Chi Minh’s government in January of 1950.
Less than 2000 miles away, the U.S. and Soviet Union were approaching war in the Korean Peninsula. The events there convinced military leaders in the U.S. that the Soviet Union was pursuing a policy of global expansionism by way of communist revolutions like those in Southeast Asia. America increasingly threw its financial weight behind the French efforts at recolonizing Indochina but remained hesitant to dispatch actual troops. This changed in 1954 when the French campaign collapsed, resulting in independence for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Vietnam was partitioned at a line called the 17th Parallel, which became the line of demarcation between North and South Vietnam. During the next two years, thousands flowed over the border in either direction, with Catholics fleeing south for fear of communist persecution and intended revolutionaries traveling north, with some contingent remaining behind for the purposes of an eventual insurrection. Those who remained behind would become the Viet Cong, guerrilla fighters implanted in the south but allied with Northern communists. The Viet Cong would eventually become a major factor in the approaching war.
In 1955, both sides held deeply rigged elections, with Ho Chi Minh winning sole authority of the State of Vietnam, and Catholic nationalist Ngo Dinh Diem establishing a rabidly anti-communist military state in the south called the Republic of Vietnam. His authoritarian rule was met with widespread insurgency from various revolutionary groups that, by 1960, had coalesced into the Viet Cong. In collaboration with Ho Chi Minh’s seat of government, the revolutionaries opened up a critical supply line and fighting network that wound through neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The U.S. called this line the Ho Chi Minh trail, and viewed it as proof of the central Cold War premise known as the “domino theory.” This held that the fall of one nation to communism would inevitably lead to a tide of communist revolutions all over the worold. This theory underscores the reason that the U.S. would soon dedicate so much effort to waging war in this particular part of the world.
During these years, the number of American military personnel gradually scaled up, so that by the end of the Kennedy Administration in 1963, more than 20,000 soldiers were present in the region. This escalated into the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, where it was claimed that a U.S. Destroyer stationed in the region had been provoked by Vietnamese vessels. This event served as rationale for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson sweeping authority to mobilize American forces in Southeast Asia.
More than 180,000 troops arrived by 1965, entering America into a war on two fronts—against the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies. In spite of a growing force of troops in the south and relentless air campaigns in the north, the U.S. struggled not just to make progress in the war, but to truly identify attainable goals in the conflict. In 1968, the Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a campaign of surprise attacks that took a heavy toll on the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.
Support for the war waned in the United States, which grappled with its own internal strife. The Civil Rights movement converged with a growing anti-war movement. Protests and race riots gripped city streets throughout the U.S. Against this backdrop, President Johnson chose not to seek reelection in 1968. With the subsequent assassination of Democratic frontrunner Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon emerged as president and though he expanded air strikes along the Ho Chi Minh trail, into Laos and Cambodia, he also increasingly pulled back U.S. ground forces while scaling up the South Vietnamese military capacity.
By 1972, most U.S. ground force operations had ceased. The following year, The Paris Peace Accords were signed, formally ending U.S. involvement in the war. Still, violence continued between the two sides, most notably with the communist Khmer Rouge toppling the government in Cambodia in 1975, and North Korea capturing the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon in 1975. These events marked the end of the war, the reunification of Vietnam under communist authority, and a humiliating defeat for the United States.
Though the U.S. was correct in its assessment of Soviet expansionist ambitions, its domino theory never came to pass. In spite of the emergence of communism in Southeast Asia, this would only come to represent one theater in a global struggle that touched every inhabited continent. To that extent, the end of the Vietnam War simply signaled movement to new proxy theaters in the Cold War including the Middle East, South American and Central America.
The more lasting impacts would be on the psyches of both the Vietnamese people and America. For the former, the war was catastrophic, producing incalculable destruction to the cities, jungles, and rural countryside of the region, and claiming the lives of as many as 2 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, as well as an additional 370,000 Cambodian and Laotian fighters and civilians. While relations between North Korea and the United States have normalized, a great deal of pain remains for those who lived through this conflict.
In the U.S., the war was viewed as a humiliating defeat that cost untold billions and claimed the lives of nearly 60,000 U.S. soldiers. It shook American confidence in the military and, colliding as it did with the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, led to a period of deep national disillusionment from the nation that had emerged so heroically from World War II 30 years prior. In many ways, Vietnam forever altered the relationship between the government and its public, reducing American patriotism, widening generational divides, and tying into the broader protest movement that questioned American authority, integrity and intent.
In many ways, the toxic divides that define American politics today gained their footing in the aftermath of America’s greatest defeat.
Hồ Chí Minh (/hoʊ tʃiː mɪn/; Vietnamese: [hò cǐ mīŋ̟] (listen), Saigon: [hò cǐ mɨ̄n]; Chữ Hán: 胡志明; 19 May 1890 – 2 September 1969), born Nguyễn Sinh Cung, also known as Nguyễn Tất Thành, Nguyễn Ái Quốc, Bác Hồ, or simply Bác (‘Uncle’, pronounced [ʔɓaːk̚˦˥]), was a Vietnamese revolutionary and politician. He served as Prime Minister of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1955 and President from 1945 until his death in 1969. Ideologically a Marxist–Leninist, he served as Chairman and First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam.
Ngô Đình Diệm (/djɛm/ or /ziːm/; Vietnamese: [ŋō ɗìn jîəmˀ] (listen); 3 January 1901 – 2 November 1963) was a Vietnamese politician. He was the final prime minister of the State of Vietnam (1954–55), and then served as President of South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam) from 1955 until he was captured and assassinated during the 1963 military coup.
Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. A member of the Republican Party, Nixon previously served as the 36th vice president from 1953 to 1961, having risen to national prominence as a representative and senator from California. After five years in the White House that saw the conclusion to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, détente with the Soviet Union and China, the first manned moon landings, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, he became the only president to resign from the office, following the Watergate scandal.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a stark example of how an extremely small region can have major implications for the entire world. Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 immediately sparked the First Arab-Israeli War, in which the neighboring Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq invaded to prevent the formation of the Jewish state. During the 10-month conflict, Israeli forces drove back the coalition of Arab forces and expanded their intended boundaries. More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by the war and Israel’s subsequent establishment of statehood.
Relations did not normalize between Israel and its neighbors. In the midst of ongoing hostility, an Egyptian blockade of the Suez Canal impeded Israeli commerce. This triggered a second conflict in 1956 when Israel invaded Egypt with intent to see the Straits of Tiran reopened. Though a UN peacekeeping contingent arrived, hostilities remained. A decade later, with tensions mounting again between the two sides, the Egyptians threatened to once again close their straits to Israeli shipping.
On June 5th, 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt’s airfields, surprising the Egyptians and decimating their air force. Following this with a ground offensive in Egypt’s Gaza Strip and in the Sinai Peninsula, the Israelis force Egyptian evacuation. Israeli forces pushed the Egyptians into further retreat, ultimately capturing the entire peninsula by the end of six days. With ceasefire agreements reached with Egypt, Jordan and Syria between June 8th and 11th, Israel emerged with new territories in the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, which included East Jerusalem.
While the war delivered Israel to greater national standing as both a military force and a democratic ally in a region of dictatorships and monarchies, it would also set into motion the events which continue to haunt Israel in the present day. While Israeli’s sound defeat of its hostile neighbors would have a resounding impact in the region (with Egypt’s Prime Minister even resigning in disgrace), the displacement of the Palestinian people would have a far more resounding impact.
To date, Israeli presence in the Golan Heights, West Bank, Gaza Strip and parts of Jerusalem is a subject of great dispute. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories largely inhabited by Palestinian people. The displacement of the Palestinians and subsequent conflict with the Israeli government has rendered them a people without a homeland, largely living as refugees within Israel’s borders.
The world community continues to grapple with the best way to approach a two-state solution which allows for recognition of Israel’s right to statehood and the establishment of Palestinian independence. However, these are both hard-won achievements in a relationship fraught with violence and distrust. Today, this continues to be a source of violence and conflict with implications for the entire region, and thus, for the world at large.
Moshe Dayan (Hebrew: משה דיין; 20 May 1915 – 16 October 1981) was an Israeli military leader and politician. As commander of the Jerusalem front in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (1953–1958) during the 1956 Suez Crisis, but mainly as Defense Minister during the Six-Day War in 1967, he became a worldwide fighting symbol of the new state of Israel.
Yitzhak Rabin (/rəˈbiːn/; Hebrew: יִצְחָק רַבִּין, IPA: [jitsˈχak ʁaˈbin] (listen); 1 March 1922 – 4 November 1995) was an Israeli politician, statesman and general. He was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, serving two terms in office, 1974–77, and from 1992 until his assassination in 1995. Rabin was born in Jerusalem to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and was raised in a Labor Zionist household. He learned agriculture in school and excelled as a student. He led a 27-year career as a soldier. As a teenager he joined the Palmach, the commando force of the Yishuv. He eventually rose through its ranks to become its chief of operations during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. He joined the newly formed Israel Defense Forces in late 1948 and continued to rise as a promising officer. He helped shape the training doctrine of the IDF in the early 1950s, and led the IDF’s Operations Directorate from 1959 to 1963. He was appointed Chief of the General Staff in 1964 and oversaw Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein (ɡəˈmɑːl æbdɛl ˈnɑːsər; Arabic: جمال عبد الناصر حسين; 15 January 1918 – 28 September 1970) was an Egyptian revolutionary, and, along with Mohamed Naguib, one of the two principal leaders of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 that toppled the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan, ended the United Kingdom’s occupation of Egypt, and introduced wholesale agrarian reform. An advocate of rapid, radical political and economic change, Nasser replaced the more gradualist Naguib in 1954 before becoming the second President of Egypt in 1956, beginning a new period of modernization, and socialist reform in Egypt, together with a profound advancement of pan-Arabism, and support for anti-imperialism and decolonisation across the Third World.
The United States’ involvement in the Persian Gulf exists across a 70 year history that largely coincides with the start of the Cold War. The petroleum-rich region has always attracted the attention of the world’s major powers, and the United States and Soviet Union viewed this as just one more theater for its proxy wars in the ongoing battle between communism and capitalism.
Two neighboring states—Iraq and Iran—proved particularly vulnerable to outside influences, with the United States and Soviet Union both investing weapons, training, and financing into one side or the other over the course of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979, these ongoing wars would empower a military dictator in Iraq named Saddam Hussein. Alternately an ally and enemy of the United States, Hussein presided over the oil-rich country with an iron fist. And as one of the leading oil producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), its economy depended significantly on this source of revenue. So when the neighboring state of Kuwait, also rich with petroleum, lowered its pricing against the will of the larger cartel, Hussein invaded the northern neighbor.
The U.S. intervened in early 1991 and quickly pushed Hussein’s forces back into Iraqi territory. Establishing bases of operation in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. declared a rapid victory but left Hussein in power. Paralyzed by economic sanctions and isolation in the world community, Hussein retained power through brutal tactics including the purging of political enemies and the use of chemical warfare against the ethnic Kurds in Northern Iraq.
The U.S. suffered very few casualties during this first conflict, but it did serve as a prerogative for its subsequent 20-year military and diplomatic presence in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia. It was this presence, as much as any other aspect of U.S. policy, that helped to engender resentment in the Middle East against the U.S. While the Americans enjoyed a premium on oil prices courtesy of this relationship, a mounting radical Islamic movement coalesced around hostility toward American policies on both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
These overlapping resentments climaxed with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. The vast majority of the hijackers involved in the plot were of Saudi descent, as was alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The U.S. responded by invading Afghanistan, where bin Laden was believed to be harbored. This became the first theater in the global War On Terror, a campaign which the U.S. expanded into Iraq in 2003 over still unproven claims that Hussein was actively working to develop weapons of mass destruction.
This time, Hussein’s regime was rapidly toppled, the U.S. established a provisional authority, and again declared its mission accomplished. The declaration was, however, premature as the U.S. struggled to gain control over the country. Though Hussein was widely reviled for his brutal 25-year reign, the escalating U.S. troop contingent faced a local population that was not eager to embrace the Western power as a liberator.
Though the goals of the war had been achieved from the American perspective, particularly with the capture and execution of Hussein in 2006, the emergent Iraq would hardly be the stable democracy the U.S. hoped to build. U.S. forces would ultimately withdraw in 2011, leaving behind a flimsy and corrupt democracy.
This conflict is particularly consequential as a theater in America’s ongoing array of conflicts in the Middle East. America’s rapid industrialization and commercial growth in the late 20th Century combined with its Cold War objectives to create a deeply exploited and fraught history in the region, magnified by the Western power’s thirst for oil. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in its relationship of both convenience and conflagration with Iraq.
And this also underscores the lasting impact of the war to date. In the vacuum of power left after Hussein’s defeat and the 2011l departure of American troops, Iraq became one of the world’s leading hotbeds for terrorist organization and activity. Indeed, in the aftermath of more than three decades of conflict with the U.S., Iraq would become the birthplace of ISIS. While it’s not clear that Iraq contributed to the terror attacks against the U.S. in the 2000s, it is clear that it is today a likely source for future terror attacks as a direct consequence of the First and Second Gulf Wars.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (/hʊˈseɪn/; Arabic: صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي Ṣaddām Ḥusayn ʿAbd al-Majīd al-Tikrītī; 28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) was an Iraqi politician who served as the fifth President of Iraq from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003. A leading member of the revolutionary Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, and later, the Baghdad-based Ba’ath Party and its regional organization, the Iraqi Ba’ath Party—which espoused Ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism—Saddam played a key role in the 1968 coup (later referred to as the 17 July Revolution) that brought the party to power in Iraq.
George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is an American politician who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. A member of the Republican Party, Bush previously served as the 46th governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000. He was born into the Bush family; his father, George H. W. Bush, was the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993.
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (born 6 May 1953) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. On his resignation he was appointed Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, a diplomatic post which he held until 2015. He has been the executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change since 2016. As prime minister, many of his policies reflected a centrist “Third Way” political philosophy. He is the only living former Labour leader to have led the party to a general election victory and one of only two in history, the other being Harold Wilson, to form three majority governments.
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