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A Short History of the Twentieth Century

A Short History of the Twentieth Century

John Lukacs
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wpmch
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  • Book Info
    A Short History of the Twentieth Century
    Book Description:

    The great themes woven through John Lukacs's spirited, concise history of the twentieth century are inseparable from the author's own intellectual preoccupations: the fading of liberalism, the rise of populism and nationalism, the achievements and dangers of technology, the continuing democratization of the globe, and the limitations of knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72858-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-X)
  3. 1 “GOD WRITES STRAIGHT WITH CROOKED LINES”
    (pp. 1-15)

    There is no serious history of the twentieth century that I know of; but my purpose in this book is not quite filling that gap. I lived through much of the twentieth century, and I was a participant in and a historian of a few of its portions. I have devoted much of my life to asserting, teaching, and writing that “objective” and “scientific” history are inadequate desiderata; but so, too, is “subjective” history. Our historical knowledge, like nearly every kind of human knowledge, is personal and participatory, since the knower and the known, while not identical, are not and...

  4. 2 “NOW WE HAVE ONLY PEOPLES’ WARS”
    (pp. 16-29)

    The war that began in 1914 was not the first world war. If by “world war” we mean a war between great powers fought on more than one continent and across the seas, there were such, on occasion, between England, Spain, and France in the four great centuries (the sixteenth to the nineteenth) when Europe grew and rose throughout large portions of the world. But the British government was, by and large, correct when it designated the War of 1914 the “European War.” Unlike the previous overseas wars and also unlike the Second World War, the War of 1914 was...

  5. 3 “NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION”
    (pp. 30-44)

    “Unconditional surrender” is an imprecise phrase or principle, since there are implicit (sometimes even explicit) compromises included in every surrender. If the principle is accepted by both sides, unconditional surrender ends a war at once. This was not always so after the First World War, in 1918. The war ended with armistices here and there, chaotically and gradually elsewhere. A kind of settling down did not occur until 1923—that, too, with a sense of incompleteness, especially among the loser states. During the war there had been some talk about a “New Europe,” an idea or ideal supported by a...

  6. 4 “COSSACKS! BRETHREN!”
    (pp. 45-54)

    In the history of the world, the Communist revolution in Russia in 1917 was an anomaly. Seventy years after Marx’sCommunist Manifesto,the majority of the working classes everywhere were mostly indifferent to Communism. There were no successful Communist revolutions anywhere except in Russia—a country that Marx (at least for a long time) categorically excluded from his projections of Communism. All this is well known. Less well known is the evidence of how afraid the Communist leaders were of their nationalist opponents. A few days before (and also during) their uprising in St. Petersburg, Lenin’s cohorts thought it useful...

  7. 5 NO NOSTALGIA FOR THE “WORLD OF YESTERDAY”
    (pp. 55-65)

    The history of the United States differs from that of other great empires. It would be imprecise and also exaggerated to call the eighteenth century the “French century” or the nineteenth the “British century,” but not so to call the twentieth century the “American century.” Of course, the influence of the French and then the British, and the emulation of some of the institutions and habits of their civilizations, went beyond the borders of these great nations; but the impact of the United States upon the world has been wider and perhaps even more decisive. From its very beginning, the...

  8. 6 SOUTH OF THE BORDER AND ACROSS THE PACIFIC
    (pp. 66-77)

    History is the record and the memory of mankind. This kind of knowledge is by necessity selective and limited. Such limitation involves the knowledge not only of human beings, but of the globe itself. There were no such terms as “Northern Hemisphere” and “Southern Hemisphere” until men discovered the shape and the dimensions of this earth a few hundred years ago. The Equator, among other things, was a human invention, an abstract circular line. What was not a human invention was the existence of millions of human beings to the south of it, and the slight awareness of them by...

  9. 7 “MIDDLE CLASS” IS NOT “BOURGEOIS”
    (pp. 78-89)

    In November 1918 there was a widespread opinion that the victory of the Western Allies also meant the defeat, perhaps enduring, of imperial and nondemocratic states, such as Germany and its allies. This perspective was dear to the American people, and particularly to their president, Woodrow Wilson—who, in March 1917, took great comfort from the news of the liberal revolution in Russia and the abdication of the tsar, which relieved the United States and the Western democracies of the burden of being allied with an imperial state. We know that soon thereafter liberalism and parliamentarism in Russia were trampled...

  10. 8 “I WAS A NATIONALIST, BUT I WAS NOT A PATRIOT”
    (pp. 90-98)

    National Socialism, or call it nationalist socialism, has been the great political phenomenon of the twentieth century—and beyond. The end of the Second World War, the death and disappearance of Adolf Hitler, diminished its appeal for a short time, but did not extinguish it at all. Unlike Communism, nationalist socialism is not a Wasm. In some countries, especially in Europe, more or less openly nationalist socialist parties win about 20 percent in national elections now, more than three-quarters of a century after Hitler killed himself. Still, in this brief history of the twentieth century, I must attempt to de...

  11. 9 THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE
    (pp. 99-109)

    Even before the Second World War began, Hitler came to rule much of Europe. He had thought that he could achieve even more—that he could dominate most of Europe without a war. The war then showed that his abilities as a determined and often brutal statesman were matched—well, often—by his capacities as a military leader. Blind he was not. All of his pronouncements and extreme decisions notwithstanding, he did not want a big war. This we know from his disappointment when the news came on September 3, 1939, that, after all, Britain and France had chosen to...

  12. 10 “I HOPE IT IS NOT TOO LATE”
    (pp. 110-130)

    The reluctance of Britain and France to go to war was followed by a largely reluctant war (“the phony war,” in American parlance: a few small skirmishes along the French-German frontier). Not reluctant was Hitler’s Germany—except that his air force did not bomb France or Britain until May 1940. There were no such restraints in the German war against Poland—brutal, destructive, swift as that was. Before the end of September 1939, Warsaw fell and the brave and resolute Polish army had ceased to exist (except for portions of it that struggled to reach France and especially Britain, where...

  13. 11 TO SUBDUE AND CONQUER GERMANY AND JAPAN
    (pp. 131-145)

    It took Britain, Russia, and the United States three and a half years to subdue and conquer Germany and Japan. In the case of Germany, one of them—and possibly even any two of them together—could not have accomplished that. In the war against Japan, the enormous power of the United States, together with the resolution of its people, could and did accomplish it.

    Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the Western Allies suffered defeat after defeat. Churchill had sent two of the top British battleships to Malaya to impress the Japanese, whose airplanes sank both of them two days after...

  14. 12 THE DIVISION OF EUROPE ALMOST COMPLETE
    (pp. 146-152)

    Some of my readers may question—justifiably—why until now this “short history of the twentieth century” has dealt principally with the history of Europe (and of the United States and the Soviet Union), with not much attention to the histories of other continents and peoples. After the twentieth century, not only the old predominance but also the preeminence of Europe may no longer exist. But the two world warsandthen the Cold War, 1914–1989, were still mainly fought and decided in Europe. So it may be argued that even in view of the enormous political and geographic...

  15. 13 THE BRAVE HARRY TRUMAN
    (pp. 153-163)

    “International relations” is an inaccurate and often false term, in spite of its widespread employment in the twentieth century, the creation of institutions devoted to its study, and the high positions and prestigious academic degrees awarded by its representatives. It is a misnomer, because what almost all of them are talking about are not relations between nations but relations between states. This is so about many things (including the United Nations—which is not an organization but an inadequate assembly, and not of nations but of states). It is true that, especially in the democratic age (but also throughout all...

  16. 14 AMERICAN NATIONALISM, AMERICAN BENEVOLENCE
    (pp. 164-173)

    The United States was on its way to becoming the greatest power in the world even before 1914; but afterward it grew into that position and remained there. The period 1914–1989 was both the historical twentieth centuryandan American century—not only because the United States won both world wars and the so-called Cold War, but because its influence throughout the world in war and peace grew to affect the lives and habits of more and more countries and their peoples. This presents a problem almost beyond the competence of any serious historian, since the theme of America’s...

  17. 15 “EUROPE,” AND THE END OF THE COLD WAR
    (pp. 174-182)

    For the last time in this book, I must devote a chapter to Europe—in, and at the end of, the Cold War. My readers and critics may object to this Europe-centeredness, with good reason. This book bears the titleA Short History of the Twentieth Century.But until now, I have said little or nothing about Africa, South America, Asia, and other parts of the world. In the twentieth century, their portion of the world’s population grew enormously. After 1950, the population of Europe, including Russia, hardly rose at all—while the numbers of people in the rest of...

  18. 16 “GREAT LEAP FORWARD”
    (pp. 183-205)

    The term “Third World” has two meanings, one temporary and the other long-range. Its temporary—though still current—usage emerged around 1955, connected with the Bandung Conference of that year, when leaders and spokesmen for Asian and other countries declared that they represented a large portion of the world unaligned with and in de pen dent of the United States and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers. The term expressed some thing largely obvious but also inaccurate, since neither a unified entity nor a political conglomeration called a “Third World” came about. But the end of the Cold War neither...

  19. 17 THE LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 206-212)

    The twentieth century was a very transitional one. Of course, so is every century, between two others—but the twentieth century was transitional, too, between two great ages: between the so-called Modern Age and what is coming after it. Something similar had happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age—even though as late as 1700 these designations (especially the latter one) did not exist. Again, it will take a long time before an adjective, a name, will be affixed to the age now current. To speculate about this is senseless....

  20. INDEX
    (pp. 215-230)