Modern history began in the end of the 15th century, which witnessed the beginning of Reformation and the discovery of the new continent. In the following five centuries, many historic events (such as the two world wars and the cold war) have fundamentally changed our world in the fields of politics, economics, and culture. Political Systems in Europe after the Thirty Years’ War The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) refers to a series of wars intermittently fought chiefly between the Roman Empire and the Protestant principalities with which French allied.
Theses wars were fought for religious, territorial, dynastic, and commercial reasons (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009). After the Thirty Years War ended with the Peace of Westphalia, European states were divided into different political regimes. For the five most important ones, Spain, Portugal and France remained absolute monarchies, while Holland and England became a republic and a constitutional monarchy respectively. The political differences significantly affected these countries’ performance.
While being the first European counties to start colonial enterprises, Spain and Portugal’ rejection of new ideologies and new political thinking rendered them weaker day by day. There is no doubt that ideological change plays an important role in political change. That is to say, the Reformation made those Protestant states much easier to adopt more democratic political forms: a republic or a constitutional monarchy. It is worth noting that the defeat of the Spanish Armada happened in 1588, almost three decades before the start of the Thirty Years’ War.
It is safe to say that Protestantism was one factor that brought Capitalism, which requires a more democratic political system. Among the five nations, only the Dutch Republic was as enlightened and democratic as England, and even more so at times. For instance, the Pilgrim Fathers took refugee in Holland before settling in the Plymouth colony. For another, the constitutional monarchy in England was made possible by the Dutch invasion during the Glorious Revolution. However, the Dutch Republic was too small to be a colonial superpower for a long time.
The lack of manpower and resources led to Dutch defeats in the four Anglo-Dutch wars, and “when the last war ended in May 1784, the Dutch were at the nadir of their power and prestige” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009, par. 4). In sharp contrast with the Dutch Republic, the French Bourbon Monarchy was then a much larger country than England and the most powerful European state in the early 18th century. However, its backward political system made it unfit for the global competition with Britain.
After defeating France in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), England became both the dominant power in North America and the global superpower in addition to the naval supremacy it had maintained since 1590s. The Causes of World War One Before the First World War, a great many wars had been fought in Europe for various reasons: such as the thirty years’ war, the Anglo-Dutch wars, the Anglo-French wars, and the Napoleonic wars. Of the wars mentioned above, some were fought on a big scale.
For instance, the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France were fought both in Europe and in American colonies, bearing some resemblance to the First World War. However, we can not deny that World War One was far more catastrophic than any previous war. Thus, what was it about the modern world that caused such a catastrophe, and let people doubt the virtues of progress in its aftermath? The immediate cause of the Great War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist.
However, the incident itself was not worth a total war; there were other deep-rooted reasons. Undoubtedly, national state (nationalism) was one of the main causes. Since 1850s, a number of national states, such as Germany, Italy, and Japan, arose from across the globe, trying to unify and centralize their nations. There were also some failed attempts, such as the Hungarian Revolution (1848) and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864) in China, both struggling for national independence from their foreign rulers.
However, these nationalist movements were quite problematic and troublesome themselves. First, these nations intended to build up unified and centralized states for themselves, but denied equal rights to ethnic minorities within their boundaries. For example, while unifying German states in central Europe, Prussia never considered the self-determination of the Polish population. Second, during the unification, these national states failed to solve territorial disputes with their neighbors peacefully.
For instance, territorial disputes over Alsace and Lorraine were one of the main causes of the Prussian French war, which started the lasting hostility between Germany and France until the end of the World War Two. Moreover, because modern national states were more centralized and got more so during the war period, World War One became both the first “total war” and the first “war of attrition”. In addition to national states (nationalism), interdependence and modernization also played a role in causing this catastrophe. Machine gun and trench were two embodiments of the First World War.
Machine gun and heavy artillery made the army a much more efficient killing machine; the well fortified trenches let the massacre on the western front continue for over four years. New technologies can also shorten the war and thus reduce the casualties, such as the German blitzkrieg on the western front in World War Two. But in World War One, they only greatly prolonged the stalemate. European industrialization and commercialization in the 19th century made them more dependent on each other and on oversea colonies: they needed raw material, market, and capital from outside their own territories.
Therefore, each country paid more attention to alliance and navy to protect their market, resources, and trade routes. The diplomatic maneuverings and the naval competitions obviously heightened the tensions between individual states and between deferent blocs. The Cold War After World War One, the Soviet Union and the United States were two superpowers along with Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. However, the Soviet Union and the U. S. had larger territories and populations than other nations.
After the Second World War, the defeated Germany and Japan lost all their colonies, so did Britain and France in a much longer period. As a result, Russia and America became the only two post-war superpowers—Japan and Germany were no longer military powers while Britain and France were too small to qualify. It was this bipolar state made the cold war possible: the two superpowers could incorporate smaller nations into their camps to fight a long lasting war of ideology, politics, and economics. The cold war era refers to an unpleasant yet less painful and bloody period compared to the two world wars.
Yet, this definition was from the two opposing military groups’ (NATO and WARSO pact countries) standpoint; for those former colonies (quasi-colonies), this view can not be farther from the truth. During the cold war, NATO and the WAWSOW did not confront each other in order to avoid a nuclear war, which could annihilate both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Yet, the collapse of the colonial system offered them a distant and relatively safe battlefield—the newly independent former colonies (quasi-colonies).
Conflicts there had made the cold war nastier, bloodier, and more suffering. For many third world countries, the cold war era is the most painful period in modern history as they served as pawns in the ideological war between Russia and US. In the cold war era, the two biggest wars were fought in Korea and Vietnam; Cambodia saw the biggest massacre after World War Two; China experienced the greatest famine (1959-1961) in human history and the Cultural Revolution almost wiped out this 5,000 years old civilization.
However, these events themselves did not decide the course of the cold war. The communists fought to stalemate in Korea, won the Vietnam War. However, several months after Chinese communists crushed peaceful protesting students and civilians with tanks and armed vehicles and firmly controlled the situation, communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe quickly collapsed.
Since 1500, human being has made breath-taking progress in government, technology, business, education, health care, etc; it has also suffered a great deal from wars, national rivalries, epidemics, environmental damages, natural disasters, and all kinds of discriminations while living standards have been steadily improving. Since technology and productivity can be double-edged swords, it is urgent for the current generation to learn the lessons from the past five centuries.
Courtney from Study Moose
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