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About this book

W.M. Spellman explores the past half century focusing on key topics such as human migration, science and technology, international business, religion and politics and Empire. Authoritative and well-written, this is an ideal introductory guide for anyone with an interest in World history and the issues and challenges facing the globe today.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Dynamic Tensions in Recent Global History

Introduction: Dynamic Tensions in Recent Global History

Abstract
This is a book about the human experience since 1945, focusing on two central points of tension or debate. The first involves the struggle between two political and economic systems: centralized socialism with its authoritarian political order on the one side, and free-market capitalism with its open, democratic political life on the other side. This first tension or debate remained at the forefront of world history from 1945 until the late 1980s, making its mark on cultural and intellectual life, shaping international relations, and abetting an enormous, and enormously expensive, military arms race. The Soviet Union and the US were the principal nation-states engaged in this debate, although both “superpowers” were joined, sometimes reluctantly, by a host of allies and surrogates around the globe. The Soviet system, with its centralized economic planning and high levels of social control, began to unravel with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and finally collapsed in 1991, ending more than three decades of Cold War with the US. The sudden demise of the Soviet Union suggested to some sanguine observers that the “end of history” had arrived and that a “new world order” of peace and expanding democracy was in formation.
W. M. Spellman

From bipolar to multipolar world

Frontmatter

1. The Cold War in Global Context, 1945–1991

Abstract
Millions of Westerners look back on the year 1945 with a sense of accomplishment and pride. For many who were alive during the 1940s, and especially for those who participated in World War II, the hard-fought military victory over fascist Germany and imperial Japan signaled a resounding affirmation of Western-style democracy, individual freedom, and the rule of law. In the case of Nazi Germany, state-sponsored bestiality on a scale never before witnessed had been decisively eradicated, while in the Pacific theater the insatiable territorial ambitions of the Japanese military had been thwarted. During the war, two major ideological adversaries, the US and the Soviet Union, played down their many differences in order to defeat a common enemy. The scale and tenacity of the fighting on numerous fronts around the globe guaranteed that millions of people were directly involved in the conflict, while the sacrifices of colonial peoples in Africa and Asia suggested to many in the West that empire could no longer be justified. Although the cost in human lives and physical destruction had been enormous (approximately 60 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives between 1939 and 1945), a colossal scourge had been lifted. Soon, it was hoped, a peaceful world would be restored, civilian pursuits again taken up, and a new international order established on the solid foundations of shared experience in battle. The formation of the United Nations Organization (UN) by 50 states in San Francisco in the summer of 1945 augured well for a new era of international cooperation, one where the mistakes made after the close of World War I would be avoided.
W. M. Spellman

2. The End of Empire and the Problem of Neocolonialism

Abstract
In terms of the long sweep of world history, the period of Western colonial empire was relatively brief, although its economic, cultural, political, and intellectual impact on the global community was, and continues to be, enormous. Beginning in the late fifteenth century with Spanish and Portuguese claims in Central and South America and continuing (if we include the breakup of the Soviet Union) until the final decade of the twentieth century, the British, Dutch, Belgians, French, Germans, Spanish, Portuguese, Russians, and Americans built powerful imperial regimes that touched every continent and forged a series of dependent relationships that clearly advantaged the colonizer. A amalgam of power and ideology under-girded the West’s physical occupation of large portions of the globe during these centuries, and it was a combination of European weakness, the spread of nationalist ideology to colonial peoples, and superpower opposition to traditional forms of colonialism that brought about the downfall of most territorial empires after 1945.
W. M. Spellman

3. An Elusive New World Order, 1991–2005

Abstract
The abrupt end of the Cold War in the late 1980s inspired hope that the material resources of the two superpowers and their respective allies could be redirected to address common human problems in a climate of cooperation and mutual support. But with the dissolution of the Soviet empire into 15 sovereign countries in 1991, the US was left as the world’s only power with a truly global reach. It quickly demonstrated that reach in the fall of 1991 by successfully leading a UN coalition of nations in a war to oust the Iraqi military from neighboring Kuwait. America’s preponderant wealth, technological prowess, and military might ensured that future international efforts to assist less-favored countries would most likely rely on its support. In a self-confident mood after the humbling of communism and the dethroning of command economies, politicians and pundits in the US affirmed that democratic political institutions and marketplace capitalism represented the universal road forward for all countries hoping to penetrate the envied portals of material affluence. President George H. W. Bush spoke optimistically of a “new world order” anchored in the proven values of Western political and economic thought.
W. M. Spellman

Globalization and its discontents

Frontmatter

4. When Borders Don’t Matter: Development And Global Culture

Abstract
In the aftermath of World War II, two antithetical models of economic organization confronted each other across an ideological divide that appeared to be unbridgeable. On one side stood the Soviet-inspired command economy, where an absolutist state owned the means of production and regulated the marketplace by setting prices, wages, and production goals. According to its defenders, communist central planning was designed to ensure economic equality, a decent standard of living for all citizens, and a more rational use of human and material resources. For Soviet propagandists, the selfishness inherent in unregulated capitalism had been responsible for the twentieth century’s two horrific world wars, and for the economic collapse of the 1930s. A new economic paradigm was essential if humanity hoped to avoid future conflict, and it involved first and foremost strict state oversight and regulation of the economic appetite.
W. M. Spellman

5. When Borders Do Matter: International Migration and Identity

Abstract
One of the great ironies of globalization at the start of the twenty-first century involved voluntary and involuntary human migration across national frontiers. On the one hand, the postwar period was characterized by a sharp increase in both the number of international migrants and in the range of sending countries. With the world’s population burgeoning from 1.6 billion in 1945 to just over 6 billion in 2000, more humans — perhaps as many as 180 million — were living outside the land of their birth than at any previous period in modern history. On the other hand, at the very moment when ideas, money, manufacturing, and even pollutants moved ever more seamlessly across international borders, restrictions on the movement of humans across those same borders became more rigorous. Exclusionary immigration regimes were imposed in all First World nations after the end of World War II, and in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, calls to make immigration policy and enforcement a political priority intensified. In the developed countries, border controls were tightened, visa policies were scrutinized, and the rules of state membership and naturalization were reevaluated.
W. M. Spellman

Body and spirit

Frontmatter

6. Science, Technology, and the Environment

Abstract
The postwar years were marked by a wide range of advances in science (defined as efforts to understand the natural world) and technology (the application of science to achieve specific objectives), the sum of which transformed the natural environment and humanity’s place in it. In some fields, particularly health sciences, communications, aviation, and computers, developments that occurred during World War II or earlier were brought into widespread practical use. During the war years, national economies were heavily regulated by government, and basic scientific research assumed a level of strategic importance equal to military operations in the field. Governments recruited and employed unprecedented numbers of highly trained specialists in engineering, physics, biology, chemistry, metallurgy, and electronics, providing these researchers with state-of-the-art facilities as part of the overall war effort. Risk taking and innovation in pure and applied science were both encouraged and generously funded by states engaged in a struggle for national survival.
W. M. Spellman

7. Religions and Civil Society

Abstract
A chapter dedicated to religious belief and practice may seem misplaced in a book on the postwar world. After all, we often read about the secularization of society during the latter half of the twentieth century, how increasing numbers of women and men explain and order their lives without reference to religion. The experience of two world wars in the space of 30 years, and in particular the suffering of millions of innocent noncombatants in those conflicts, led many influential voices to affirm the death of religion, or at least its displacement to the fringes of human life. Sociologists traced the decline of public religiosity in Western Europe during the postwar decades, and predictions about the rest of the developed world were not sanguine. As distinct religious traditions intersected in a highly mobile age, more people came to share the view that sacred stories were relative to time and place, less the mirror of some absolute reality and more the product of human imagination. Both those who applauded and those who deplored the trend believed that the religious impulse would be confined to the less-developed world at the start of the twenty-first century, a blanching relic of the prescientific mind.
W. M. Spellman

Conclusion: Hope and Misgiving in the New Century

Abstract
The post-World War II tension between centralized socialism and market capitalism, between communist authoritarianism and Western-style democracy, ended peacefully during the final decade of the twentieth century. In the interim the world’s population more than doubled from 2.5 billion to nearly 6 billion. For four decades the fate of these billions was inexorably linked to the bilateral relations of the two superpowers. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, the costly and dangerous global rivalry between the Cold War opponents was resolved — and the threat of cataclysmic nuclear exchange removed. Regional conflicts between the surrogates of each side in the larger conflict lapsed as military and economic aid decreased. As a new era of cooperation between the erstwhile enemies began, a multipolar international system, led by an increasingly unified Europe but including emerging powers in South and East Asia, quickly took shape. Its focus was the UN, where states that were not permanent members of the powerful Security Council demanded a greater voice in global governance.
W. M. Spellman
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