What do you mean, countries' borders move? They’ve always been there! Kevin O’Dell

People in general, but especially in developed countries, tend to view the world as static; unchanged since the dawn of time.

This is a postulate that supposes the world is indeed an elaborately dressed stage with unchanging sets; today being all there ever was and tomorrow being a continuation of today.

Because of that mindset, history is relegated to being an academic exercise; something learned in school but not important to the world today.

In this article, Superprof draws lines: from most impactful historical events to how our world and societies function today because of them.

The American Revolution

Would you believe that America became a nation of coffee drinkers because of tea?

Indeed, it was England’s interest in the East Indian Tea Company, a huge revenue generator that had started flagging, that prompted the British Parliament to levy taxes on the American colonies, including duties on tea.

Colonists’ outrage was not provoked by the taxation of everyday goods including their favourite brewed beverage but by the fact that they were being taxed in absentia.

Taxation without representation: nobody in Parliament represented the interests of the colonies; therefore no taxes should be levied until a colonial representative sat in Parliament.

The Crown did not see matters from that perspective. They contended that the Colonies belonged to Britain and were populated by British subjects who were represented, just as every other British subject was.

Through a series of laws and military acts that spanned over 100 years, the Crown attempted to maintain its hold over the colonies.

Through a series of subversive and rebellious acts, the colonists fought back: against heavy taxation, against unfair laws and, essentially, against meddling from distant Britain as they established their democratic government.

Clashes between British military and colonists became more violent, eventually leading to one man of the colonist militia to fire the shot heard ‘round the world.

It was this episode that shaped the uniquely American attitude, still in evidence today, which dictates that country’s political handling of world events.

The First World War

Depiction of the Archduke's assassination
The assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie as depicted in an Italian newspaper Source: Wikipedia Credit Achille Beltrame

Strangely enough, the phrase the shot heard ‘round the world has been associated with both the American Revolution and World War One.

It was an alignment of coincidences that permitted young Gavrilo Princip, armed with a handgun, to assassinate the Archduke of Austria and his wife after the initial attempt to end their lives by grenade failed.

The fallout of his act had swift repercussions, and not just for him!

The Austro-Hungarian Empire did not immediately take up arms and attack Serbia – their military forces were not prepared for a full-on assault or even a show of force.

In spite of Ally Germany’s urging to strike Serbia while global sympathy over the Archduke’s death ran high, Austria delivered onto Serbia an impossible ultimatum. That gave Austria two days to marshal their resources.

Austria was also worried about Russia’s backing of the Serbs.

The Russians believed that Germany was behind Austria’s proposed attack on their Serb allies. Although their military stores and personnel were not ready for full-scale war either, at the very least, a show of might would be called for.

Do you wonder why nobody’s military was ready for full combat? It’s because everyone had been fighting in the decades leading up to the first world war!

Russia’s mobilisation emboldened Serbia, who then defied Austria. Meanwhile, Germany grew alarmed at the military buildup on its southeastern border and pledged to back Austria should any fighting occur.

Unfortunately, Germany had to turn towards France, who had quietly become Russia’s ally. When hostilities began over Serbia, the French mobilised.

That is to say: they withdrew their troops from their western border at Germany’s request but activated their reserve troops, leaving the Germans no choice but to activate theirs in preparation for combat.

The British Empire’s involvement in the First World War came from the realisation that isolation is neither politically, economically nor strategically advisable.

Withdrawing from Splendid Isolation, Britain formed a conditional alliance with France. Soon after, because of Germany’s march towards our ally’s borders, we jumped into the fray, declaring war on Germany on August 4th, 1914.

And then, the world descended into chaos...

You are welcome to read a more exacting account of WW1 events.

The Russian Revolution

Soldiers do their best to control crowds on Bloody Sunday
Soldiers blocking the Narva Gate on Bloody Sunday Source Wikipedia

That two-dimensional title hardly signifies the depth and breadth of Russian discontent that had been brewing for so long!

Tsar Nicholas II, the last head of the Russian Empire, was destined to go down in the annals of history as a weak, incompetent ruler who was completely out of touch with the needs of his people.

Even worse: at several critical junctures, he ignored the advice given to him by those whose job it was to measure public sentiment and study political trends!

What is termed the Russian Revolution is actually two separate incidents that happened in 1917 but took root in 1905.

A group of supplicants were approaching the Winter Palace in Petrograd, only to be fired upon by the extra troops the Tsar had ordered to guard the palace!

Granted, he was not in residence on Bloody Sunday, as that event came to be known, but he was widely blamed for having orchestrated the massacre.

A deep-seated sense of betrayal took hold of the peasants and the working class. Traditionally, the Tsar was seen as a friend to the working classes; one who would intercede on their behalf if asked to do so.

When World War I broke out, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, cutting off Russian trade routes and further deepening the economic crisis.

Exacerbating the country’s economic woes was the fact that, in order to feed the war machine, the government printed millions in currency, which drove inflation to the point that even well-paid workers were struggling to buy food.

Perhaps the last insult Tsar Nicholas leveled was taking over military command in 1915.

Instead of overseeing state affairs, he implied his generals were incompetent and led his troops through one defeat after another until his forced abdication on March 15th, 1917.

Now learn about the dual revolutions that changed Russian politics and government.

The Great Depression

Fearing the worst, crowds mill outside the New York Stock Exchange
Desperate crowds outside the New York Stock Exchange on October 29, 1929 Source Wikipedia

There is no doubt that the war to end all wars devastated the global economy but it quickly stabilised, and soon, many countries were enjoying at least stability if not prosperity.

Enter the Roaring Twenties!

Daring women pushed the boundaries of convention, earning themselves the Flapper label. Soldiers, expansive in their role as returning war heroes, established the corporate culture we still labour under today.

Fantastic innovations in industry and infrastructure allowed many to enjoy relative comfort and a select few to live in outright luxury.

  • Henry Ford pioneered the moving assembly line that permitted mass production of the automobile

  • F.L. Maytag, formerly a farm implement manufacturer, built and marketed electric washing machines

  • Refrigerators using toxic gases as refrigerants were replaced by newly-invented, safer cooling cabinets.

  • Telephones, radios and other electrical appliances went from being coveted to being owned

  • Homeownership in America ballooned thanks to easy credit terms and low mortgage interest rates.

Soon... soon, there was nothing more to buy – nobody needed two cars or two refrigerators. Gleaming automobiles and home appliances alike lingered on the showroom floor.

Banks started failing; nobody was borrowing money. Interest rates stayed high, causing a ripple of mistrust among investors. They soon quit buying too, but their purchases were far bigger... far more speculative.

It was only a matter of time before the American economy burst under its unsustainable financial imbalance.

The stock market crashed on October 29th, 1929, shattering so magnificently that every single country in the world was affected to one degree or another.

And, just like that, the good times of the ‘20s were over. Around the world, people set in for years of hardship and hunger as the Great Depression ground on...

Nazi Germany

Germany’s term for the Roaring Twenties was The Golden Twenties.

In spite of staggering debt from World War I and the Weimar Republic government’s inability to control inflation, after introducing their new currency, things started to go pretty well.

It helped also that America gave them a reprieve on their war reparations...

Germany enjoyed this period out from under austerity immensely. It afforded them a time of unprecedented liberalism and creativity, all of which served to boost the economy and citizens’ morale.

One man didn’t like it, though. From his jail cell in Munich, he dictated his plan to bring Germany back in line with his ideology.

Apparently mirroring Napoleon's meteoric rise and desire for autonomous control of his country, after his release from prison in 1924, Hitler gained a following by preaching nationalism, Pan-Germanic sentiment and anti-semitism.

He was convinced German citizens wanted exactly what he promised them over and over again. Their roars of approval during his speeches validated his ideas.

A master of rhetoric, he drove public opinion in such a way that, by 1932, the Nazi party held the most government seats in the Reichstag.

From there, it only took a bit of persuasion for President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint him to the chancery.

Two minor governmental adjustments later, Adolf Hitler was singlehandedly running Nazi Germany...

Mussolini inspects his troops
Mussolini inspects his troops during the Italo-Ethiopian War, a battle some say is actually the start of WW2 Source: Wikipedia

The Second World War

Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles 1919 specifically states that Germany should never re-arm.

Hitler felt that such a concession would leave Germany defenseless on the global stage, preventing it from ever becoming a world power.

To him and to many Germans, the terms of that treaty were unpalatable.

Once he gained control of the country, he set about rebuilding its economy, primarily through arms manufacture.

Funny how there was not any oversight into his doings...

Nevertheless, now fully capable of military action, he led his troops in the invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939. Thus began one of humankind’s darkest chapters.

The Axis powers versus the Allies: the bloodiest and costliest war of all, involving every nation on the globe and the oceans and skies as well.

Nations that didn’t know there was animosity towards them until devastating strikes – Japan on Pearl Harbor, Americans in Italy; suddenly mere boys found themselves battling unimagined foes.

Not only was World War II devastating in terms of human capital and economics but it shaped world politics for decades to come.

For more than 40 years, Germany remained divided by the Iron Curtain. The Cold War lasted as long – and today is in danger of resuming.

In spite of every single global power vowing to never again unleash the horror of the Atom bomb, still today some governments play fast and loose with nuclear capability – technology made possible through the scramble to create the ultimate weapon that would finally end the war 73 years ago.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

All of these historic events both echo in our modern world and show precedent of current political philosophy.

Is Brexit a reversion into Splendid Isolation? Is Donald Trump’s desire for a border wall a chilling repeat of postwar Berlin? Are Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear build-up a warning sign of future Nagasakis?

Only time will tell but, hopefully, more people will look to history to avoid disaster on a global scale.

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