Monday, August 26, 2013

"1913" by Charles Emmerson (2013)

Author Charles Emmerson has done a really superb job at showing us how much the world has/hasn’t changed in the past 100 years. More importantly, by breaking the book up into chapters concerning all of the major cities of the era, he has also created a mini-history of the events which helped to create the conflicts of the 20th century, as well as laying out the foundations for the things which trouble us geo-politically today.

With a careful eye to history, Mr. Emmerson takes the reader back 100 years to the most influential cities of the time, and the cities, for the most part, have remained the same. And so have the problems and crisis’ faced by the world today. In 1913 the Middle East was a broil in what was then termed an “Arab Spring”. Sound familiar? As the Islamic Empire began to crumble; setting the stage for the First World War, the people began to rise up against the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The repercussions of that period are still with us today. Of interesting note is that The Palestinians and Ottomans were fighting with the Europeans, in spite of the lack of a Jewish state at the time. This raises questions about the legitimacy of the claims today that if Israel were gone there would be peace in the Middle East. It’s likely not the case; as proven by history.

Russia was in an upheaval as well, with the various religious groups fighting amongst themselves, all vying for control of what would become the Soviet Union in 1917. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, many of the Baltic Nations have returned to independence, which has led to terrorism and internal strife between the various sects which existed back in; you guessed it; 1913.

The political/economic instability of the South American nations was, and still is, an issue. London and Paris were competing to be the capitol of the world as far as fashion; and they still are today. Paris remains the center of art which it always has been, and the United States continues “empire building”, with wars in 3 different countries as of this writing. So much has changed, yet so much has remained the same.

China has undergone a tremendous metamorphism over the past 100 years; starting the century as a feudal society, ruled by warlords. By 1913 Chiang Kai-shek would be fighting for democracy against the Communists. That struggle continued for almost 50 years, until Mao took over in the late 1940’s. Although his regime was a failure, in retrospect it accomplished one very important thing; it rid China of the foreign powers which were exploiting her in every conceivable way. His emergence marked the entry of China onto the world’s stage as a force that needed to be reckoned with. Today she is an economic powerhouse.

When the Great War came in 1914 it was widely believed that this would be the “war to end all wars.” In reality, it was only the beginning of mass armed conflict in the 20th Century, culminating in the first Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945. Though that action ended the war, it began an uneasy “Cold War” which would last another 45 years and cost trillions of dollars in defense.

Today we have come to a point where the conflicts are carefully orchestrated in order to avoid a wide scale conflict along the lines of both World Wars. But still, the world remains an uneasy balance of power and greed, versus community and the virtues of helping those who may be in need of assistance.

Whatever your political leanings may be, this book will educate and inform you of how similar we are to the world of 100 years ago, begging the question, “What have we learned, if anything, from the experiences of the past 100 years?” This is a very well written, and organized book.

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