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World at War

                              1905 - 1945                  

    The early arms races of the 20th century escalated into a war which involved many powerful nations: World War I (1914–1918).                                                                                           The Chinese, Russian, German, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires will dissolve in the first half of the century, and the British, French, Portuguese, and Japanese empires will collapse during the course of World War I, and Russia will transform into the communist Soviet Union.                        Technological advancements changed the way war was fought, as new inventions such as machine guns, tanks, chemical weapons, grenades, and military aircraft modified tactics and strategy.                                             After more than four years of trench warfare in western Europe, and 20 million dead, those powers who had formed the Triple Entente (France, Britain, and Russia, later replaced by the United States and joined by Italy) emerged victorious over the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire). The Tsarist regime of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II was overthrown during the conflict and Russia was transitioned into the first ever communist state, and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were dismantled at the war's conclusion.

        In addition to annexing much of the colonial possessions of the vanquished states, the Triple Entente exacted punitive restitution payments from their former foes, plunging Germany in particular into economic depression. In the inter-war years, the Great Depression cause massive disruption to the world economy.            

         Fascism, a movement which grew out of post-war and which accelerated during the Great Depression of the 1930s, gained momentum in Italy, Germany and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in World War II , sparked by Nazi Germany's aggressive expansion at the expense of its neighbors. Meanwhile, Japan had rapidly transformed itself into a technologically advanced industrialpower.

       The World War II (1939–1945) pitted the Allied powers (chiefly the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom) against the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan, and Italy) which eventually resulted in a total victory for the Allies, at the cost of over 60 million lives, including millions of civilians, and the complete devastation of many nations.                                      
       After having had several years of dramatic military success, Germany was defeated in 1945, having been repelled and invaded by the Soviet Union from the east and invaded from the west by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Free France. The war ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan.                                                                                  Japan later became a U.S. ally with a powerful economy based on consumer goods and trade. Germany was divided between the western powers and the Soviet Union; all areas recaptured by the Soviet Union (East Germany and eastward) were essentially transitioned into Soviet puppet states under communist rule. Meanwhile, western Europe was influenced by the American Marshall Plan and made a quick economic recovery, becoming major allies of the United States under capitalist economies and relatively democratic governments.

        When the conflict ended in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as very powerful nations. Allies during the war, they soon became hostile to one other as the competing ideologies of communism and democratic capitalism occupied Europe, divided by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.                     

        The military alliances headed by these nations (NATO in North America and western Europe; the Warsaw Pact in eastern Europe) were prepared to wage total war with each other throughout the Cold War (1947–91). The  Cold War would dominate geopolitical life for the next 45 years. The period was marked by a new arms race, and nuclear weapons were produced in the tens of thousands, sufficient to end most human life on the planet had a large-scale nuclear exchange ever occurred.

        Remaining colonial empires dissolved shortly after the war. As a means of preventing future world wars, the United Nations was formed.    
        After World War II, most of the European-colonized world in Africa and Asia gained independence in a process of decolonization. This, and the drain of the two world wars, caused Europe to lose much of its long-held power. American culture spread around the world with the advent of Hollywood, Broadway, rock and roll and the fast food lifestyle.

        The century saw a major shift in the way that vast numbers of people lived, as a result of changes in politics, ideology, economics, society, culture, science, technology, and medicine. Terms like ideology, world war, genocide, and nuclear war entered common usage.
        At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, discrimination based on race and sex still existed in general society. Although the atlantic slave trade had ended in the 19th century, the fight for equality for Africans in the white society of North America, Europe, and South Africa continued.       

        Due to continuing industrialization and expanding trade, many significant changes of the 20th century were, directly or indirectly, economic and technological in nature. Inventions such as the light bulb, the automobile, and the telephone in the late 19th century, followed by supertankers, airliners, motorways, radio, television, antibiotics, frozen food, computers and many other things, affected the quality of life for great numbers.                        
        Scientific research, engineering professionalization and technological development was the force behind vast changes in everyday life. Advancements in medical technology also improved the welfare of many people: the global life expectancy increased from 35 years to 65 years.
        Mass media, telecommunications, and information technology (paperback books, public education, radio and the TV) made the world's knowledge more widely available. Many people's view of the world changed significantly as they became much more aware of the struggles of others and, as such, became increasingly concerned with human rights.

                                TEXT ADAPTED FROM: 20th century