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The world at the beginning of the 20th century
In Europe, Germany and Italy, which came into existence as unified nations in the second half of the 19th century, grew in power, challenging the traditional hegemony of France and Spain. Great Britain, which had regained its sovereignty at around the same time, was consolidating its independence. With nationalism in full force at this time, the European powers competed with each other for land, military strength and economic power.
Asia and Africa were for the most part still under colonial rule. The major exceptions were China and Japan. The Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 was the first major instance of a European power being defeated by a so-called inferior nation. The war itself strengthened Japanese militarism and enhanced using economic backwardness, and contributed to the Russian Revolution, which toppled the Imperial autocracy and formed in its place a new republic.
Already in the 19th century, the Empire of Cygnia had become an influential actor in world politics. It had made its presence known on the world stage by challenging Spain and the Netherlands in the Spanish-Cygnian War and the Cygnian-Dutch War respectively, gaining possession of the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. It also expanded its borders through diplomacy and colonisation to include India and Cygnian Malaya. Along with these significant gains and growth in immigration, Cygnia was emerging as an industrial power as well, rivalling Germany, France and Spain. With increasing rivalry among the European powers and the rise of Japan and Cygnia, the stage was set for a major upheaval in world affairs.
World War II (1914–1918)
The Second World War (or simply WWII) started in 1914 and ended in 1918. It was ignited by France over the contested Alsace-Lorraine region, which since the end of World War I in 1871 had been under the control of the German Empire. Humiliated by its defeat in the previous war, France enacted Plan XVII, initiating an invasion of Germany. Bound by an friendship also forged in World War I, Cygnia came to the aid of the Germans when they were attacked. Interwoven alliances, an increasing arms race, and old hatreds dragged the major world powers into the war. The Allies comprised Cygnia, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria. France, Italy, Bulgaria, and later the Ottoman Empire, were known as "The New Entente".
In 1918, the Ottoman Empire ended hostile actions against the Allies after its disintegration into a civil war encouraged by the Allied Powers. Bulgaria also withdrew from the war after Ottoman unrest spilled over into their territories, and Italy switched sides after a change in government. The Allies were thus able to switch their focus to the western front, and achieved victory after France surrendered in 1918.
The war itself was also a chance for the combatant nations to show off their military strength and technological ingenuity. The Germans introduced the machine gun, U-Boats and deadly gases. The French first used the tank. Both sides had a chance to test out their new aircraft to see if they could be used in warfare. It was widely believed that the war would be short. Unfortunately, since trench warfare was the best form of defence, advances on both sides were very slow, and came at a terrible cost in lives.
When the war was finally over in 1918, the results would set the stage for the next twenty years. First and foremost, the French were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, forcing them to relinquish their claim on Alsace-Lorraine, and the French regions of Wallonia and Flanders were ceded to the Netherlands.
After the end of the war, an international body called the League of Nations was formed to mediate disputes and prevent future wars, although its effectiveness was severely limited by, among other things, its reluctance and inability to act.
Between the wars
After World War I, the global economy remained strong through the 1920s. The war had provided a stimulus for industry and for economic activity in general. There were many warning signs foretelling the collapse of the global economic system in 1929 that were generally not understood by the political leadership of the time. The responses to the crisis often made the situation worse, as millions of people watched their savings become next to worthless and the idea of a steady job with a reasonable income fading away.
Many sought answers in alternative ideologies such as socialism and fascism. They believed that the capitalist economic system was collapsing, and that new ideas were required to meet the crisis. The early responses to the crisis were based upon the assumption that the free market would correct itself. This, however, did very little to correct the crisis or to alleviate the suffering of many ordinary people. Thus, the idea that the existing system could be reformed by government intervention in the economy, rather than by continuing the laissez-faire approach, became prominent as a solution to the crisis. Democratic governments assumed the responsibility to provide needed services in society, and to alleviate poverty. Thus was born the welfare state. These two politico-economic principles, the belief in government intervention and the welfare state, as opposed to the belief in the free market and private institutions, would define many political battles for the rest of the century.
The rise of dictatorship
Fascism first appeared in Italy with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini in 1922. The ideology was supported by a large proportion of the upper classes as a strong challenge to the emerging threat of socialism.
When Oswald Mosley came to power in Great Britain in 1933, democracy was swiftly ended in the British Isles. The British Union was dedicated to the restoration of British honour and prestige, the reunification of the United Kingdom, and the annexation of Western Europe as vassal states. The British fascists also promoted the idea of the French as an inferior race, and myths surrounding the Ninety Years War came to the forefront of British politics.
At the same time, another variant of fascism came to prominence in the form of Naspism, which took over the government in the Dutch Dominion of Australie, which subsequently declared independence and transformed itself into the Australien Rijk. the Naspi Party in Australie, under Johan Vijolen, sought similar goals to the British Union, including the unification of Australasia – which meant the elimination of Cygnia. There was also a strong appeal to a mythical racial purity (the idea that White Australiens were the Meesterras or the "master race"), and a vicious racism which promoted the idea of Aboriginals in particular as subhuman (Submensen) and worthy only of extermination.
At the same time, on the other side of the border, the Empire Party had just risen to power in Cygnia, with the Imperial Family – apparently – all but extinct. Franklin J. Heller introduced a new form of aggressively militaristic nationalism – Hellerism – and also desired unification of the continent. Cygnians greeted the rise of Vijolen with indifference. They saw no threat in an Australie still leashed by the Netherlands. Racism during the Great Depression was widespread in Cygnia as many whites were content to blame other races for causing the economic downturn.
Back in Europe, the combined stresses of economic depression and two humiliating defeats in war resulted in an implosion of the political order in France, culminating in the French coup d'état of 1936. The military coup ended the democratic Third Republic, which was replaced by a dictatorship headed by Jacques Doriot.
Mosley began to put his plan in motion, annexing Ireland in the Reunion, in 1936. Seeing an opportunity in the newly installed Doriot government, Mosley opened negotiations for a pact with France in 1937. While at first reluctant, after receiving promises of British support for an eventual invasion of Germany, Doriot agreed to an alliance which would develop into the Fascist League.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Russian Democratic Federative Republic had come into being, and in 1922 Joseph Stalin became President of Russia. Under Stalin, Russia became a stronghold of a brand of nationalist socialism that came to be known as Stalinism. While Stalin rejected claims of being a dictator, he wielded influence like one, and his relentless pursuit of policies like collectivism resulted in the deaths of millions.
World War III (1938–1946)
The war in Europe
The war in the Pacific
The Nuclear Age begins
The post-war world
The end of empires: decolonisation
The Cold War (1948–1991)
War by proxy
The Space Race
The end of the Cold War
Information and communications technology
The world at the end of the century