International Relations

    The Age of Extremes by Daniel Losada

During the 20th century, the world for the first time in human history witnesses’ global wars, human interest this time crossed national frontiers and even when it was not the end of the world there were moments when the end of a considerable proportion of the human race did not look far off.  This essay will discuss first what factors make the 20th century the Age of Extremes and second what lasting impact do they have on international politics in the 21th century.

The concept of “global war” was in first instance an element that influence the 20th century as called the Age of Extremes. The First World War was the first modern, industrialized total war; it began between European states on European battlefields, but extended across the globe, the trigger was the Assassination of Arch duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 june 1914[1]. This time not only many countries were involved in war, even women were involved as Len Scott[2] related “It was a total war in the sense that whole societies and economies were mobilized: men were conscripted into armies and women went to work in factories”

The Second World War was even more total in nature and global in scope, every country in the world was involved in one way or another in this war. “ In the simplest terms the question who or what caused the Second World War can be answered in two words: Adolf Hitler” as related by Eric Hobsbawm[3].The Second World War brought the Soviets and the American militarily and politically deep into Europe, and helped transform their relations with each others. This transformation was soon reflected in their relations outside Europe, where various confrontations developed.   The Second World War ended with the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945”[4]. Like the Second World War, the cold war had its origins in Europe, but quickly spread, with enormous consequences for countries and people all around the world.

Economic factors were also crucial. The effects of the Great depression, triggered in part by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 [5] weakened the forces of liberal-democracy in many areas and strengthened the appeal of communist, facist and Nazi parties.[6]

In third instance the element of “barbarity” makes the 20th century the Age of Extremes because war brings among other things casualties; millions deaths was the high price for not achieving a peace settlement.  The radiation effects of the atom bomb reminded years after the bomb was dropped.

Even twenty years after the bombing, in the autumn of 1971, human bones were accidentally found on the grounds of Ninoshima Junior High School on Ninoshima Island, where thousands of A-bomb victims dies. Believing these bones were remains of A-bomb victims, the Hiroshima municipality dug the area for about one month and recovered the remains of 617 bodies.[7]

Another example of barbarity in the 20th century, “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question” the term holocaust entered the political lexicon of the twentieth century, as the Nazis attempted to genocide of the Jewish people and other minorities[8].

Last but not least, is the element of the End of Empire. The demise of imperialism in the twentieth century marked a fundamental change in world politics. It reflected, and contributed to, the decreasing importance of Europe as the arbiter of world affairs. The belief that national self-determination should be a guiding principle in international politics marked a transformation of attitudes and values. During the age of imperialism political status accrued to imperial powers[9].Political, economic and military factors played various roles in shaping the transfer of power. Different imperial powers and newly emerging independent states had different experiences of withdrawal from empire.

In 1945, the British Empire extended across the globe. Between 1947 and 1980, territories were granted independence. The British experience of decolonization stood in contrast to that of the French. France had been occupied during the Second World War, and successive governments sought to preserve French international prestige by maintaining her imperial status.[10]

However,  the 20th century is one of the most wonderful centuries in human history, this global world involves now every country and everyone is related to each other from one way or another, Internet is this new tool created in the Age of Extremes that allows us be connected. Another example of the greatest 20th century is the creation of mobiles as well as the concept of virtual reality which by clicking twice you can join an army along with developing strategies and die several times without actually having any real consequence in the real world.

Going through the second question what lasting impact do they have on international politics in the 21th century?

Every action causes a reaction; one thing let to another, the Age of the Extremes brought among other things the creation of the European Union on 1st November, 1993 which involves twenty-seven independent states based on the European communities. The European Union is a group of countries whose governments work together. “It’s a bit like a club. To join you have to agree to follow the rules and in return you get certain benefits. Each country has to pay money to be a member. They mostly do this through taxes. The EU uses the money to change the way people live and do business in Europe. Countries join because they think that they will benefit from the changes the EU makes.” [11]

The rise of Nazi ideas of racial supremacy brought brutality and mass murder across Europe and culminated in genocide against the Jews. One consequence was the creation of Israel in 1948, which helped set in motion conflicts and events that continue to have global repercussions.

 The relationship between the end of empire and cold war conflicts in the “Third World” is complex. In some cases, the involvement of the superpowers helped bring about change. In others, superpower involvement resulted in scalation and prolongation of the conflict. Marxist ideology in various forms provided inspiration to many “Third World” liberation movements. For example; it is claimed that Fidel Castro in Cuba was primarily nationalist, who turned to Moscow and to the communism in the face of American and Western hostility.[12]

Nuclear weapons have been a focus for political agreement in the 21th century. The accident at the  Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 showed that radioactivity knows no boundaries. In the 1980s scientists suggested that if only a fraction of the world’s nuclear weapons exploded over a fraction of the world’s cities, it could bring an end to life itself in the northern hemisphere. While the threat of strategic nuclear war has receded, the global problem of nuclear weapons remains a common and urgent concern for humanity in the 21th century.[13]


[1] University of Reading, PO1IRS READING PACK, chapter I

[2] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[3] Eric Hobsbawm, Reading pack, Chapter I “The Age of Total War”

[4] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[5] When the Wall Street stock market crashed in October 1929, the world economy was plunged into the Great Depression.

[6] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[7]   http://www.gensuikin.org  consulted on 22 Oct. 08,WWII

[8] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[9] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[10] Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[12]Len Scott, The Globalization of World Politics, pp.56-67

[13] Idem


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