20th century

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For other uses, see 20th century (disambiguation).
For a timeline of 20th-century events, see Timeline of modern history.
"19XX" redirects here. For the videogame, see 19XX: The War Against Destiny
Millennium:2nd millennium
Centuries:
Decades:1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
Categories:BirthsDeaths
EstablishmentsDisestablishments
The Earth as seen from Apollo 17. The second half of the 20th century saw humankind's first space exploration.

The 20th century was the period between January 1, 1901[1] and December 31, 2000,[2][3] inclusive. It was the tenth and last century of the 2nd millennium. It is distinct from the century known as the 1900s, which began on January 1, 1900 and ended December 31, 1999.

The century had the first global-scale wars between several world powers across multiple continents in World War I and World War II. Nationalism became a major political issue in the world in the 20th century that was acknowledged in international law with the acknowledgement of the right of nations to self-determination, official decolonization in the mid-century, and many nationalist-influenced armed conflicts - including both World Wars.

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. It has been theorized that the 20th century saw more technological and scientific progress than all the other centuries combined since the dawn of civilization. Terms like ideology, world war, genocide, and nuclear war entered common usage. Scientific discoveries, such as the theory of relativity and quantum physics, drastically changed the worldview of scientists, causing them to realize that the universe was fantastically more complex than previously believed, and dashing the strong hopes (or fears) at the end of the 19th century that the last few details of scientific knowledge were about to be filled in. Accelerating scientific understanding, more efficient communications, and faster transportation transformed the world in those hundred years more rapidly and widely than in any previous century. It was a century that started with horses, simple automobiles, and freighters but ended with high-speed rail, cruise ships, global commercial air travel and the space shuttle. Horses, Western society's basic form of personal transportation for thousands of years, were replaced by automobiles and buses within the span of a few decades. These developments were made possible by the large-scale exploitation of fossil fuel resources (especially petroleum), which offered large amounts of energy in an easily portable form, but also caused widespread concerns about pollution and long-term impact on the environment. Humans explored outer space for the first time, taking their first footsteps on the Moon.

Mass media, telecommunications, and information technology (especially computers, paperback books, public education, and the Internet) 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.[citation needed] Advancements in medical technology also improved the welfare of many people: the global life expectancy increased from 35 years to 65 years. Rapid technological advancements, however, also allowed warfare to reach unprecedented levels of destruction. World War II alone killed over 60 million people, while nuclear weapons gave humankind the means to annihilate or significantly harm itself in a very short period of time. The world also became more culturally homogenized than ever with developments in transportation and communications technology, popular music and other influences of Western culture, international corporations, and what was arguably a true global economy by the end of the 20th century.

Summary[edit]

Early arms races of the century escalated into a war which involved many powerful nations: World War I (1914–1918). 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). 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. 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.

Ukraine, early days of the 1941 Nazi invasion. The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people between 1941 and 1945,[4] almost half of all World War II deaths.

At the beginning of the period, Britain was the world's most powerful nation;[5] having acted as the world's policeman for the past century. Fascism, a movement which grew out of post-war angst 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 (1939–1945), sparked by Nazi Germany's aggressive expansion at the expense of its neighbors. Meanwhile, Japan had rapidly transformed itself into a technologically advanced industrial power. Its military expansion into eastern Asia and the Pacific Ocean culminated in a surprise attack on the United States, bringing it into World War II. 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.

World War II left about 60 million people dead. 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 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. The very size of the nuclear arsenal on both sides is believed by many historians to have staved off an inevitable war between the two, as the consequences of any attack were too great to bear. The policy of unleashing a massive nuclear attack, knowing a massive nuclear counterattack would be forthcoming, was known as mutually assured destruction (MAD). Although the Soviet Union and the United States never directly entered military conflict with each other, several proxy wars, such as the Korean War (1950–1953) and the Vietnam War (1957–1975), were waged as the United States implemented its worldwide "containment" policy against communism.

Albert Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics.

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.[citation needed] Meanwhile, the wars empowered several nations, including the UK, U.S., Russia, China and Japan, to exert a strong influence over many world affairs. American culture spread around the world with the advent of Hollywood, Broadway, rock and roll, pop music, fast food, big-box stores, and the hip-hop lifestyle. British culture continued to influence world culture, including the "British Invasion" into American music, leading many top rock bands (such as Swedish ABBA) to sing in English. The western world and parts of Asia enjoyed a post-World War II economic boom. After the Soviet Union collapsed under internal pressure in 1991, the communist governments of the Eastern bloc were also dismantled, followed by rocky transitions into market economies.

Following World War II the United Nations was established as an international forum in which the world's nations could get together and discuss issues diplomatically. It has enacted resolutions on such topics as the conduct of warfare, environmental protection, international sovereignty, and human rights. Peacekeeping forces consisting of troops provided by various countries, in concert with various United Nations and other aid agencies, have helped to relieve famine, disease, and poverty, and to suppress some local armed conflicts. Europe slowly united, economically and, in some ways, politically, into what eventually became the European Union, which consisted of 15 European countries by the end of the 20th century.

In approximately the last third of the century, concern about humankind's impact on the Earth's environment caused environmentalism to become a major citizen movement. In many countries, especially in Europe, the movement was channeled into politics partly through Green parties, though awareness of the problem permeated societies. By the end of the 20th century, some progress had been made in cleaning up the environment though pollution continued apace.[citation needed] Increasing awareness of global warming began in the 1980s, commencing several decades of social and political debate.

Medical science and the Green Revolution in agriculture enabled the world's population to grow from about 1.6 billion to about 6.0 billion. This rapid population increase quickly became a major concern and directly caused or contributed to several global issues, including conflict, poverty, major environmental issues, and severe overcrowding in some areas.[citation needed]

The nature of innovation and change[edit]

Due to continuing industrialization and expanding trade, many significant changes of the 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 microcomputers, the Internet, and mobile telephones 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.

Social change[edit]

At the beginning of the 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. During the century, the social taboo of sexism fell. By the end of the 20th century, women had as many rights as men in most parts of the world and not only did general society accept equal rights for members of other races but most people frowned at racism.[6] In the 1970s, the term speciesism was coined as people began to question humans' natural discrimination against other species. In the latter third of the century, movements for equality gained significant ground in the Western world.

Event timeline[edit]

Developments in brief[edit]

Wars and politics[edit]

The number of people killed during the century by government actions could be as high as 400 million.[citation needed] This includes deaths caused by wars, genocide, politicide and mass murders. The deaths from battles, fire bombings and nuclear bombs used during the two world wars alone have been estimated between 50 and 80 million. Political scientist Rudolph Rummel estimated 262,000,000 deaths caused by democide, which excludes those killed in war battles, civilians unintentionally killed in war and killings of rioting mobs.[7] According to Charles Tilly, "Altogether, about 100 million people died as a direct result of action by organized military units backed by one government or another over the course of the century. Most likely a comparable number of civilians died of war-induced disease and other indirect effects."[8] It is estimated that approximately 70 million Europeans died through war, violence and famine between 1914 and 1945.[9]

Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev aboard the USS Sequoia, June 19, 1973

Culture and entertainment[edit]

Science and mathematics[edit]

Science advanced dramatically during the century. There were new and radical developments in the physical, life and human sciences, building on the progress made in the 19th century.[13] Big Science flourished, especially after the Second World War, as funding for science increased. Mathematics became ever more specialized and abstract.

Mathematics[edit]

Physics[edit]

Astronomy[edit]

Biology[edit]

Engineering and technology[edit]

American Buzz Aldrin during the first moonwalk in 1969.

One of the prominent traits of the 20th century was the dramatic growth of technology. Organized research and practice of science led to advancement in the fields of communication, engineering, travel, medicine, and war.

Medicine[edit]

A stamp commemorating Alexander Fleming. His discovery of penicillin had changed the world of modern medicine by introducing the age of antibiotics.

Notable diseases[edit]

Energy and the environment[edit]

Oil field in California, 1938. The first modern oil well was drilled in 1848 by Russian engineer F.N. Semyonov, on the Apsheron Peninsula north-east of Baku.

The world at the end of the 20th century[edit]

By the end of the 20th century, more technological advances had been made than in all of preceding history.[citation needed] Communications and information technology, transportation technology, and medical advances had radically altered daily lives. Europe appeared to be at a sustainable peace for the first time in recorded history. The people of the Indian subcontinent, a sixth of the world population at the end of the 20th century, had attained an indigenous independence for the first time in centuries. China, an ancient nation comprising a fifth of the world population, was finally open to the world in a new and powerful synthesis of west and east, creating a new state after the near-complete destruction of the old cultural order. With the end of colonialism and the Cold War, nearly a billion people in Africa were left with truly independent new nation states, some cut from whole cloth, standing up after centuries of foreign domination.

Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.

The world was undergoing its second major period of globalization; the first, which started in the 18th century, having been terminated by World War I. Since the US was in a position of almost unchallenged domination, a major part of the process was Americanization. This led to[citation needed] anti-Western and anti-American feelings in parts of the world, especially the Middle East. The influence of China and India was also rising, as the world's largest populations, long marginalized by the West and by their own rulers, were rapidly integrating with the world economy.[citation needed]

Terrorism, dictatorship, and the spread of nuclear weapons were some issues requiring attention. The world was still blighted by small-scale wars and other violent conflicts, fueled by competition over resources and by ethnic conflicts. Despots such as Kim Jong-il of North Korea continued to lead their nations toward the development of nuclear weapons.

Disease threatened to destabilize many regions of the world. New viruses such as SARS and West Nile continued to spread. Malaria and other diseases affected large populations. Millions were infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. The virus was becoming an epidemic in southern Africa.

The geographic distribution of surface warming during the 21st century calculated by the HadCM3 climate model if a business as usual scenario is assumed for economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. In this figure, the globally averaged warming corresponds to 3.0 °C (5.4 °F).

Based on research done by climate scientists, the majority of the scientific community speculate that in the long term environmental problems may threaten the planet's livability.[17] One argument is that of global warming occurring, and that it may be due (at least partially) to human-caused emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels.[18] This prompted many nations to negotiate and sign the Kyoto treaty, which set mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

World population[edit]

World population increased from about 1.6 billion people in 1901 to 6.1 billion at the century's end. Some[who?] believe that a significant driver of many of the problems of the 20th century was overpopulation.[citation needed] Overpopulation has been a fascination of many, including economic theorist Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus whose "An Essay on the Principal of Population" was first published in 1798. Some demographers[who?] have predicted that the population will reach a plateau of 9 to 10 billion around 2100.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Twentieth Century's Triumphant Entry". The New York Times. January 1, 1901
  2. ^ "When and where did the new Millennium officially start, and why?". Royal Observatory Greenwich
  3. ^ "The 21st Century and the 3rd Millennium When Did They Begin?". United States Naval Observatory. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  4. ^ Mark Harrison (2002). Accounting for War: Soviet Production, Employment, and the Defence Burden, 1940–1945. Cambridge University Press. p.167. ISBN 0-521-89424-7
  5. ^ Ferguson, Niall (2004). Empire: The rise and demise of the British world order and the lessons for global power. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02328-2. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Democide See various exclusions
  8. ^ Charles Tilly (2003). "The politics of collective violence" Cambridge University Press. p.55. ISBN 0-521-53145-4.
  9. ^ Gary Rodger Weaver (1998). Culture, Communication, and Conflict. Simon & Schuster. p. 474. ISBN 0-536-00373-4
  10. ^ Geoffrey A. Hosking (2001). "Russia and the Russians: a history". Harvard University Press. p. 469. ISBN 0-674-00473-6
  11. ^ "The Other Killing Machine". The New York Times. May 11, 2003
  12. ^ a b "China's great famine: 40 years later". British Medical Journal 1999;319:1619–1621 (December 18 )
  13. ^ Agar, Jon (2012). Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-3469-2. 
  14. ^ Thomson, Sir William (1862). "On the Age of the Sun's Heat". Macmillan's Magazine 5: 288–293. 
  15. ^ a b c "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962". NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB. Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c d "James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin". chemheritage.org. Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  17. ^ Smith, J.B., et al. "Ch. 19. Vulnerability to Climate Change and Reasons for Concern: A Synthesis". Sec 19.6. Extreme and Irreversible Effects. , in IPCC TAR WG2 2001
  18. ^ "Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750." (p 11) "From 1750 to 2011, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have released 375 [345 to 405] GtC to the atmosphere, while deforestation and other land use change are estimated to have released 180 [100 to 260] GtC." (p 10), IPCC, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis - Summary for Policymakers, Observed Changes in the Climate System, p. 10&11, in IPCC AR5 WG1 2013.

Further reading[edit]

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