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World History Era 9

The 20th Century Since 1945:  Promises and Paradoxes

Standard 1: How post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.

Standard 2: The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world

Standard 3: Major global trends since World War II

The closer we get to the present the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between the large forces of change and the small. Surveying the long sweep of history from early hominid times to the end of World War II, we might reach at least partial consensus about what is important to the development of the whole human community and what is not. The multifarious trends of the past half-century, however, are for the most part still working themselves out. Therefore, we cannot know what history students one or two hundred years from now will think was worth remembering about the decades after World War II. Clearly, the era has been one of tensions, paradoxes, and contradictory trends. Some of these countercurrents provide students with a framework for investigation and analysis.

Democracy and Tyranny: In the three decades following World War II, a multitude of new sovereign states appeared around the world. The breakup of the Soviet Union that began in 1990 introduced fifteen more. Triumphant nationalism, in short, has radically transformed the globe’s political landscape. Even so, peoples on every continent have had to struggle persistently for democracy and justice against the powerful counterforces of authoritarianism, neo-colonialism, warlordism, and stolid bureaucracy. Many of the newer independent states have also faced daunting challenges in raising their peoples’ standard of living while at the same time participating in a global economic system where industrialized countries have had a distinct advantage. The political, and in some places economic, reform movements that bloomed in Africa, Eurasia, and Latin America in the 1980s are evidence of the vitality of civic aspirations that originated more than two centuries ago

War and Peace: World War II ended amid anxious hopes for genuine world peace. In 1945, however, the Cold War was already underway. For forty years recurrent international crises and the doubtful consolations of mutually assured destruction dominated world affairs. The European colonial empires were dismantled and power transferred to new nationalist leaders with less violence or acrimony than anyone might have expected--with some exceptions. Nationalists waged protracted anti-colonial wars in Vietnam, Algeria, Angola, and Mozambique. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the threat of catastrophe receded and the world sighed in relief. On the other hand, local wars and terrorist assaults multiplied as ancient enemies settled old scores and ethnic or nationalist feelings rose to the surface. Amid the ruthless confrontations of the second half of the century, people of good will have continued to seek peace. The achievements and limitations of the post-World War II settlements, the United Nations, the European Economic Community, Middle East negotiations, and numerous other forms of international cooperation are all worthy of serious study for the lessons they may offer the coming generation.

Global Links and Communal Identity: The transformations that the world experienced in the previous three eras appear modest in comparison with the bewildering pace and complexity of change in the late 20th century. The revolution of global communication has potentially put everyone in touch with everyone else. Business travelers, scientists, labor migrants, and refugees move incessantly from country to country. Currency transfers ricochet from bank to bank. The young men and women of Bangkok, Moscow, and Wichita Falls watch the same movies and sport the same brand of jeans. In economy, politics, and culture the human community is in a continuous process of restructuring itself. Global interdependence, however, has a flip side. As the gales of change blow, people seek communal bonds and identities more urgently than ever. Communalism has frequently led to fear and suspicion of the “other.” Even so, the institutions and values that communities share protect them in some measure from the shocks of the new and unforeseen. The social and cultural bonds of family, village, ethnic community, religion, and nation provide a framework for estimating how others will think and behave and for calculating with some confidence the pattern of affairs from day to day.

Countercurrents in the Quality of Life : The early 20th century promised, at least in the industrialized countries, a new age of progress through science, technology, and rational policy-making. Fifty years and two world wars later, humanity was less optimistic about its future. Art and literature after 1945 starkly reported the era’s skepticism and angst. Science, medicine, and techniques of human organization continued to benefit society in wondrous ways. A truly global middle class emerged, and it enjoyed rising prosperity for several decades. Several countries, notably along the eastern Pacific rim, became economic powers to be reckoned with. On the other hand, the world population explosion, persistent poverty, environmental degradation, and epidemic disease have defied the best efforts of statesmanship, civic action, and scientific imagination. Amid the distresses and dangers of the era, people have sought not only communal ties but also moral and metaphysical certainties. Spiritual quests and ethical questionings have been a vital part of the cultural history of the past half-century.

Why Study This Era?

  • The economic and social forces moving in our contemporary world will make sense to students only in relation to the rush of events since 1945. Historical perspectives the Cold War, the breakup of empires, the population explosion, the rise of the Pacific rim, and the other sweeping developments of the era are indispensable for unraveling the causes and perhaps even discerning the likely consequences of events now unfolding. Students in school today are going to be responsible for addressing the promises and paradoxes of the age. They will not be able to do this by reading headlines or picking bits of “background” from the past. They must gain some sense of the whole flow of developments and build a mental architecture for understanding the history of the world.
Each standard was developed with historical thinking standards in mind. The relevant historical thinking standards are linked in the brackets, [ ], below.

Standard 1

How post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.

Standard 1A

The student understands major political and economic changes that accompanied post-war recovery.

7-12 Explain how the Western European countries and Japan achieved rapid economic recovery after World War II. [Employ quantitative data]
7-12 Analyze connections between the political stabilization of Western European societies and the Marshall Plan, the European Economic Community, government planning, and the growth of welfare states. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Compare the United State' commanding economic position and international leadership after World War II with its international policies following World War I. [Interrogate historical data]
9-12 Explain why fascism was discredited after World War II and how popular democratic institutions were established in such countries as Italy, the German Federal Republic, Greece, India, Spain, and Portugal between 1945 and 1975. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]
5-12 Explain why the United Nations was founded and assess its successes and failures up to the 1970s. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]

Standard 1B

The student understands why global power shifts took place and the Cold War broke out in the aftermath of World War II.

5-12 Explain how political, economic, and military conditions prevailing in the mid-1940s led to the Cold War. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12 Analyze major differences in the political ideologies and values of the Western democracies and the Soviet bloc. [Compare and contrast different ideas, values, and institutions]
7-12 Compare the impact of Soviet domination on Eastern Europe with changes that occurred in German and Japanese society under Allied occupation. [Compare and contrast differing values, behaviors, and institutions]
7-12 Explain how the Communist Party rose to power in China between 1936 and 1949 and assess the benefits and costs of Communist policies under Mao Zedong, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Explain the causes and international and local consequences of major Cold War crises, such as the Berlin blockade, the Korean War, the Polish workers’ protest, the Hungarian revolt, the Suez crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Indonesian civil war, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. [Formulate historical questions]
9-12 Analyze how political, diplomatic, and economic conflict and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union affected developments in such countries as Egypt, Iran, the Congo, Vietnam, Chile, and Guatemala. [Analyze multiple causation]
7-12 Analyze interconnections between superpower rivalries and the development of new military, nuclear, and space technology. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Assess the impact of the Cold War on art, literature, and popular culture around the world. [Obtain historical data from a variety of sources]

Standard 1C

The student understands how African, Asian, and Caribbean peoples achieved independence from European colonial rule.

7-12 Assess the impact of Indian nationalism on other movements in Africa and Asia and analyze why the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Analyze the impact of World War II and postwar global politics on the rise of mass nationalist movements in Africa and Southeast Asia. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Analyze connections between the rise of independence movements in Africa and Southeast Asia and social transformations such as demographic changes, urbanization, and the emergence of Western-educated elites. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12 Analyze why some African and Asian countries achieved independence through constitutional devolution of power and others as a result of armed revolution. [Compare and contrast differing values, behaviors, and institutions]
5-12 Explain how international conditions affected the creation of Israel and analyze why persistent conflict developed between Israel and both Arab Palestinians and neighboring states. [Interrogate historical data]
9-12 Describe economic and social problems that new states faced in the 1960s and 1970s and analyze why military regimes or one-party states replaced parliamentary-style governments throughout much of Africa. [Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration]

Standard 2

The search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

Standard 2A

The student understands how population explosion and environmental change have altered conditions of life around the world.

7-12 Analyze causes of the worlds accelerating population growth rate and connections between population growth and economic and social development in many countries. [Analyze multiple causation]
7-12 Describe the global proliferation of cities and the rise of the megalopolis and assess the impact of urbanization on family life, standards of living, class relations, and ethnic identity. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12 Assess why scientific, technological, and medical advances have improved living standards for many yet hunger, poverty, and epidemic disease have persisted. [Evaluate major debates among historians]
5-12 Analyze how population growth, urbanization, industrialization, warfare, and the global market economy have contributed to environmental alterations. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Assess the effectiveness of efforts by governments and citizens’ movements to protect the global natural environment. [Obtain historical data]

Standard 2B

The student understands how increasing economic interdependence has transformed human society.

5-12 Analyze how global communications and changing international labor demands have shaped new patterns of world migration since World War II. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Explain the effects of the European Economic Community and its growth on economic productivity and political integration in Europe. [Interrogate historical data]
9-12 Compare systems of economic management in communist and capitalist countries and analyze the global economic impact of multinational corporations. [Compare and contrast differing institutions]
7-12 Analyze why economic disparities between industrialized and developing countries have persisted or increased and how both neo-colonialism and authoritarian political leadership have affected development in African and Asian countries. [Formulate historical questions]
5-12 Explain the emergence of the Pacific Rim economy and analyze how such countries as South Korea or Singapore have achieved economic growth in recent decades. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
7-12 Analyze the continuing growth of mass consumption of commodities and resources since World War II. [Employ quantitative data]
9-12 Analyze the importance of such factors as black markets, speculation, and trade in illegal products for both national and global markets. [Obtain historical data from a variety of sources]
9-12 Analyze how the oil crisis and its aftermath in the early 1970s revealed the extent and complexity of global economic interdependence. [Interrogate historical data]

Standard 2C

The student understands how liberal democracy, market economies, and human rights movements have reshaped political and social life.

5-12 Assess the progress of human and civil rights around the world since the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]
5-12 Analyze how feminist movements and social conditions have affected the lives of women in different parts of the world and compare women’s progress toward social equality, economic opportunity, and political rights in various countries. [Draw comparisons across regions]
7-12 Explain why Cold War tensions eased in the 1970s and analyze how such developments as the Helsinki Accords, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Reagan-Gorbachev “summit diplomacy” affected progress toward detente. [Interrogate historical data]
7-12 Explain why the Soviet and other communist governments collapsed and the Soviet Union splintered into numerous states in the 1980s and early 1990s. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]
9-12 Assess the strengths of democratic institutions and civic culture in countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Japan, India, and Mexico and analyze potential challenges to civil society in democratic states. [Interrogate historical data]
9-12 Assess the success of democratic reform movements in challenging authoritarian governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]
5-12 Explain the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa and the winning of political rights by the black majority. [Explain historical continuity and change]

Standard 2D

The student understands major sources of tension and conflict in the contemporary world and efforts that have been made to address them.

7-12 Analyze causes and consequences of continuing urban protest and reformist economic policies in post-Mao China in the context of state authoritarianism. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Analyze why terrorist movements have proliferated and the extent of their impact on politics and society in various countries. [Evaluate the implementation of a decision]
9-12 Assess the impact of population pressure, poverty, and environmental degradation on the breakdown of state authority in various countries in the 1980s and 1990s. [Analyze multiple causation]
7-12 Analyze the causes, consequences, and moral implications for the world community of mass killings or famines in such places as Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]
5-12 Assess the progress that has been made since the 1970s in resolving conflict between Israel and neighboring states. [Analyze multiple causation]

Standard 2E

The student understands major worldwide scientific and technological trends of the second half of the 20th century.

5-12 Describe worldwide implications of the revolution in nuclear, electronic, and computer technology. [Formulate historical questions]
9-12 Analyze interconnections between space exploration and developments since the 1950s in scientific research, agricultural productivity, consumer culture, intelligence gathering, and other aspects of contemporary life. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
5-12 Assess the social and cultural implications of recent medical successes such as development of antibiotics and vaccines and the conquest of smallpox. [Interrogate historical data]
9-12 Analyze the changing structure and organization of scientific and technological research, including the role of governments, corporations, international agencies, universities, and scientific communities. [Employ quantitative data]

Standard 2F

The student understands worldwide cultural trends of the second half of the 20th century.

9-12 Evaluate the impact of World War II and its aftermath on literature, art, and intellectual life in Europe and other parts of the world. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Evaluate the meaning and social impact of innovative movements in literature and the arts such as Existentialism, Abstract Expressionism, or Pop Art. [Draw upon visual and literary sources]
5-12 Assess the influence of television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication on the creation and diffusion of cultural and political information worldwide. [Formulate historical questions]
7-12 Analyze connections among electronic communications, international marketing, and the emergence of popular “global culture” in the late 20th century. [Obtain historical data from a variety of sources]
5-12 Describe varieties of religious belief and practice in the contemporary world and analyze how the world’s religions have responded to challenges and uncertainties of the late 20th century. [Analyze the influence of ideas]
9-12 Describe ways in which art, literature, religion, and traditional customs have expressed or strengthened national or other communal loyalties in recent times. [Examine the influence of ideas, human interests, and beliefs]

Standard 3

Major global trends since World War II.

Standard 3A

The student understands major global trends since World War II.

7-12 Explain the changing configuration of political boundaries in the world since 1900 and analyze connections between nationalist ideology and the proliferation of sovereign states. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]
7-12 Explain why the Cold War took place and ended and assess its significance as a 20th-century event. [Analyze multiple causation]
5-12 Compare causes, consequences, and major patterns of international migrations in the late 20th century with world population movements of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. [Draw comparisons across eras and regions]
9-12 Define “postindustrial society” and assess the usefulness of this concept in comparing the late 20th century with the period from the industrial revolution to 1950. [Draw comparisons across eras and regions]
5-12 Assess the degree to which both human rights and democratic ideals and practices have been advanced in the world during the 20th century. [Formulate historical questions]
9-12 Analyze causes of economic imbalances and social inequalities among the world’s peoples and assess efforts made to close these gaps. [Employ quantitative analysis]
7-12 Analyze causes and consequences of the world’s shift from bipolar to multipolar centers of economic, political, and military power. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Analyze connections between globalizing trends in economy, technology, and culture in the late 20th century and dynamic assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]