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Historical Events and Figures of the 20th Century Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2020


Appeasement involved a policy of making concessions to demands of an aggressive to avert conflict. During the Sudeten crisis of 1938, Neville Chamberlain, who was the British Prime Minister, instituted a policy that allowed Hitler to expand German territory unchecked to evade war. The agreement led Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia, previously in British and France territory, to Germany. The pact became a short-term fix after Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet agreement with USSR in 1939. Hitler used the pact to create a strong military power, which he employed to invade Poland. In response, Britain and France, unconvinced by Hitler’s desires, declared war on Germany and initiated World War II.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact

Nazi refers to the signing of the German-Soviet Union Nonaggression Pact that brought a peaceful coexistence between the two countries. In 1939, the famous Germany leader, Adolf Hitler, entered into an agreement with Soviet Union Premier, Joseph Stalin. The agreement entailed the cessation of any military action between the two countries for ten years. The agreement ended British hopes of an alliance with Russia to stop Hitler and prepare for war. Then, Hitler invaded Poland without opposition. On the other hand, the Soviet leader utilized the chance, without any interference from Germany, to build a strong Soviet military. In 1941, the Nazi-Soviet Pact fell when Nazi attacked the Soviet Union.


In 1939, Germany coined a powerful military tactic called blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg involved the adoption of mobile forces that concentrated firepower locally and disorganized Poland’s rival forces. During World War II, the German soldiers successfully employed the tactic in invading its neighbor states and managed to crash the Soviet Union in six months. In the North African campaign of World War II, German military commander (Erwin Rommel) and the US General (George Patton) adopted blitzkrieg to dominate the North African region and Suez Canal. The gaining of the Suez Canal facilitated access to oil, which was critical in the mechanization of modern armies and industrialization.

The Manhattan Project

In 1939, Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, after learning of Germany’s plans to build nuclear weapons, wrote a letter to inform and advise president Roosevelt to develop atomic energy. Collaborative efforts between the US and the United Kingdom (1942-1946) placed Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves in the development of the Atomic bomb. The Allies developed nuclear weapons in an assembly plant in New Mexico. In August 1945, the US bombed Japanese cities and killed over 210,000 people. The destruction obliged Japan’s formal surrender on 14 August 1945 and the acceptance of Germany’s submission on 8 May 1945, ending World War II.

The Yalta Conference

Wartime meetings of Allies led to a second conference held in Crimea on February 4th to 11th, 1945. These meetings involved the US President Roosevelt, the British Prime Minister Churchill, and the Soviet Premier Stalin. The agreement reached demanded an unconditional surrender of Germany, Soviet’s permission of free elections in Eastern Europe, and a declaration of war against Japan. Additionally, the leaders developed policies of the reorganization of nations destroyed by Germany. These agreements influenced the dissolution of World War II, the reestablishment of destroyed nations, and the formation of the United Nations in San Francisco.

The Potsdam Conference

Allies’ third scheduled meeting lasted from 17 July to 2 August 1945 and involved the American president (Harry Truman), British Prime Minister (Winston Churchill with his successor (Clement Attlee), and Soviet premier (Joseph Stalin). The meeting aimed to streamline the objectives of the Allies to the new leaders. Then, the American president, Franklin Roosevelt, died, British Prime Minister Churchill lost the British elections of 1945, and Germany lost the war. However, the leaders disagreed, and Truman objected to the compensation and the establishment of the communist government in Poland. The disagreement culminated in the US bombing of Japan in August 1945 and the escalation of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America.

The Berlin Blockade

Joseph Stalin, the Premier of the Soviet Union, blocked Allies from accessing Western Berlin between 1948 and 1949 due to the broken relationship. People in West Berlin suffered from the inadequacy of medical supplies, food, and clothing. The Soviet Union intended to force the Western Allies to abandon their post-World War II control in West Berlin. However, the US government hatched a plan and airlifted supplies to West Berlin, hence, avoiding an aggressive response to the provocation. As the US-British managed to airlift vital supplies, the Soviet Union terminated the blockade and ended the early crisis of the Cold War.

The Truman Doctrine

In his early years in power as the US president, Truman adopted the American foreign policy on 12 July 1948 with the purpose to counter Soviet’s Cold War and communist control, which threatened neighboring nations (Greece and Turkey). The US Congress acknowledged the policy and directed $400 million to strengthen the US military and extend economic support to Greece and Turkey. This doctrine shifted the US focus on the relaxation of tension to the policy of containment of the Soviet expansion advocated by G. Kennan, the American diplomat. The shift became the basis for the American cold war policy in Europe and the rest of the world.

The Marshall Plan

In April 1948, the Western Allies devised the European Cooperation Act to steer the European recovery program. To halt the influence of USSR communism, the US secretary of state General George Marshall, developed a strategy in 1948 to 1951. The strategy involved channeling over $13 billion to finance the economic recovery of European countries. Consequently, the plan reduced the power and influence of communism but angered the Soviet Union who perceived the move as an anti-communist. Thus, the Marshal Plan heightened conflict between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union and caused the development of the rearmament program in the US.


In 1949, the threat of further communist expansion forced the Western Allies to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The organization’s purpose was to safeguard the Ally’s freedom and provide collective security against the Soviet Union through either political or military means. This move prompted the Soviet Union and affiliate communist nations in Eastern Europe to establish a rival alliance in 1955 under the Warsaw Pact. Additionally, the treaty influenced the formulation of the European rearmament program that facilitated the US subsidies and the UK’s acquisition of military arms. NATO helped the US to maintain its presence in Europe and facilitated the rapid recovery of the European economy.

Mao Zedong

Born in Dec 1893, M. Zedong established the Communist Party of China (CCP) in 1921, which allied with the Kuomintang nationalist party (KMT) to control the Japan army invasion of China in 1937-1945. In 1927, the KMT leader launched an anti-communism war, which prompted M. Zedong to lead his followers to flee to the northwest of China. After World War II, Zedong led the communist revolution against nationalists to establish the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. He then reorganized Chinese society through the ‘Great Leap Forward’ in 1958 and later launched a cultural revolution in 1967 that led to the destruction of China’s cultural heritage.

The Great Leap Forward

M. Zedong attempted to introduce the Chinese form of communism by launching a revolutionary campaign called the Great Leap Forward in 1958. The objective of the campaign was to industrialize China and enforce communist ideals within a five-year period. The strategy treated all the Chinese communist people as peasants aiming at the mass mobilization of labor in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The campaign resulted in the decline in agricultural output, famine, and the death of millions of people from diseases.

The Cultural Revolution

In his plan to make Chinese people like him, M. Zedong instituted a Cultural Revolution in 1966 by allowing his soldiers, the Red Guards, to eliminate his opponents and the literate people. He also championed the production of the Little Red book, which contained pro-communist propaganda with the intention to make all people memorize. This book acted as Zedong’s constitution for the Red Guards randomly asked people to quote certain sections with authority to persecute those who failed. Although the revolution worked, it led to violence and the death of many people.

The Korean War

In 1945, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US divided Korea along the 38th parallel, with the Soviet Union occupying the north and the Americans controlling the south. In June 1950, Joseph Stalin influenced the invasion of the North Korean forces and their retreat into the South. In response, the UN army led by MacArthur attacked and drove back the North Korean forces. During this three-year period, the Chinese army under M. Zedong supported North Korea to drive back the UN forces. As a result, the US increased its military spending, which laid the foundation for the military-industrial complex.


McCarthyism was a repressive political practice that Joseph McCarthy employed during his era (1947-1957) as Wisconsin’s Senator. Basing on the assumption and fear that communists had infiltrated different sectors of the US government and organizations, McCarthy became a powerful defender of the regime and initiated diverse anti-communism activities. Following his re-election as a senator in 1952, McCarthy chaired the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and aided the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in investigating and tracking communists in various sectors. When McCarthy intensified repressive practices and indiscriminate accusations of individuals in 1952-1954, he triggered a public uproar. Eventually, the Senate censured McCarthy and ended McCarthyism in the US, leading to his death in 1957.

Nikita Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev (1884-1971) was a noble leader who led the Soviet Union during the early period of the Cold War (1953-1964). From a humble background, Khrushchev became a political commissar of the Russian Civil War during his youth, and in 1938, Joseph Stalin sent him to Ukraine as an ambassador. When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev overpowered Stalin’s heir in the Communist Party, Georgy Malenkov, and ascended into power as the first secretary (1953-1964). Subsequently, Khrushchev chaired the Council of Ministers in 1958 to 1964 as the prime minister of the Soviet Union where he advocated for de-Stalinization of the regime, undertook liberal reforms, and supported the space program.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was a famous Indian leader and activist who led the Indian Independence Movement and delivered Indian from British colonization. In his early life at the age of 23 years, Gandhi became a civil rights activist when he experienced and endured racial discrimination during his stay for 21 years (1893-1914) in South Africa. In 1915, Gandhi returned to India, joined the Indian National Congress, and fought against the British, leading to the declaration of Indian independence in 1930. Gandhi mobilized farmers, peasants, urban laborers, Hindus, Muslims, and Indians to take part in nonviolent civil disobedience and resist colonization by the British before Nathuram Godse assassinated him in 1948.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall was a concreted and barbered wire blockade that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany from 1961 to 1989. Massive westward migration in the 1950s caused East Berlin to experience brain drain and threaten the economic power after the Second World War. Moreover, since the US-supported West Germany and the Soviet Union backed East Germany, tension and suspicion ensued between these two sides. In 1961, the German Democratic Republic made a drastic measure to prevent migration by constructing the Berlin Wall. The wall managed to prevent over 100,000 people from migrating, but it caused hundreds of deaths and elicited revolutions and protests in East Germany, resulting in its fall in 1989 and destruction in subsequent years.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a political and military standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, which lasted for 13 days in 1962 from 16 to 28 October. When the US placed its ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy, it prompted the Soviet Union to install its nuclear missiles in Cuba. The confrontational moves exhibited by John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev brought the world to the verge of nuclear war. Nevertheless, thoughtful negotiations created a truce where the Soviet Union agreed to uninstall its nuclear missiles in Cuba, whereas the US decided to stop invading Cuba and dismantle ballistic stations in Turkey and Italy.

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a conflict that occurred in 1955 to 1975 between the communist government of North Vietnam and the capitalist government of South Vietnam. As a communist government, North Vietnam received support from the Soviet Union, while South Vietnam got support from the US and other anti-communist allies. Over three million people comprising Vietnamese and foreigners died during the war. In 1973, the US military exited the war, allowed the communist government of North Vietnam to seize South Vietnam in 1975, permitted Vietnamization, and supported the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) was the prime minister (1954-1956) and the second president of Egypt (1956-1970) after Mohammed Naguib who ruled for one year (1953-1954). Nasser became a controversial leader in 1952 when he ousted the monarchical regime and placed Mohammed Naguib. When he assumed office in 1956 as the president, Nasser instituted extensive land reforms, fought for social justice, and formulated modernization policies. Since Nasser advocated for pan-Arab unity, he formed the United Arab Republic, which lasted for three years (1958-1961). The resolution of the Suez Canal crisis through nationalization and the construction of Aswan High Dam are key achievements of Nasser before his death in 1970.


Pan-Arabism was a political ideology that started in the early 20th century and dominated in the 1940-1960s. Pan-Arabism advocated for the unity of Arab countries based on social, cultural, and political similarities. The Sharif of Mecca named Sharif Hussein was the first leader to call for pan-Arabism to overcome colonization and allow Arab countries to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire and British influence in the early 20th century. In 1945, Arab countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and the horn of Africa formed the Arab League with the objective of protecting their independence, safeguarding interests, and defending their sovereignty. Subsequently, Nasser attempted to create the United Arab Republic that lasted for three years (1958-1961).


The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is a Palestinian organization establish in 1961 to fight for the rights of Palestinians via armed struggle. The use of armed struggle made the United Nations perceive the PLO as a terrorist group. However, in 1974, the Arab Summit ratified the PLO as the only legitimate that champion for the interests of Palestinians, and the United Nations General Assembly granted it observer status. Since its participation in the formulation of the Oslo Accords from 1993, the PLO shuns violence and complies with resolutions of the Security Council.

The Iranian Revolution

The Iranian Revolution comprises a series of protests that occurred in 1978 and 1979, which culminated in the ouster of Mohammad Pahlavi and the dethronement of the Pahlavi dynasty. Protests against Pahlavi started in 1977 and gradually advanced into civil resistance comprising religious and secular movements. By 1978, protests had intensified and became demonstrations and strikes that paralyzed Iran. The revolution compelled Pahlavi to leave for exile in 1979, leading to his dethronement. Ayatollah Khomeini took over the leadership replacing the Pahlavi dynasty, which was a pro-Western regime, with an anti-Western regime.

Ronald Reagan

After his election as the president of the US in 1980, Ronald Reagan instituted the development of a policy that shaped the US economic and political status. His foreign policy of anti-communist sought to put pressure on the Soviet Union to end the Cold War. In the 1985 state of the Union address, he pledged his support for anti-communist revolutions and aided anti-Soviet freedom fighters in Afghanistan forcing Soviet troops to withdraw. Nevertheless, after the election of Gorbachev as Soviet Union leader in 1985, Reagan relaxed his aggressiveness and took on a position of negotiation, leading to the end of the Cold War

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union in 1985 and introduced policies of perestroika and glasnost to the USSR. These policies opened the Soviet Union market to the Western countries. He espoused this strategy to help develop the decline of the Soviet Union’s economy. During his tenure, he negotiated with then-President Ronald Reagan to end the Cold War. In 1989, he began to unravel the Soviet Union in Poland after the election of a noncommunist government. His failure to act facilitated the tearing down of Eastern European dictators such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia

The EU

After the end of the war in 1945, European countries adopted several strategies to increase their economic integration and strengthen cooperation. In 1950, Robert Schuman attempted to secure a lasting peace in Europe. He led the European steel and coal communities such as Belgium, France, and Germany in formulating policies to unite and promote the economic and political relations of European countries. The coal and steel communities expanded their economic sectors by signing the treaty of Rome in March 1957. However, following the Maastricht Treaty, the European nations established the European Union to promote the interdependency of their economies and foster social and political cohesion.

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