USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Introduction to Three Responses to Modernity

This chapter will take a different approach to this survey of the world in the 1930s. In the last chapter we studied the emerging radicalism of some of the most developed countries in the world – Germany (Europe’s largest country) Japan (Asia’s most industrialized nation) and Russia (the largest country in the world).  It would be Germany and Japan, gripped by right-wing radicalism, which would lead the world to war in the latter part of the decade. Yet there is also another side to the story of the post-1929 world. The 1929 Great Crash was a crisis of international capitalism. Global trade plummeted. The prices of key commodities bottomed out. Manufacturing ground to a halt. As a consequence, countries recently brought into the world economy found themselves faced with new types of crises, while the industrial powers sought to remedy their economic ailments by reforming domestic and international objectives. This week we will look at three reactions to this constellation of problems in the world between 1914 and 1945 by focusing on three key figures of the time. First, we will study the early anti-imperialism campaign led by the Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh. We will trace Ho’s story back to the immediate post-WWI era and unravel how he developed his anti-colonialist ideas and strategies. We will come to see Ho as connected much more deeply with anti-colonialist culture than as part of the Cold War milieu in which he became famous. In the end, to understand the nature of the later Vietnam War, one must grasp the movement led by Ho Chi Minh in the 1920s and 1930s. The failure to see the conflict in this historical framework was one of the largest strategic errors of U.S. foreign policy in the 1960s. Next, we will turn our attention to a peculiar nation in the Middle East – one that escaped the yoke of Western imperialism for two reasons: 1) because it was seen as utterly worthless by the Western powers and 2) because it had fallen under a fundamentalist form of Islamic politics led by the House of Saud and its charismatic leader, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al Sa’ud. We are speaking here of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would become a beacon of Islamism in the Arab and Muslim world. Third and finally, we will turn our attention to Brazil and the reign of Getulio Vargas, the Brazilian president who seized dictatorial powers in 1937. In sum, we will investigate these three reactions to the tumult of the 1920s and 1930s, trying to see them as pieces of the same world-historical puzzle.

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