Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One The First Decade 1900 - 09
As the twentieth century opened, wars were being fought on two continents: in Africa and in Asia. In South Africa, the Boer War was entering its eleventh week, the Boers, in their two independent republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, having taken on the might of the British Empire in neighbouring Cape Colony and Natal. The first battle of 1900 in South Africa took place on January 6, when Boer forces tried to drive the British from their positions inside the town of Ladysmith, where 20,000 British troops had defended the besieged town for more than two months. Within a month Ladysmith was relieved, 500 British cavalrymen breaking through the Boer ring and galloping through the main street shouting, 'We are here!'
Another besieged town, Mafeking, was relieved in May. The rejoicing in London when this news reached the capital was so vociferous and enthusiastic that the verb 'to Maffick' -- to celebrate without inhibition -- entered the language and remained there for several decades. A month later, Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, was occupied. Britain had asserted its imperial power.
In China, 'Boxer' rebels, their full name meaning 'Righteous harmonious fists', acting in defiance of the Chinese imperial Government, were attacking foreigners and Christian missions wherever they could. In May 1900 they marched towards Peking under the slogan, 'Death and destruction to the foreigner and all his works'. On the last day of that month an international force of 365 marines reached Peking, with troops from the United States, Britain, Russia, Italy, France and Japan. Two weeks later the Boxers entered the city, destroyingmost of the foreign-owned buildings that were not within the protective zone of the foreign Legations. The city's Roman Catholic Church was burnt to the ground and Chinese Christians living near it were massacred. Austrians at their Legation managed to rescue a Chinese Christian woman who was being burned to death near their Legation wall. After the Third Secretary of the Japanese Legation was set upon and murdered, Japan announced that she could have 'no more communication with China -- except war'.
Foreigners who could reach the security of their respective Legations were protected by the marines, and an international naval force was on its way. On July 28 the German Kaiser, William II, was present at the North Sea port of Bremerhaven when 4,000 German soldiers set sail for China. Wishing them good fortune, he declared: 'When you meet the foe you will defeat him. No quarter will be given, no prisoners will be taken. Let all who fall into your hands be at your mercy. Just as the Huns, a thousand years ago, under the leadership of Attila, gained a reputation in virtue in which they will live in historical tradition, so may the name of Germany become known in such a manner in China that no Chinaman will ever again even dare to look askance at a German.'
In the European Legations, under siege for three weeks, sixty-two Europeans were killed. Brought to China by sea, a combined force of 36,000 British, Russian, German, French and Japanese troops advanced on Peking. American troops also took part. On August 14, Russian and American troops attacked the central gates of Peking. British Indian troops were the first to reach the besieged Legations. Fighting continued around the Legationsfor another two days when Japanese troops entered the Forbidden City. The siege of the Legations was over. In the subsequent savage battle for the nearby Roman Catholic Cathedral and the compound around it 400 Europeans were killed, 200 of them children from the orphanage inside the compound.
News of the scale of the killings in China took time to reach those who had despatched the expeditionary force. It was not until late in September that it was learned that at one Catholic mission far from Peking, four priests and seven nuns had been killed, and 1,000 Chinese Christians beheaded.
The twentieth century opened with working men in all industrialized countries determined to improve their situation by direct participation in the political process. In London on February 27, representatives of all the British working-class organizations founded the Labour Representation Committee. Its aim was to bring about 'the independent representation of working people in Parliament'. A quarter of a century later, the secretary of the committee, Ramsay MacDonald, became Britain's first Labour Prime Minister. At the end of the, century, a sixth Labour government was in power, and with a substantial parliamentary majority.
In Austria-Hungary in 1900, the internal divisions of the Habsburg Empire -- with its mixture of Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenes, Poles, Hungarians, Roumanians, Serbs, Croats and Italians -- were much in evidence. During a meeting of the Austrian Parliament that summer the Czech opposition members disrupted the proceedings by blowing penny trumpets, beating cymbals, and producing an array of catcalls. After seven hours of disruption the Prime Minister closed thesession. In December 1900, after a ten-year absence, the Italian deputies resumed their seats in the Austrian regional Parliament in the Tyrol, having boycotted the assembly on the grounds that they could always be outvoted by the Germanspeaking deputies. On their return they insisted that their speeches and interjections, which they would only make in Italian, should be translated into German, and read out in full.
Not only in his Austrian dominions, but also in his Hungarian kingdom -- the twin pillars of his Dual Monarchy -- the Emperor Franz-Josef faced disaffection. Speaking in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, the Hungarian Prime Minister said he was prepared to take the necessary measures 'to assert the rights of Hungary and its independence'. Until the time came to do so, he added, 'let us husband our strength and keep our powder dry'.
History of the Twentieth Century documents significant events across the globe from 1900 through 1999. Gilbert takes readers through World War I to the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt and the rise of Hitler and continues on to document wars in South Africa, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Bosnia. He also examines the arms race, the moon landing, and the dawn of the computer age.
Interspersing the influence of art, literature, music, and religion, this is a rich, textured look at war, celebration, suffering, life, death, and renewal in the century gone by.
Martin Gilbert, author of the multivolume biography of Winston Churchill and other brilliant works of history, chronicles world events year by year, from the dawn of aviation to the flourishing technology age, taking us through World War I to the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt as president of the United States and Hider as chancellor of Germany. He continues on to document wars in South Africa, China, Ethiopia, Spain, Korea, Vietnam, and Bosnia, as well as apartheid, the arms race, the moon landing, and the beginnings of the computer age, while interspersing the influence of art, literature, music, and religion throughout this vivid work.
A rich, textured look at war, celebration, suffering, life, death, and renewal in the century gone by, this volume is nothing less than extraordinary.
About the Author
Martin Gilbert has written more than sixty books and is one of the foremost historians of the twentieth century. In 1968, he was appointed official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill. He wrote six of the eight volumes of the landmark biographical series and also compiled eleven volumes of Churchill documents. In addition, he is the author of a definitive history of the Holocaust, a series of twelve historical atlases, and comprehensive studies of both World War I and World War II. Since 1962, he has been a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford (an Honorary Fellow since 1994). He was knighted in 1995. He lives in London.