In volumes 1 and 2 of Threads of The War, I reference The 20th Century's War by providing a short description of what I believe to be one continuous war throughout the 1900's into the 2000's. I feel that people may appreciate a deeper insight into my thinking on this war, which conflicts in our past are included, as well as which are not. Here you'll find my definition of The 20th Century's War. I welcome your thoughts and responses in the comments about this perspective on our over 100 years of conflict in the most violently peaceful century of human history.
Beginning with the first steps by Japan and America toward imperialism with the Sino-Japanese War and the Spanish American War, The 20th Century's War can be defined as the collection of wars all relating to each other from 1894 through to today. This war has not yet ended, nor will it likely end in my lifetime. At some point, it may even be called the 200 years war, or the 300 years war, or who knows what. Yet, from my perspective, it's The 20th Century's War because it defines that century, and the lives of everyone who lived within its confines of time.
How are all of the wars of this time period one big conflict? Simple: look at the causes of the Sino-Japanese, Spanish-American, Russo-Japanese War, the Balkan Wars, World War I, World War II, The Cold War (including the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan [once each for the Soviets and Americans]), India-Pakistan Wars, China-Soviet, China-Vietnam, China-India, and all of the wars in the Persian Gulf area (Iran-Iraq War, regional wars against Israel, Gulf 1 and 2, and now Syria and ISIS). Each war was built upon the detritus of the previous conflicts. None of these conflicts could have occurred without the previous fighting. Therefore, each owes its existence to all that came before it. There is a clear line from the beginning of the century through to the current violence taking place.
What I do not include in these wars are one-offs, such as the Football War. These are few and far between, but do not trace their lineage to the larger conflict going on in the world.
What's it about?
It would be easy to slap a label on The 20th Century's War, but no label will fit exactly. Some people might argue this war is between democracy and authoritarianism. Others may define it as a war between centrifugal and centripetal forces of human society. Still others may subscribe to the belief it is about self realization of previously oppressed people. Finally, many may argue it's a war over the misallocation of resources (which are not in any way unique to the 20th century!). In reality, The 20th Century's War is all of these things, wrapped up in one messy human experiment.
What is clear is The 20th Century's War has been moving the world into a more diffuse power structure based increasingly on the individual with resource, racial, sectarian and religious attributes driving this shift. Ideology, which has been accused of much of the suffering from The 20th Century's War, is a subset of these other attributes combined with cultural history. Therefore, we cannot specifically label The 20th Century's War as a war about a specific thing, but rather those things that have meaning for the individuals involved.
Although I trace The 20th Century's War from the rise of Japan and America on to the world stage, many of the ideas, emnities, and other issues involved go back much further. I, in no way, want to diminish what came before as leading to what we experience now. All of history is tied together through the woven personal experiences of each person who ever lived. Taken in a larger context, I may even call the period from 1775 through to today one great human tug-of-war between unitary and diffuse power structures. We may look back at history from some future vantage to realize humanity experienced more than 250 years (I hope not too much more) of this tension induced violence. Within that timeframe we may be able to identify specific periods of transition between one phase and another. The 20th Century's War is one of those phases. We're too close into it to know if the phase is ending or not. Yet as we look around the world the potential conflicts between the Koreas, Japan, China, The United States, Russia, in the Middle East, and South Asia demonstrate much has been left unresolved, making me think The 20th Century's War is not yet over, although maybe fading out as a new phase fades in, whatever that may be.
What this means for History
Every country is an experiment of how humans may coexist. Each experiment comes into contact, and potentially conflict, with the experiments next door or across the planet. Ideas traverse borders, resources are needed by all, and human frailty infuses into everything to create fear of the other. As we continue to interact with each other we'll continue to find ways to come up with different ideas and approaches to meet our needs. History does not end. Phases of human history do begin and end. Subphases within each phase also have clear beginnings and endings, although those are very difficult for the people living during that time to see.
We are in a phase of human history that may be drawing to a close, although slowly. The next phase, which we are way too early to identify, may be rising. Yet, we can identify the phase ending. It was a period of immense human discovery combined with insecurity, violence, peace, and idea diffusion. This is The 20th Century's War. We'll be looking back on this period for a long time, attempting to figure out why it happened, what it means, and how we can learn from it to carry humanity forward in time. The first step toward that process is identifying it as a period in its own right. I hope that you've come with me as I've led us on that step.