I am not much of a history book reader. Two experiences recently rekindled my interest. I had gone to a relatives home as part of a social obligation. Not much of a talker, I was sitting around in their living room after the initial courtesies. The silent distant stares were getting a little awkward. As I looked around, my gaze fell on a ninth standard history guide book. I picked it up and started perusing it. It must have been more then a quarter century since I delved into a history book with anticipation!
The ninth standard portion was amazingly vast. It covered everything from the Harrapan Civilisation to the World Wars. I could not but marvel at how broad a swathe our Indian education system takes! Of course, the guide book had condensed the answer to every possible question into a few simple, easy-to-memorise sentences.
As I sat there for the next half-hour or so reading the book, a curiosity started taking shape within me. How did we come to be? That same evening, as I sat channel-surfing on TV, I stopped by The History Channel. The story being dramatised was about Hitler and Germany in the 1930s. It was quite something to see it all come so alive.
A few days, I came across a review of Niall Fergusons The War of the World and decided to buy it. The book discusses conflict in the twentieth century, with a focus on the fifty years from 1904 to 1953. I have just started reading the huge book it is about 700 pages. It is quite engrossing. It will take me quite some time to read the entire book given that I find very little free time nowadays. But, I would definitely recommend it for those who want to learn from the past and better understand the future given the conflicts that we continue to face in the world. Keep in mind these words from Ferguson written in Foreign Affairs magazine: The twentieth century was the bloodiest era in history. Despite the comfortable assumption that the twenty-first will be more peaceful, the same ingredients that made the last hundred years so destructive are present today. In particular, a conflict in the Middle East may well spark another global conflagration. The United States could prevent such an outcome — but it may not be willing to.
Why is this period in history so important? Ferguson writes: The twentieth century was the bloodiest era in history. World War I killed between 9 million and 10 million people, more if the influenza pandemic of 1918 – 19 is seen as a consequence of the war. Another 59 million died in World War II. And those conflicts were only two of the more deadly ones in the last hundred years. By one estimate, there were 16 conflicts throughout the last century that cost more than a million lives, a further six that claimed between 500,000 and a million, and 14 that killed between 250,000 and 500,000. In all, between 167 million and 188 million people died because of organized violence in the twentieth century — as many as one in every 22 deaths in that period.
Tomorrow: The War of the World (continued)