Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The War of the World

According to historian Professor Niall Ferguson, we need to rethink our understanding of the 20th century. There were not, he says, two world wars and a ‘cold’ war, but a single Hundred Years' War. It was not nationalism that powered these conflicts, but empires. The driving force was not class or socialism – race was. And finally, it was not the West that triumphed; in fact, power slowly and steadily migrated towards the new empires of the East.
In this website, Professor Ferguson explains why the last century was the most bloody in world history. An extensive chronology of the events that made this the ‘age of hatred’ shows how bloody conflict ebbed and flowed throughout the period. And there are many opportunities to take your interest further, from the multitude of links in the chronology to a comprehensive selection of resources. Chronology
The 20th century is usually defined by the reigns of certain monarchs, the administrations of specific politicians and the rules of a handful of dictators, as well as by a number of what are considered major but limited wars: World War I, World II, Korean War.
However, according to Niall Ferguson, the century can be seen as one long war, one that was particularly active from 1904, with the Russo-Japanese War, to 1953, when the Korean War literally drew a line between the great powers.
This chronology extends a bit longer than 100 years – from 1894 to 2005 – to introduce the century and provide an epilogue, and includes both the traditional milestones and the major events that make up what Professor Ferguson has called the ‘War of the World’. In addition, you can take your interest further by following the links to relevant websites throughout the chronology.

Blitz: The diary of an air raid

When Paris fell in June 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany. Air attack became the only means to harm the enemy. At first, only German military targets were hit, but with each bomb, the definition grew a little broader: telephone exchanges, railway stations, industrial targets. If workers' homes were hit, it was a necessary evil.
In September, Hitler gave his reply. If they attack our cities, he said, we will raze theirs to the ground – and the Blitz on Britain began. For the first time in 1,000 years, Britain's status as an island nation could not protect it. This was an invasion from the air and civilians were the target. By Christmas 1940, people feared that something even worse was coming. It finally arrived on the night of 29/30 December.
This website gives an hour-by-hour account of what happened that terrible night, when German bombers launched their most devastating attack yet on London. This is accompanied by the words of some of those involved in the carnage, computer reconstructions and links to relevant websites and books.

The First Emperor

When he was barely 13 years old, the future emperor of China – Ying Zheng (260-210 BC) – became king of the western state of Qin (pronounced ‘Chin’) on the death of his father in 247 BC. His mother, now the queen dowager, had a long-time lover: Lu Buwei, adviser to the deceased king. For Lu, this was the perfect opportunity finally to get his hands on the reins of government.
‘A Machiavellian figure’
States such as Qin had always been run as feudal family businesses by men like Lu Buwei. But a revolution was coming that would change all that – first, in Qin, and ultimately, in the whole of China. That revolution would be led by the young scholar Li Si.
Just months after Ying Zheng became king, Li Si arrived at court, looking for a job. The man responsible for hiring and firing was Lu Buwei, now prime minister. Impressed by Li Si’s obvious keenness, he was quick to take him on to his staff – an impulsive decision that he would come to regret.
‘Sima Qian describes him as a poor young man with extraordinary ambition,’ says Professor Robin Yates, ‘a Machiavellian figure who, he implies, is the person who wants to run the entire country and will stop at nothing to get to that position.’
Prime Minister Lu Buwei allowed Li Si to meet with the young king in private. Through Li, Ying Zheng realised that real power was his, that if he took advantage of Qin’s strengths and the weaknesses of its enemies it could become the strongest state on the continent. In addition, with the power that he had at his disposal, he could, Li said, completely wipe out the feudal lords, uniting the world under one rule.
The Seven Warring States
At that time, what would become China consisted of the ‘Seven Warring States’: Qin, Chu, Han, Wei, Qi, Zhao and Yan. Six of the seven had been weakened by endless warfare, while one continued to grow at the others’ expense – the state of Qin.
In a predatory move against the state of Zhao, a decade after Ying had come to the throne, the Qin army took more than 10,000 prisoners. The rules of war then were explicit: prisoners must be cared for. But that would have slowed down Ying Zheng’s campaign, so all the Zhao prisoners were executed. By this act, the young king defined his quest for empire – bloody, utterly ruthless and totally dependent on the army. The well-trained, highly motivated Qin army, equipped with precision weapons and led from the front by a ruthlessly ambitious king, created the perfect conquest machine. Within seven years, Ying Zheng had captured 13 cities from the state of Han and a further 20 from other states, and had repelled a combined force intent on stopping him in his tracks.
The queen dowager and the eunuch
While foreign enemies were easily brushed aside, inside Ying’s own court, unseen enemies conspired to destroy him. The official history records his coming of age as the defining moment.
To celebrate the event, the entire court had assembled at the royal palace at Xianyang. However, the queen dowager’s attention was directed not towards her son but towards her favourite: Marquis Lao Ai.
Most of the court was under the impression that Lao Ai was a eunuch, which made him an odd choice of companion for a woman with a history of important lovers. But he was no eunuch. He had already fathered two sons by the queen dowager, which they were raising in secret, and he intended to place one of them on the throne. But for now, he was biding his time, waiting for an opportunity to get rid of Ying Zheng.
The queen dowager, having received a secret message that her younger sons were ill, abruptly left her eldest son’s birthday celebrations and hurried back to her own palace. Without thinking, Lao Ai followed her. The palace was well outside the royal court but within range of its many ears. Ying Zheng’s spies were expected to pass back every crumb of information, from every source ...
The plot to seize the throne
As the queen dowager told Lao Ai that their sons were actually fine, it dawned on the illicit couple that they had been set up, that Lao Ai’s precipitate rush to follow her to their sons had given the game away. She had kept her boys secret for years, in the care of eunuchs whom she believed were loyal to her. But loyalties can change quickly and it was now extremely likely that the king knew of his younger brothers’ existence – and what that could mean to his own safety.
Lao Ai made his move. Realising that it was only a matter of time before he was arrested, he stole royal seals that gave him the authority to mobilise troops. Now district forces under his command approached the palace. His only chance was to catch the king unprepared, with the palace lightly guarded, and seize the throne.
The prime minister Lu Buwei, responsible for palace security, had discovered Lao Ai’s real intentions and informed the king. Lao’s forces met no resistance as they approached the palace, but when it was too late to withdraw, they advanced straight into a trap and were annihilated. Lao Ai was taken prisoner.
Lao Ai’s subsequent execution sent a very clear and deliberate message, soon to be reinforced by the killing of every member of his family, starting with the most dangerous: Ying Zheng’s two half-brothers.
Ying Zheng was about to add his prime minister to his long list of victims. Despite having warned the king of Lao Ai’s intentions, Lu Buwei was under sentence of death for failing to protect him – a sentence that was all the more painful because Lu was actually Ying’s father. However, Ying relented and – after Lu Buwei pleaded the cause of the queen dowager, his former lover – spared the lives of both his parents. However, within a year Lu Buwei, disgraced and broken, committed suicide.

Tony Robinson's Titanic Adventure

Considered unsinkable, SS Titanic was technologically and aesthetically a state of the art ship. Bound for New York on her maiden voyage from Southampton on 10 April 1912, she represented the largest moving manmade object of her time. However, just five days later, the great ship lay two miles below the surface of the North Atlantic. The public were shocked. It seemed impossible that such a fate could befall the 'unsinkable' ship and for many years mystery surrounded the precise reason for her sinking.
Some details of her tragic end have always been known though. Travelling at 24mph, almost top speed, Titanic had struck an iceberg on her starboard hull. Within three hours the ship had sunk, 480 kilometres southeast of Newfoundland. Of the 2223 people onboard, 1517 perished.
Considering the time she took to sink and eyewitness reports suggesting that the ship broke in two, most investigators concluded that Titanic sustained a huge gash in her side, perhaps up to 100 metres long. But these conclusions were inconsistent with reports from other survivors who felt and heard little or nothing during the collision.
Since her resting place was discovered in 1985, technology has advanced and enabled some light to be finally shed on the mystery of precisely why Titanic sank.
Staying afloat
To understand why Titanic sank, it helps to understand how ships float. Archimedes is credited with discovering how an object floats on water. In Syracuse, Sicily, in the 2nd century BC, the Greek mathematician had been pondering the question, when, reputedly, the answer came to him in the bath.
As he climbed into the tub, he noticed the water level rise. He realised that a floating object must be buoyed up by a force. The force is a consequence of the water pushing on the object – a result of the object being pushed down under its own weight by gravity. More precisely, if something is to float, the force buoying up the object must equal (or exceed) the weight of water the object displaces. Put another way, the weight of water the object displaces must be equal to, or more than, the weight of the object. When this happens the force pushing on the object is great enough to keep it afloat.
The hull of a ship is designed to have great volume, and so is able to displace a considerable weight of water; a weight that's typically much greater than the weight of the boat – hence it floats! Titanic weighed in at 42,028 tonnes, but the ship's hull was designed to displace 59,874 tonnes of water. So, applying Archimedes' principle, it's easy to understand why Titanic floated – it displaced 17,846 more tonnes of water than it weighed.
Why she sank
Until recently, why Titanic sank was a mystery. During a number of expeditions to the wreck in the 1990s, a team of scientists fired sound waves at the remains of the hull, buried in the soft seabed sediment. The sonar images revealed, for the first time, the damage caused by the iceberg.
What the images revealed was a great surprise – there was no trace of the supposed 100-metre gash. Instead, they showed a series of small breaches, the total area of which was tiny, less than one square metre, compared to the size of the ship. As unbelievable at it may appear, this seemingly minor damage led to the demise of the great ship.
Titanic was divided into 16 compartments along the length of her hull, each separated by a bulkhead that rendered them watertight. The flooding of one compartment alone would not have been enough to sink the ship, since the volume of each compartment equated to a displacement of approximately 3600 tonnes of water and the Titanic would need to take onboard 17,780 tonnes of water before she would lose her buoyancy and sink.
But as fate would have it, when the ship scraped against the iceberg, a number of relatively small holes punctured six of the compartments – each would have filled with water. Six multiplied by 3600 tonnes meant that 21,600 tonnes of water had gushed into her hull, well over the 17,780-tonne critical limit.
So it was not the size of the breaches that spelt doom for Titanic, it was their number and position. Had only two or three compartments flooded, the ship would probably have remained afloat.