The first half of the twentieth century often plays a dual role in a history course. On the one hand, the sheer volume of blood spilled in those fifty years is noteworthy. On the other hand, it was a period when people, it seems, put aside their differences to fight “good wars”——World War I and World War II.
This lens, a bifocal one, so to speak, focuses much attention on the industrialized world, though not without reason. The two world wars are still very much a part of popular culture in Western countries, and students often bring their own knowledge of the subject to bear on an examination of them. Teachers, as a group, also tend to have a larger reserve of factual knowledge about the two wars, and the economic depression that links them, than they do of, say, economic changes in early-twentieth-century Latin America.
The first half of the twentieth century, however, did not just happen in the industrialized world, nor can we understand the period itself, nor the decades that followed, without looking at the globe as a whole. On that scale, the 1900-1950 period was marked by serious and growing economic imbalances, manifested in political and cultural ferment around the world.
What was new in this period, however, was that for the first time in about a century, political and economic domination began to shift away from Western Europe. This was a change that anyone in those years who consciously looked to the future pondered with apprehension, hope, and, quite often, fear.