World 1960 CE

Titanic conflicts between 1914 and 1945 have gravely weakened the European nations. Their world-wide power has gone and new superpowers dominate the world.

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World History in 1960, with the USA and Russia the leading superpowers

Global Conflict

The period between 1914 and 1960 has been marked by great changes in all parts of the world, and in all areas of life; it has also been marred by some of the most terrible violence in world history. The killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany saw state-organized murder stoop to new depths; the mass killings of Stalin’s Russia and Mao Tse-tung’s China were not far behind.

World War 1

World War 1 (1914-8), a conflict far more terrible than could possibly have been imagined by the politicians and generals who led their nations into it, sent history spinning along a new, darker trajectory. Apart from the deaths of 10 million soldiers, it led to the fall of four of the great powers involved, the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires. Russia fell under communist rule in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

At the end of World War 1, the victors, the USA, France and Britain, led the world in forming the first great pan-Global organization, the League of Nations. This failed in its aim of keeping peace in the world, largely because the USA, by now the wealthiest and most important nation, decided not to join.

The Great Depression of the early 1930s, beginning with the Wall Street stock market Crash in the USA and spreading to most parts of the world, had been instrumental in the rise of unsavory regimes in several European countries, culminating in the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. On the other side of the world it had brought a militaristic regime to power in Japan.

World War 2

These developments led to the outbreak of the most lethal conflict in history, World War 2. This ended in the defeat of Nazi Germany and of militaristic Japan by an alliance of powers led by the USA, the Soviet Union and Britain.

The Cold War

The world entered a new age with the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan which brought World War 2 to a close (1945). The main victors of this war, the USA and the USSR, now faced off against each other in the Cold War. Much of the rest of the world has fallen in behind these two superpowers, the two camps, capitalist against communist, in tense hostility. The threat of general nuclear destruction hangs heavy over the world.

League of Nations and United Nations

The end of World War I saw the first attempt to bring countries together in a world-wide international forum, to settled their differences peacefully: the League of Nations. This organization was weakened from the outset by the refusal of the USA to become a member, and was unable to restrain the militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan.

The League’s successor, the United Nations, is proving somewhat more effective, but, in this Cold War climate, it too is being undermined by powerful international tensions beyond its control.

The spread of Communism

The communist seizure of the most populous country in the world, China, in 1949, is a massive blow to the US-led Western world. Ten years later the Caribbean island of Cuba, within a stone’s throw of the American homeland, also moves into the communist camp.

There seems a very real prospect that communism regimes will spread around the world, and especially in those territories newly independent from their European colonial masters.

The end of Empire

The European empires are now fast disappearing. The two world wars left the leading European nations virtually bankrupt, and unable to maintain their huge overseas possessions in the face of newly potent anti-colonial movements. These are often invigorated by communist leadership, ideology and support.

In South East Asia the Dutch East Indian Empire has become the independent nation of Indonesia; and in the South Asian sub-continent Britain’s Indian empire is now divided between the independent states of India and Pakistan. The French have left most of their African territories, although a brutal war of independence is taking place in Algeria, where many families of European origin have settled. Britain has started to do give freedom to its possessions. The Belgians have withdrawn from their enormous territories in the Congo, which are now sliding into dreadful anarchy.

Around the World


White rule is not on the wane in all parts of Africa. The Portuguese show no sign of leaving their territories, and in South Africa a white regime has become entrenched, holding the majority Black population in subordination.


Back in Europe, the continent which so recently (but so briefly) ruled most of the world is now divided into two, its nations relegated to second-rate status. The countries of the Western half look to the USA for leadership; the Eastern ones are under the heel of communist Russia. The USA has put in massive amounts of economic aid to its allies, with startling results: by 1960, just a decade and a half after the continent lay in ruins after World War 2, the standard of living of the people of Western Europe is higher than it has ever been before.

East Asia

The same is true for Japan. After its defeat and devastation in World War 2, Japan is again rising fast, with American support. Its people are becoming amongst the most prosperous on Earth. The Korean peninsula, on the other hand, is divided between a communist North and a capitalist South; on both sides of the border there is wide-spread poverty – but (also with US aid) the economy in the south is now trending strongly upwards.

The Middle East

The disappearance of the Ottoman empire after World War 1 left the Middle East (after a brief period of British and French domination between the wars) divided between several independent nations. This region, as so many other parts of the world, feels the influence of the Cold War. Some of the Middle Eastern states, in particular the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula and Gulf region, have continued to maintain strong links with the West – links which are increasingly lucrative to them due the the rising Western demand for their oil. Other states, such as army-ruled Egypt and Syria, are veering towards the Soviet camp.

Anti-Western sentiments in the Middle East are given a boost by a new and unsettling feature of the geopolitical landscape of the region. This is the existence of the state of Israel. This has been created mainly by immigrant Jews, many fleeing the Holocaust in Nazi-dominated Europe. The Arabs of the region watch this development with deeply-felt hostility. They see this new state as essentially an alien, Western creation, and so sends many Arabs looking to the anti-Western camp for succor. This is a dangerous situation for the West when so much of its energy needs are dependent upon Middle Eastern oil.

South America

The countries of South America have, on the surface at least, been somewhat less affected by great events such as the two world wars. The political instability so prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries has continued: South American countries there are known for their coups and military dictatorships. One flash of color in the political landscape of the content has been the rise and untimely death of Eva Peron of Argentina, who was widely worshipped for her sympathy with the people and whose popularity greatly boosted that of her husband, the country’s president.


Like the rest of the world, the Pacific region has seen great changes; in particular, the fighting between the Japanese and the Allies in World War 2 directly affected much of the region. The European hold on the region has been gradually slackening: Australia and New Zealand have become fully sovereign nations in their own right, whilst remaining members of the Commonwealth; and other Pacific nations are on the road to either full independence or equal status within the colonizing nation’s citizenry.

Continued Change

Political and social changes

Despite the great wars of the period from 1914, there have been enormous social and economic advances for many of the peoples of the world. Most democratic nations have seen a giant leap forward with the granting of political rights for women. This is a major element within a process which is seeing greater equality between the sexes. After World War I the flappers shocked conservative society with their public expressions of freedom, and paved the way for a more equal place for women in the public space. The need for women to replace male workers in offices and factories during the wars, and to take important roles within the armed forces, forced a recognition that their role was no longer limited to certain “female” spheres. The spread of contraception also made women’s lives more free, less home-bound.

These decades saw a general shaking off of traditional cultural mores. The emergence of modern art, music and architecture revolutionized the fine arts. In the popular arena, jazz, rock and now the beginnings of pop have given the younger generations in the West their own identity vis-à-vis their elders.

Technological advances

These cultural transformations have paralleled – and are deeply connected to – a range of technological advances which have liberated people in Western countries and broadened their horizons. Many of these have come about as a direct result of the wars, but they have changed millions of civilian lives as well. The spread of cars, air travel, domestic electrical appliances, radios, TVs, the cinema and so on have made lives in industrialized countries more varied and comfortable. New medicines – most notably antibiotics – have increased levels of health and allowed people to live longer.

At a more rarified level, technological advance is seen dramatically in the space race, as the first man goes into orbit around the world; and in computers, which are huge room-sized contraptions used by governments and giant corporations for major number-crunching tasks.

Progress and poverty

The past decade have also seen great changes for people in colonized and ex-colonized countries in Africa and Asia. Railways, roads, western-style education and jobs in factories, offices, on railways and roads, have transformed lives. Access to western healthcare has helped combat disease.

However, billions remain in dire poverty. Dramatic population growth is putting increasing pressure on their environments, and making life for many tougher than it was for their forebears.

Next map: the world in 2005

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European World Empires

Modern Europe

World War I

Between the Wars

World War II

The Cold War

For details of the different civilizations, click on the relevant timeline above. 

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