The question is challenging – do the non-human forces such like the advances in economy and technology shape the history, or still do humans hold the pulling strings? There is no one reason of shaping the flow of time – humans like the tools have been picked up from the Stone Age and they are just the players on the stage of life; one cannot do without the other one. What would Hitler have done if he held a cell phone in his hand or could find out the lay of land by clicking on the mouse? Like him, his enemies too would have been exposed. But these innovations have brought a global mindset today that is truly international. The passport barriers are fading much to the consternation of politicians and merchants as a new human spirit is emerging astride the world like a colossus. However, the question remains the same - whether the history of the 20th century had been shaped by individuals or the factors like economy and technology.
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The biggest revolution of the fifties and sixties has been brought about by the Information Technology; this, in turn, has branched out to impact on all spheres or the human activity from politics to economics, from arts to sciences; and you name them. New sub-cultures have emerged focusing on various issues – feminism, sexual rights, and poverty amongst children, homelessness and acute awareness of the environmental changes. They have led to the individualism with an occasional governmental support but not with any socialistic touch. The young ones have risen to the positions as they have never risen before. It was not just a matter of mathematical age but a youthful bent of mind that has taken over the attitude of many people (Zahra and Nielsen 379). The advances in technology were the mind boggling – telephone, television, jet travel, a replacement of steam engines with diesel and electricity, a surfeit of the consumers’ products like washing machines and refrigerators (firstly introduced in the USA and Britain in 1961 and 1962 respectively). The new forms of birth control like the pill gave new freedom to mankind and not just to women. In medicine, the transplant and gene revolutions have been just beginning to do a mark. There have been the vast improvements made in toilets – another big stride in the human civilization. However, it was not universal, but a role model has started to appear in the West. There were massive changes in all fields including agriculture with the pressing need to feed a growing population. Together with this, the advancement in medicine and an age of sexual permissiveness has been set (Garrety and Badham 210). Meanwhile, the two giant figures straddling Europe and indirectly the world were Khrushchev and De Gaulle. They were both the products of their age – the waves on the crest of time.
The name of Nikita Khrushchev is linked with the post-Stalin era starting from 1953, as the most iconic figure of that period. For the majority of Russians, the name of Stalin was linked with the greatness of their country. The death of Stalin caused mixed reactions among the leaders of the communist party in Moscow. Initially, the collective leadership was set up, but it just masked a fierce power struggle. First of all, Khrushchev’s role in the future remained doubtful. The death of Stalin triggered the reaction everywhere. In the USA, John Foster Dulles said that, a “new era of liberty, not enslavement” (Johnson 34) had begun. He stressed that, “the Eisenhower era begins as the Stalin era ends” (Johnson 34). There was a move for rolling back to the communism. But this soft attitude led to the workers’ demonstrations in East Germany. This was followed by the similar protests in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania; in Siberia, even prisoners were accepted by these strikes.
Meanwhile, the power struggle in Moscow was growing more intense with the Cold War sentiments holding sway. It was basically an armed race. Stalin had realized how essential it was to break the atomic monopoly of the USA. But the arrogant position that Stalin had taken was no longer acceptable in Kremlin and making use of the mood further was taken by Khrushchev over the reins. He repaired the Soviet Union-Chinese relationships that had been strained by Mao-Stalin suspicions (Johnson 33). The new trade deals were signed. In Europe, his foresight led him to conclude an agreement with Austria. Soviet troops withdrew in return of the Austrian neutrality. He also tried to, “bury the hatchet” (Johnson 38) with Yugoslavia’s Tito. Khrushchev’s international popularity was matched equally by his popularity inside his country. He gave a prod to consumers’ industries, increased pensions and other state grants. The prisoners from labor camps were released and further amnesties were granted. There was the relaxation in the field of arts. The visitors were now allowed to enter Kremlin and inside the country the children’s parties were held. His moves came to be dubbed as a form of socialism that had a human face. The first summit after the World War II between the East and West was held in July of 1955 in Geneva (Tompson 96). Before attending it, Khrushchev got the nod from his party; and this time the West had no doubts about who was at the helm of Soviet Russia. However, the only thing tangible from this meeting was a thaw in the relationships between these super powers.
Meanwhile, Khrushchev had been cultivating and winning the support for the communism from the Third World where the old imperial powers still had had a toehold. To them, the communism seemed to be an answer to their problems. Soon he realized that there were the vast untapped zones to spread the message and gain the control. He carried a message of the new Soviet Union home – more open and friendly (Tompson 85). He personally had gained the self-confidence and prestige. However, in the midst of the Cold War he, "had sought to bridge that missile gap in the late 1950s by ordering the development of a second generation of ICBMs" (Keylor 84). This culminated into the point of the Cuban crisis when the tension had reached its pinnacle, where "Kennedy pledged not to invade Cuba in exchange for the removal of all the missiles on the island" (Keylor 203). This made the world more unsafe and triggered a technology race of the killing tools.
Another charismatic leader during these tumultuous years was Charles de Gaulle – a general and a statesman who had steered France through the years of the World War II. In 1958, he founded the 5th Republic of France, and he had been its president for ten years (1959-1969). Being experienced in the World War I, he pushed ahead with the idea of mobile-armored-divisions to be pivotal in modern wars (Chivvis 714). Following the war, he set up his own party in politics in 1947 – RPF or Rally of the French People. Although the party failed to win, de Gaulle was elected and brought back the order to the chaos that had preceded his advent. In 1960, a new currency was launched for controlling the inflation and promoting the growth of industrialization. He was instrumental in granting independence to Algeria; thus, bringing to close a costly war that had been hugely unpopular (Cerny 140-141). His views are known as Gaullism. He stood for the supremacy of France without a reliance on any other country like the USA. His rule saw the development of atomic weapons in France and a foreign policy not influenced by either Britain or the USA. He gave the recognition to Communist China, withdrew from the NATO’s military command but not from the Western Alliance. He blocked twice Britain’s seeking entry into the European Community. He toured East Europe and on his trip to Canada encouraged the separatism of Quebec (Chivvis 716).
Despite the opposition to communists and socialists, he is supposed to be the greatest leader in the history of modern France. The credit goes to the human factor for picking up the stones in the Stone Age; and to such leaders like Khrushchev and de Gaulle this is for making use of the tools they had found during their years of having the control. Thus, it can be stated that it is not the technology that had shaped the course of our recent history; but these are the human elements like Khrushchev and de Gaulle who had used the economy or technology for their benefits.
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