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Western Civilization in the Twentieth Century


The twentieth century was an important era in the history of Europe, as it shaped the region in different ways with lasting outcomes. The two World Wars redefined geopolitics in Europe and the emergence of the Cold War thereafter continued with the reshaping of the region’s status in various ways. This paper discusses how the European decolonization of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the Cold War, the feminist movement, and globalization in the twentieth century affected European societies. The decolonization process led to unification, while the Cold War caused division between Eastern and Western Europe. The feminist movement facilitated the empowerment of women in the region and globalization led to increased business opportunities, as explained in this paper.

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European Decolonization of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East

The end of World War II in 1945 heralded renewed calls for independence in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In addition, subjugation through imperialism was against the spirit and goals that the Allies had pursued to overthrow Germany, Italy, and Japan during the war. Therefore, between 1947 and 1962, the majority of nations had gained independence from European colonialism, thus closing the decolonization process. However, the European decolonization of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East changed European societies in the twentieth century in different ways. The political and economic influence of European powers in former colonies reduced significantly thus, they could not control trade in those regions. Therefore, the focus shifted to Europe and to see how to advance a united front as a block. Additionally, Europe had been ravaged by the war, and leaders needed to focus on rebuilding their economies and societies. As such, a desire for unity swept across Europe primarily focusing on the economic arena as opposed to politics.

For instance, in 1951, France, West Germany, the Benelux countries, and Italy came together to form the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) with the aim of creating a “common market for coal and steel products among the six nations by eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers” (Spielvogel 885). The ECSC was so successful that it convinced its members to form the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the signing of the Rome Treaty, hence the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). By the 1960s, the EEC economic block had become a leading economic bloc as the world’s largest exporter and purchaser of raw materials due to its large population of over 165 million people (Spielvogel 885). The unification process gathered momentum in 1973 when Great Britain, Ireland, and Denmark joined the EEC to form the European Community. Greece and Spain joined later in 1981 and 1986 respectively. Therefore, with the decolonization of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, European powers focused on economically developing the region, which positively affected the involved societies, as they enjoyed improved economic growth.

The Cold War

The end of World War II was expected to usher in a new era of peace around the world. However, the Cold War emerged almost immediately based on “military, political, and ideological differences, especially between the Soviet Union and the United States, that became apparent at the Allied war conferences held in the last years of the war” (Spielvogel 859). The immediate effect of the Cold War was the division of Germany and Europe into two hostile camps. In Greece and Turkey, the US, under the leadership of President Truman, sought to curtail the spread of communism as advanced by the Soviets. The Marshal Plan, which excluded the Soviet Union, was meant to rebuild war-torn Europe, but as Spielvogel notes, it aimed at the “construction of bloc of states bound by obligations to the US, and to guarantee the American loans in return for the relinquishing by the European states of their economic and later also their political independence” (864). In Germany, the growing rift between the US and the Soviets became pronounced as the Cold War progressed.

In the process of the denazification of Germany during World War II, the country had been divided into four zones in the East and West. The Soviet Union dismantled or removed 380 factories from West Germany to focus on the Eastern side of the country. On the other hand, the US, with the help of France and Great Britain started working on a strategy to merge different zones in West Germany for economic purposes, and by February 1948, the West Germany federal government was formed. The Soviets reacted to the new developments by erecting a blockade in Berlin, preventing the passage of trucks and trains from moving between East and West Germany.

This confrontation could have easily degenerated into World War III, but none of the warring sides was prepared for another military confrontation. By the time the blockade was lifted in May 1949, Germany was officially divided into two regions, and in September the same year, West Germany was known as the German Federal Republic (with support from the US, France, and Britain), while the eastern side was called the German Democratic Republic (with support from the Soviets. Therefore, the Cold War caused the division of Europe into two with one side (West) advancing capitalism under the US and the other (East) communism under the Soviets.

The Feminist Movement

Women contributed significantly to World War II, but they were removed from the workforce thereafter to create job positions for soldiers returning from the war. Therefore, female participation in the workforce declined significantly, as they assumed the traditional roles of homemakers. However, feminist movements were determined to assert the rightful place of women in society. After World War I, the majority of governments in Europe allowed women to become eligible voters. However, the full force of feminist movements was experienced from the 1960s as women renewed their interests in liberation and started championing gender equality in different societal areas. Leading feminists, such as Simone de Beauvoir from France and Betty Friedan, a journalist, played a central role in the advancement of the women’s liberation movement.

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Therefore, following the concerted efforts by different feminist movements in Europe and the US, the number of women in the workforce started to increase drastically. For instance, in Britain, women accounted for 32 percent of the workforce in 1970, but in 1990, they formed 44 percent. In addition, the issues of abortion and contraception arose with women claiming ownership of their bodies. With women participating meaningfully in the workforce and becoming financially independent, they started challenging laws that dictated how they should treat their bodies. Based on this movement, France legalized abortion in 1979 and other countries even where religion was deep-rooted. The feminist movement ensured that women were involved in all areas of society, including education, politics, and leadership in various institutions.


Globalization started in the seventeenth century with Europeans embarking on international commerce ventures. However, the current globalization started in the twentieth century, especially in the 1960s with the European decolonization of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. As noted earlier, European nations shifted focus to developing the region economically, and one of the strategies was through unification and integration. The European Community of 1973 opened transnational borders in Europe to allow the free movement of people, goods, and services from one country to another, which forms the basis of globalization. British companies could easily establish operations in East Europe and vice versa. In 1993, the European Union was formally established to promote the integration of the region and create business opportunities. In addition, the technological revolution that started in the twentieth century has played an important role in fast-tracking the globalization process. By the end of the century, Europe had become an important player in international business by negotiating treaties for the collective benefit of the region. Therefore, twentieth-century globalization in Europe reshaped the region’s social and economic aspects together with geopolitics.


The decolonization process of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East started immediately after the Second World War as it contravened the spirit and objectives that the Allies had when defeating Germany. Europe turned its focus to unifying the region for economic purposes. The Cold War led to the division of Eastern and Western Europe between the Soviets and the US, respectively, with Germany as the epicenter of the conflict. In the 1970s, the feminist movement renewed calls for gender equality, and women succeeded in asserting their role and rights in society. Finally, globalization created an environment for economic growth in the region through unification and shared visions.

Work Cited

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. 10th ed., Cengage Learning, 2018.

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