International School History - Niall Ferguson - The War of the World

Episode 1 Episode 2 Episode 3 Episode 4 Episode 5 Episode 6
Clash of the Empires The Plan Killing Space Tainted Victory The Icebox Descent of the West

Episode 1- Clash of the Empires

On a dramatic journey from the beginning of the 20th century to the mid-1920s, presenter Niall Ferguson shows us the dominant themes of race and empire in the horrendous conflicts of this period.

In 1900, the West really did rule the world, with much of the southern hemisphere and the East under Western control. The West's imperial expansion was part of its assumption of innate racial supremacy, as illustrated in the programme by the Trans-Siberian Railway, which sent two million Russians eastwards to further and further expand their empire into Asia.

This perceived supremacy was put to the test in 1904 when the Japanese launched a surprise torpedo attack at Port Arthur, Manchuria (a far-flung outpost of the Russian Empire). The Russians sent their battleships, assuming an easy victory, but in May 1905 the Japanese sunk two-thirds of the Russian fleet. This threat from the East was compounded by civil unrest. We learn about the role of Leon Trotsky in the Russian Revolution, which started with the uprising of 1905. Despite Trotsky's appeal with oppressed factory workers, as a Jew he was immediately suspect, and when the Tsar reasserted control he ended up in jail.

Niall visits a plaque in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which commemorates the event that is thought to have started the First World War the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. With actual footage and photographs, we hear how the assassination unfolded, and Niall explains why this relatively small event led to the biggest war that had even been witnessed and the death of 10 million people. As other empires got involved and took sides, we see how this became a world war. People came from all over the world to fight in Europe, many of them multi-ethnic, such as soldiers from India fighting for Britain. We discover how race and racial hatred fuelled the war as much as political or ideological differences.

Back in Russia, towards the end of the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution led by Lenin promised equality, peace, bread and power for the Soviets, and yet it brought years of civil war. We learn of the Bolsheviks' hard-line tactics for dealing with opponents, and see that this time in Soviet history has more to do with terror than people power, with mass executions of peasants and political opponents intended to terrify people into submission. With Stalin now a key figure, an ethnic war continued as the Bolsheviks tried to control the many different nationalities within the vast empire. Between 1918 and 1922, eight million people were killed and, in many ways, one Russian empire had simply changed to another.

In other parts of Europe, ethnic differences were leading to the death and migration of thousands of people, as old empires were turned into viable nation-states in the aftermath of the First World War. Niall tells us the tragic story of the Armenian and Greek people in the Ottoman Empire (centred on present-day Turkey). The murder or expulsion of one-and-a-half million Armenians has been generally acknowledged as the first ever genocide.


00.00 02.59

Introduction to the series by the presenter Niall Ferguson, in which he previews the events that made the 20th century the most violent in history.

03.00 07.11

We learn how race and empire were the dominant themes of the 20th century, and Niall illustrates this through the expansion of the Russian Empire and the Trans-Siberian Railway.

07.12 09.54

The Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Manchuria part of the far-flung Russian Empire.

09.55 14.25

Niall explores the new doctrines of democracy and socialism, and the 1905 revolution in Russia.

14.26 18.25

Niall visits the plaque that commemorates the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and explains the how the event unfolded.

18.26 22.29

We discover why this assassination led to the largest war the world had ever known.

22.30 25.46

The ethnic issue during the First World War is explored by looking at the attitude of British troops to the Germans on the Western Front.

25.47 27.43

In Brest, Belarus, Niall visits the White Palace where the Bolsheviks had to agree humiliating peace terms with Germany.

27.44 37.18

The Russian civil war continues, and the Bolsheviks used terror to control more and more of the Soviet empire. We see film footage of Lenin ordering the murder of peasants, and learn that ethnic conflict was just as fierce as the class struggle.

37.19 40.43

We learn about the aftermath of the First World War and the impact of turning empires into viable nation-states. In particular, Niall takes us to Turkey to recall the events that led up to the first generally acknowledged genocide that of the Armenians from the Ottoman Empire.

40.44 45.25

The ethnic violence in the Ottoman Empire continues in 1922, with Greeks being either killed or expelled.

45.26 47.18

A summary of the programme.


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