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
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
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
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
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.