In this final year of the 20th century, there are several key lessons we should learn from this turbulent period. First, as a Japanese I want to point out that Japan modernized with remarkable success in the first half of the century. Following its victory in the Russo-JapaneseWar (1904-05), the nation joined the ranks of great powers. After that, however, the Japanese became “arrogant” and expanded headlong into the Chinese mainland. From the late 1930s to the 1940s Japan started self-destructive wars against the United States, Britain, China and the Soviet Union.
Following defeat in World War II, the Japanese regained the virtue of humility. After the mid-’50s Japan achieved a remarkable economic recovery, one that took the world by surprise. However, that success story again made the Japanese “arrogant.”
Japan can look forward to a bright future if it understands the positions of other nations in a humble spirit and commits itself more positively to international cooperation. As long as we take to heart our experiences in the 20th century, it is unlikely that we will repeat major mistakes. Japan today boasts enormous economic strength, but its defeat in war has left a serious scar on the national psyche. We must not forget that this 20th-century burden will stay with us as we move into the new century.
From a global perspective, the 20th century offers two major lessons for humanity. One is that the two world wars have all but eliminated the possibility of war between great powers. A third world war, therefore, almost certainly will be avoided, even though causes for international conflict abound. The United Nations’ ability to resolve conflicts is, admittedly, very limited. However, with the continued cooperation of the Group of Seven (or Eight) major nations headed by the U.S., the victor in the two world wars, it is possible to prevent conflicts between nations from developing into a global war. The world wars, it can be said, have made humankind wiser.The other global lesson has to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the Soviet occupation of Berlin in 1945 Moscow tried to spread the gospel of socialism and communism around the world. At the end of the 1980s, however, the Soviet Union admitted defeat in the Cold War.
The Soviet debacle made it clear that the centrally planned command economic system — which had exploited and nationalized the means of production to the exclusion of market principles — was not almighty as was claimed, but brought poverty and corruption and enslaved people instead of saving them.
In the 1930s, many intellectuals and students in Japan believed propaganda that “the Soviet Union is the paradise of socialism.” Japanese intellectuals also extolled Maoism after the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong took control of the Chinese continent in 1949. However, as the realities of the Great Cultural Revolution came to light, the Japanese adulation of communist China evaporated quickly.
After the communist-led planned economies failed across the board, the merits of the market-oriented economic system were recognized anew. Free-market principles, however, require safety nets, such as the social-security system. But there is no question that the command-economy system has proved itself unworkable. That is a precious lesson of the 20th century.One lesson associated with the defective central planning system is that dictatorship — communist or otherwise — is a dangerous system. Indeed, dictators have been one of the most pernicious maladies of the 20th century.
Revolutionary dictatorship became something of a global trend after Vladimir I. Lenin established a monolithic communist regime. The interesting thing is that the shift of power from the Communist Party as a whole to the Central Committee Politburo gave rise to tyrants like Stalin. In China, Mao’s tyranny ended with the fiasco of the Great Cultural Revolution; it was remedied by the efforts of no-nonsense leaders like Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese case, however, is an exception.
Not all dictatorships in the 20th century were controlled solely by communist parties. The German regime of Adolf Hitler that came into being in 1933 did not hold an absolute majority in the Reichstag. In fact, it was created to “tame” Hitler by aides to Paul von Hindenburg, then ailing president of the Weimar Republic, in collaboration with promoters of Hitlerism.
As it turned out, Hitler broke his pledge to respect the Weimar Constitution and established an absolute dictatorship, using the Reichstag arson case as an excuse. In the next five years, the dictator portrayed himself as a nationalist dedicated to German self-determination. However, after achieving the unity of the German people through the annexation of Austria, he made no secret of his ambitions to conquer and enslave Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. In the process, he left Europe in ruins and caused untold damage to his own country.
Summing up, the communist doctrine that nationalization of the means of production under the centrally planned economic system brings permanent prosperity for all is a dangerous fantasy. No less dangerous than this leftist propaganda is the rightist demagogy aimed at establishing a nationalist dictatorship in the name of anticommunism. These are the most important lessons of the 20th century.
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