The Haves Versus the Have-Nots
History is typically the story of one person or group dominating another. As seen throughout this entire site, dominance can come in many forms and usually involves conflict at some point. The acquirement of power is often the justification for entering into conflict with another group or person. Power can be political and it can apply on a social level. Power can also mean money. Having more than another has created conflict on both the individual and international level. Economic advantages can create greed in the party that has it and jealousy in the party that does not. From the hording of grain in Neolithic times to modern nations warring over oil, desire and envy have been at the center of conflicts from the very beginning of the human story.
The Commercial Revolution and Slavery
As a result of the Age of Exploration, Europe established colonies in the New World. Spain controlled vast amounts of territory which included parts of North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. This control brought Spain into conflict with many of the indigenous peoples of these areas. Most notably, the Aztec of Central America in present-day Mexico and the Inca of South America in present-day Peru. These cultures were completely wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors, Cortez and Pizarro. The justification for the eradication of two well-established civilizations was gold.
In conjunction with the Age of Exploration, drastic changes in economics were occurring called the Commercial Revolution. The monarchs of Europe became fabulously rich, gaining absolute power in their rising nation-states. Money was made through world-wide trade. Goods were produced and traded for more goods, the effect being a triangular trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic ocean. This global exchange began with the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus and is therefore referred to as the Columbian Exchange.
European countries also began instituting a policy called mercantilism, in which a country imported less than it exported. By selling more than buying, the absolute monarchs were able to horde vast amounts of gold. This was the beginning of free-enterprise and the foundation for capitalism. In the case of the Spanish overseas empire, goods were produced by captured and enslaved native peoples in the encomienda system. This system granted permission to conquistadors to enslave as many people needed to work a plantation. However, the native people proved susceptible to European diseases like smallpox. Therefore, a new slave labor source was needed and Africa was the answer. Greed began and sustained the African slave trade, a 300-year period of conflict that tore millions of people away from West Africa and forcibly transplant them in the Caribbean, South, and North America. This is known as the African Diaspora.
The Meiji Restoration and the Rise and Fall of Japan
For centuries, the island nation of Japan had remained isolated from the rest of the world. It existed in a feudalistic system under the Tokugawa Shogunate, with very little technological or cultural progress. However, in 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan seeking to open trade between the two nations. Japan felt it had no choice after viewing the superior steam-driven ships and the technologically advanced weaponry. While Japan slept, the Industrial Revolution had transformed the rest of the world, leaving Japan far behind. Fearing that Europe or America would try to imperialize their nation, the Japanese embarked on an ambitious plan to rapidly modernize in the areas of technology, industry, government, education, and military. The Meiji Restoration was an astounding success but was the catalyst for conflicts reaching into the 20th century. Japan began expanding its territory through imperialization. The Russo-Japanese War saw Japan taking territory from Russia. Also, Japan used WWI to take German-held territory in China after declaring itself an ally of Great Britain. Japan also began expanding out into the many islands of the Pacific Ocean. In the 1930’s, Japan invaded China as a whole and added it to their possessions. Finally, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japan went to war with the United States in WWII. The dropping of the atomic bombs brought the war to an end and also marked an end to the empire that began nearly a century before.
The Conflict over Oil
An offshoot of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Imperialism is the global dependence on oil or petroleum. Developed countries are especially dependent because of high-levels of industry, transportation, etc. This means that whoever controls the oil enjoys a fair amount of political, economic, and even social power. Much of the world’s oil supply lies in the Middle East.
In the first half of the 20th century, Middle Eastern nations had the oil but did not have a way to procure, refine, and distribute it. Foreign governments, such as, Europe and the United States, provided the necessary elements and these oil-producing nations grew rich. In the 1970’s, it was decided that more wealth and power could be had if the foreign influence was removed. Foreign nations would still have to purchase the oil, but could no longer cut costs by providing the needed infrastructure to produce the oil. Therefore, OPEC was established. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was formed to further control the oil and reduce foreign influence. The oil-producing nations, like Saudi Arabia, experienced a rise in their standard of living. Also, the nations of OPEC, which included some African and Latin American countries, used oil as a political weapon.
The Middle Eastern oil-producing nations stopped the flow of oil to the United States because of its support of the Jewish state of Israel. Wars were fought over oil with many conflicts erupting among the members of OPEC. Iraq attacked Iran in the 1980’s and then invaded and occupied the small nation of Kuwait in 1990. This gave Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein access to Kuwaiti oil fields and to the highly important Persian Gulf. It was feared that Iraq would attack Saudi Arabia, therefore, in 1991, the United States under the sanction of the United Nations, attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait and drove them out. Subsequently, the Iraqi army were unable to withstand the American onslaught and the Persian Gulf War ended within weeks of its beginning. However, Iraq was able to set fire to thousands of Kuwaiti oil-pipe lines prior to being ousted, creating a huge environmental disaster. Hussein remained in power and continues to be a threat today.
The Struggle of Developing Nations
Change has always caused conflict within societies. Many of the problems faced by developing nations are the result of attempting changes. Many governments and leaders have been removed from power for trying to modernize their nation. The conflict of tradition versus modernity has marked numerous episodes since WWII. The most recent example could be the Taliban of Afghanistan, which was fanatically opposed to any outside, foreign influence. Developing, or Third World, nations also cause social and economic conflict in their struggle to become developed. The Green Revolution was a success in agricultural processes that could feed more with less work. However, genetically engineered food could not solve all the problems faced by the Developing world, especially as it created a population explosion. Famine in developing nations has often been the cause of conflict, a recent example being Somalia in which warlords were hording UN food. Environmental issues and pollution are ignored because industrialization is the first priority. Poverty and the lack of education remain the biggest threats to political and social stability, economic prosperity, and environmental safety.