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The Explaining History Podcast has been exploring the 20th Century in weekly chapters for the past 10 years, helping students and enthusiasts engage with the past. With the help of expert guests, your host Nick Shepley navigates competing debates around the key events and processes of the past century. See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
 
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In the summer of 1940, German successes in Europe had been based on a very particular model of interaction between air and ground forces. The planned invasion of southern England and the seizure of London envisioned by Hitler presented the German airforce with entirely new problems. Some German commanders believed that the Luftwaffe alone could def…
 
During the forced programme of industrialisation in the late 1950s in China, known as the Great Leap Forward, China's peasants came under intense pressure from the violent Maoist state to produce impossible grain quotas. Villages had already undergone the process of communalisation, where the basic structures of communal and even family life were t…
 
Harold Wilson was the most successful Labour prime minister of the 20th Century, but was the subject of plots to remove him from power by the military, business and intelligence elites. No coup attempt against Wilson was ever launched in Britain, but his sudden resignation in 1976 followed years of speculation that he had been spied upon by the int…
 
When Mao Zedong, China's 'great helmsman' died in 1976, the China that emerged after destructive reign began to be de-Maoified economically but also culturally. By the early 1980s a cutlure of Mao criticism was prevalent in the arts, television and cinema, along with critiques of the Mao era communist party. This podcast examines the processes of D…
 
By 1944 it was clear that there was no future for the Third Reich, but unlike other regimes that have faced overwhelming odds, Germany fought on to the end. Historian Ian Kershaw wrote a groundbreaking book in 2011, The End, which explained why the Third Reich chose the path of Gotterdammerung (downfall). This is the first of several podcasts where…
 
By the late 1960s there were huge opportunities for Richard Nixon to capitalise on the growing discontent across America towards the counter culture. Millions of Americans looked on with disdain at a generation of anti war protesters and young men and women who actively rejected the lifestyles of their parents generation. Nixon, and every Republica…
 
Following the disastrous chaos and violence of the cultural revolution, Deng Xiaoping, one of Maoist China's inveterate survivors and a hate figure for Mao himself, began a series of changes of global significance in 1978. Deng's four modernisations (agriculture, industry, education, science and defence), and the policy of opening up China to forei…
 
The Republican Party and the right of the American liberal establishment colluded in the immediate post war years to wage war against the American left. The Republicans saw it an opportunity to undermine the New Deal years and their liberal collaborators view of the illiberalism of the Soviet Union justiified any and all political crack downs on th…
 
By 1937 the Soviet newspaper Pravda (its editorial board pictured above), was a key part of the mechanisms of denunciation and terror. It presented lurid tales of corruption and embezzlement that most Soviet citizens knew happened in the party constantly, weaponising their anger against those accused in the show trials. The purpose was to build a m…
 
This is the first of a multi part exploration of protest music in America during the late 1960s, beginning with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Ohio, written to mourn the killing of four students by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio, in May 1970. By the late 1960s, the pressure of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement had…
 
Fear and solidarity defined both Austro Hungarian and Germany societies in August 1914. The pace of mobilisation meant that over three million soldiers in Germany alone were in uniform in just twelve days. Soldiers said emotional farewells to loved ones and took last minute photographs with sweethearts, and both German and Austro Hungarian economie…
 
History as entertainment has shaped, for many, the understanding of the past. Mythologisation of key moments of the past crafts powerful and often misleading national stories that provide simple and often comforting notions about the past. In his new book Fake History, Otto English takes many of these fantasies to task, and today we explore one of …
 
Throughout the 1930s the forces that led to a year of terror in 1937 had been gradually developing, from the trials of bourgeois specialists in the1920s to the murder of Sergei Kirov. The regime initially looked to the population at large to show their anger and rage at figures such as Iuri Piatikov, who as a former ally of Trotsky, was cast as a s…
 
In present day Volgograd, one of the largest Second World War memorials in the world stands. The city, once known as Stalingrad, is home the gigantic concrete and steel sculpture, The Motherland Calls, which was built in 1967, eleven years after Stalin himself had been denonced and disgraced by his successor. The immense losses that the USSR suffer…
 
John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both saw Vietnam as the vital frontline in America's struggle against communism, but it was Chinese, as opposed to Soviet communism they were most concerned about. The widely accepted 'Domino Theory' which postulated that one country in Asia after another would fall to the communist rule was widely accepted across …
 
When Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister in 1937 he inherited a highly precarious world situation. His predecessor was exhausted from his time in office but also was defeated by the dilemmas posed by rearmament. Chamberlain believed that a broad policy of appeasement in both Europe and Asia would stabilise the world situ…
 
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the French Fourth Republic commenced a purge of former members of the wartime Vichy regime that had collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. However, by 1947, under the new conditions of the Cold War, the enthusiasm for anti fascist trials had waned and instead anti communism replaced it. This was ac…
 
The British hold over the Indian Army was born of strategic calculations; the army was the most powerful weapon in Asia at Britain's disposal, and its huge manpower enabled Britain to punch above its weight on the world stage during the conflict. The British government attempted to limit the numbers of commissions granted to Indian officers, but th…
 
During the 1950s, Britain, France the USA and the USSR all conducted great power politics and diplomacy in the Middle East, competing to court and undermine rising nationalist movements in Egypt, Sudan, Jordan and beyond. This podcast explores the wider context of these interactions and their culmination in the Suez Crisis See acast.com/privacy for…
 
There are numerous competing histooriographies of the Stalinist terror, which peaked in 1937. The pretext of the assassination of Kirov, that Stalin may well have had a hand in was simply that, an excuse for Stalin to shore up his own personal power by targeting for the first time the party itself. The disaster of collectivisation and the failure o…
 
Anti communism became a defining aspect of American politics during the 1940s and 1950s, not just for the right wing of the Republican Party, but also for the Democrats and the liberal intelligentsia and journalists the traditionally supported the party. They shifted to the right throughout the period, and whilst some decried McCarthy's methods, ot…
 
Margaret Thatcher was deposed by her party in 1990, but the legacy of her ideas in some form lingers on. The Tory Party itself has abandoned any pretence of interest the operating of free markets and is led my the antithesis of her views on social conservatism. Instead of the offspring of a lower middle class shop keeper who values financial pruden…
 
In the first year of the war, from September 1939 to September 1940, Germany's military forces fought four seperate European campaigns (Poland, Scandanavia, France and the Low Countries, Britain), three of which could be described as blitzkrieg, rapid, armoured 'lightning wars' using aircraft and armour. The fourth campaign, the Battle of Britain, …
 
The Second World War was a national humiliation for France, enduring occupation, collaboration with the Nazis and Vichy complicity in the Holocaust. The violent purge of collaborationists after the war saw tens of thousands of mainly low level members of Vichy and the French civilians who had been friendly with the occupying Germans assaulted, impr…
 
The conquest of the Soviet Union was an idea that had been at the forefront of HItler's thoughts since the 1920s. Exploiting the resources of Russia and the Ukraine for the benefit of Germany was not a new concept and it had most recently been tried during the last year of the First World War. Hitler and Himmler had grand visions of a transformed l…
 
In 1937 many Soviet citizens had traumatic memories of collectivisation, anti Kulak campaigns and famine from the period 1928-33. Many could sense that a new time of crisis was emerging and saw the arrest of party members as the beginnings of a dramatic change. Few had any knowledge of how indescriminate and far reaching the terror would become, as…
 
In the decade before the FIrst World War, Germany and Austria-Hungary put little effort in to coordinating their military strategies in the event of a war on two fronts. Germany's chief of General Staff Helmuth Von Moltke assured Austria that the plans inherited from Alfred Von Schlieffen, his predecessor, would offer the best chance that the centr…
 
The landslide victory for Eisenhower and the Republican Party in the 1952 Presidential Election showed Democrats that a right of centre, socially conservative America in the grip of an obsessive anti communism would decide their political fate for decades to come. The continuing Korean War and the loss of China to communism three years earlier shap…
 
History teaching is within the confines of a curriculum and under the pressure of examinations is riven with unfortunate compromises and unintended outcomes. The question of the civil rights movement in America is a case in point. Textbooks in the UK tend to focus on the 1950s and 1960s, centring mainly around the story of Martin Luther King and th…
 
In early 1942 the American Eighth Air Force existed on paper only. Within twelve months it was a formidable fighting force in daylight raids over Germany and by 1945 was mounting the first two thousand bomber raids. In this episode of the Explaining History podcast, we hear from military historian David Dean Barrett about the 'Mighty Eighth' and th…
 
During the First World War, much of the fighting occurred in colonial Africa, which in 1918, the victorious powers believed could not rule itself. President Woodrow Wilson of the USA and Britain were able to collude on a neo colonial mandate system that mainly benefited them at the expense of France. All three had agreed that it was unthinkable tha…
 
A popular view of the July crisis that led to the start of the First World War was the excitement and enthusiasm across Europe for war. Examining Alexander Watson's Ring of Steel, we discuss the validity of this view and the motivations of the crowds that filled the streets of Berlin and Vienna in July 1914. This podcast also explores the motivatio…
 
For the Republican Party in the 1940s and 1950s, the only means of attacking the Democrats was by inflating the fear of communism and accusing their rivals of treason. In 1951, following the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur for challenging the authority of President Truman, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin used the end of MacArthur's care…
 
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the belief that anything was now possible in the reshape and redesign of societies was widespread in the liberal capitalist and communist worlds. The role that planning had played in the victory over fascism was beyond doubt and politicians, intellectuals, planners and citizens in Europe, Asia, Am…
 
The invasion of Australian ruled Papua New Guinea in 1942 by the Japanese presented a direct threat to Australia and to Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Douglas MacArthur's plans to retake the Japanese held Pacific. The tenuous fighting across the Owen Stanley mountain range by the retreating Australian 'diggers' was one of the most desp…
 
In the years following the Conservative Party's defeat in the 1945 general election, the Tories were forced to accept significant parts of Labour's programme, recognising their un-electability otherwise. A right wing fringe of the party rejected this centre ground compromise and demanded an extreme brand of supply side economics known as monetarism…
 
In 1958 as part of Mao's attempts to improve productivity and create a socialist economic miracle in China, Mao waged war against private property and family life during the disastrous 'Great Leap Forward'. He removed from families the ability to privately farm vegetables and rice, own livestock and prepare food in their own homes. Following the co…
 
In the mid 1930s, successive waves of state terror devastated not only Soviet society, but also coopted Soviet citizens into the processes of state violence. A deep fatalism was commonplace throughout much of the country, as Soviet citizens struggled to avoid becoming victims, and many became the denouncers and informants of the state. See acast.co…
 
In the last years of Jimmy Carter's presidency, the ruthless Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua was overthrown by the Sandinista revolutionaries, a coalition of the moderate and revolutionary left. The incoming Reagan administration in 1981 immediately froze aid to the Nicaragua and began to arm the anti Sandinista rebels, the Contras. See acast.com/…
 
By the mid 1930s a widespread working class anti fascist movement was established in Britain, in response to the development of the British Union of Fascists, and the growth of fascist movements in Europe. When the Spanish government was attacked by the country's fascist generals, many from Britain's anti fascist movement took up arms to defend the…
 
In 191, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Belgrade, the Austrian government sent a list of demands to Serbia, who they alleged was behind the plot. The final demand, a partial surrender of sovereignty in order for Austria to apprehend the culprits was rejected, presenting Austria with a case for war. Thi…
 
During the Second World War the imperial government of India, ruled by Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy of India, was desperate for manpower and the traditional 'martial classes' that the British had relied on were to small in number to supply all the troops needed. The vast scope of the conflict meant that millions of men not normally considered for m…
 
In the mid 1950s, Anthony Eden and Guy Mollet, Britain and France's respective prime ministers initially showed little determination to overthrow Colonel Nasser of Egypt. However, mounting French problems in Algeria and Britain's dependence on 'holding out' in Egypt against further imperial decline, and the small and conspiratorial groups of minist…
 
At the allied wartime conferences it was agreed by the big three that the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians could remove German civilians who had occupied lands now in newly recognised nation states, in some cases for generations. This decision was taken in large part because national governments and vigilante bands had already started the expulsions. S…
 
In the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution, European governments looked nervously at the poor and dispossessed, the peasants, workers and soldiers whose conditions were frequently intolerable. The spectre of communism, both real and imagined hung over Europe, but in Spain, France and Britain, strikes and protests had more to do with the h…
 
In the half decade after the end of the First World War, the size and the militancy of the trade union movement was at its height and the largest union was the Miner's Federation of Great Britain. The appalling treatment of miners by pit owners was exacerbated by the decline in the industry's fortunes after the war, leading to strike action by the …
 
When Britain, France and Russia secretly planned to carve up the Ottoman Empire in 1915, France made a claim on Ottoman Syria and acquired it as a mandate during the Paris Peace Conference. Brutality, colonial mendacity and a refusal to acknowledge the demands of Druze leaders and Syrian nationalists led to an explosion of anti colonial violence in…
 
Following the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, class based terror and repression of social and political enemies became central to the party's attempts to establish itself. In addition to this, the savagery of the civil war and Lenin's belief that a parallel class war needed to be waged saw the earliest improvised camps, of which there w…
 
In 1956 the British Government, led by Anthony Eden, embarked on a disastrous military adventure with France and Israel that divided the country, split both political parties and was conducted despite the misgivings of the navy and air force. The agreement to attack Egypt was decided by the three main powers at a villa at Sevres weeks before the in…
 
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