Must History Repeat the Great Conflicts of This Century?

Course No. 828
Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ph.D.
Harvard University
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Course No. 828
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Course Overview

Will the end of the Cold War bring peace and harmony or war and chaos? Is America going to play a dominant role in international affairs or is the U.S. in decline? Is military power still the key to world leadership or has economic power become more important? Should the U.S. attempt to play the role of global police force or should we withdraw from our overseas military commitments?

Professor Joseph S. Nye, Jr., the Dean of The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, addresses these issues in this study of international politics.

This course examines the origins of the great conflicts of our century and asks if history is doomed to repeat them.

Twice in the first half of this century, nearly all the great powers engaged in wars that killed nearly 70 million people. During the past 50 years, the Cold War has dominated our lives and international politics.

The aftermath of each war shook the international political system, changed the maps of the world, and set the scene for the next great conflict.

The series examines how concepts like the balance of power and the international system interweave with history. It asks what actually happened in these great conflicts, so we can better evaluate if we are destined to repeat them.

International Politics: Foundations

The first three lectures give you background and tools for the study of international politics.

Lecture 1 discusses the basic international political systems and their characteristics, from empire to the anarchic state system in which we live today.

Lecture 2 deals with the key problem of defining an international system, and it uses the example of the unification of Germany to demonstrate an international political analysis on the individual, the state, and the systemic level.

Lecture 3 gives an introduction to one of the most frequently used concepts in international politics: the balance of power. You examine changing definitions of power as well as the varying definitions of the balance of power. You explore the period between 1814 and 1914 in Europe in order to see different phases of a balance of powers.

International Politics: The First And Second World Wars

Lectures 4 through 6 examine the origins of the great conflicts of the century and the attempts by world leaders to avoid history's mistakes. You discuss the origins of World War I in the balance of power in Europe and increasingly nationalist politics, as well as the fatalism that led states to believe war could not be averted.

Dr. Nye presents Woodrow Wilson's attempt to eliminate war from the face of the earth, along with the problems in U.S. domestic politics and the treaties themselves that doomed the League before it was begun.

You consider whether World War II was an inevitable continuation of World War I. Professor Nye distinguishes the causes of the war in the Pacific from those of the war in Europe. He assesses Hitler's role in the war along with other causes stemming from the Treaty of Versailles.

International Politics: The Present and Future

Lectures 7 and 8 discuss the origins of the cold war and the possibility for change in the international system in the post-cold war world.

You examine the aftermath of World War II and the confrontations that led to a period of intense U.S.-Soviet hostility, and you discuss changes that have occurred in the international political system to preclude repetition of history. The series concludes with an admonition not to simplify current situations into historical analogies.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Continuity and Change in World Politics
    The lecture series opens with a debate on whether international politics has entered a new era. International political systems from the Roman Empire to the modern day are examined. Differences between international and domestic politics are discussed, as is the relevance of the two major schools of analysis of international politics in today's world. Changes in international politics in modern times are evaluated, as well as their significance for future conflict or cooperation. x
  • 2
    What Is an International System?
    In this lecture we examine the definition of an international political system and the patterns of relationships among states. German unification in 1870 redrew the map of Europe and led to World War I; it presents a model for systemic analysis and we assess its advantages and limitations. Analysis of international politics often shows patterns with predictable consequences, and with the recent unification of Germany we ask: How much has changed since 1870 in the international political system? x
  • 3
    The Balance of Power and Its Problems
    Power has been defined and redefined in terms of resources, from gold to industry to information technology. A state's access to resources determines its role in the international balance of power. The balance of power can be used as a policy predictor and tool for analysis, assuming that a state will act to prevent another state from developing a preponderance of power. Nineteenth-century Europe serves as an excellent illustration of power politics as the region moved from a moderate balance, to the tense bipolar situation in which World War I broke out. x
  • 4
    The Origins of the First World War
    Was World War I inevitable? It killed millions, brought down three empires, and changed the face of international politics. It was generated within a woeful confluence of blundering foreign policy, corrupt domestic politics, and unhealed wounds from past crises. The origins of the war are discussed, as well as alternative scenarios that might have played out if things had been different. x
  • 5
    The Problems and Promise of Collective Security
    The horrors of World War I, and the waste of human life which it represented, caused a revolution in Western opinion. A leader in the new school of thought who blamed balance of power politics for World War I was Woodrow Wilson. The League of Nations embodied Wilson's ideal of a system of collective security and enjoyed moderate success between 1924 and 1930. Fatal flaws in the system and Europe's return to balance of power politics are examined here, as well as the lessons that history learned from the League of Nations. x
  • 6
    The Origins of the Second World War
    World War II caused the deaths of more than 35 million people, genocide, and the invention and use of the atomic bomb. It ushered in a bipolar world in which Europe was finally dwarfed on the international scene. Hitler's actions eventually cost him the war when he involved the United States. Similarly, Japan lost its bid to dominate Asia militarily when it declared war on the United States. In seeking lessons to be learned from the tragedy of World War II, one must return to its origins. Blame must be laid not merely on appeasement policies, but on a general failure to assess accurately the motives and options of other nations. x
  • 7
    The Origins of the Cold War
    The cold war spanned more than four decades and encompassed minor confrontations in nations around the world, but never resulted in direct combat between the United States and the Soviet Union. The clashing ideologies of the two countries and the vacuum of power in postwar Europe inexorably led the two great powers into a spiral of hostility which defined international politics for the latter half of the 20th century. x
  • 8
    Alternatives to the Present International System
    The post-cold war world will result in the first time in centuries that the international system does not change due to a great war between world powers. Perhaps we are now entering a new world order. For the United States to remain an international power it must combine a strategy of traditional concerns with respect for new views and new players on the international scene. Because history never repeats itself, we must not forsake the future to avoid the past. x

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Your professor

Joseph S. Nye Jr.

About Your Professor

Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ph.D.
Harvard University
Dr. Joseph S. Nye Jr. is Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, as well as Dean Emeritus of the Kennedy School of Government. He is also a member of the board of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School. He previously served as Director of the Center for International Affairs, Dillon Professor of...
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Reviews

Must History Repeat the Great Conflicts of This Century? is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 33.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great insight, but dated Professor Nye's insights into the precursors of WWI and WWII are very stimulating. But the course was recorded probably about 1990, before the fall of the Soviet Union. I would suggest that Professor Nye be given an opportunity to provide an update to the last lecture, in light of the tumultuous history of the last 30 years.
Date published: 2014-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concise review - awaiting an update (audio download) These lectures were, of course, too short. Dr. Nye's measured delivery was most engaging...his analyses direct and to the point. He has successfully distilled a complex series of events leading up to the world's major conflicts and has stirred my curiosity. Like all survey courses, this one has piqued my interest regarding each of the conflicts...I will shortly begin the more detailed lectures on each of the conflicts...maybe even back to Thucydides. Way to go TGC...set that hook deeper. To those reading the review, trying to decide...this one is a good one, well worth the investment.
Date published: 2013-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cogent analysis of statecraft and conflict. Wow. In college, I attending short lecture series by visiting professors on a single topic -- this reminds me of just one of those episodes. In this 8-part, 45 minute-per-lecture course, Professor Nye offers a theoretical framework for understanding international relations in the 20th century followed by historical analysis of WWI, the inter-war period, WWII, and finally the cold war. The question posed by the course title is not answered directly, but it is clear that the professor believes the answer is "no". There are probabilities of conflict, but Nye states that people in power can exercise free will and judgment to avoid catastrophic conflict. In the final lecture (delivered on the eve of the first Gulf War, it seems), the professor dissects different theories on where "history" could end up going. His analysis ended up being dead on. Does this course need to be updated? No. It stands on its own. Do I wish it were? You bet. The reason is that I would love to hear two follow-up lectures: One recapping the 20 years since the end of the cold war and a second on the future on international relations and power politics. Another reviewer commented that this course works well with Frears "Wisdom of History". I could not agree more. Frears is a good storyteller, but Nye's analysis seems deeper and more lucid. With Frears you leave the course feeling better informed. With Nye you leave the course feeling smarter. Should you get this course? Absolutely. The sale price on this one is ridiculously low compared to the sophistication of these lectures.
Date published: 2013-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, but needs to be updated I thought that this was an excellent course and was quite impressed with the professors knowledge of the subject matter. The professors presentation style was very accurate and through and I felt that I really learned a lot. Two small strikes in my book. The first is that there are some minor editing issues resulting in several of the courses filling the end of the session with blank air. Obviously, this is a holdover from when the course was on tape, but I would have expected that this would have been taken care of during the audio engineering transfer from tape to digital file. The second larger issue is that the course was recorded sometime in late 1990 or early 1991. Anything that has happened in the world stage since that time is not mentioned (such as, you know, the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.) While this isn't the professor's fault, it does suggest that the course really should be updated. To that end, the first seven lectures are quite useful. The eighth lecture, which contains a decent amount of conjecture of future possibilities, is more amusing than informative as I had the chance to hear how the professors predictions measured up to what actually happened. Having said that the course is well worth the price for the seven "good" lectures. I only wish that it could be updated to cover the significant events over the past 20+ years.
Date published: 2012-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview of 20th Century Comflict The professor kept my interest and I finished the course within a week. If you are looking for an excellent overview of 20th century conflicts, this course fits the bill.
Date published: 2012-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top Notch Analysis A great course from a credible instructor – Professor Joseph Nye - an individual with extensive service in the fields of intelligence, foreign policy, and national security, in addition to his academic work at Harvard. After first providing a framework with which to analyze international relations Professor Nye proceeds to discuss the causes of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the Cold War, a historical period I experienced much of first-hand. For those who adore Professor Rufus Fears and his Wisdom of History course I recommend that they also take a listen to this course by Professor Nye. It supplements the discussions of Professor Fears. Professor Nye, like Professor Fears, does believe that actions of individual leaders make a difference in history. However, Professor Nye takes the analysis of World War I and World War II to deeper levels than Professor Fears’ lectures on the same topics. Professor Dye examines three types of causes for any war – deep, intermediate, and precipitating. He looks at systems of collective security, like the League of Nations, examining the strengths and weaknesses of such systems. Professor Dye also provides a more balanced look at the policy of appeasement, a term that carries a negative connotation in our day given the appeasement policies of England toward Hitler in the period leading up to World War II. Professor Dye reminds us that appeasement is a common diplomatic strategy which has its place in the proper setting. If there is any doubt that Professor Dye is an expert analyst just listen to the final lecture speculating on the form a post Cold War world might take. He hits the nail on the head in a lecture recorded before the fall of the Soviet Union. As emphasized throughout the lectures of this course: “Beware of overly simplified historical analogies. History does not repeat itself – our future is in our own hands.”
Date published: 2012-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sublime course crying for an update Barbara Tuchman’s best-selling ‘Guns of August’ (1962) showed how World War I was not necessarily inevitable and that it could have been stopped. Professor Nye tells us that President Kennedy, during the Cuban Missile crisis, often referred to the Tuchman’s book which he had just read during the summer. Kennedy, himself a history writer, said that he didn’t want the ‘missiles of October’ turning into the ‘guns of August.’ Professor Nye explains to us that nothing about human events is truly inevitable. We must be historically aware, and use all our wits and skills to avoid World War III. Nye carefully analyzes the causes of both world wars in the 20th century, and demonstrates how both could have been avoided. This short (six-hour) course is well-organized, and Nye speaks clearly and flawlessly. His credential are very impressive: Princeton graduate, Rhodes scholar, and doctorate from Harvard. He received numerous awards working for major US government agencies. While this course is about 20 years old, it is brilliantly done by a superb scholar and covers most of the 20th century. I, like other reviewers, would be eager to purchase a followup course covering 1992 - 2012 by this very gifted teacher. Highest recommendation.
Date published: 2012-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but not what the title suggests. The reviewers below are right on in their praise of the professor's insightful analysis of WW I, WW II, and the Cold War. However, the course did not cover the notion of whether history repeats itself much at all. If you're looking for a course covering repeating patterns in political history, you will be disappointed. Despite this criticism, I would recommend this course for long-time students of the 20th century who want to learn more of the nuances. [This course would not be a good "intro" to 20th century history, as it assumes the listener knows the basics - treaty of Versailles, Cuban missile crisis, holocaust.] Note that the course is 20 years old. There is very little mention/prediction of the 21st century affliction: rogue states and terrorism. This would be a great course for TGC to update.
Date published: 2012-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! This lecture series is the most insightful of all I have bought from Teach12. Professor Nye is wholly successful in attaining his goal not only to present the three major conflicts of the 20th century _ World War I, World War II and the Cold War _ but mostly to analyse their causes and the links between them. Each lecture is very thoughtfully prepared. Professor Nye is calm, clear, knowledgeable and never pedantic. Though very serious, he does lighten up his presentations every now and then with a (slight) touch of humour. Still, nothing is perfect. Though their general pertinence is not undermined, the lectures were given over 20 years ago and some elements are just not valid anymore. In most cases, this is just anecdotic. For instance, the Soviet Union does not exist any longer and the danger faced crossing Central Park after sundown is not what it used to be (no nostalgia to be wasted of course on either example). Discrepancies are more serious in the final lecture _ that deals with future perspectives. It is striking in fact that neither China nor the Middle East is granted much importance compared say to Japan and Russia. More significantly, some listeners might be shocked by the implacably rational, amoral and non-ideological analysis provided. Here, be warned that the USA is not the impartial champion of Freedom and Germans or Russians are not the embodiment of sheer evil. On a completely different level, a beeping timer can be heard now and again throughout the lectures, presumably to assist Professor Nye in his delivery. Did visual cues not exist in 1990? Overall, however, this short but substantial course is very strongly recommended to all, as it does provide a solid framework for understanding much of our current political and economic context.
Date published: 2012-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top-notch course This course is 20 years old but is as compelling and insightful as any TC course I have purchased. It was fascinating to hear Professor Nye's sober and detailed analysis of twentieth-century conflicts and his predictions for the future. Given the perspective of the present, his prognosis about the post-Cold War realities was prescient. One of his tools of analysis is the notion of "soft power," the idea for which he is likely best known now. These lectures were first-rate from top to bottom. Professor Nye is absolutely magisterial in his command of facts and in his analysis of events and theories. Even with events that I believed myself quite familiar with (WWI and WWII), I came away feeling that I had gained new insight and understood how the framework of international relations theory can elucidate conflicts (whether hot or cold). In more than one lecture, Nye explores various counterfactuals (what if X had happened instead of what actually happened) and probes the idea of historical inevitability. His analysis is never trite, and he does not settle for pat answers. In short, this is a fantastic short course that is easy to recommend. It was intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. Nye is a fantastic scholar and wonderful lecturer. I would be first in line to buy an updated course on the same topic.
Date published: 2012-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incisive Analysis of 20th C. Politics Prof. Nye delivers in this all too brief course an outstanding performance. The course is analytic and philosophic rather than descriptive or narrative. As such, while important historical events are noted, the lectures focus on causes and consequences, central ideas and principal factors in determining international politics. While sufficiently introductory as to be accessible to the layman, Prof. Nye never condescends to his audience. Taking for granted some familiarity with the political history of Europe, he focuses his audience's attention on the essential, determining forces beneath the superficial commotion of political tumult. Prof. Nye also recognizes that he is presenting his judgment, his reasoned opinion on the political events of the last century and not simply a series of objective or uncontested facts. So for example, while arguing for his thesis in the final lecture, he regularly discusses other theories and interpretations, providing the audience with multiple avenues for further exploration of alternative theses. The presentation of the material is similarly outstanding, with just the right amount of reiteration and review to give the lectures a feeling of continuity. The teaching company needs more courses like this one by Prof. Nye.
Date published: 2011-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbinding I found this to be a rare glimpse through the eyes of a political insider. The points are profound and relevant. They are presented in a clear, organized and entertaining manner. Additionally, Prof. Nye has a clear steady mid-range voice that I find easy to listen to over road noise in the car. (It may seem a small point. But some professors are very difficult to listen to in an automobile.) High marks.
Date published: 2010-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic The lecturer is engaging, knowledgeable, and quite funny when he occasionally drops a joke. I love professors who take on viewpoints opposed to their own, explain an opponent's argument and then deconstruct it. The topic of the title of this course is really only addressed in the final lecture. Everything up till then is setting the table. The first 2 lectures set the historiographical parameters of the course. These helped give me a new framework to understand a single time-period from a variety of objective perspectives. One interesting tid-bit. This was recorded before the fall of the Soviet Union, so the context in which he is presenting this is fascinating to look back upon.
Date published: 2010-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why it happened that way This course not only tells you what happened in the 20th century, but why it happened as it did. But he does it in a refreshingly rigorous and well-considered way. Prof. Nye goes back to Thucydides and first principles, and gives you the tools to understand how global conflict unfolded in the 20th century. These tools allow him to explain things in ways that are often in conflict with the conventional narrative. They are flexible tools indeed, and often seem more suited to explanation than to prediction. But they still give the listener a powerful way of thinking about recent history and the likely future. To wean you away from the conventional narrative, he often considers fascinating counter-factuals: for example, what if the U.S. had entered World War I on the side of Germany? This may seem an odd speculation, but it's important to learn to look beyond the usual shallow explanation to a deeper understanding of the matter. The only shortcoming of the course is hinted at by the title--"conflicts of THIS century", by which is meant the 20th. Several years into the 21st century, much more has transpired--some things that Prof. Nye anticipated, and others that I think would have surprised him. It would be fascinating to get his take on some of the things happening now.
Date published: 2009-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is just magnificent The sign of genius is someone who can explain, in a simple way, something which you thought you understood, but actually did not. Professor Nye does this, does it again and keeps on doing it. Consequently My whole concept of modern history has changed by listening to this. For instance: the idea of the "anarchic state system in which we live today". At first you think 'what! did he say that?, that's rubbish!'. Then you think about it. You finally realise that it is right, and all your previous concepts were incorrect. This course is just magnificent and should be taught as standard curriculum for all students of history.
Date published: 2009-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great set, even 10 years later I wasn't too sure about this set since it was done during the first part of the 1990's (Gorbachev is still President of the Soviet Union). Even with that, this was a highy informative lecture that's still useful and relivent in today's world - just like a great lecture set should be. The how's and why's of history's conflicts were higly informative and the forward look, even though it' been 10+ years, is still useful. You can see how some predictions didn't and would't come true as well and understand why -- there's too many variables to accurately predict political future. I'd recommend this to everyone - short, easy to listen too and follow, Prof. Nye is a great lecturer and he kept it interesting.
Date published: 2009-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Classic Course! This course provides in twelve lucid lectures an unbelieveably informative and cogent history of why the 20th Century worked out the way it did. It's a shame this course is now limited to audio download status only. However you listen to this course on tape, CD, or download - it's a course not to be missed. It's one of the first courses I purchased in 1996 and I have listened to it several times and it remains instructive and timely. It's truly a TC classic. I hope TC rereleases an revised edition of this course soon. I completely agree with the previous reviewer, RobertK - get while you can.
Date published: 2009-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Get it while you can. This course, taught by Professor Joseph Nye, is probably the last opportunity we will have to get this kind of lecture from him. Nye is now the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. By all means, if you are interested in political affairs or international relations this lecture series is a must. We hear a lot about "soft power" these days, but Professor Nye is the man who coined the term. This course teaches us the systems of balance of power and hegemonic politics in Europe and the United States. Nye was a Clinton advisor, so that gives us a clue as to his political leanings. That being said, he gives us a lot of valuable insights into the workings of the international political system. Get this while you can.
Date published: 2008-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from There are bits of vital informtion included that were not mentioned in school and/or college courses and were significant aids to understanding.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been listening to courses for several years - in my studio while I work (as a painter) - I look forward to each day with them.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These tapes are wonderful. They fill in areas that I am interested in as I get older.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have come to expect the highest standards from the Teaching Co. This course did not disappoint me.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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