Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945–1965, by Michael Burleigh (Viking, 608 pp., $36)
Civilization in Asia and Africa is ancient, but the current political map of those continents is strikingly modern: It was largely drawn in the decade or two after World War II. Those were the years when new nations were forged. Burma, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaya, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and on and on — the list is a long one. Meanwhile, existing nations from Egypt to China saw changes of regime whose consequences continue to reverberate.
These revolutions had profound consequences for the West. The traditional great powers, Britain and France, lost much of their power and prestige, the loss of India (for Britain) and Algeria (for France) proving particularly traumatic. The United States and the Soviet Union sought to fill the vacuum in ways that embroiled them in brushfire wars — conflicts that proved particularly costly for the United States in the case of Vietnam and Korea and for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.