The Road to War 1929-1939

The Great Depression and how it made International Relations worse


The Great Depression-how it made IR worse

1.       International trade fell significantly, to about 1/3 of their pre-crash level.  So, there was less international cooperation through economic activity.

2.       Unemployment was high in Britain.  However, Germany was particularly badly affected.  Unemployment reached 6 million.  In 1931 there was a banking collapse.  The depression in Germany was a major factor in Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent aggressive foreign policy which he followed after 1933.

3.       With economic difficulties, countries tried to seek territory and resources to compensate for the loss of trade.

4.       Britain & France primarily, but also the USA, were reluctant to impose economic sanctions upon aggressive countries, such as Japan and Italy, as to do so would damage their own fragile economy.  This is best illustrated by the continuation of oil exports to Japan (by the USA) and Italy (by Britain) respectively.

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What were the Key Features of the Manchurian Crisi

1.       Since 1900 Japan had modernized and expanded.  They had taken territory in Korea.  They defeated Russia in a war in 1905.  Their army had become dominant in Japanese society and the Japanese started to see themselves as a superior imperial people in Asia.

2.       The Depression hit Japan hard and its people suffered intense hardship.  The Japanese military saw swathes of Chinese territory as theirs for the taking.  Japan already had a railway running in Manchuria.

3.       China was gripped by civil war between nationalists and communists and warlords.  Seizing territory by Japan was presented as a restoration of order.  In 1931 the Mukden bomb incident destroyed a section of Japan’s Manchurian railway.  Japan claimed this was an act of aggression that justified Japan’s invasion of the region to protect Japanese interests.  This was an excuse for naked aggression.

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What were the Key Features of the Manchurian Crisi

4.       Britain and France were the dominant powers in the League of Nations and they were not interested in Japan’s attack on China.  They felt no need to respond to the invasion.  Also, the USA (Japan’s main trading partner) was not a member of the League.  Military action was not considered by the League.

5.       The League said that Japan should withdraw from Manchuria.  Japan refused.  The League conducted an Enquiry, headed by Lord Lytton.  He concluded that Japan’s aggression was unjustified.  The League unanimously condemned Japan.  Japan withdrew from the League.  In 1933 Japan extended its occupation into the adjoining region of Jehol.  In 1937 Japan invaded the rest of China, seen as the start of WW2.

6.       The League’s reaction to Japan was a sign of clear weakness.  Its authority had been shown to be moral and not based on force.  It was a ‘Paper Tiger’, a talking shop.  It was felt that the same weakness would not manifest itself in Europe if Britain and France were directly affected.  However, the Manchuria incident was a signal for Mussolini and later Hitler.

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The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia and how it made

1.       Italy already possessed Italian Somalia, Eritrea and Libya.  Abyssinia would add to Italian possessions and consolidate their empire. Abyssinia was also seen as an easy target for Italy.

2.       Fascism was aggressive in its ideology and valued war and expansion as the destiny of a strong Italian state.  The invasion of Abyssinia put this ideology into practice.  Mussolini, ‘Italy finally has its Empire’.

3.       Before 1934 Mussolini stood with Britain and France to contain Germany, the 1934 Stressa Front.  In 1934 Mussolini blocked Hitler’s attempts to seize Austria.  But after Abyssinian, Mussolini shifted away from Britain and France towards friendship with Germany.

4.       Britain, France and the League condemned Mussolini’s invasion in 1935.  However, behind the scenes Britain and France were negotiating with Mussolini to grant him most of Abyssinia (the Hoare-Lavel Pact).  Clearly, this undermined the condemnation of Italy.  Britain did not close the Suez Canal to Italy.  Oil exports to Italy were not cut off, though arms exports were.  Mussolini was outraged by this criticism and began to side with Hitler.

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The Italian Invasion of Abyssinia and how it made

5.       By 1936 Italy had conquered Abyssinia, though without military distinction and involving the use of poison gas against civilians.  Mussolini had tasted military success and wanted more.  He entered the Spanish Civil War (on the side of the Nationalists) and eventually entered WW2 alongside Hitler.  So, the Invasion of Abyssinia was a watershed, 1935-1936, in the trend towards a major war.

6.       Hitler chose the period of the Italian Invasion of Abyssinia as the ideal moment for the re-occupation of the Rhineland.  He rightly judged that Britain and France were distracted by Italy’s actions.  Thus the Abyssinian invasion led to Hitler escalating his aggressive actions.

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How was Germany affected by the Treaty of Versaill

Territory was lost, about 13%, Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen-Malmedy, Silesia, Posenè The Saar was under League supervisionèVast areas of coal and iron-ore resources were lostèEast Prussia was ‘cut off’ from GermanyèGermany’s military was restricted, 100,000 troops the maximum army, no tanks, artillery, no air force, no large warships and no submarinesèThe area of Germany adjoining France (the Rhineland) was to be demilitarizedèA separate part of the Treaty of Versailles argued that Germany should pay ‘reparations’ (£6,600,000,000) to the Allies (mainly France and Belgium)èGermany had to accept ‘war guilt’ responsibility for starting WW1èThe result was post war humiliation and difficulties for the new Weimar RepublicèHitler was able to exploit this in his rise to power 1925-1933èOnce in power, Hitler used the T of V as a pretext to form a FP which was essentially aggressive but could be presented as a revision of the unfair conditions imposed on Germany.

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What were the main aims of Hitler’s Foreign Policy

1.       To reverse/destroy the Treaty of Versailles & the limits it placed upon Germany

2.       To unite all Germans (linguistically or ethnically) in one greater Germany or ‘GrossDeutschland’.

3.       To destroy Communism (Bolshevism), especially in Russia

4.       To expand German territory, especially in the east, as Lebensraum for the enlarged German population.

5.       To make Germany supreme and powerful among all the European nations.  Restore German power.

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What foreign policy steps did Hitler take 1933-193

5.       German forces, especially Luftwaffe bombers, participated in the Spanish Civil War during 1937 with major civilian bombing.  This was a major dress rehearsal for the German tactics of Blitzkreig, though Germany did not use up its armaments and get bogged down in the conflict, as Italy did. 

6.       In March 1938 Seyss-Inquart (the leading Austrian Nazi) replaced Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor who tried to keep Austria independent from Germany.  Mussolini had told Hitler that Italy would back the German takeover of Austria.  Seyess-Inquart then invited the German army to enter Austria.  Austria was then absorbed into German territory as part of an enlarged Reich.  In April 1938 the Austrian people gave their approval for ‘Anschluss’ (Union) with Germany by 99.75% in a referendum (a rigged result). Britain & France condemned German action but did nothing.  Germany’s southern border was strengthened, its population & resources increased and ‘German’ territory now surrounded Czechoslovakia on three sides.  

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What foreign policy steps did Hitler take 1933-193

1.       In 1933 Hitler withdrew from the International Disarmament Conference, a sign of his intention to increase German power.  In 1935 Hitler announced the introduction of conscription in Germany.  This was a breach of the T of V.  In the same vein he announced the creation of a German airforce.

2.       In 1934 Hitler attempted to use force to seize Austria.  Italian opposition forced Hitler to back down. 

3.       In 1935 Hitler announced the creation of an enlarged German navy.  Britain responded with the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement which said Germany could have a navy as long as it remained 1/3 the size of Britain’s.  Britain’s reaction gave approval to Germany’s rearmament. 

4.       In 1936 Hitler ordered troops into the Rhineland, another breach of the T of V.  France wanted to launch a counter-attack.  Britain refused to back France, arguing that German action did not warrant a war.  No action was taken.  Hitler was emboldened and strengthened in Germany.   He considered his next step.

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1.Czechoslovakia contained 3 million ‘Germans’, former members of the Austrian Empire.  Czech Nazis claimed they were persecuted within Czechoslovakia.  Hitler demanded sections of the Sudetenland (where Germans were the majority) be absorbed into Germany.  The British PM Chamberlain met Hitler 22nd September and (without consulting other countries) agreed to Hitler’s demands.  Hitler then increased his demands to the whole of the Sudetenland.  It looked as if Britain would go to war with Germany over this issue.

2. Mussolini called the Munich Conference 29th September 1938.  Mussolini, Hitler, Chamberlain and Daladier (France) attended.  Stalin (Russia) and Benes (Czechoslovakia) were not invited.  The Conference granted Hitler all his demands.  Hitler promised that the Sudetenland was his last territorial claim in Europe. 

3. Czechoslovakia could not resist Hitler alone and the German invasion was unopposed.  Stalin suspected that Britain and France were pushing Hitler east towards Russia and that he could not rely on their help to resist Hitler.  German power was increased.  In March 1939, Hitler invaded the rest of the Czech territory, Bohemia and Moravia (very large regions).  Slovakia was not invaded but became a puppet state of Nazi Germany.

4.       Chamberlain’s policy was shown to be a failure.  War with Germany could not be averted.  However, appeasement had bought time and Britain and France were probably in a better position to fight Germany when war came in September 1939.

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What alliances did Hitler make in the period 1933-

1.       1936 Rome Berlin Axis with Italy.  A deal to cooperate in foreign policy.  Helped Germany seize Austria.

2.       1937 The Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany, Japan & Italy an agreement to combat Communism worldwide.

3.       1939 April. The Pact of Steel.  Germany and Italy signed a formal military alliance to fight together in a future war.  This showed that war was likely and that Italy would not join Britain and France.

4.       1939 August. The Nazi Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.  An agreement not to attack each other in a future war.  This meant that Hitler was learning the lesson of WW1 when Germany had fought a war on 2 fronts and lost.  Now Germany would be secure in the east and free to fight against France without dividing its army.  A secret part of the agreement said that Germany and Russia would divide Poland between them.  

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What were the key features of appeasement and how

1.       British & French reaction to Germany encouraged Germany to go further in its ambitions.  For example not reacting to German reoccupation of the Rhineland encouraged Hitler that Britain and France lacked resolve to block further extensions of German power.

2.       Anglo-French actions showed that Britain and France were divided.  For example, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 showed that Britain was primarily concerned with preservation of its naval supremacy.  In 1936 Britain showed that it was not prepared to back the French plan to counter attack against German advances into the Rhineland.  This showed that Britain and France were not a united force and that Germany had no need to fear a joint response from them. 

3.       Each action by Hitler, conscription 1935 or Anschluss in 1938, represented an increase in German power.  Its military, territorial or strategic power increased at each stage with the result that it became harder and harder to block Hitler.

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What were the key features of appeasement and how

4.       The idea of making concessions to Hitler so that he was satisfied with Germany’s gains, eg ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in 1938, and would not therefore threaten the general peace of Europe was a fallacy.  Hitler’s ambitions were enormous and concessions could never satisfy his demands.

5.       Appeasement was a betrayal of Czechoslovakia (to whom France had Treaty obligations) and left them at the mercy of German takeover.  A united front in 1938, Britain and France along with Czechoslovakia and probably involving Russia, might have successfully challenged Germany and prevented WW2.  However, attacking Germany in 1936 was probably the last time Hitler could have been blocked with certainty.

6.       France placed too much faith in its defense network, the Maginot Line, and wrongly believed that it was safe from attack from Germany.  That state of mind meant that France had insufficient urgency and resolve in its dealings with Hitler from 1935-1938.

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What other factors caused WW2?

1.       American isolationism in the 1930s robbed the world of the authority and power of the United States to back any forceful resistance to aggression, either through the League or alongside Britain and France.

2.       Communist Russia in the 1930s was treated as a pariah state.  Britain and France feared the spread of Bolshevism.  This deep suspicion of Russia meant that, unlike in 1914, it was not possible to form a united front against Hitler that would successfully contain German expansion.

3.       The T of Versailles (and Treaty of St Germain signed with Austria) created small countries with no power after WW1.  Countries like Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were vulnerable and easy pickings for an aggressive Germany.  The political landscape of Europe encouraged German expansion.

4.       The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, was a conflict between Republican Spain and Nationalist Spain.  Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany sided with the Nationalists and helped them win the war.  In the process they advanced their own military capabilities.  Communist Russia fought on the side of the Republicans.  This conflict prefigured later events (like the German invasion of Russia in 1941) and greatly increased tension.

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