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THE INTERWAR YEARS (1919-1938)

General Summary

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With the end of World War I, the old international system was torn down,
Europe was reorganized, and a new world was born. The European nations
that had fought in the Great War emerged economically and socially
crippled. Economic depression prevailed in Europe for much of the inter-war
period, and debtor nations found it impossible to pay their debts without
borrowing even more money, at higher rates, thus worsening the economy to
an even greater degree. Germany especially was destroyed economically by
World War I and its aftermath: the reparations to Britain and France forced
on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles were impossibly high.
The League of Nations represented an effort to break the pattern of
traditional power politics, and bring international relations into an open and
cooperative forum in the name of peace and stability. However, the League
never grew strong enough to make a significant impact on politics, and the
goals of deterrence of war and disarmament were left unaccomplished.
The political atmosphere of the inter-war years was sharply divided between
those who thought the extreme left could solve Europe's problems, and
those who desired leadership from the extreme right. There were very few
moderates, and this situation kept the governments of Britain, France, and
Eastern Europe in constant turmoil, swinging wildly between one extreme

and the next. Extreme viewpoints won out in the form of totalitarian states in
Europe during the inter-war years, and communism took hold in the Soviet
Union, while fascism controlled Germany, Italy and Spain.
The extremist nature of these disparate ideologies turned European politics
into an arena for sharp conflict, erupting in Spain during the late 1930s in the
form of the Spanish Civil War, after which Francisco Franco became dictator.
In Germany, Adolf Hitler's fascist Nazi Party came to power during the 1930s
and prepared once again to make war on Europe. With Britain and France
tied up in their own affairs, the path to World War II lay clear.

THE INTERWAR YEARS (1919-1938)

Context

The inter-war years refer to the pivotal 20 years that fell between the end of
the First World War and the Second World War. The effects of World War
One were profound for Europe. Ten million were killed and twice that number
wounded in what has been dubbed the first modern war. All of the wars of
the hundred years leading up to World War One had claimed a total of only
four and one-half million lives. During the Great War, the French averaged a
death each minute. The destruction of a generation in Europe left many of
those lucky enough to survive psychologically scarred, and many would find
it hard to lead normal lives.
In addition to the toll taken on European life, both the victorious Allies and
the defeated Central Powers were saddled with enormous national debts,
which contributed to the financial insecurity that was to plague all of Europe

during the inter-war period. The land of Europe was physically devastated,
and the three great European empires--Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the
Ottoman--were toppled by the war and lay in ruins. Soldiers of both sides
returned home to this devastation and found only rampant unemployment
and despair. The widespread destruction led to internal political conflict and
social instability in almost every nation in Europe during the inter-war period.
The diplomatic results of the First World War greatly determined the nature
of European affairs during the inter-war years. The Paris Peace Conference
dismantled large blocs of territory in Eastern Europe and drew the
boundaries for new, independent states. These new states were in many
cases not economically viable, due to the destruction of the war, and past
reliance on the economies of the empires. Additionally, these countries were
unused to democracy and independence, and many were divided internally
by factions and antagonistic ethnic groups. Moreover, the rise of radical
political groups meant a wider spectrum of political ideologies clamoring for
acceptance. The ideologies of both fascism and communism attracted more
followers during the inter-war years than ever before. All of this made the
task of good government difficult, if not impossible, throughout Eastern
Europe. Instability and poorly operating, often-dictatorial governments were
typical of these states, making them easy targets for a rearmed Germany
during the late 1930s.
Germany, for its part, was crippled not only by the war, but also by the
settlement of the war, in which it was scapegoated as the conflict's
aggressor. The Treaty of Versailles provided for the military and economic
dismemberment of the German states, along with the requirement of
impossible reparations payments to Britain, France, and the other allied
nations. France, having suffered the greatest destruction at the hands of the
Germans during World War One, was adamant about keeping Germany
weak, and demanded reparations without exception in the years following

the Great War. Due in great part to these efforts, Germany suffered through
starvation, mass unemployment, and rampant inflation, all made unbearable
by the Great Depression. Naturally, Germans reacted bitterly toward their
foreign oppressors and dreamed of a return to the glory of the German
Empire. It was this dream which permitted the ascension of Adolf Hitler and
the Nazi Party to power in Germany, promising a future of glory and
European domination. Under the Nazis, Germany rearmed and began a
program of European conquest, which at first was permitted by the former
Allies, in hopes of avoiding a second war. However, it soon became clear
that Germany's intentions were dangerous to European security, and just
twenty years after the "War to End all Wars," Europe fell again into
devastating conflict.

THE INTERWAR YEARS (1919-1938)

Important Terms, People, and Events

Terms
Black Shirts - The black shirts were Benito Mussolini's band of thugs, who
used force to intimidate all opposition to the Italian Fascist Party.
Bloc National - The Bloc National was a coalition of rightist groups in
France that came together in fear of socialist opposition to run the French
government during the early years of the inter-war period. The Bloc National
maintained conservatism in France to a high degree, and demanded that
Germany pay its reparations in full.

Cartel des Gauches - After the French government's embarrassing failure


to collect German reparations even after invading the Ruhr, the Bloc
National was replaced by the Cartel des Gauches, a moderate socialistic
coalition elected on May 11, 1924. However, the Cartel proved inept at
governing, and was dissolved in 1926.
Central Purge Commission - During the 1930s, Joseph Stalin
consolidated power in the Soviet Union by eliminating his opponents. In
1933, he created the Central Purge Commission, which publicly investigated
and tried members of the Communist Party for treason. In 1933 and 1934,
1,140,000 members were expelled from the party. Between 1933 and 1938,
thousands were arrested and expelled, or shot.
Collectivization - Stalin's agricultural program, collectivization, forced
farmers to pool their lands into government-run farms. When the upper
peasant class, the kulaks, protested this program, some three million of
them were killed during a reign of terror in 1929 to 1930.
Dawes Plan - Proposed by the American, Charles Dawes, the Dawes Plan
lowered the annual amount of reparations to be paid by Germany to France
and Britain, and loaned Germany a sizable amount of money so that it could
pay on time.
Gestapo - Adolf Hitler's secret police, the Gestapo terrorized the German
citizens, spying on them and often arresting and executing suspects without
a warrant or trial.
International Brigades - These groups of leftist volunteers were made up
mostly of workers, who volunteered to aid the Republicans in the Spanish
Civil war. They did so out of boredom, disillusionment, or a desire for
adventure as often as from genuine political idealism.
Kellogg-Briand Pact - Developed in 1928 by United States Secretary of
State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand to jointly

denounce war, the Kellogg-Briand Pact stated that the singing parties
condemned recourse to war, and denounced it as an aspect of policy. The
pact was eventually ratified, often hesitantly, by 65 nations.
League of Nations - The League of Nations was established as the body
of international cooperation after World War One, with the deterrence of war
and disarmament as its primary goals. However, largely due to the refusal of
the United States to join, the League never grew strong enough to pass any
broad measures.
Livitinov Protocol - The Livitinov Protocol was adopted by the Soviet
Union and four other states, in response to the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It
contained similar language, denouncing war as an aspect of foreign policy.
Locarno Pacts - The Locarno Pacts were a series of treaties signed to
assure the stability of Germany's borders and discourage Germany from
lashing out at its neighbors. They represented a largely French effort to keep
Germany crippled and disarmed, and led to an improvement of relations
between Germany and its neighbors.
Mein Kampf - The book Hitler wrote while imprisoned from 1923 to
1925, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) sets forth Hitler's future policies, and
expounds upon the inferiority of the Jewish people to the Aryans. The book
was widely read once Hitler came to power.
Nazi - The Nazi Party, short for the National Socialist German Workers
Party, controlled Germany completely, under Hitler, from 1933 until the end
of World War Two. The Nazi's strove to return Germany to its past glory,
rectify the problem of unemployment, and expel German-Jews from society.
Triple Alliance - Made up of the miners, railway workers, and other
transport workers in England, the Triple Alliance was the most organized and
powerful labor coalition; it constantly battled the Conservative government
for higher wages, better conditions, and shorter hours.

Westphalian System - Under this system the elites of government often


met in secret to determine the fate of Europe and the world. However, World
War I shattered the old system along with the empires that had maintained it.
People
Leon Blum - Leon Blum, a Jew, and a reviled enemy of French rightists,
led the Popular Front government that ruled France from 1936 to 1937. The
Popular Front government was not successful in maintaining stability, but is
notable for its adherence to republican principles and the wide popular
participation in the government it encouraged.
Neville Chamberlain - Neville Chamberlain served as British prime
minister from 1937 to 1940. Considered a failure in foreign affairs, he
pursued the failed policy of appeasement in regard to Adolf Hitler's
aggression, signing the Munich Pact.
Francisco Franco - Francisco Franco led the Nationalists of Spain in revolt
against the Republicans. Upon his victory in 1939, Franco became an
oppressive dictator, a position he maintained until 1975.
David Lloyd George - David Lloyd George was a talented politician and
British moderate who served as prime minister during and after World War I.
His exit from government in 1922 signaled the end of centrism and the
beginning of extremis politics in Britain.
Gyula Gombos - In 1932, General Gyula Gombos came to power as prime
Minister of Hungary, an office he used as a dictatorship. He was not a strong
enough ruler to initiate a truly fascist state, but he was quite powerful, and
quite conservative, as well as being openly anti-Semitic. Gombos set the
tone for a string of conservative prime ministers who practiced open antiSemitism, and eventually cooperated with Germany in its efforts at European
domination.

Paul von Hindenburg - Hindenburg had the misfortune of serving as the


President of Germany from 1925 to 1934. He was unable to hold off the rise
of the Nazi Party, and in 1933 appointed Hitler chancellor, an action followed
by a string of concessions to Hitler until Hindenburg's death in 1934.
Adolf Hitler - Adolf Hitler was the leader of the fascist Nazi Party that rose
up to lead Germany into the Second World War. Hitler undertook measures
to improve Germany's floundering economy and promised Germans a return
to past glory.
Benito Mussolini - Mussolini became Italy's premier on October 30, 1922.
He consolidated power by using force and intimidation to eliminate his
opponents and create a totalitarian state. Mussolini was sympathetic to
Hitler's desires for global hegemony, and would join Germany as an ally
during World War Two.
Joseph Pilsudski - Pilsudski took advantage of Poland's weak democracy
to become virtual dictator in 1926, a position he maintained until 1935.
Though his method of government was questionable, Pilsudski provided a
measure of stability and strength to Polish politics, which floundered after his
death.
Raymond Poincare - Poincare was the stable political leader of France's
conservatives. He served as prime minister from 1922 to 1924, and from
1926 to 1929, providing stability to the otherwise chaotic French
government.
Joseph Stalin - Stalin became the leader of the Soviet government upon
Vladimir Lenin's death. He established a totalitarian state in the Soviet
Union, consolidating power and purging the party of his enemies during the
1930s, while forcing a command economy on the Soviet people.
Leon Trotsky - Trotsky was Stalin's chief competition for leadership of the
Communist Party, presenting his theory of 'permanent world revolution'

against Stalin's 'socialism in one country.' When Stalin came to power,


Trotsky was expelled from the party and fled the Soviet Union. He eventually
fled to Mexico, where a Stalinist agent killed him in 1940.
Events
Beer Hall Putsch - On November 9, 1923, Hitler and World War I hero
General Ludendorf attempted a small, and somewhat comic revolution
known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler had jumped onto a beer hall table and
proclaimed the current Weimar government overthrown. He and Ludendorf
led their supporters into the street, and were promptly arrested. While this
putsch was unsuccessful, it was important in predicting what was to come.
Guernica - During the Spanish Civil War, on April 25, 1937, the small
northern town of Guernica was bombed by the Nationalists, and civilians
were gunned down as they fled the scene. In this brutal massacre 1500 died
and 800 were wounded, but the military targets in the town remained intact.
While the casualty figures pale in comparison to later numbers, Guernica
was crucial in crushing the spirit of the Republicans and convincing many
that to resist the Nationalists was to open the doors to bloodbath.
Washington Conference - In November 1921, the United States convened
the Washington Conference, attended by Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the
Netherlands, China, Japan, and Portugal. The Conference resulted in a
naval armaments treaty that set a ratio for tonnage of capital ships (over
10,000 tons, with guns bigger than eight inches) for Great Britain, the US,
Japan, France, and Italy. The ratio agreed upon, in that order, was
5:5:3:1.67:1.67. The Washington Conference and the subsequent London
Naval Conference of 1930 produced the only successful armaments
agreements of the inter-war years.