*** war and social upheaval: World War II early aggressions

World War II: Early Aggressions

Ethiopian Boy Scouts
Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in Addis Ababa in 1935. The newspaper caption read, "With the ardor of their patriotism reflected in their eyes, these Ethiopian Boy Scouts stand at attention, pikes in their hand, during their maneuvers here. They will act as pathfinders in the conflict between Italy and Ethiopia."

All three AXIS countries AXIS countries (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were involved in military campaigns before World War II finally began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. NAZI Germany renounced the Versailles Treaty as soon as Hiltler seized power in 1933, but the next few years was spent in supressing domestic oppositon and sreadily excluding Jews from national life. The NAZIs remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 and carried out the Anchluss with Austria in 1937. These actioins coukld be seen as domestic German matters. he nexyt target was Czecheslovakia which had been created by thge Versailles Peace Treaty. Hitler in 1938 demanded the Sudetenland in Czecheslovakia which had a minority German population. The British and French gave in at talks held in Munich, but the NAZIs then seized the rest of the country in March 1939, areas without German poulations. The Germans beginningh in 1936 were also active in Spain helping Franco establish a Fascist regiment. The defenseless Basque village of Guernica was the first European city to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The Italians conducted a merciless campaign in Libya to supress rebels, including the use of poison gas. This was generally seen as an internal colonial matter. This changed in 1935 when the invaded Ethiopia, using modern weapons, again inclusing poison gas, to attack a largely unarmed country. They were condenmed by the League of Nations and then walked out of the organization. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932 and established a puppet regim, Manchuko, under the figurehead last Chinese Emperor, Pu Yi. The Japanese invaded China itself in 1937. Theuy were also condemned by the League of Nations and withdrew. Japan drove deep into China, but was able to defeat the Chinese which received military assiastance from the Americans and British. The war with China was to tie down the bulk of the Japanese Army throughout World War II. A little known, but major engagement was fought with Soviets troops along the border. The Soviets wree commanded by Georgy Zukov and smashed the Japanese. This experience probably played a major role in convincing the Japanese to strike America rather than the Soviets in December 1941.

League of Nations

The League of Nations was the first international organization established oin the basis of collective security to preserve world peace. It was created by the Versailles and other peace treaties ending World War I. The unbrialded nationalism that had inflamed Europe in the early 20th century was widely seen as a major cause of World War I. The horendous losses in the War convinced many Europeans that there must never be another war. A League of Nations as proposed by President Wilson was seen as a way of preventing war in the future through a system of collective security. The Laeague was a culminatioin of other political thinkers who had lated the intelectual background, men like the duc de Sully and Immanuel Kant. There had also been the development of international organizations in the 19th century with more limited objectives. These included the International Telegraphic Union (1865) and the Universal Postal Union (1874). The Red Cross, the Hague Conferences, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal) were all organizations that before World War I were drawing nations together in an expanding web of international relations. President Wilson was unable to convince the American Senate to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty which included a provision for the League as its leading provision. This weakened the League from the onset as did the exclusion of the new Soviet Union. The victorious Allied nations, Britain and France, during the 1930s refuse to insist on decisive action against Japanese militarists and Italian and German Fascism. Had the Allies acted decisely, World War II with all its horrors could have been prevented. Winston Churchill in political exile at the time came toi call World War II as the unecessary war because decissive action through the League could have prevented the War. [Churchill] President Roosevelt as a vice presidebtial candidate in 1920 had been a strong supporter of U.S. membership in the League. While this never occurred, the President stringly promoted the League's successor, the United Nations, although he died before the U.N charter was signed in 1945.

Individual Aggressor Countries

All three of theprincipal AXIS countries (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were involved in military campaigns before World War II. Collective security through the League of Nations proved ineffective in confronting the aggressor nations. This was in part because the population of the democratic powers (Britain and France) had been so traumatized by World War I that they sought to appease the Fascists in Europe . The United States had refused to join the League of Nations and participate in collective security. under President Roosevelt, the United States never attempted to appease Hitler and the NAZIs, but the American people had come to think that involvement in World War I had been a grave mistake and wanted no part in another European war. The American public was more willing to confront the Japanese short of war. World War II only began with it became painfully obvious after the abandonment of Czechoslovakia (September 1937) that appeasement only strengthened the aggressor nations. The Soviets seeing opportunities to restore the Tsarist boundaries allied themselves with Hitler, makin it possible for Hitler to launch World War II (August 1939). After NAZI Germany invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war (September 1939).

The Axis

There were varying levels of cooperation between the three AXIS powers, but diplomatic, industrial, and military was nothing like that developed among the Allies--especally America and Britain. Hitler and Muscolini forged the Berlin-Rome Axis in 1936, the origin of the term Axis powers. The two countries then concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Comintern was the organization of the world Communist Parties, but was in fact totally controlled by the Soviet KGB (secret police). This Anti-Comintern Pact meant an alliance to fight Communism or more precisely the Soviet Union. Franco's Fascist Spain joined the Anti-Comotern Pact in 1939 before the War began. Hitler did not consult with the other Axis powers before invading Poland. Once the War began, however, he expected both Italy and Spain to join him.

The Popular Front

Hitler and the NAZIs came to power in Germany because of Stalin's insistance that the Communist Party play a disruptive role and reject any attempt at joining the moderate political parties (1933). The rising power of NAZI Germany finally convinced Stalin that the Communuists needed to join with moderate forces to make common cause against Fascism. Thus the Soviet-controlled Comitern announced a change in policy. The Seventh World Congress of the Comintern agreed to a major change in policy (1935). The new approach was to form a �popular front� with all progressive forces. This was to be a great politiocal coalition against Fascism. Communist parties around the world dutifully followed the Comitern (Stalin's) directives. The Common Front policies continued until the signing of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939). This was essentially an alliance between Stalin and Hitler and Communists who had been denouncing Fasism had to overnight completly change thir positions. World War II followed the signing of the Pact n a mattr of days. Communists were ordered to cease criticism of the NAZIs and labeled the War as an �imperialist� launched by Britain and France. The Communist resumed opposition to defense spending, especially in America, referring to it as �war-mongering�. Communist-dominated unions staged strikes in defense plants. Of course when the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Communists again immeditely changed their positions.


Churchill, Winston, S., "My grandfather invented Iraq," The Wall Street Journal (March 10, 2003), p. A18.

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Del Boca, Angelo. I gas di Mussolini. Il fascismo e la guerra d'Etiopia.

Waley, Daniel. "British Public Opinion and the Abyssinian War 1935-6".

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Created: October 1, 2002
Last updated: 5:27 AM 4/15/2014