Lecture: The Great War, Twenties, and Depression
The Great War was so named not because it was wonderful, but because it was very very big. It wasn't called World War One at the time because we didn't yet need to number them. In some ways, it was the world's biggest family feud. Most of the major crowned heads of Europe were Queen Victoria's grandchildren.
The foundations to the Great War lay in the Franco-Prussian War and the Balkan Crises.
The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) had been fought as the final struggle in the unification of Germany. If you are counting, this is the Second Reich (the first one was when Charlemagne unified the Germanic tribes, and the third emerging later in the 1930s). The unification of Germany was primarily the work of Otto von Bismarck (read the whole short bio), who through genius and trickery had gotten all the competing powers (Austria, Russia, Italy) to lay off and let Germany unify into a state under the dominance of its biggest province, Prussia. He tricked France into declaring war on Prussia in 1870.
A major factor in Prussia's victory had been the use of the machine gun. In adopting the new super-weapon, France had made mistakes. The French command had given the guns to the gunner corp, who worked with field artillery. They substituted some of the machine guns for some of the field artillery. This put the machine guns at the back of the infantry, and in the hands of specialists in big guns which shot artillery shells over their own troops at the enemy. The Prussians, however, did no substituting. They created a special machine gun corps and put them at the front, to mow down cavalry before infantry ever got into the act. Very smart. In battle, Prussian machine guns dispatched most of the French front line. The French rarely got to use their poorly located super-weapons.
At the end of the war, Kaiser Wilhelm II (note the Kaiser's family tree at this site) made France sign a humiliating peace treaty at the palace of Versailles, a location which was a symbol of French dominance. Wilhelm also insisted on taking a punitive piece of land: Alsace-Lorraine, two sleepy duchies on the border with Germany. France never forgave Germany.
The Balkan Crisis, the other foundation of the war, began in 1912 with a war: the Balkan League (made up of Serbs, Bulgars, Greeks, and Montenegrins) versus the Ottoman Empire. This war almost succeeded in pushing the Ottoman Turks out of Europe completely. But in 1913, the victorious Serbs and Bulgarians argued over the spoils. Greeks and Rumanians joined the Serbian claims. The Austro-Hungarian Empire sided with Bulgaria, hoping to limit Serbia's ability to dominate the area or access the Adriatic ports (this is the same reason Austria helped create Albania). Ottoman Turkey began diplomatic relations with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, hoping for support against all these troublesome Slavs. The Austro-Hungarian Empire stood ready, if necessary, for a "preventative" war in the region.
The Great War began in Bosnia in 1914. Bosnia, also Slavic, wanted independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She had been agitating for some time, and had some support from Serbia. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, decided to take his summer vacation in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia. It was a political move, to show that Bosnia was still part of the empire. He and his wife were assassinated by a Bosnian revolutionary teenager as they traveled down the street in their open car.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire held Serbia responsible for the assassination. The killer had been of Serbian ethnicity, and the Empire knew that Serbia was supporting Bosnian independence. The Empire demanded that Serbia take responsiblity, or there would be war. Serbia dawdled, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. It should have been a little war; Serbia had a little army, the Empire's was huge. Instead it became a world war.
Why? Because of the secret alliances and treaties that had formed all over Europe during the 19th century. These alliances were designed to protect nations in an era of increasing nationalism, independence movements, and German and Italian unification. So Serbia had a big secret ally: Russia, protector of the Slavs. The agreement said that if anyone attacked Serbia, Russia would come to her defense. So Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary had a secret treaty with Germany, saying if any major power declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany would come to her defense. So Germany declared war on Russia. Russia had a secret treaty with France, saying if either one of them were attacked by Germany, the other would come to defend. So France declared war on Germany.
Germany, desperate now that she would have to fight on two fronts, planned to attack France first and beat her quickly (she knew how, from the Franco-Prussian War). It would take time for the industrially backward Russia to mobilize anyway. But the only way to take Paris quickly was to go through Belgium, because the French had fortified the area west of Alsace-Lorraine. Belgium was a neutral country, and said no to the Germans just marching through to take Paris. Germany marched through anyway. Belgium had a secret treaty with Great Britain to protect her. Britain entered the war in August 1914, only a few weeks after the assassination of the Archduke. The Ottoman Empire entered soon on the side of Germany.
British and French troops would fight the Germans on this "Western Front" in Belgium and northern France for the entire war. One reason was, again, the machine gun. When troops with machine guns at the front (everyone had the right idea by now) faced off, the only way to hold position was to dig a trench so you could keep your head below fire. Your machine gun could then be mounted above the trench, to kill anyone trying to take your trench. Since both sides had machine guns, taking ground involved shelling the enemy trench until you thought everyone was dead, then jumping out of your trench and running across "no man's land" to the enemy's trench, hoping to hell there wasn't a single person left in the enemy trench to man the machine gun. The casualties were unbelievable. Hundreds were mowed down in a single charge. At Passchendaele in 1917, an advance of five miles cost 400,000 British casualties. Cavalry quickly became useless: what good was a horse in this situation?
The leadership was stunned. The British leadership handled things badly, according to numerous sources such as John Ellis' Social History of the Machine Gun (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975) and, frankly, pretty much every book I've ever read on the Great War. British officers had a long tradition of nobility (both literal and in a moral sense). They continued to believe that the will and courage of the individual soldier was more important than the technology. It took several years of war to convince them that machine guns, gas masks, and airplanes could win the war. In many instances, the leadership blundered and cost the lives of many men. In one case, infantry were sent "over the top" of their trench to attack the enemy after only a half hour of shelling because the British were short of ammunition. In another, senior officers were forbidden from accompanying the first charge, leaving their men (shown in the photo here) sitting around after taking a trench, waiting for orders while the Germans recovered and prepared to counterattack. At Gallipoli, pocket watches were not synchronized properly and men were ordered to wait to attack until five full minutes after artillery shelling stopped, giving the Turks plenty of time to re-man their trenches and their machine guns. I could go on and on, but it just makes me mad.
The average soldier was very likely to die in this war, by machine gun fire, disease in the trenches, or cold on the Eastern Front. If he survived, he would likely be subject to the newest illness, shell shock, where the mind went numb from the continual night shelling and the sight of total carnage. And these soldiers were, of course, not just from Britain proper. Many were colonials, fighting hard for the Empire, from India and Australia (as at Gallipoli) and, ahem, Scotland.
There are many places where you can read about the war itself. One of the best is Trenches on the Web. The Western Front remained a stalemate; neither side advanced more than a hundred miles or so from the original trenches dug in 1914. The Eastern Front was lost by Russia, which in 1917 experienced her Bolshevik Revolution, pulling her out of the war with great loss of land. In the south, Italy would join the Allies, forcing Austria-Hungary to fight on a southern front. The Americans would enter the war in 1917, after much convincing by the Allies (and the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats). And in the Dardanelles, with the failure of the battle at Gallipoli, the Turks managed to hold position and keep the British from supplying the Russians through the Black Sea.
For the British, however, there were important victories that led to triumph. They held the Western Front. And they helped tear apart the Ottoman Empire using T.E. Lawrence, an army officer with a special interest in Arab culture. The Ottoman Empire had dominated the Arabs for centuries, using a divide-and-conquer strategy to control the Arabian peninsula. Dividing wasn't a problem, as the different Arab tribes competed against each other. Lawrence was sent to convince the tribes to unify and overthrow the Ottoman Turks. He was successful, providing them with leadership and supplies and the promise of their own state when it was done. In 1916 the Ottoman Empire caved in, and the Dardenelles were open to British shipping, which helped Russia until she had to pull out anyway.
The entrance of the U.S. in 1917 brought fresh blood to the Western Front, where Germany had turned its full force after closing the East. The Allies won. The score was: 10 million dead, 20 million wounded.
The Irish War of Independence (1916-21)
To understand the Irish situation during the war, you have to go back to Victorian Home Rule. The Home Rule League (founded in 1870) had been led by Charles Parnell, who had an American mother and was raised Protestant. This League had controlled the Irish Members of Parliament, agitating for Home Rule and disrupting Parliamentary business. The League made a deal with Gladstone: allow 100,000 Irish people (who had been unable to pay their rent due to low American grain prices competing with their crops and been evicted) freedom from debt in return for League cooperation and an end to disruptions. But in 1882 Irish extremists murdered the new Chief Secretary for Ireland (Lord Cavendish) and his undersecretary in Dublin. This act of violence discredited Parnell, who dropped all agitation and eventually allied with Gladstone, causing a split in the Liberal Party over the Home Rule Bill.
From the 1890s to the 1910s, Conservatives and Liberals fought for the Irish MP votes. Liberals, for example, created a tax-funded state school system with a "four-fifths clause": all schools would be non-denominational except those where four-fifths of the students were of a single faith. This meant the first funding for Catholic schools in Ireland. Both parties gave land to peasants, and permitted local government, in an effort to gain votes.
The Great War brought high prices and prosperity to Ireland, but independence remained a pipe dream. Ulster Protestants did not want to be dominated by Catholics in an independent Ireland. Tories, wanting Irish Protestant votes, vetoed all bills for independence. The Irish independence party ("Sinn Fein", meaning "ourselves alone") favored Home Rule, but its more radical members also joined a secret society backing total independence. This secret society was extremist. Two of its members, Pearse and Connolly, staged an event that got attention in England. In 1916, outside the post office, Pearse proclaimed the Irish Republic and Connolly led gunmen in clearing the building. It was an act designed to spawn a revolution, but nobody came. The public did not support the act. However, the group of rebels eventually took over eleven other government buildings, so the British responded. This response led to five days of shooting and artillery action in town, with lots of property destruction. The British over-reaction drove moderates into the Sinn Fein, which won all of the Irish MP seats outside of Ulster that year. This group began to meet in Dublin as its own government, setting up courts and police and their own army, the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Listen to Eamon De Valera (leader of the Sinn Fein from 1917) reminisce about this "Easter Rising".
David Lloyd George's government used the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary -- the police) to control the rebels, but they were attacked by the IRA. The government then reinforced the RIC with the "Black and Tans" (named for their uniform). These men were anti-Irish, and enjoyed burning buildings, raiding homes, torturing innocent people, shooting Irish folks, and disobeying the law. The result was full-scale war, and a model of how to mess up an empire. As Ireland fought for independence, she provided an example for extreme nationalists everywhere to fight imperialism. Although the IRA was beaten, the moral victory seemed to be theirs. Lloyd George made Ireland a dominion, temporarily partitioning it into Ulster (Protestant) and the south (Catholic). The Catholic section would become independent, becoming the Republic of Ireland in 1937.
Treaties at Versailles
The Great Peace turned out to be even more complicated than the Great War. The Versailles Conference in 1918-19 was controlled by four men: David Lloyd George of Britain (who brought his mistress to vacation in Paris), Woodrow Wilson of the U.S. (who wanted to make the world safe for democracy), Georges Clemenceau of France (who wanted to crush Germany forever), and Orlando of Italy (who was ignored because Italy had joined the Allies so late). Wilson wanted to control the proceedings and provide guidance to Europe with his Fourteen Points, which included a provision outlawing secret treaties between nations. He wanted to prevent another war. But Clemenceau wanted revenge against Germany, and he got it: Germany would be allowed no air force, only a tiny defensive force, and would have to assume guilt for starting the war and pay for all the losses. Wilson also wanted imperialism to evolve into a system of cooperation between European countries and native peoples. Lloyd George didn't want that, and the Mandate system that developed left Britain in charge of all her colonies.
Most importantly, Britain and France wanted to gain more colonies by taking them from Germany. All German colonies were divided between them. This is how Britain acquired southeast Africa. The Ottoman Empire was of great concern. Although T.E. Lawrence had been told to promise the Arabs their own state (he was there at the conference), Britain had no intention of creating an Arab state. France and Britain divided up the territory. France got the areas that became Syria and Lebanon; Britain got Palestine and Jordan. Mustafa Kemal, who had led the Turks at Gallipoli, led them politically in saving Turkey from being carved up (sorry, no pun intended)-- the nation of Turkey was founded independently and became the last vestige of the empire.
There was no need to break up Austria-Hungary. She had self-destructed from a combination of defeat and internal nationalism among Hungarians, Magyars, Slavs and others each wanting their own state. Although Wilson had petitioned for self-determination, the weird state of Yugoslavia ("land of all Slavs") was created, throwing together Bosnians, Serbs and Muslims in a stew that would ultimately become explosive. Russia was given back some of the land she'd given up in respect for her role on the Eastern Front; she was now the Soviet Union.
Alsace-Lorraine was mentioned separately in the treaty. France, naturally, took it back. The whole treaty production was held at Versailles just so France could avenge herself on the Franco-Prussian War humiliation. Germany will take the region again in World War II. People in Alsace-Lorraine speak both French and German to this day, just in case.
Many say that the Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds for future war, either by being too rough on Germany or by being too lenient. Certainly a League of Nations, hampered by the lack of the U.S. as a member, could not handle what would happen. Perhaps one problem was that Britain saw the treaty as essentially a balance-of-power issue, but this was not possible with no more Austria-Hungary to conrol Central Europe, a weak and communist Russia, and a continuation of a united Germany containing a large population.
Culture in the Twenties
The post-war years were not as happy in Britain as they've been portrayed in American movies. Like all the nations of Europe and America, Britain experienced the crippling influenza epidemic as the war ended. It took 150,000 lives in England and Wales alone. And, to a certain extent, the heart had gone out of the nation, with the loss of 750,000 men and the wounding of over twice as many in the war itself. The war caused a general anxiety about the capacity of human brutality, the "Decline of the West" (as Spengler put it) in morality, and the misplaced faith in technology. The war seemed to prove that machines were more important than men.
For many aristocratic officers, who were elite in society back home, the discovery was a shock, and an example of their own uselessness. They had been powerless on the field, to stop the carnage or to lead men. It was hard to maintain their elitism; many resorted in the 20s to a kind of idleness, where leisure and sports were the things to do. Writer P.G. Wodehouse gently parodied this type of aristocrat in his Jeeves novels.
Indeed, the 20s were a great sporting age in Britain. Perhaps this was a response to the unsportsmanlike aspects of the war, but Brits began to herald teamwork, individual heroism, and fair play as the hallmarks of civilization. The Olympic Games had been revived from antiquity back in 1896, and during the 20s and 30s British teams participated and won in many events. There seemed to be an effort to prove that international competition need not be a bloodbath.
Other aspects of society were changing too, especially the role of women. In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters had founded the Women's Social and Political Union, vainly petitioning the Liberal government for women's suffrage. By 1912, the group had become radical and violent. Why? Because the Liberal party seemed to offer the franchise to almost everyone else. They had become the party of equal opportunity, reforming politics and expanding voting rights. But to the women they always said no. Suffragettes responded by damaging property: they broke windows, slashed paintings, burned buildings, vandalized, and painted "Votes for Women" on every surface they could find. Other suffragists engaged in acts of civil disobedience, and were willing to be arrested, beaten, or even killed (like Emily Davison) in the cause of women's rights.
By the time of the Great War, over 53,000 women were members of suffrage societies. Many engaged in peaceful agitation, and accused the violent suffragettes of creating a backlash against women's rights. But together, war participation and continuing agitation achieved the goal. During the war, nearly one million women entered the work force to do men's jobs. (See your document Women in the Factories (1917).) And suffragette violence did seem to accomplish one thing: it kept the issue of the vote up front, preventing further delay. Workers had used similar tactics since 1910 to force Parliament to listen to them, engaging in violent strikes and protests, and it had worked -- the government had to respond. The same thing was achieved by suffragists, who were "rewarded" for their war participation with the vote in 1918.
Women were also leaders of the peace movement during the Great War, since they had the most to lose (i.e. sons, fathers and husbands). British women participated in groups like International Women for Peace and Freedom (a brief history is here), founded in the Netherlands in 1915. Peace movements tend to be seen as anti-patriotic, although many women engaged in activities to end the war spent the rest of their time rolling bandages and helping with the war effort.
The achievement of suffrage after the war was a symbol of a larger female emancipation that had begun a generation before. The Victorian image was dying. Science and modernity seemed to undermine traditional morality and assumptions about the social position of females. Sigmund Freud was an influence, with his work on dreams and popular ideas of freeing both sexes from sexual repression. Laws began to change. The Matrimonial Act of 1922 equalized grounds for dissolution of marriage. And the 20s also saw the beginnings of women being admitted to the civil service, to universities, to medical schools, and to the bar to practice law. Some women became professionals. Of course, many changed their appearance as well, divesting themselves of the Victorian look. Some women cut ("bobbed") their hair, threw out their corsets, drank alcohol in public, smoked, and wore more relaxed dress. At first it was just young elite women who did these things, but it set a trend. The Victorian era was over.
Cultural changes spread with the advent of radio, the automobile, and the cinema, all of which were invented around 1895 and were common by the 1920s. Light bulbs, electric stoves and heaters literally made the world brighter and warmer and safer. The new chemicals led to plastics and gasoline for cars and construction equipment, and improved rubber (from the colonies) went into tires and condoms. New scientific theories became the topic of popular discussion. British Broadcasting Company (BBC) radio programs focused on news and education, and there was a great demand for discussion of Einstein's theories. His ideas of relativity fit in well with the death of certainty so evident after the war.
The Depression of the 20s
The "Great Depression", to students of American history, happened in the 1930s. But in Britain, it happened in the 20s. From the end of the war until 1939, the British economy was subject to sudden cycles of boom and bust.
In 1919 there was a brief post-war boom, with lots of consumer spending. Capitalists invested in overexpanded industries, and prices went up by 10% while wages didn't, leading to strikes and protests. The government took the pound off the gold standard, using the cheaper money to fund housing and education.
Then a slump came, partly caused by American competition. The U.S. took over many of Britain's South American and Asian markets after the war, and was able to easily expand heavy industry since so little had been diverted for the short-term war effort. Britain was still recovering, with a war debt. She was an easy mark for global competition in iron, cotton, shipping, and mechanized coal mining (which Britain tried to subsidize, then privatize) from Japan, Germany, and the U.S. By 1925, Britain returned to the gold standard to increase the value of the pound, which helped bankers and importers but caused British exports to be too expensive for other countries to afford. As exports went down, wages went down, and more strikes occurred. A massive General Strike in 1926 nearly brought the government to a standstill as other industries supported striking coal miners.
Unemployment skyrocketed. Then in 1929, the U.S. stock market crashed, and world trade declined as all trading nations pulled back investment and focused on their own economies. The Labour Party (founded in 1906) was in power. Its continuation of unemployment insurance (the "dole") began to bankrupt the government with so many people out of work. A financial crisis ensued, where the Bank of England had to ask for credit from France and the U.S. The Labour Party was thrown into a coalition government, which then raised tariffs (though not on food or raw materials) and cut spending. But this new government continued the dole, without which they would have been unpopular. By 1934, there was some improvement, although unemployment continued, as George Orwell noted. But by then, fascism was becoming a threat in Europe.
There are several possible solutions when your economy is in trouble. You can increase spending and try to take care of the unemployed, as socialist-style programs in Britain, Scandinavia, and America (the New Deal) tried to do. But there are other possibilities. You can expand militarily, which keeps the economy rolling in a state of continual war production while acquiring materials. Fascism and expansionism can correct depressions using this technique.
Fascism: Italy, Germany and Spain
Fascism began in Italy during the 1920s. Despite war participation and losses, Italy had not been taken seriously as a victor at Versailles. Despite imperialist hopes, she had been given only a small slice of north Africa. The humiliation at Versailles, combined with a fear of communist rebellion (encouraged world-wide by the Communist International from 1919 onwards), led Italy toward fascism. The "fascisti" is a bundle of sticks, a symbol of the old Roman Empire. Each stick can be broken individually, but together they are unbreakable. Benito Mussolini developed a philosophy of loyalty to the state that superseded both individualism and communism, and provided direction and stability: fascism. He controlled the Italian government from 1922 until the end of World War II. Italy began military production, got herself out of the depression, and expanded into Abyssinia in 1935 (the League of Nations condemned this but could do nothing) and joined with Hitler to create the Axis in 1936.
Germany, you'll recall, had also been humiliated at Versailles, and far more than Italy. The worst humiliations were the "war guilt" clause blaming her for starting the Great War, and the reparations designed to make her pay for it. You'll recall that economist John Maynard Keynes thought that these reparations were a very bad idea. Most Germans agreed. The Treaty had also foisted upon Germany a republican government, which she had never had in her entire history, having always been ruled by aristocrats. This Weimar Republic was supported to the extent possible by European republics and U.S. investment. During the 20s, Germany experienced a false prosperity, where the middle class was enriched by foreign investment in industry.
In 1923 the weakness of the system became apparent. Unable to pay reparations, Germany's Ruhr Valley, the last remaining source of raw materials, was occupied by French troops. This loss of the last support for the economy led to hyper-inflation. Where the German mark was worth 4 for every American dollar in 1919, in 1923 it was worth 4.3 trillion to the dollar. You couldn't buy a loaf of bread for your whole life savings. The entire monetary system had to be scrapped, and the government issued new currency, backed by foreign investment. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and U.S. money was pulled out, Germany plunged quickly into depression.
The National Socialist (Nazi) party was very appealing under these conditions. It won the most seats in the Reichstag out of 36 political parties in 1933, and soon its candidate, Adolf Hitler, would become chancellor to President von Hindenburg's fading Weimar Republic. The Nazis were fascist, based on Mussolini's theory, but there was more: a goal to end German humiliation, to rebuild the German Reich, to expand Germany, to give youth hope and a future. And, of course, part of this program was anti-Semitic, as many Nazis felt that the Jews (being international in their connections, like communists) had caused the fall of their great nation. Hitler was happy to discover that Germany had been secretly re-arming since 1922, under secret treaty with the Soviet Union. In 1933, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and brought war technology home from her secret bases in the Soviet Union. Hitler and Mussolini created an alliance called the Axis (the idea was that a line from Rome to Berlin would create an axis around which the whole world would turn). The "re-unification" of the Reich began, first with the Anschluss in Austria (1938), then the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had been one of the weird countries carved out of eastern Europe, a mix of Czechs and Bohemians in the west and slavs in the east. Hitler said that the German speakers in the west belonged in the Reich. British P.M. Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich, and returned to England reassured, as you'll hear in his speech, that German expansion was finished.
But it wasn't. Germany would take over the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Meanwhile, Spain had provided an opportunity to test German and Italian might. In 1936, a Civil War began in Spain between the republican government and the fascists. As one might expect, Hitler and Mussolini used this opportunity to support fascism, and to test their new weapons. The Soviet Union backed the republican government. Although Britain, and the U.S., stayed out of the war, a great many English-speaking individuals joined it on the side of the republicans. The fascists won, so by 1939 there were three fascist nations, although Spain remained independent.
Japan and the Soviet Union
Meanwhile, Japan was expanding too. In 1902, Japan had formed an alliance with Britain to protect herself from Russian naval expansion (which was financed by France). This alliance enabled Britain to have an ally in Asia, and Japan's victory against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) cemented the agreement. At the same time, Britain was trying to cooperate with France over colonies, so she didn't make a big deal about Japan.
In the Great War, Japan had allied with Britain and helped take some German possessions in Asia. Japan then tried to take advantage of the republican revolution in China by taking Chinese territory, but Britain and the U.S. dissuaded her. At Versailles Japan was treated like a little brother. The representative brought forward a proposal for racial equality to go into the treaty; it was rejected. The U.S. began to lobby for limitations to be placed on the Japanese navy. During the 20s, as I've noted, Japan became a competitor to Britain in trade. The relationship between Japan and the west was souring, and in 1930 representatives from Britain and the U.S. coerced Japan into accepting limitations on her shipping tonnage.
In 1931, Japan moved on her own, taking over Manchuria. The global depression had hit hard in a country dependent on food imports. An increasingly militaristic government felt it was time for Japan to create an empire, as European powers had already done. Colonies would create sources of raw materials and thus Japanese self-sufficiency. But China, which Japan invaded in 1937, turned out to not be enough, because Japan was dependent on the United States for steel and oil. The solution was to take advantage of the European war in 1939 to take the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia. When Japan did this, the U.S. cut off all steel and oil shipments, and objected vociferously. In response, Japan joined the Axis, which would force the U.S. to fight on two 3,000 mile distant fronts in the event she joined the war.
The Soviet Union, of course, had been founded in 1917 during the Great War. Her extreme losses (both human and territorial) had led to mutiny and revolution, with the Bolsheviks the group that promised peace and delivered it. From 1918-20 the Bolsheviks had to fight and win a civil war against other political groups, Tsarists, and foreign troops (including Americans) to hold their tenuous position. During the 20s, Lenin created the New Economic Program, which allowed a certain amount of capitalistic enterprise on the road to socialism. Then Stalin began massive industrialization, designed to create heavy industry products (such as tractors) to sell to the world. When the stock market crashed, there was nowhere to sell this equipment. The Soviet Union supported anti-fascist and communist movements in Europe (such as in the Spanish Civil War), but eventually had to form an agreement with the Nazis to prevent war.
A Domestic Affair
Although foreign affairs caused a great deal of discussion and consternation in Britain, in 1936 there was bigger news at home. In January of that year, King George V died, and his son Edward became king. Edward VIII was, however, in love with Wallis Simpson, an American who had been twice divorced. As you know, the Anglican Church does not permit remarriage under such a circumstance, and tends to consider divorce a sin. Many in the government and in the public were also accustomed to the simple morality and genuine piety that his father had shown while king. Prime Minister Baldwin convinced Edward that he had to choose between his love and his throne.
In a move styled the most romantic ever, Edward chose Wallis Simpson. He abdicated his throne in favor of his brother, George VI. Edward and Wallis became the couple of the century, invited to every party of the elites. Parliament conferred upon him the title "Duke of Windsor" (Victoria's family name had been Saxe-Coburg but was changed during the Great War because it was German, to Windsor). Edward's abdication still stands as one of the most romantic acts of all time. You can listen to his abdication speech.
So what did the future hold as of the 1930s? For some, the threat of science gone out of control, as in Aldoux Huxley's Brave New World.
For others, life was full of things to do and new amenities, like those mentioned by Molly Hughes in London Between the Wars.
And for many, the 1930s were a time of peace and contentment with the Commonwealth, which under George V had been managed wisely and allowed more autonomy (especially in India and Ireland). You can hear the king himself speak about the Commonwealth at his Silver Jubilee in 1935. As he says, much of the world was at peace. Until the Germans marched into Poland in September 1939.
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