Chapter 21. The Interwar Years and World War II, 1918-1945
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: The two decades following World War I were characterized by an economic depression and social and cultural insecurity which led to the rise of fascism and World War II.
• The interwar years, the 1920s and 1930s, were years of economic, social, and cultural uncertainty.
• In 1928, Joseph stalin instituted the first of a series of five-year plans that transformed the Soviet Union into an industrial economy and created a culture of conformity.
• In 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crash crippled an already fragile European economy, triggering the Great Depression.
• Fascism—an ideology of the downtrodden which pandered to nationalism, racism, and fantasies of military glory—flourished in Europe.
• In 1938 and 1939, Germany's Adolf Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles with a series of aggressions that triggered, on 1 September 1939, World War II.
New Economic Plan
Soviet Constitution of 1923
socialism in one country
collectivization of agriculture
National Socialist German Workers' Party
Cartel des Gauches
Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact
The 1920s was a period of deep uncertainty, as the population of Europe grappled with the experiences and consequences of World War I. In the 1930s, the politics of the extreme flourished, as Fascism emerged as an ideology that appealed to the downtrodden. By 1939, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party controlled Germany, and his systematic repudiation of the Versailles Treaty led to World War II which raged from 1939 to 1945.
The Interwar Years
The men who survived the Great War, as World War I was called in the 1920s and 1930s, came home to a world of economic, social, and cultural uncertainty.
Problems and Challenges after World War I
Governments had borrowed heavily to finance their war efforts and now interest payments were coming due. The need to pay out enormous sums in veteran and war widow benefits and unemployment benefits further burdened the economies. The inability of economies to meet the reviving demand for goods added inflation to an already grim economic mix. Across Europe, for the first 10 years following the war, Europe experienced a roller-coaster economy, as recessions followed brief periods of prosperity.
Socially, conditions were equally uncertain. Class deference was a casualty of World War I; lingering notions that the wealthier classes were somehow superior to working people were eroded by the experience of working and fighting side by side. Traditional views on gender had also been challenged by the war-time need to suspend restrictions on where and how women worked. In rapid succession, women across Europe gained the right to vote and fought to hold onto the greater freedom they had enjoyed during the war years.
Politically, the uncertainty fuelled continued radicalization. In France, ultraconservative and socialist parties vied for power. In Britain, the war-time coalition government led by David Lloyd George stayed intact and won another term in office, but the Labour Party made great gains at the expense of the Liberals. The various subjects of the British Empire, who had supported Britain in the war effort, now began to demand that their loyalty and sacrifice be rewarded, and independence movements coalesced in Ireland and India. In the newly created or reconstituted nations of East-Central Europe—Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia—liberal democracy failed to take root and right-wing authoritarian regimes came to power.
The cultural developments of the interwar years also reflected the deep uncertainty of the period. The 1920s have often been referred to as “the roaring twenties.” The cabaret culture, where men and women mixed easily, seemed to reflect a loosening of social conventions and a pursuit of pleasure after the sacrifices of the war years. But cultural historians have increasingly pointed out that the culture of the interwar years seemed to reflect a deep anxiety for the future. An excellent example is Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1925). Filmmaking became a popular art form in the interwar years and film stars became celebrities whose lifestyle seemed to epitomize the roaring twenties, but Lang’s Metropolis depicts a world in which humans are dwarfed by an impersonal world of their own creation. Similarly, T. S. Eliot’s epic poem, The Wasteland (1922) depicts a world devoid of purpose or meaning.
The Weimar Republic in Germany
The problems and uncertainties of the interwar years were felt most keenly in Germany. The new government, known as the Weimar Republic, was a liberal democracy led by a moderate Social Democrat, Friedrich Ebert. It was a government doomed to failure by several factors:
• Liberal democracy was a form of government largely alien to the German people, whose allegiance had been to the Kaiser.
• It was a government that was perceived to have been imposed on Germany by its vengeful war enemies.
• It was wrongly blamed for the humiliating nature of the Treaty of Versailles.
• It was faced with insurmountable economic problems, as the general economic difficulties of interwar Europe were compounded by Germany’s need to pay the huge war reparations imposed on it.
Almost immediately, the government of the Weimar Republic was challenged by Marxist revolutionaries, known as Spartacists, led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht, who were dedicated to bringing a socialist revolution to Germany. In order to defeat them, Ebert turned to the old imperial army officers, who formed regiments of war veterans known as the Freikorps (or Free Corps). Once the right-wing forces gained the upper hand, they too tried to overthrow the Weimar government in a coup attempt in 1920 that has come to be known as the Kapp Putsch. The government was saved, ironically, by the workers of Germany, who forced the right-wing insurgents to step down by staging a general strike. Just as the Weimar government began to stabilize, it found itself unable to pay the reparations demanded of it. When the French occupied the Ruhr Valley in retaliation, Germans again went on strike. The overwhelming uncertainty caused by the situation triggered hyper-inflation that made German currency essentially worthless.
The Soviet Union in Economic Ruins
By the onset of the 1920s, the bloody civil war between the monarchist “Whites” and the Bolshevik-led “Reds” was finally over and Lenin held uncontested leadership of Russia. But it was a country in ruins, whose people could find neither jobs nor food. In order to deal with the crisis, Lenin launched the New Economic Plan (NEP), which allowed rural peasants and small-business operators to manage their own land and businesses and to sell their products. This temporary compromise with capitalism worked well enough to get the Russian economy functioning again.
In July of 1923, Lenin constructed The Soviet Constitution of1923. On paper it created a Federal State, renamed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but, in practice, power continued to emanate from Lenin and the city that he named the capital in 1918, Moscow. Lenin died unexpectedly from a series of strokes in 1924. The man who won the power struggle to succeed him was the Communist Party Secretary, Joseph Stalin. From 1924 to 1929, Stalin used a divide and conquer strategy combined with his control of the party bureaucracy to gain full control of the party and, thereby, of the Soviet Union. In the autumn of 1924, Stalin announced, in a doctrine that came to be known as socialism in one country, that the Soviet Union would abandon the notion of a worldwide socialist revolution and concentrate on making the Soviet Union a successful socialist state.
In 1928, Stalin ended the NEP and initiated the first of a series offive-year plans, which rejected all notions of private enterprise and initiated the building of state-owned factories and power stations. As an extension of the plan, Stalin pursued the collectivization of agriculture, destroying the culture of the peasant village and replacing it with one organized around huge collective farms. The peasants resisted and were killed, starved, or driven into Siberia in numbers that can only be estimated but which may have been as high as eight million.
Between 1935 and 1939, Stalin set out to eliminate all centers of independent thought and action within the party and the government. In a series of purges, somewhere between seven and eight million Soviet citizens were arrested. At least a million of those were executed, while the rest were sent to work camps known as gulags. The end result was a system that demanded and rewarded complete conformity to the vision of the Communist Party as dictated by Stalin.
The Great Depression
The post-World War I European economy was built on a fragile combination of international loans (mostly from the United States), reparations payments, and foreign trade. In October of 1929, the New York stock market crashed, with stocks losing almost two-thirds of their value. Unable to obtain further credit, trade dried up. The result was an economic collapse that has come to be known as the Great Depression. Attempts to deal with the problem in traditional ways—by cutting government expenditure, tightening the supply of money, and raising tariffs on imported goods—only made things worse. By 1932, the economies of Europe were performing at levels that were only half those of 1929. Jobs became scarce as the economy contracted and large segments of the population fell into poverty.
The British economist John Maynard Keynes argued that governments needed to increase their expenditures and run temporary deficits in order to “jump start” the stagnant economy, but his ideas were only slowly accepted. Europe’s economies recovered very slowly and, in the interim, parts of Europe succumbed to a new ideology of the desperate and downtrodden, fascism.
The Rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany
Historians struggle with definitions of fascism because it has no coherent ideology and its form varied from nation to nation. But all fascism was a mixture, to one degree or another, of the following ingredients:
• an intense form of nationalism
• a professed belief in the virtues of struggle and youth
• a fanatical obedience to a charismatic leader
• an expressed hatred of socialism and liberalism
Mussolini and Italian Fascism
The birthplace of fascism was Italy, which became the first country in Europe to have a fascist government. Italy, though a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, had originally chosen to remain neutral in World War I. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Entente in hopes of gaining lands from Austria-Hungary. Italian war veterans returned home doubly disillusioned, as the war experience turned out to be a nightmare and Italy gained nothing in the peace settlement. One such veteran, a former socialist named Benito Mussolini, founded the National Fascist Party in 1919. The new party began to field candidates for the Italian legislature and to establish itself as the party that could save Italy from the threat of socialism. By 1922, squads of fascist Blackshirts (squadristi), largely recruited from disgruntled war veterans, were doing battle with bands of socialist “Redshirts,” and the Italian government was increasingly unable to keep order. In October of 1922, Mussolini organized 20,000 fascist supporters and announced his intention to march on Rome. King Victor Emmanuel III responded by naming Mussolini Prime Minister of the Italian government.
Mussolini quickly moved to consolidate his power by pushing through a number of constitutional changes. A showdown between Mussolini and what parliamentary forces still existed in Italy came in the summer of 1924, when Fascists were implicated in the murder of the socialist member of the Italian parliament, Giacomo Matteotti. The masses supported Mussolini, and by early 1926 all opposition parties had been dissolved and declared illegal, making Mussolini the effective dictator of Italy.
Hitler and German Nazism
Understanding the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany requires an understanding of the post-World War I context. War-time propaganda had led the German public to believe that the war was going well. As a result, Germany’s surrender came as an inexplicable shock. The peace settlement seemed unfair and unduly harsh, and there was a growing sense among the German people that Germany must have been betrayed. In that context, the Nazis became popular by telling the German people several things they desperately wanted to hear:
• The Nazis appealed to displaced veterans and young people by telling them that they would build a Germany that had a place for them.
• They promised to get rid of the hated war reparations and to return Germany to military greatness.
• They provided the Germans with someone to blame for defeat on by claiming that the Jews had betrayed Germany.
• They appealed to frightened business interests and the Church in Germany by promising to protect them from the socialists.
The so-called National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), or the Nazi Party, began as a small right-wing group and one of the more than 70 extremist paramilitary organizations that sprang up in postwar Germany. It was neither socialist nor did it attract many workers; it was a party initially made up of war veterans and misfits. The man responsible for its rise to power in Germany was Adolf Hitler, a failed Austrian art student and war veteran.
Hitler incorporated military attitudes and techniques, as well as expert propaganda, to turn the NSDAP into a tightly knit organization with mass appeal. Hitler and the Nazis made their first bid for power in November of 1923 in the “Beer Hall putsch,” when they tried to stage a coup to topple the Bavarian government in Munich. It failed, but Hitler gained national attention in the subsequent trial where he publicly decried the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and espoused his views of racial nationalism. Years of reorganization and building of grass-roots support produced significant electoral gains in the elections of 1930.
In the elections of 1932, the Nazis won over 35 percent of the vote. Hitler refused to take part in a coalition government and the German president, the aging military hero Paul von Hindenburg, made the crucial decision to appoint Hitler Chancellor of Germany (the equivalent of Prime Minister). Early in 1933, the German parliament building, the Reichstag, burned down. Hitler declared a state of emergency and assumed dictatorial powers. He then used them to eliminate socialist opposition to Nazi rule. In the elections of 1933, Nazis won 288 seats out of 647. With the support of 52 deputies of the nationalist party, and in the absence of communist deputies that were under arrest, the Nazis were able to rule with a majority. By bullying the Reichstag into passing the Enabling Act of March 1933, Hitler was essentially free to rule as a dictator.
Dictatorship in Spain and Portugal: Franco and Salazar
In both countries, Western-style parliamentary governments faced opposition from the Church, the army, and large landowners. In 1926, army officers overthrew the Portuguese republic that had been created in 1910, and gradually Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, an economics professor, became dictator.
In Spain, antimonarchist parties won the election of 1931 and King Alphonso XIII fled as the new Spanish Republic was set up. When a socialist cartel won the election of 1936, General Francisco Franco led a revolt against the Republic from Spanish Morocco, plunging Spain into a bloody civil war. Franco received support from the Spanish monarchy and Church, while Germany and Italy sent money and equipment. The Republic was defended by brigades of volunteers from around the world (famous writers George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway were among them), and eventually received aid from the Soviet Union. The technological might provided by the Germans allowed Franco’s forces to overwhelm the defenders of the Republic. Pablo Picasso’s 25-foot long mural Guernica (1937), depicting the bombing of the town of Guernica by German planes in 1937, poignantly illustrated the nature of the mismatch. By 1939, Franco ruled Spain as a dictator.
Fascism in France
During the war, France had essentially been administered by the military. At the war’s conclusion, the Parliament rushed to reassert its dominance and France was governed by moderate coalitions. But the elections of 1924 swept the Carteldes Gauches, a coalition of socialist parties, to power, causing a reaction in the form of a flurry of fascist organizations, with names like Action Francaise, The Legion, and the Jeunesses Patriots. These organizations remained on the political fringe, but they provided extremist opposition and a source of antisemitism which became prominent in the collaboration of the Vichy regime during the German occupation of France in World War II.
Fascism in Britain
In Great Britain, small right-wing extremist groups were united in the 1930s under the leadership of Sir George Oswald Mosley, who created the British Union of Fascists. They were united by their hatred of socialism and their antisemitism. Although never politically significant in Britain, the BUF did cause mount a serious public disturbance in October of 1934 when they battled with socialists and Jewish groups in an incident that has come to be known as the “Battle of Cable Street.” More importantly, the existence of the BUF and the initial reluctance of the British Government to ban them, demonstrate the existence of some sympathy for their authoritarian and antisemitic views among powerful people in Britain. Once the war broke out, the BUF was banned and Mosley was jailed.
The Road to World War II
Hitler had come to power by promising to repudiate the Treaty of Versailles. In March of 1936, he took his first big step by moving his revitalized armed forces into the Rhineland, the area on the west bank of the Rhine River that the treaty had deemed a demilitarized zone. When that move provoked no substantive response from France or Britain, Hitler embarked on a series of moves to the east that eventually triggered World War II:
• In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria without opposition (an event sometimes referred to as the Anschluss).
• Hitler then claimed the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia that was home to 3.5 million German speakers.
• Britain reacted with what has been called a policy of appeasement, agreeing in the Munich Agreement of September of 1938 to allow Hitler to take the Sudentenland over Czech objections in exchange for his promise that there would be no further aggression.
• In March 1939, Hitler broke the Munich Agreement by invading Czechoslovakia.
• As Hitler threatened Poland, the hope of Soviet intervention was dashed by the surprise announcement, on 23 August of 1939 of a Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, guaranteeing Soviet neutrality in return for part of Poland.
• On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland.
• On 3 September 1939, both France and Britain declared war on Germany.
In order to understand why Britain followed a policy of appeasement and was slow to recognize the pattern of aggressive expansion in Hitler’s actions in 1938 and 1939, one has to take into account the following:
• Britain and her allies, unlike Hitler’s Germany, had not begun any kind of military build-up and were in no position to back up any ultimatums they might give to Hitler.
• Unlike the Germans, many of whom thought things could get no worse and were eager to avenge the humiliation of defeat in World War I, the British public hoped that they had fought and won the “war to end all wars,” and wanted no part of renewed hostilities.
• Many of the British leaders privately agreed with the Germans that the Versailles Treaty had been unprecedented and unwarranted.
• Given British public opinion, a decision to pursue a military response to Hitler’s actions would have been political suicide for British leaders.
The Course of the War
Blitzkrieg and "the Phony War" (1939-1940)
As Germany invaded Poland, Britain and France were not yet in a military position to offer much help. The Poles fought bravely, but were easily overrun by the German blitzkrieg, or lightning war, which combined air strikes and the rapid deployment of tanks and highly mobile units. Poland fell to Germany in a month.
Meanwhile, Britain sent divisions to France and the British and French general staffs coordinated strategy. But the strategy was the purely defensive one of awaiting a German assault behind the Maginot Line, a vast complex of tank traps, fixed artillery sites, subterranean railways, and living quarters, which paralleled the Franco-German border but failed to protect the border between France and Belgium. Over the winter of 1939 and 1940, war was going on at sea, but on land and in the air there was a virtual stand-still that has come to be termed “the phony war.” During the lull, however, the Soviet Union acted on its agreement with Hitler, annexing territories in Poland and eastern Europe, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and invading Finland.
The Battles of France and Britain (1940)
In April of 1940, the phony war came to an abrupt end as the German blitzkrieg moved into Norway and Denmark to prevent Allied intervention in Scandinavia and to secure Germany’s access to vital iron ore supplies, and then into Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands in preparation for an all-out attack on France.
By early June 1940, the German army was well inside France. The Maginot Line proved useless against the mobility of the German tanks, which skirted the Line by going north through the Ardennes Forest. On 14 June 1940, German troops entered Paris. Two days later the aging General, Marshal Pétain, assumed control of France and signed an armistice with Germany according to which the German army, at French expense, occupied the northern half of France, including the entire Atlantic coast, while Pétain himself governed the rest from the city of Vichy. Not all of France was happy with the deal. General Charlesde Gaulle escaped to Britain and declared himself head of a free French government. In France, many joined a Free-French movement that provided active resistance to German occupation throughout the remainder of the war.
In Britain, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had been the architect of Britain’s appeasement policy, resigned. King George VI turned to the 65-year-old Winston Churchill, who had been nearly the lone critic of the appeasement policy. Churchill used his oratory skill throughout the war to bolster moral and strengthen the Allies’ resolve. The German blitzkrieg now drove to the English Channel, trapping the Allied Army at the small seaport of Dunkirk. In an episode that has come to be known as “the Miracle of Dunkirk,” more than 338,000 Allied troops (224,000 of them British) surrounded on all sides by advancing German units, were rescued by a motley flotilla of naval vessels, private yachts, trawlers, and motorboats. The episode buoyed British spirits, but Churchill was somber, pointing out that “wars are not won by evacuations.”
Hitler, and many neutral observers, expected Britain to seek peace negations, but Churchill stood defiant. The German high command prepared for the invasion of Britain, but the invasion never came. Instead, in one of the most significant moments in the war, Hitler changed his mind and turned on the Soviet Union. Several components make up the explanation for this fateful decision:
• Hitler’s racialist view of the world made him wary of the British, whom he considered to be the closest related race to the Germans.
• Hitler’s staff was handicapped by both the lack of time given to them and by their relative lack of experience in mounting amphibious operations.
• A successful invasion of England required air superiority over the English Channel; a combination of daring air-fighting by the Royal Air Force and a coordinated effort of civilian defense operations all along the coast foiled German attempts to gain it.
A frustrated Hitler responded by ordering a nightly bombing of London in a two-month attempt to disrupt industrial production and to break the will of the British people. In the end, neither was achieved. In mid-October, Hitler decided to postpone the invasion, and the Battle of Britain had been won by the British.
The War in North Africa and the Balkans (1941-1942)
In 1941, the war became a global conflict as Italian forces invaded North Africa, attempting to push the British out of Egypt. However, British forces routed the Italians; Germany responded by sending troops into North Africa and the Balkans. Germany had two objectives:
• Hitler coveted the Balkans for their rich supply of raw materials, especially Romanian oil.
• He also wanted control of the Suez Canal in Egypt, which was the vital link between Britain and its resource-rich Empire.
The Germans successfully occupied the Balkans, as British efforts to make a last-ditch stand in mainland Greece and on the nearby island of Crete proved in vain. Italian regiments in Libya were reinforced by German divisions under General Erwin Rommel, and the ill-equipped British forces were driven back into Egypt.
German Invasion of the Soviet Union (June-December, 1941)
The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact had always been a matter of convenience. Both sides knew that war would eventually come; the question was when. Hitler answered the question
late in the spring of 1941, launching Operation Barbarossa and sending three million troops into the Soviet Union. Hitler’s decision was influenced by several factors:
• his desire to create an empire that dominated all of Europe
• his racialist view of the world which told him that the “Slavic” peoples of the Soviet Union were an easier target that his “Teutonic cousins,” the British
• his need to feed and fuel his war machine with the wheat of the Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus
• his hope that, once Germany dominated the continent from the English Channel to the Ural Mountains, even the British would have to come to terms and that no invasion of Britain would be necessary
Germany’s eastern army succeeded in conquering those parts of the Soviet Union that produced 60 percent of its coal and steel and almost half of its grain, and by December 1, it was within striking distance of Moscow. But as the Russian winter set in, the Russian Army launched a counter attack against German forces, which were ill-supplied for a winter war. The Russian Army suffered millions of casualties, but turned back the German invasion.
Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union had one other great consequence: it forged the first link in what would become the Grand Alliance between Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, as Churchill (despite being a staunch anticommunist) pledged his support to the USSR. Publicly, he announced that “Any man or state that fights against Nazidom will have our aid.” Privately, he remarked that if Hitler invaded Hell it would be desirable to find something friendly to say about the devil. The final link in the Grand Alliance would come through a combination of Churchill’s persuasion and a Japanese attack.
The American Entry and Impact (1942)
Churchill and the American president, Franklin Roosevelt, met in August of 1941 on a battleship off the Newfoundland coast. They composed the Atlantic Charter, a document setting forth Anglo-American war aims. It rejected any territorial aggrandizement for either Britain or the United States, and it affirmed the right of all peoples to choose their own form of government.
By 1939, a modernized and militarized Japan had conquered the coastal area of China, and its expansionist aims led it to join Germany and Italy in what came to be known as the Axis. When war broke out, Japan occupied the part of Indochina that had been under French control and began to threaten the Dutch East Indies. The United States responded with an economic embargo on all exports to Japan. On 7 December 1941, Japanese air forces launched a surprise attack in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, hoping to cripple the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific Ocean. The United States immediately declared war on Japan and, within a few days, Germany and Italy had declared war on the United States.
Initially, America’s impact on the war was through resources rather than soldiers, but its entry provided the third and final turning point (along with the Battle of Britain and Germany’s decision to invade the Soviet Union) in the war. Throughout 1942, American productive capacities were being built up, and the American military force kept growing. In the autumn of 1942, American marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal; it was to be the first of many islands to be recaptured from the Japanese at great cost of human lives.
In 1941, the embattled Hitler regime embarked on the “Final Solution,” the deliberate and methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe. It began when SS troops under Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler began executing Jewish and Slavic prisoners, who had been gathered from around Europe and forced into concentration camps. At first, firing squads were used. Next, the process was speeded up through the use of mobile vans of poison gas. Eventually, large gas chambers were constructed at the camps so that thousands could be murdered at one time. In the end, an estimated 6 million Jews were murdered, along with an additional 7 million gypsies, homosexuals, socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other targeted groups.
Outside the Nazi inner circle, people and governments were slow to believe and to comprehend what was happening, and even slower to respond:
• Neighbors turned a blind eye when Jews were rounded up and put on trains.
• Collaborating governments from Vichy France to Croatia assisted in various ways with the rounding up and extermination of the Jews.
• British and American commanders refused to divert bombing missions from other targets in order to put the camps out of commission.
The Axis in Retreat (1942-1943)
In June and August of 1943, the tide turned against the Axis forces in the Soviet Union, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. In June of 1942, the Germans resumed their offensive in the Soviet Union. By August, they were on the outskirts of Stalingrad on the Volga River. The mammoth Battle of Stalingrad lasted six months; by the time it ended in February of 1943, the greater part of a German Army had died or surrendered to the Russians, and the remainder was retreating westward.
In October 1942, the British Eighth Army under General Bernard Montgomery halted General Rommel’s forces at the Battle of El Alamein, seventy miles west of Alexandria Egypt, and began a victorious drive westward. In May of 1943, Germany’s Africa Korps surrendered to the Allies. In November 1943, Allied forces under General Dwight Eisenhower’s command landed in Morocco and Algeria and began a drive that pushed all Axis forces in Africa into Tunisia. Seven months later, all Axis forces had been expelled from Africa.
Allied victories in Africa enabled them to advance steadily northward from the Mediterranean into Italy and precipitate the overthrow of Mussolini and the signing of an armistice by a new Italian government. Germany responded by treating its former ally as an occupied country. German resistance made the Allied campaign up the Italian peninsula a long and difficulty one.
Allied Victory (1944-1945)
On “D-Day,” 6 June 1944, Allied forces under Eisenhower’s command launched an audacious amphibious invasion of German-held France on the beaches of Normandy. The grand assault took the form of an armada of 4,000 ships supported by 11,000 airplanes. By the end of July, the Allied forces had broken out of Normandy and encircled the greater part of the German army.
By late August, Paris was liberated and Hitler’s forces were on the retreat. Germany seemed on the point of collapse, but German defensive lines held, and the British people were exposed to a new threat: long-range V-2 rockets fired from the German Ruhr rained down on them for seven months. The last gasp of the German Army came in December of 1944 with a sudden drive against thinly held American lines in the Belgian sector. In what has come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies checked the German attack and launched a counteroffensive.
In early 1945, Allied troops finally crossed the Rhine River into Germany. In May, they successfully defeated German forces in the Battle of Berlin. On May 1, it was announced that Hitler was dead, and on May 7, the German High Command surrendered unconditionally. In the Pacific, the long and deadly task of re-taking the Pacific islands was averted by the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japanese cities: one on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and another on the city of Nagasaki on 8 August 1945. Japan surrendered unconditionally on 2 September.
Assessment and Aftermath of World War II
World War II was even more destructive than World War I, and civilian casualties rather than military deaths made up a significant portion of the 50—60 million people who perished in the conflict. Many of Europe’s great cities lay in ruins from repeated aerial bombings.
Vast numbers of Europeans were displaced and on the move. Some were trying to get back to homes they had been driven from by the war, while others whose homes had been destroyed simply had no place to go. Russian prisoners of war were compelled, many against their will, to return to the Soviet Union, where they were greeted with hostility and suspicion by Stalin’s regime; many were executed or sent to labor camps. Between 12 and 13 million Germans were moving west. Some were fleeing the vengeance of Soviet troops, while others were driven from their homes in the newly reconstituted Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries, and from parts of East Prussia that were handed over to Poland.
The war also produced a new power structure in the world. The traditional European powers of Britain, France, and Germany were exhausted. Their overseas empires disintegrated rapidly, as they no longer had the resources or the will to keep their imperial holdings against the desires of the local inhabitants. In the years immediately following the war, these countries became independent:
• India gained its independence from Britain.
• Syria and Lebanon broke away from France.
• The Dutch were dismissed from Indonesia.
Finally, it became clear that, in the new world order that emerged from World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union stood alone as great powers.
• Rapid Review
Europe in the 1920s was characterized by a fluctuating economy built on debt and speculation. With the Stock Market Crash of 1929, credit dried up and the Great Depression ensued. The economic problems added to a climate of social and cultural uncertainty and disillusionment. Political parties of the center lost support to socialists on the left and fascists on the right.
In the late 1930s, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and embarked on a policy of rearmament and expansion. France and Britain responded initially with a policy of appeasement, but when Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939, World War II began.
Initial German success in the war was reversed in stages by three crucial turning points:
1. Britain’s victory in the Battle of Britain in 1940
2. Hitler’s decision to abandon an invasion of Britain and invade the Soviet Union instead
3. the entry of the United States into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941
Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945, and Japan followed suit on 2 September 1945, following the dropping of two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. In the end, between 50 and 60 million people lost their lives in World War II, including 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, and the traditional powers of Europe, Britain, France, and Germany gave way to the new superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union.
• Chapter Review Questions
1. Europe’s post-World-War-I economy was inherently unstable because
(A) Germany defaulted on its war reparations
(B) the New York Stock Market crashed in 1929
(C) governments tightened the money supply
(D) it was built on a combination of U.S. loans and war reparation payments
(E) governments were cutting expenditures
2. Which of the following was NOT a problem that contributed to the downfall of the Weimar Republic?
(A) It was perceived to have been imposed by Germany’s vengeful war enemies.
(B) It was composed of a coalition of socialist parties that right-wing groups would never accept.
(C) It was wrongly blamed for the humiliating nature of the Treaty of Versailles.
(D) It was a liberal democracy, a form of government largely alien to the German people, whose allegiance had been to the Kaiser.
(E) It was faced with insurmountable economic problems.
3. Lenin’s New Economic Plan
(A) was the first of a series of five-year plans
(B) marked the transition to a state-managed economy
(C) allowed peasants and small business owners to manage their own production and sell their own products
(D) was a response to the Great Depression
(E) was a failure
4. The end result of Stalin’s purges was
(A) the destruction of the traditional peasant culture in Russia
(B) the abandonment of the Marxist vision of international revolution
(C) the Hitler—Stalin Non-Aggression Pact
(D) a culture of complete uniformity with the Communist Party vision as articulated by Stalin
(E) Allied victory in World War II
5. The British economist John Maynard Keynes proposed that governments deal with the Great Depression by
(A) increasing their expenditures and running temporary deficits
(B) decreasing their expenditures
(C) tightening the supply of money
(D) raising tariffs on imported goods
(E) going to war
6. Which of the following is an element of Fascism?
(A) a fanatical obedience to a charismatic leader
(B) a professed belief in the virtues of struggle and youth
(C) an intense form of nationalism
(D) an expressed hatred of socialism and liberalism
(E) all of the above
7. Support for Franco’s military coup against the Spanish Republic came from
(C) the Spanish Monarchy
(D) the Spanish Church
(E) all of the above
8. Which of the following was a consequence of World War II?
(A) the Treaty of Versailles
(B) the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as the only world powers
(C) the flourishing of democracy in Eastern Europe
(D) a strengthening of the British Empire
(E) the German invasion of Poland
• Answers and Explanations
1. D. The post-World-War-I economy was unstable because it was built on money borrowed from U.S. banks and because it counted on war reparation payments, so it was an economy dependent on money being moved around instead of constantly created wealth. Choices A and B are incorrect because Germany’s default and the stock market crash brought on the collapse of the already unstable economy. Choices C and E are incorrect because both were measures that made the Depression worse, not preexisting elements that made the economy unstable.
2. B. The government of the Weimar Republic was not a coalition of socialist parties, but rather a coalition of liberal democrats from the center of the political spectrum. Choice A is incorrect because the liberal democratic government of the Weimar Republic was perceived by the German people to have been imposed by vengeful enemies at the Paris Peace Conference. Choice C is incorrect because the government was blamed for the humiliating nature of the Versailles Treaty when, in fact, the negotiators had no leverage with which to bargain or negotiate. Choice D is incorrect because the liberal democratic form of government was a form with which the German people had very little experience, and their loyalty was still with the Kaiser. Choice E is incorrect because the new government of the Weimar republic was faced with an economy that was dependent on U.S. loans and which needed to find a way to pay the huge sums of reparations required of it by the Versailles treaty—an impossible task.
3. C. Lenin’s New Economic Plan, launched in the early 1920s, was a temporary relaxation of state control of production that successfully stimulated the Russian economy. Choice A is incorrect because the first of the five-year plans was launched by Stalin in 1928. Choice B is incorrect because the NEP was a relaxation of, and not the transition to, a state-managed economy. Choice D is incorrect because the NEP was launched in the early 1920s, well before the Great Depression, which began in 1929. Choice E is incorrect because the NEP was successful in its goal of stimulating the Russian economy.
4. D. Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s removed all independent thinkers and dissenters from the party system, creating complete uniformity with Stalin’s own official Communist Party vision of the world. Choice A is incorrect because the destruction of the traditional peasant culture in Russia was accomplished in the early 1930s through Stalin’s program of the collectivization of agriculture, not through the purges of the late 1930s. Choice B is incorrect because the abandonment of the Marxist vision of international revolution was marked by Stalin’s policy of “socialism in one country” announced in the autumn of 1924. Choice C is incorrect because the Hitler-Stalin (Nazi-Soviet) Non-Aggression Pact, signed in August of 1939, was concerned with foreign, not domestic, Soviet policy. Choice E is incorrect because the purges concerned the removal of Stalin’s internal opposition and occurred before the outbreak of World War II.
5. A. Keynes argued that governments should deal with the depressed economy by running temporary deficits to increase their expenditures, thereby pumping money into and stimulating or “jump starting” the stagnant economy. Choices B-D are incorrect because all are traditional measures that governments initially tried, and which only made the Depression worse; Keynes was the lone voice suggesting an opposite approach. Choice E is incorrect because, although going to war did ultimately help to end the Great Depression, it was not a suggestion made by Keynes.
6. E. All of the choices are correct. Fascist parties displayed: a fanatical obedience to a charismatic leader (e.g., Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Franco in Spain); a professed belief in the virtues of struggle and youth, as illustrated in the constant reference to struggle and in the organization of youth groups in all Fascist countries; an intense form of nationalism as evidenced by the uniforms and constant dialogue about the enemies of “the nation”; and an expressed hatred of socialism and liberalism, as evidenced by their opposition to the existing liberal democratic governments and their constant rhetoric and violence against socialists.
7. E. All of the choices are correct. Franco garnered support from Germany and Italy because of their shared fascist ideals, and because the battles of the Spanish Civil War served as a sort of field test for the new German military weapons and tactics. He was supported by the Spanish Monarchy and Church, because the socialists had abolished the monarchy and banished the king, and were likely to curtail the role and privileges of the Church in Spanish society.
8. B. The war effort exhausted the resources of the traditional European powers, Britain, France, and Germany, and left the United States, with its vast economy, and the Soviet Union, with the largest army in the world, as the two superpowers. Choice A is incorrect because the Treaty of Versailles was the treaty that concluded World War I. Choice C is incorrect because Eastern Europe was dominated after World War II by the Soviet Union; democracy did not flourish. Choice D is incorrect because World War II marked the beginning of the break-up of the British Empire, not a strengthening of it. Choice E is incorrect because the German invasion of Poland was one of the causes of World War II, not a consequence.