Between World Wars

Ernest R. May

Associate Professor of History

Harvard University

After World War I representatives of the victorious powers met in Paris to devise a peace settlement that would protect future generations from another such conflict. All agreed that a new framework or system was needed in international relations. Each power, however, had different views as to what that framework should be. From their compromises emerged treaties of peace, the chief of which was that with defeated Germany signed at Versailles on June 28, 1919. Based on the assumption that Germany and her allies had been the disturbers of the status quo, these treaties attempted to place curbs on their future actions. Articles 160, 180, 181, and 198 of the Treaty of Versailles, for example, forbade Germany to have an army of more than 100,000 men, a fleet of more than 36 combatant vessels, or any submarines or military or naval aircraft, or to maintain fortifications or military installations within 50 kilometers of the east bank of the Rhine. In addition, the defeated states were to be required to pay large sums as reparations for damages that the victors had suffered during the war.

  But these punitive clauses were not supposed to form the keystone of the new system. That was to be the League of Nations, the organization whose Covenant was incorporated in the Treaty of Versailles and in the treaties of St.-Germain-en-Laye with Austria, of Neuilly with Bulgaria, of Trianon with Hungary, and of Sevres with Turkey (superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne). With the victorious nations as the original members of the League and with provision for the admission of other states, including eventually even the Germans and those who had been on their side, its Assembly was expected to provide a forum for the airing of all international issues. In the event of any aggression by one state against another or any breach of one of the peace treaties, its Council was to mobilize all members, large and small, for a collective effort to keep the peace.

Neither the punitive clauses of the treaties nor the Covenant worked out quite as their authors had hoped. Although the Germans complied with most of the restrictions imposed on them, they recovered rapidly in relative strength. At Rapallo on April 16, 1922, they signed with the other outcast of Europe, the Bolshevik USSR, a treaty providing for mutual renunciation of claims and future economic cooperation. The victors meanwhile fell out. The British and French disagreed about Middle Eastern issues and about the amount of reparations that should be exacted from Germany. So sharp did their exchanges become that by 1923 it was commonly assumed that if there were another war it might well be one between Britain and France. As for the United States, its Senate declined to ratify the Treaty of Versailles; it took no part in the League and withdrew into self-imposed isolation, denying that it bore any responsibility for the maintenance of peace in Europe.

By the latter part of the 1920's, the guarantees of peace were somewhat different from those that had been envisioned in 1919. The articles of the Treaty of Versailles designed to keep Germany in check were supplemented by defensive alliances between France and certain of Germany's eastern neighbors: Poland (Feb. 19, 1921) and the nations of the Little Entente, Czechoslovakia (Jan. 25, 1924), Romania (June 10, 1926), and Yugoslavia (Nov. 11, 1927). At a conference held in Locarno on Oct. 5-16, 1925, the German government entered into treaties (signed in London on December 1) with France, Britain, Belgium, and Italy, guaranteeing the existing Franco-Belgian-German frontiers. On Sept. 8, 1926, Germany was admitted to the League. The peace thus rested on three sets of undertakings: the pledges of mutual support between France and her allies, the guarantees exchanged at Locarno, and the promises of collective action made by those nations that subscribed to the Covenant. Events of 1931 and later years were to prove all these safeguards frail.


Manchurian Incident

On Sept. 18, 1931, a small bomb exploded underneath a section of track on the South Manchuria Railroad. The Japanese Army, which under long-standing agreements policed the railroad, used this incident as a pretext for launching operations aimed at conquering all of Manchuria for Japan. The Chinese government, which had nominal sovereignty over the area, protested to the League of Nations. Some supporters of the principle of collective security saw an opportunity for the League to prove that it was capable of stopping an aggressor. The majority of member governments, however, did not, feeling that the fate of Manchuria was not of vital concern to them, or that the Japanese had some justice on their side, or that action by the League might harm moderates in Tokyo who were trying to hold the army in check. In the upshot the Council passed two resolutions, one on September 30 and the other on October 23, urging the Japanese to cease their military operations and enter into direct negotiations with China and appointing a special commission to investigate the situation and help the parties reach a settlement.

Paying little attention to the League's advice, the Japanese continued their operations. When the Chinese organized a boycott of Japanese goods, they went even further. Reinforcing the garrison which they already maintained at Shanghai, in January 1932 they seized control of that city. By May they had been persuaded by League mediators to reach a truce agreement with the Chinese in Shanghai, from which their forces were gradually withdrawn. In the meantime, however, they had convened in Manchuria a rump assembly and had it proclaim the independence of the region, now to be called Manchukuo, on February 18. The new state, which came into existence officially on March 1, signed with Japan on September 15 a treaty making it a virtual ward of that country.

The first Western nation to show umbrage over these events was the United States. Despite its isolationism it had a long tradition of interest in the Far East. When the League Council convened to hear the Chinese protests, the American government sent an official observer to Geneva. The view in Washington at that time was that Western powers ought not to do anything that might aggravate the political situation in Tokyo, but Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson subsequently became convinced that there ought to be some general assertion of opposition to Japanese aggression. Although himself in favor of threatening Japan with collective sanctions, he had to reckon with the stubborn pacifism of President Herbert Hoover. The most that he could do was, on Jan. 7, 1932, to dispatch a formal note to Tokyo, declaring that the United States would not recognize Japanese sovereignty over territory acquired by force. This formulation was termed variously the Stimson Doctrine and the Hoover Doctrine. Although one of the arguments used by opponents of League action had been the fact that the United States was not a member of the organization, the American initiative attracted little immediate support. When asked by Stimson to make a similar declaration, the British government declined. Not until after the evacuation of Shanghai did British statesmen even suggest that the League might adopt the Stimson Doctrine as its own.

The sessions of the League Assembly in the fall and winter of 1932-1933 were devoted largely to the Manchurian issue. The commission of inquiry, headed by the 2d earl of Lytton, made its report, stating that while the Japanese had possessed some grievances their action had been excessive, that the establishment of an independent Manchukuo had not been in accordance with the wishes of the people, and that Japanese forces ought to return the rail lines, restore the status quo ante bellum, and negotiate a new understanding about Manchuria with the Chinese. After prolonged debate the Assembly adopted on Feb. 24, 1933, a resolution refusing to recognize Manchukuo and calling on the Japanese to retire. The only result was to bring on March 27 the resignation (effective in two years' time) of Japan from the League of Nations. The system of collective security created by the Paris peace treaties had been tested and been found wanting.

Economic Issues

In the meantime, a severe economic depression had developed. A crash of the New York stock market in October 1929 had been followed by a rapid decline in American production, employment, and foreign commerce. The repercussions were soon felt in all countries that traded with the United States and also in those where American funds were invested. So far flung was the network of American commercial and financial relationships that by 1931 people were speaking of a world depression.

It had soon become clear that most European governments would be unable to continue making payments on World War I debts. Ever since the early 1920's, British statesmen had been urging that the United States forgive all or part of what was owed by her wartime allies, proposing that they in turn remit some or all of the payments due them from Germany as reparations. The American government had rejected this proposal, but in 1931, faced with the depression, President Hoover relented and arranged for a one-year moratorium on both debt and reparation payments. Seeking reelection in 1932, he dared not repeat the experiment. Some of the debtor states were forced to default. In the end all but Finland did so, and the result was not only to embarrass the governments involved but also to strengthen isolationist feeling in the United States.

Eventually almost all the affected states sought solutions for their economic problems in independent, nationalistic action. Seeking a commercial and financial advantage over other countries, the British abandoned the gold standard and devalued the pound in 1931. Through agreements reached in a conference held at Ottawa on July 21-Aug. 21, 1932, they also abandoned the tradition of free trade and established preferential tariffs for the Commonwealth. The American government deserted the gold standard in 1933 and in the same year caused the failure of the London Monetary and Economic Conference by declaring that it would not join in an agreement to stabilize exchange rates. Fascist Italy adopted more drastic measures, instituting rigid economic controls and creating jobs by enlarging the armed forces and accelerating weapons production. Germany, which was ruled after Jan. 30, 1933, by the National Socialist (Nazi) dictator Adolf HITLER, went even farther in the same directions. The community of nations envisioned in the Paris peace treaties dissolved into an anarchy of jealous states seeking national advantage and national self-sufficiency.


Rise of Hitler

By far the most ominous event of these depression years was the emergence of Hitler in Germany. A psychopathic personality, he rejected all conventional moral standards. In his book Mein Kampf (2 vols., 1925-1927) and in later speeches he had disclosed his abhorrence of such concepts as equality and majority rule, his hatred of Jews, his belief that "Aryans were a "master race entitled to dominate others, and his conviction that the state had a right to use any means to achieve its ends. He had also set forth his views on foreign policy. He held that Germany should expand in order to bring within it all Europeans of German nationality. Saying also that the German people needed Lebensraum (space for living), he indicated that it was to be found in eastern Europe. At the same time he declared that Germany had to have " a final active reckoning with France. His words showed that he desired German hegemony over Europe and would have no scruples about the methods he used.

The other nations of Europe viewed him with alarm but also with uncertainty. Few could believe that he really meant what he said, or that once in office he would not become more restrained, more conventional, and more prudent. At first his actions justified this opinion. While he carried out the domestic programs he had advocated, succeeding soon in abolishing all but the forms of democracy and constituting himself fuhrer (leader) of the German people, externally he followed courses somewhat at odds with what he had said and written. In token of peaceful intentions he even negotiated with Poland an agreement relating to the large German minority in that country. In a joint declaration issued on Jan. 26, 1934, the German and Polish governments promised for a period of 10 years not to resort to war to solve differences and not to intervene in behalf of members of their nationality groups who were not legally citizens of their states.

Until the summer of 1934 the only actions of Hitler that excited international apprehension were those concerning armaments. As part of the campaign to revive the German economy, he undertook to increase production by heavy industry, particularly those branches that would make the greatest contributions to a war effort. In May 1933, he asked the other League powers to allow Germany to move immediately toward the "equality which had been promised her for the distant future. The French refused, pointing out that the promise had always been conditioned on the development of effective international controls. Hitler replied by declaring on October 14 that Germany would proceed to arm herself with or without consent. He announced on the same day his nation's withdrawal (effective in two years' time) from the League of Nations. But the effect of these actions was softened by an offer to France of a bilateral pact in which Germany would agree to limit its army to 300,000 men and its air force to 50 percent of that of France and to accept some measure of international control. Although the French refused this offer, taking the position that they should not sanction German rearmament even in principle, the fact that the offer had been made left it unclear whether or not Hitler was bent on carrying out the external programs outlined in Mein Kampf.

The first strong indication that this might be the case came in July 1934 in Austria. That country had a National Socialist Party modeled on Hitler's and more or less openly supported by German officials. In the spring of 1934, the party increased its agitation. Then, when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated on July 25, it attempted a coup d'etat. German official statements and troop movements made it seem that the coup would have active support from across the frontier. The Austrian Nazis had, however, overestimated their strength. Dollfuss' successor, Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, quickly consolidated his power. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini meanwhile declared that Italy would not tolerate a change in the status of Austria and moved Italian troops to the Brenner Pass. Whatever plans the Germans had were frustrated by these actions.


Stresa Front

The French became increasingly apprehensive as evidence accumulated to indicate that Hitler planned much more formidable forces than those of which he had spoken in October and November 1933. On March 10, 1935, one of his officials disclosed that the projected German Air Force would be larger than the French. Six days later, Hitler himself proclaimed the reinstitution of compulsory military service.

To cope with the prospective peril, the French had begun to mature a strategy. Foreign Minister Louis Barthou summarized it as an effort " to group the European interests that could be menaced by the rapid revival of Germany. Although Barthou was assassinated at Marseille on Oct. 9, 1934, in company with King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, his policy was carried on (albeit somewhat irresolutely) by his successor, Pierre Laval. To begin with, in January 1935, Laval held formal conversations with Mussolini, seeking a common Franco-Italian front. These conversations were welcomed by the Italian dictator. Soon after the emergence of Hitler he had proposed that Italy, France, Great Britain, and Germany agree to procedures by which they alone, bypassing the League of Nations, might revise the Treaty of Versailles. The French and British had declined, and the resultant Four-Power Pact initialed at Rome on June 7, 1933 (signed on July 15), provided for nothing more than consultation on matters of mutual interest. Now the growth of French apprehension about Hitler gave Italy more leverage.

Mussolini's principal aim was to circumvent the provisions of the League Covenant that might give protection to Ethiopia, for he had been trying unsuccessfully since the early 1920's to make that nation an economic colony of Italy, and at some point before 1933 he had decided to attempt its forcible conquest. He feared that, since Ethiopia had been admitted to the League in 1923, it might be able to win that body's support, but he recognized that if the British and French did not join in collective resolutions and sanctions, these would be ineffectual. A clash between Italian and Ethiopian troops at the watering hole of Wal Wal on Dec. 5, 1934, had just given him a potential casus belli. To Ethiopia's appeal for League arbitration he had rejoined that he would settle the incident exclusively in Italy's interest. Now the trip of Laval to Rome, seeking Italian support against Hitler, gave him the opportunity to bargain for the acquiescence of France and perhaps, through France, of Britain.

The formal convention signed by Laval and Mussolini on Jan. 7, 1935, said nothing about Ethiopia: it merely resolved certain issues with regard to French and Italian colonies already existing in Africa. Mussolini declared later, however, that Laval had given him verbal assurance of a free hand in Ethiopia, and Laval himself admitted that he had promised not to interfere with Italian economic penetration there. The Frenchman professed not to have made any commitment with regard to political or military penetration, but what was said and left unsaid gave Mussolini warrant for interpreting the conversations as he did, and he accelerated preparations for war, apparently much less concerned now about interference by the League.

Laval had gotten what he had sought. Another convention, signed on the same day, affirmed that France and Italy would jointly keep watch on events in Austria and confer about common action if that nation were imperiled, and it was agreed that Mussolini should invite the British to a meeting at Stresa, with the object of adding them to the anti-German front. This conference, held on April 11-14, 1935, was a partial success. All three governments joined in a commitment to oppose, " by all practicable means, any unilateral repudiation of treaties which may endanger the peace of Europe. While this commitment was qualified by a provision requiring the use of League machinery, it seemed a direct warning to Hitler. The Stresa declaration was followed, moreover, by action to open a League debate on the question of whether or not Germany's reinstitution of compulsory military service constituted a unilateral breach of the Treaty of Versailles. On April 17, the Council, with only one abstention (that of Denmark) voted in principle its condemnation of all unilateral violations of treaties and referred the German case to the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Laval began negotiations with the ambassador of the USSR in Paris. On May 2, they announced the signature of a five-year pact pledging mutual assistance in the event that either nation was the victim of aggression. This was followed on May 16 by a similar pact between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Coupled with the earlier treaties that allied Poland and the Little Entente with France, these accords seemed to close the ring around Nazi Germany, and they were accompanied by movements within all the major European governments to increase spending on armaments. In June 1935, the French ambassador in Berlin, Andre Francois-Poncet, reported the German leaders to be more "defeated and discouraged than he had ever seen them.

  Anglo-German Naval Agreement

The so-called Stresa front was short lived. Some members of the British government reacted to the evidence of German rearmament by drawing the moral that the nation should detach itself and avoid such enforced involvement in war as that of 1914. Finding the German government full of protestations of goodwill for Britain, members of this group reasoned that the course of prudence was to eliminate all potential Anglo-German issues. One that had embittered relations between the two countries in pre-World War I years had been naval rivalry, and when the Admiralty reported exchanges with the Germans that revealed the possibility of a bilateral compact on the relative size of the two fleets, considerable official sentiment developed in favor of following it up. This was done, though in the most closely guarded secrecy, and on June 18, 1935, a naval pact with Germany was signed. It provided that Germany could build a fleet of capital ships equal in tonnage to one third, and a fleet of submarines equal to 60 percent, of that of the Royal Navy. In view of the fact that the Treaty of Versailles had set other limits on German naval strength and had forbidden the construction of submarines, these terms constituted acceptance by Britain of Germany's repudiation of those articles. Coming barely two months after the Stresa accords, this pact gave evidence that the nations apparently joined against Germany were in fact far from united.

Nor did the Franco-Soviet accord prove more durable. Laval had always doubted the wisdom of the Barthou policy and inclined toward the view that France might be better off in league with Germany than against her. On Jan. 13, 1935, the plebiscite promised by the Treaty of Versailles had taken place in the Saar, with more than 90 percent of the voters opting for reunion with Germany, and Laval not only accepted the verdict with good cheer but made the point to diplomats that France would not necessarily be intransigent in all matters that affected Germany.

Instead of seeking prompt ratification of the Franco-Soviet Pact by the French Parliament, he held it over (it was carried through that body by his successor, Albert Sarraut, in February 1936), meanwhile evading all suggestions from the Soviet capital of a military convention to supplement it and to make clear how it might be carried out. The Soviets were pressing Laval onto delicate ground, it is true, for a military convention would involve such issues as whether or not Soviet troops could move across Poland or Romania, and Laval, who had become premier on June 7, 1935, was looking forward uneasily to a national election and to the possibility that the opposition Popular Front, of which the Communists were part, might profit from a closer Franco-Soviet tie.

Nevertheless, his hesitancies provided further evidence that the unity of Europe against Germany might be an illusion.

Italo-Ethiopian War

Although the British at Stresa had given Mussolini no assurances that they would acquiesce in his conquest of Ethiopia, their reticences had been so interpreted by him, and he was strengthened in this view when, in June 1935, Anthony Eden, minister for League of Nations affairs, came to Rome to suggest that Britain might cede to Ethiopia part of British Somaliland so that Ethiopia might in turn appease Italy by ceding to it some land adjacent to Italian Somaliland. Eden even suggested that a way might be found to make Ethiopia a virtual economic protectorate of Italy. Mussolini soon learned that these gestures did not necessarily mean what he thought. When he rejected Eden's proposals and continued preparations for war, the British government moved warships into the Mediterranean Sea as if in preparation for a League vote of sanctions against Italy. On September 11, after Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare addressed the League Assembly and declared firmly that Britain would be "second to none in fulfilling her obligations under the Covenant, Mussolini was faced with the very contingency that he thought his diplomacy had prevented: the possibility of League intervention in behalf of Ethiopia. He nevertheless moved forward. When Emperor Haile Selassie ordered Ethiopian mobilization on September 29, he responded by proclaiming national mobilization in Italy. On October 3, his armies attacked from Eritrea and thus opened war.

In Geneva the League Council, immediately heard the protests of Haile Selassie's representative. On October 7, with Italy alone abstaining, it voted to condemn Mussolini's aggression as a resort to war in defiance of Article 12 of the Covenant. Referred to the Assembly, this resolution on October 11 won the support of 50 of the 54 members, only Italy and her client states, Albania, Austria, and Hungary, opposing it. It remained for a Coordination Committee of the League to determine what sanctions should be imposed. Here practical rather than moral issues arose, for, as a totalitarian state that had endeavored for more than a decade to achieve national self-sufficiency, Fascist Italy could withstand almost all forms of moral and economic pressure. The only sanctions that would do it serious injury would be closure of the Suez Canal, which would block the sending of reinforcements and supplies, and stoppage of the one vital commodity that Italy had to import in quantity, oil.

Fearing that closure of the canal would lead to war with Italy, the British government, which controlled the waterway, had little inclination to take that step. As for oil, it was doubtful whether a League decree could be effective in view of the fact that the leading producer, the United States, was not bound by the Covenant. Although Congress had enacted a so-called Neutrality Act (signed on Aug. 31, 1935), which required embargoes to be laid on exports of munitions to nations at war, it did not apply to petroleum products. While President Franklin D. ROOSEVELT declared on November 15 that oil and other commodities were "essential war materials and ought to be included, there was no assurance that American exporters would adopt such a "moral" embargo, or that if they did not, Congress would amend the law to cover these items. The American government encouraged the League powers to expect cooperation but could not guarantee it.

When the Coordination Committee brought in its report on October 19, it made only five relatively mild recommendations for sanctions against Italy: embargoes on shipments of arms to her; bans on loans and credits; bans on imports from her; embargoes on exports to her of transport animals, rubber, and a variety of metals; and joint aid to nations that suffered economically as a result of taking these steps. Voted on separately in the Assembly, they were approved by majorities respectively of 50, 49, 48, 48, and 39. Since their practical effect would be slight, the chief hope was that the display of unity in world opinion would impress Mussolini and cause him to change his course. It did not.

  Hoare-Laval Plan

As Italian military operations continued, sentiment grew, especially in Britain, for more effective action. Between January and June 1935, a so-called Peace Ballot, a national referendum supported by the British League of Nations Union and allied groups, had yielded 6,784,368 votes endorsing the principle that, if one nation insisted on attacking another, the other nations should combine to employ not only economic but also military sanctions (10,027,608 favored economic sanctions alone). Although this total encompassed a substantial percentage of the electorate, the result had been discounted by most politicians on the ground that the ballot had probably not been understood fully by its signers. Now, however, they began to consider that it had been more significant. Campaigning in a general election, spokesmen for the government felt obliged to use increasingly vigorous words in speaking of what Britain and the League would do. Returned on November 14 with an overwhelming majority of seats in the House of Commons (431 to 184), the Conservative cabinet was under pressure to live up to its promises.

Those ministers who were dubious about the whole policy of sanctions found this pressure especially onerous. They urged a further effort to induce Mussolini to abandon the war and thus, they hoped, to rescue Britain from the predicament in which she was likely soon to find herself. Precisely what was said and agreed on within the cabinet remains unknown. The result was, however, that Hoare set off in early December for a skating holiday in Switzerland, and that he paused for two days (December 7-8) in Paris for intensive conversations with Laval. The result of these conversations was an agreement on proposals to be made secretly to Mussolini. He was to be asked to halt the war with the understanding that Italy would receive from Ethiopia the northeastern section of the Tigre, part of the desert of Danakil, all of the Ogaden region, and "exclusive economic rights in the country south of 8 degrees north latitude and east of 35 degrees east longitude. All that Italy would yield in return would be a corridor giving Ethiopia a camel track to the sea across almost impassable desert. This plan offered Italy almost everything that she could hope to obtain by continuing her campaign.

Convinced that the application of further sanctions would lead to a general war harmful to French interests, Laval had devised these terms. He had also developed the strategy to be followed. The plan was to be put before Mussolini first. After he accepted, it was to be shown to Haile Selassie. When the Ethiopian ruler rejected it, the French and British would be able to say that he had refused peace, and could not only oppose the imposition of further sanctions but also call for the lifting of those that had already been voted. Whatever the outcome for Ethiopia, the crisis between the League powers and Italy would have been bridged, and some facsimile of the Stresa front might be put together again. Even before they could be put into diplomatic cables, however, the terms of the plan leaked to the press. From partisans of Ethiopia and the League there arose an instant and loud outcry. The British and French governments were accused of preparing to betray the interests of a small nation, to sacrifice the principle of collective security, and reward an aggressor. So strong was feeling in Britain that Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin felt compelled on December 18 to request Hoare's resignation and soon afterward to appoint as his successor Eden, the champion of the League. In France, Laval's government barely survived a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies on December 29. From the United States, where sentiment for effective embargoes had been rapidly growing, came a torrent of criticism of British and French shortsightedness.

Mussolini had meanwhile given indication that he would not in any case accept less than the total conquest of Ethiopia. In January 1936, there was discussion within the League of adding an oil embargo to the sanctions. Despite the events that had followed the release of the Hoare-Laval terms, however, official French and British opinion was still opposed to such action. The decision was for delay, pending the outcome of Roosevelt's efforts to amend the American neutrality laws.

Since nothing encouraging was done by Congress, nothing at all was done by the League. As it turned out, the limit of its capacities had been reached in the vote of sanctions of October. As winter turned into spring, the Italian offensive in Ethiopia gained momentum. On May 5, 1936, Fascist troops marched into the capital, Addis Ababa. Four days later, Mussolini proclaimed the war ended and Ethiopia part of Italian East Africa. By summer most of the League powers had concluded that they could only accept as a fact the extinction of Ethiopian sovereignty, and the Assembly agreed that sanctions against Italy should be suspended as of July 15. The League's machinery for maintaining collective security had proved ineffectual.

Rhineland Coup

An even more significant demonstration of this fact came before the Italo-Ethiopian War was liquidated. Seeing the split within the Stresa front, Hitler decided to act in the Rhineland--to repudiate the articles of the Treaty of Versailles that declared that region permanently demilitarized. When he communicated this decision to his generals, they were appalled. In their view the German Army was still comparatively weak, and the air force had relatively little offensive capability. They warned the fuhrer that the French had the power single-handedly to drive a German force from the region and impose humiliating terms. Hitler's response was a simple assertion that the French would not move. He ordered the requisite preparations made.

The legal pretext he found in the Franco-Soviet Pact of 1935. By committing France to act against Germany in the event of German aggression against the USSR, Hitler could argue, this pact constituted a repudiation of the Locarno treaties, in which France had promised never to make war on Germany except in obedience to resolutions by the League of Nations. It also constituted a threat to Germany, he could say, and therefore, despite the Treaty of Versailles, gave warrant for action in self-defense. On March 7, 1936, shortly after the French Assembly's ratification of the Franco-Soviet Pact, he exposed this reasoning in diplomatic notes and in a speech to the Reichstag. He announced that German troops were moving into the demilitarized zone. At the same time, he offered as measures of reassurance to sign nonaggression pacts with France and all Germany's neighbors, east as well as west; to concert with the French a new demilitarization agreement, applying to both sides of the frontier; and to reenter the League of Nations.

The French government was shocked. Premier Sarraut responded with a forceful radio address, declaring, "We shall not leave Strasbourg under the German cannon. As he later testified, however, he and his colleagues were uncertain as to what they would in fact do. Reports by military men on France's capacity to repel the German force were generally pessimistic. The army, they said, was inadequate. It would be necessary to call up reservists in order to fill its ranks. Overestimating the German bomber force, they warned that Paris and other centers lacked the air defenses to prevent devastating raids. Their judgments thus reinforced the feeling that had been instinctive among the principal members of the cabinet--that France dare not act alone, and that perhaps she should not act even if she received support from abroad.

One capital with which they were particularly concerned was Warsaw. On the day of Hitler's announcement the Polish government gave them reassurance that in the event of a clash it would stand by the alliance of 1921 and proposed immediate conversations. Two days later, on March 9, however, it declared that it accepted the German thesis and regarded the reoccupation of the Rhineland as a legitimate response to the Franco-Soviet Pact. Their objective may have been merely to emphasize that Polish support of France would constitute action above and beyond the 1921 treaty, but the impression given the French government was that the Poles were playing a double game, and that France could not rely on them. The other nation whose support would be crucial to the French in a clash with Germany was Great Britain, and while the British government was more forthright than the Polish, it gave France even less encouragement to stand fast. Eden declared the German action to be inexcusable but not threatening, especially in view of Hitler's offer of nonaggression pacts. Calling for a meeting of the League Council, he said that no decision should be taken beforehand by any government. The only promise he made was that Britain would support France if she were attacked by Germany in the period before the League acted.

The French government was thus informed by its two most important allies that it could not expect backing if it replied to the Germans with force. Some members of the Sarraut cabinet found this news not unwelcome. Perhaps most did, for they faced a general election in May; they felt that a call-up of reservists would cost them votes; and, in view of the identification of their Popular Front opponents with antifascism, they feared that any crisis with Germany might have the same effect. The French press, also preoccupied with domestic affairs, raised little clamor for action. Consequently, on March 11, Sarraut backed away from his earlier position, announcing that the cabinet had decided to seek a solution within the framework of the League of Nations, working in conjunction with the othr signers of the Locarno Pact. The League did in fact discuss a resolution condemning the German action. Nothing came of this discussion, however, and the Rhineland question was lost to sight in the pell-mell rush of other events. Hitler's coup had succeeded. Not only the machinery of the League but also the French system of alliances lay in ruins. There were no longer any collective guarantees of the peace, and the end of the truce of 1918-1919 was in sight.



Spanish Civil War

Hardly were the Ethiopian and Rhineland crises out of mind when a new storm swept the stage. In Spanish Morocco on July 17, 1936, so-called Nationalists launched a revolution against the Popular Front government of the five-year old Spanish Republic (garrisons in Spain proper rose the next day). Championing ideas much like those of the Fascists and Nazis, they applied immediately to Rome and Berlin for aid. The republicans or Loyalists (as they became known) with equal alacrity applied for help to Paris, where the May elections had given victory to the Popular Front and made Leon Blum, a Socialist, premier in June. From the outset the Spanish Civil War was a European problem.

Italy and Germany both agreed promptly to act. Italian ships and planes were soon aiding Nationalist troops to cross from Morocco to the Iberian Peninsula, and before long Italians and Germans were actually fighting in the Nationalist ranks. On November 28, Mussolini signed with the Nationalist leader, Gen. Francisco Franco, a pact providing that Italian aid should be recompensed by economic cooperation, political cooperation in the western Mediterranean, and "benevolent neutrality on the part of Spain in a general war. Later, on March 20, 1937, Hitler entered into an agreement with Franco that promised consultations in the event of a European war and guaranteed the export to Germany of quantities of Spanish provisions and raw materials.

At first the French government was disposed to give aid to the republicans, and, indeed, Premier Blum immediately authorized sales of aircraft and munitions. But counsels of caution soon came to the fore. With little of the regular army loyal to it, the Spanish Republic seemed unlikely to survive. Since the Spanish Popular Front was somewhat more radical than the French, its cabinet was viewed askance by some members of the Blum government. Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned furthermore that assistance to the republicans would probably lead to increased Italian and German assistance to the Nationalists, and that the eventual outcome might well be a general European war. This last consideration was pressed on the French by their British allies. Many in the majority Conservative Party felt that Britain's position should be "a plague o' both your houses. While most Liberals and Labourites praised the republic and damned the Nationalists, few argued that British interests were involved in the civil war. The Baldwin cabinet therefore had mass support in adopting the position that the aim of the democracies should be to quarantine Spain and prevent the conflict from spreading.

Torn within and under pressure from London, the Blum cabinet decided to take a similar stand. On Aug. 1, 1936, it proclaimed a policy of nonintervention, declaring that the Spaniards should be allowed to fight out their war without aid in men or materiel from any other country and asking all other governments to join in this course. A total of 27 nations, including Italy and Germany, agreed, and an international Nonintervention Committee was established in London to keep watch on the fulfillment of these pledges. In actuality the committee never proved effective. The Italians and Germans continued more or less openly to assist Franco, and the Soviet government, despite its promise to the contrary, contributed men and supplies to the republicans. Even the French wavered from time to time, leaving the Pyrenees frontier open on two occasions (in November 1937 and April-May 1938) for shipments to the republic. Among the European powers only Britain was faithful to the pledge. The United States, though not a party to it, followed the British by applying its neutrality laws to the civil war. Partly because Soviet and French aid to the republic was considerably less than Italian and German aid to the Nationalists, partly because of military advantages on Franco's side, and partly because of divisions among the Loyalists, the Nationalists eventually triumphed. By the end of March 1939, Franco was master of nearly all of Spain.

The Spanish conflict was not the match that touched off a new world war. It did, however, make tensions more acute. Even among those in Britain, France, and the United States who continued to regard nonintervention as a wise policy there were some who felt that Spain represented one more victory for the totalitarian states, and that this fact brought nearer the moment when their career of success would have to be checked. Among the Italians and Germans it strengthened the illusion that the democracies were weak willed and would not resist.

  Sino-Japanese War

As the Spanish Civil War rounded out its first year, a crisis arose in another part of the globe. Ever since they had created the satellite state of Manchukuo, the Japanese had been discussing further steps toward national expansion. Moderate factions had advocated the use of peaceful means, particularly the application of economic pressure to China, coupled with efforts to induce the Chinese government to accept a client status. These measures had, however, been only partially successful. Extremist groups had become increasingly restless, and the government had edged steadily toward a more forceful policy.

On April 18, 1934, the official spokesman for the Foreign Office, Eiji Amau, announced that any effort by a Western power to aid China would be opposed by Japan. In effect, this declaration was a Japanese Monroe Doctrine for eastern Asia. In December, Japan gave notice that she would no longer be bound by the Washington Naval (Five-Power) Treaty of 1922, which had stipulated that Japanese tonnage in capital ships should not exceed three-fifths that of Britain or the United States. After attempting unsuccessfully in 1935 to arrange for the secession of the northern provinces of China and the establishment there of another satellite state, the Japanese government on Aug. 11, 1936, devised a new statement of "fundamental principles of a national policy, declaring Japan's destiny to be the dominating force in all of eastern Asia.

Most of the powers with interests in the Far East failed to respond with any vigor. The United States contented itself with mild diplomatic protests, and while the British spoke of extending help to China, they made no move to do so. Only the Soviet Union acted in such a way as to indicate that it might at some point resist a Japanese advance. On March 12, 1936, it signed a mutual defense pact with its client state, Outer Mongolia (Mongolian People's Republic). More important, Soviet dictator Joseph STALIN advised the Chinese Communists to make peace with the central government and form a common front. Faced with these gestures by the USSR, the Japanese government seized on a proposal from the Germans and on November 25 signed with Hitler an Anti-Comintern Pact. This agreement stipulated nothing more than that the two governments exchange data about, and collaborate in suppressing, Communist activities. Inevitably, however, other governments suspected that it contained secret articles making the two nations allies. The result in both London and Washington was to quicken apprehension concerning possible Japanese aggressive moves. In April 1937, the British government began belatedly to supply financial and technical assistance to China, and American officials talked openly of doing likewise.

Rising prospects for foreign support of China, coupled with various domestic developments, led the Japanese government to decide that it could no longer achieve its objects by peaceful means. On July 7, 1937, taking advantage of a minor clash at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peiping (Peking), the Japanese Army opened a large-scale invasion of China. The other powers still did not act. Britain and the United States delivered diplomatic protests, and on October 6 the League Assembly voted to condemn Japan's action but not to brand it as aggression and not therefore to invoke sanctions. Speaking at Chicago on the previous day, Roosevelt had said that an "epidemic of world lawlessness was spreading and suggested that, as with an epidemic disease, it might be met by a "quarantine. It soon became clear, however, that he would not go on to advocate combined action against Japan. Instead a meeting was called in Brussels of the 18 nations that had adhered to the Nine-Power Treaty, signed in Washington in 1922 and promising respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial and administrative integrity of China. From this meeting issued, on November 24, nothing more than an exhortation to Japan to mend her ways. The Soviet Union for its part was caught up in a domestic crisis, the result of which was a purge of the leading generals in the army. In August 1938, its forces did engage in a 10-day skirmish with Japanese troops that had infringed the Soviet border. Aside from sending a trickle of aid to the Chinese, however, no power did anything more.

The Japanese were able in 18 months to overrun the area around Peiping, the central Yangtze Basin, and most of the coast of southern China. By the end of 1938 they controlled the richest portions of the country and exercised sway over nearly half its population. In uneasy cooperation with the Communists the Chinese central government was organizing itself for prolonged resistance, and, in fact, war was to continue for more than eight years. Nevertheless, the Japanese aggression seemed at the time to have been an overwhelming success. And in view of the association of the Japanese with the Germans (and after Nov. 6, 1937, with the Italians) in the Anti-Comintern Pact, their triumph seemed another score on the side of the totalitarian states, another encouragement to them, another warning to the democracies.

  The Axis and the Anschluss

Even before the Sino-Japanese War the French and British had begun to take some action. Military authorities in both countries estimated (probably erroneously) that the Germans had a long lead in preparations for war. To bring themselves abreast the French decided in October 1936 to undertake a four-year rearmament program, and the British followed their example. The two governments also gave fresh thought to the possibility of redressing the balance by finding allies. Aware of the isolationism of the United States, suspicious of Soviet communism, and apprehensive that in any case the army purges of 1937 might have weakened the USSR, they turned inevitably to the idea of allying themselves with Italy--of recreating the Stresa front. Mussolini, however, had been drawing closer to Hitler. After both independently gave aid to Franco, discussion arose about the possibility of cooperation in wider spheres. Hitler, who had prophesied a German-Italian entente in Mein Kampf, made the first overtures. In October 1936, the Italian foreign minister, Conte Galeazzo Ciano, visited Germany and arrived at vague understandings on common action against international communism. On November 1, reacting viscerally to the British decision on rearmament, the duce made a speech. In it he spoke of a "vertical line between Rome and Berlin that was "not a partition but rather an axis round which all European states animated by the will to collaboration and peace can also collaborate. Seizing on his words, commentators soon coupled Italy and Germany as the Axis powers.

They were not yet formal allies. Indeed, from the French and British standpoint, it seemed that they were far from being so. After the settlement of the Ethiopian affair, Italy's paramount interests appeared once again to lie in the Danubian region. And it was there that Hitler seemed most likely to make his next move. He had continued to give strong backing to the Austrian Nazis. In February 1938, through pressure on Chancellor von Schuschnigg, he forced the appointment of Nazis to key posts in the Austrian government. He and they talked openly of an Anschluss: a political union. It remained to be seen whether Mussolini would react again as he had in 1934. The Italian dictator did in fact sound out the British government on the possibility of an accord. He did not ask that Britain guarantee support against Germany, but merely that it recognize his conquest of Ethiopia and reach an entente with him on Mediterranean issues. This would be enough, he implied, to enable him to stand up to Hitler on the Austrian question. Whether he was in earnest or not remains doubtful. In any event, Foreign Secretary Eden took the view that an understanding with Italy was impossible without the termination of Italian intervention in Spain. Although the majority of the cabinet disagreed with him and he resigned, there was so much support for his position in the House of Commons that the government felt compelled to go slowly.

Meanwhile, Hitler moved. On Nov. 5, 1937, he had disclosed his thoughts to some of his principal political and military subordinates. The next six to eight years, he said, would bring Germany to the peak of her relative power. Thereafter rearmament by other nations, coupled with the obsolescence of German weapons, would mean that any change would be for the worse. " Germany's problem could only be solved by means of force, he declared, and "it was his unalterable resolve to solve Germany's problem of space at the latest by 1943-1945. The first steps would be the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia. After that the schedule would depend on circumstances. Morally sure that Italy would not resist, he had made preparations to act against Austria. His demand for the installation of Nazis in key posts in that government was a first step.

When Schuschnigg made a sign of defiance, announcing a projected plebiscite in which the Austrian people would register their desire to remain independent, Hitler sent an angry ultimatum demanding its cancellation. Encouraged by Schuschnigg's compliance, he then demanded that a Nazi be installed as chancellor. When rebuffed, he directed Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Austrian Nazi minister of the interior, to proclaim himself head of a provisional government and invite German intervention. This was done. German troops crossed the border early on March 12. On the following day, Anschluss was proclaimed, and on March 14 Hitler himself was in Vienna. Having received no encouraging reply from London, Mussolini had acquiesced, telling Hitler's envoy that "Austria would be immaterial to him. Since the British had taken the position even in 1934 that Austria was not a direct concern of theirs, they contented themselves with a strong diplomatic protest. The French, embroiled in a domestic crisis and having only a caretaker cabinet, were incapable of even contemplating action. In the series of successes of the dictatorships the conquest of Austria was the most rapid, the most complete, and the most feebly opposed.

Czech Crisis

It was clear to all the world that Czechoslovakia was now in peril. German garrisons ringed its western frontiers, and the German press and radio thundered about persecution suffered by the German minority there. In the Sudetenland, where most of this minority resided, a constant clamor was maintained by Nazi sympathizers whose leaders plainly took their orders from Berlin. Reacting to evidence of German troop concentrations, the Czechs on May 20, 1938, ordered the mobilization of reserves along the German frontier. Their French ally stood by them, warning the Germans not to attack. The British ambassador in Berlin added reinforcement by reminding the German Foreign Office that Britain was an ally of France, and the Soviet government declared that it would live up to its alliance with Czechoslovakia. This so-called May crisis proved short lived, for on May 22, Hitler sent to Prague assurances that he was not concentrating troops and that he had no aggressive designs.

Although this episode was frequently cited later as an instance in which firmness by the other powers had forced Hitler to back down, the fact was that the crisis was illusory. While the fuhrer intended eventually to move against Czechoslovakia, it had not been in his mind to act so soon after the Anschluss. On April 21, he had ordered the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW) to bring up to date plans for a Czech campaign, but the work was not completed until mid-May. Hitler was, in fact, giving his approval to this document on the very day when the Czechs mobilized, and the first words of his covering letter were, "It is not my intention to smash Czechoslovakia in the immediate future without provocation, unless an unavoidable development within Czechoslovakia forces the issue. If the May crisis had any result, it may have been to anger Hitler and incline him to advance his timetable. His associates testified later that he was furious at having to give assurances to the Czechs, and on May 30 he revised his directive to read, "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future. Perhaps, too, the false sense of having been at the very brink of war had a palsying effect on the governments that had momentarily seemed so firm.

In succeeding weeks and months the British showed an increasing disposition to arrange some appeasement of the Germans. Neville CHAMBERLAIN was now prime minister, having succeeded Baldwin on May 28, 1937, and he was strongly of the view that the Germans had many legitimate grievances, that it would not be in the interest of the world for the powers to insist obstinately on maintaining the status quo, and that every conceivable step should be taken to avert war. His position in the May crisis had actually been a good deal less firm than it seemed, and he took pains afterward to make this plain. Through newspaper leaks he let it be known that Britain saw merit in the German position on the Sudetenland. On Aug. 3, 1938, he dispatched the 1st Viscount Runciman to Czechoslovakia to devise a formula that might satisfy Hitler. On September 7, in a widely noticed editorial that was probably inspired by the government, the London Times went so far as to suggest that the Sudetenland might be allowed to secede and unite itself with Germany. Hitler had meanwhile fixed October 1 as the date on which German forces were to move on Czechoslovakia. By early September, increased agitation by the Sudeten Nazis and the German press and radio gave notice that some kind of climax was approaching. At a party rally in Nurnberg on September 12, Hitler delivered a tirade against the Czechs. Observers reported infantry and armored units moving to the frontiers, and this time there was no question of the fact.

Berchtesgaden and Bad Godesberg

To avert the impending crisis, Chamberlain resolved to meet face to face with Hitler. Although he was 69 years old and had never been in an airplane before, he telegraphed the German dictator offering to fly over at once, and on September 15, Hitler met him at Berchtesgaden. There the prime minister asked if Germany would be satisfied by the cession to her of the Sudetenland. When assured that this was the case, he promised to press such a solution on the French and the Czechs. He returned to London sure that a basis for peace had been found and convinced, too, as he noted in a private memorandum, "that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word. On September 18, the premier and foreign minister of France, Edouard Daladier and Georges Bonnet, came to the British capital. Although in the past they had said repeatedly that France would stand by Czechoslovakia, the question of whether or not to repeat this assurance had been debated in their cabinet throughout the day of September 13 without a decision being reached. Their military advisers had warned that the French armies alone could not carry out offensive operations, and that France would still be defenseless in the face of German air attacks. The Czech Army, though 800,000 strong, was not credited with ability to maintain prolonged resistance. Only Soviet troops were in a position to come directly to the aid of Czechoslovakia, and although the USSR had indicated that it would dispatch such troops, they could arrive only by way of Romania or Poland. Both of these countries had indicated firmly that they would not grant rights of passage, and the Poles had said on September 12 that they would not honor their alliance with France if France were swept into war on account of Czechoslovakia. Daladier and Bonnet were eager therefore to explore any road that might lead to peace. They gave approval to the formula that Chamberlain had brought back from Berchtesgaden, and on September 19 the British and French governments joined in urging the Czechs to accept it.

The initial response from Prague was negative. The government of President Eduard Benes was well aware that in sacrificing the Sudetenland Czechoslovakia would lose not only valuable resources and industrial plants but also her only natural defenses against Germany, and Benes had thus far employed every device to prevent its loss. But this initial response was not the final one. Fearful as they were of the Germans, Czech leaders were even more frightened of the Russians.

Further dispatches from London and Paris impressed on them the fact that even if the Western democracies went to war in their behalf, British and French troops would not come to Czechoslovakia. Soviet troops, on the other hand, might do so. There were persistent hints from Moscow that they would force their way through Romania or Poland. The general feeling among Czech leaders was that, if so, they would never withdraw. The cabinet, or at least some part of it, decided that the course of wisdom was to accept the sacrifices urged by the British and French.

Declaring that he was acting with the knowledge of Benes, Premier Milan Hodza communicated secretly with Bonnet, requesting a statement that France would not defend Czechoslovakia if the Anglo-French proposals were rejected. With this in hand, he indicated, it would be possible for the cabinet to justify acceptance of them. Bonnet complied, and on September 21 the Czechs gave notice that they would agree to the terms which Chamberlain and Hitler had devised at Berchtesgaden.

Delighted, Chamberlain arranged for another meeting with the fuhrer, this time at Bad Godesberg on the Rhine. When he arrived on September 22, however, he found to his dismay that the Berchtesgaden terms no longer satisfied Hitler. The German now demanded not only that the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany but that it be turned over to her immediately: before 2 pm on September 28. Since Chamberlain had envisaged a survey of the area by an international commission and German-Czech negotiations to determine new boundaries, this meant the ruin of all he had arranged. On September 23, he left for home, heavyhearted and doubtful that war could be averted.


For the next few days, Europe seemed on the verge of war. The Czechs mobilized. Daladier and Bonnet came again to London, where they were assured more or less definitively of British support. They in turn promised backing to the Czechs. On September 26, Hitler spoke at the Sportspalast in Berlin, proclaiming in violent language that the Sudeten issue would be solved in a matter of days, if necessary by force. On the following day, the British cabinet ordered partial mobilization. Air-raid shelters began to go up in London. Chamberlain expressed his attitude in a radio address to the British people. "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing! Grasping at straws, he wrote again to Hitler and sent a message to Mussolini requesting Italian influence on behalf of a peaceful settlement. President Roosevelt on September 26 appealed to Hitler to negotiate with the other Europeans.

While the German leader had hoped that France would not act and had counted on the British not to do so, he told intimates that he was ready to make war if it proved necessary. His generals were almost unanimous in holding that Germany was not in fact ready to fight against Czechoslovakia, France, Britain, and probably the USSR, but Hitler appeared to have little regard for their opinions. On the morning of September 28, he seemed prepared to carry out his threat, come what might. Before the 2 pm deadline, however, he received Chamberlain's new message, a communication from the French ambassador which indicated that France would go to almost any length to avoid war, and a message from Mussolini proposing an Anglo-French-German-Italian conference to compose the issue. Informing the Western governments that he would postpone his deadline until October 1 (the date fixed by his original plans), he agreed to accept the duce's suggestions.

The conference met at Munich on September 29-30. A new plan was put forward by Mussolini. Since it had actually been drawn up in Berlin, Hitler said that he found it a satisfactory basis for negotiation. Chamberlain and Daladier accepted it with few amendments. The four leaders affixed their signatures, and Chamberlain returned to London to declare that he brought back "peace with honour, adding, "I believe it is peace in our time. The Munich agreement stipulated that the Germans should occupy the Sudetenland by October 10; that an international commission, representing the four powers and Czechoslovakia, should arrange the transfer and draw new boundaries not only there but also on the Czech-Polish and Czech-Hungarian frontiers; and that afterward all four powers would guarantee these new frontiers. Dominated by the Germans, the commission awarded to Germany all the border area that had been shown as German in the Austro-Hungarian census of 1910. This included approximately 10,000 square miles and 3,500,000 persons. The commission also approved Polish seizure of the Teschen region, which took place on October 2, and on November 2 awarded to Hungary a strip of southern Slovakia and Ruthenia. The deed to the Poles covered about 400 square miles and 240,000 persons; that to Hungary, about 5,000 square miles and 1,000,000 persons.

  End of Appeasement

Hitler, of course, was not satisfied with the Munich settlement. On October 21, only three weeks after signing the accord, he advised his generals that one of their next tasks would be "liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Another was the seizure of Memel, a port on the Baltic Sea which had been taken from Germany and placed under League of Nations auspices in 1919 and had been seized by Lithuania in 1923. While plans for these undertakings were being prepared, he opened a diplomatic offensive on still another front, notifying the Polish government on October 24 that he wished revisions in the statute for the Free City of Danzig, road and rail corridors through Polish territory to connect Germany with Danzig, and extraterritorial rights in these corridors for German subjects.

In western European capitals, even while joy over Munich was at its height, there was some suspicion about Hitler's future intentions. Daladier was skeptical from the outset that the settlement would last. Reports from intelligence sources soon aroused similar doubts in members of the British government. Official and public opinion in both countries veered toward the view that appeasement had been given its final trial--that the Munich accords were the last concessions that could be made, and that further demands by Hitler would call for forthright opposition. In March 1939, this changed mood was put to the test. Hitler had paid no attention to diplomats' warnings of it. The French had signed with him on Dec. 6, 1938, a joint declaration guaranteeing the Franco-German frontier and promising the settlement of future differences by consultation. The British had made overtures for economic accords. Though meant as earnests of desire to make the Munich settlement work, these gestures were interpreted by Hitler as further evidence of spinelessness, and when he next acted, he did so more brazenly than on any occasion in the past.

Having given encouragement earlier to Slovakian separatists, on March 11, 1939, he sent Austrian Nazis to Slovakia to order the Slovakians to proclaim their independence and ask him to become their protector. In the meantime, the Czech president, Emil Hacha, asked to see the fuhrer. He was invited to Berlin and given an audience in the early morning hours of March 15. An almost incredible scene ensued. Hitler told Hacha that there were only two choices: Czechoslovakia could ask to be occupied peacefully, or it could be invaded and its people made to suffer. The fuhrer's deputies literally chased Hacha around a table, trying to force him to sign a proclamation requesting establishment of a German protectorate. When the aged Czech fainted, he was revived with injections. Finally he signed. Hitler immediately ordered his troops to move, and on March 16 he was in Prague, proclaiming that Czechoslovakia no longer existed. Both the Czech and the Slovakian regions became German protectorates. In accordance with a prior understanding the largest part of the Carpatho-Ukraine was turned over to Hungary.

The reactions in Western capitals were mixed. The fact that Hacha had invited German intervention made it hard for the French and the British to do more than protest the violation of the spirit of Munich. On the other hand, even the firmest believers in appeasement were shocked by Hitler's seizing new territory after having said so vehemently that he had no further ambitions and especially by his taking into the Reich 10,000,000 persons who were not of German nationality. The majority of the French cabinet now agreed immediately that, when he moved again, Hitler would have to be stopped by force. At Birmingham on March 17, Chamberlain declared that if the recent German action proved merely a prelude to other attacks on small states, Britain would join in resisting "to the utmost of its power.

The nation most likely to be Hitler's next target was Poland. On January 9, Hitler had renewed his demands with regard to Danzig, coupling with them a secret communication suggesting that Poland might in return obtain eventual cessions of territory in the Soviet Ukraine. On February 1, the Poles refused. On March 21, however, Hitler notified them in threatening language that the Danzig issue would have to be settled. Two days later, German troops seized Memel. The French and British had already indicated that they were prepared to negotiate an alliance with Poland. The chief stumbling block was the question of whether or not the USSR should be included. Through the commissar for foreign affairs, Maksim M. Litvinov, the Soviets had expressed a desire to be a party to the alliance. Polish leaders, however, looked on this offer with apprehension fully equal to that which had been shown by the Czechs. While exhibiting eagerness for ties with the British and French, they still said firmly that they would not permit Soviet troops to cross their soil. Although most members of the French and British cabinet wanted to form a common front with Poland and the USSR, they concluded that it would be dangerous to wait for a change in the Polish stand. On March 23, as a warning to Hitler, the two governments had declared that they would defend Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland against any attack. This pledge had been made without any quid pro quo, and Daladier and Chamberlain decided that their simplest course was to follow the same procedure with regard to Poland. The British prime minister asked if the Poles would have any objection. They said no, and on March 31, Chamberlain announced in the House of Commons: In the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in the matter.

On April 7, Mussolini, imitating Hitler's tactics, invaded Albania. The British and French governments on April 13 extended their guarantee to Greece and Romania. Abandoning their earlier policies altogether, they now stood ready to go to war automatically if the dictators committed new acts of aggression.

Nazi-Soviet Pact

The Western powers were still desirous of having the USSR on their side. All hope of attaching Italy to their cause had disappeared. On January 4, Mussolini had told Hitler that he was ready to negotiate a comprehensive alliance. Although this so-called Pact of Steel, pledging each nation to join the other immediately in war, was not completed until May 22, Mussolini meanwhile made no secret of where he stood. Chamberlain and Daladier had received some encouragement from the United States. Roosevelt had opened a campaign to repeal the Neutrality acts of 1935-1937 so that American supplies would be available to Britain and France if war came, but he was to find it impossible for the time being to carry Congress with him. In any event, there was no likelihood whatever of early American intervention in their behalf. If there was to be another power allied with them, it could only be the USSR.

Despite Polish opposition, the French and British had continued to discuss a pact with the Soviets. On April 15, the French suggested that the two Western powers and the USSR sign a treaty containing pledges of mutual assistance in the event of war. Thus, while the Soviets would not have any engagement with Poland, they would be obligated to fight for her if the French and British did so. After a long delay resulting partly from concern about Poland's role, partly from distrust of the Soviets, and partly, in all probability, from latent hope for a war between Nazis and Communists in which the democracies could stand aside. Chamberlain's cabinet agreed to the French plan. The proposal was made to the Russians, and on May 27 negotiations began in Moscow. Troubled from the outset by the issue of whether or not the three-power agreement should explicitly recognize a Russian right of passage through Poland, the negotiations eventually foundered. They were finally suspended on Aug. 21, 1939.

In the meantime, other negotiations had been in progress between the Soviets and the Germans. After giving various subtle indications that Munich had undermined his hope of cooperation with the Western powers, Stalin on March 10 made a speech summarizing the principles of his foreign policy as: (1) To continue to pursue a policy of peace and consolidation of economic relations with all countries. (2) Not to let our country be drawn into conflict by warmongers, whose custom it is to let others pull their chestnuts out of the fire. On May 3, Litvinov was replaced by Vyacheslav M. Molotov, a man who had had no part in the effort to win alliances with the democracies. Speaking with the German ambassador on May 20, the new foreign commissar remarked that mutually profitable economic agreements might be reached if a suitable " political basis were established.

Although Hitler understood these hints, he was slow to act on them. Not until late in May did he authorize exploratory conversations about a trade pact and related matters. After these went on for some weeks without result, on June 29 he abruptly ordered that they be broken off. On July 18, he learned of Russian proposals for resumption of the talks. Eight days later, his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, spent an evening sounding out some Russian officials who were in Berlin. Encouraged by the results of these and other conversations, Hitler decided on a bold gamble. On August 14, he had Ribbentrop propose to the Russians "a speedy clarification of German-Russian relations in due course clarifying jointly territorial questions in Eastern Europe. Now the supplicated rather than the suppliants, the Soviets raised a number of practical issues. In each instance, Hitler responded satisfactorily. By August 20, terms had been agreed on, and on August 23, Molotov and Ribbentrop signed a nonaggression pact in Moscow. The published text bound both governments to refrain from aggressive action or attack against each other, to lend no support to a third party should either "become the object of belligerent action by one, and to join in no "grouping of Powers whatsoever which is aimed directly or indirectly at the other Party. A secret protocol stipulated that if "territorial and political transformation should take place in northeastern Europe, the boundary between German and Soviet spheres should follow the northern border of Lithuania and the line of the Narew (Narev), Vistula (Visla), and San rivers in Poland.

Thus was a temporary diplomatic revolution effected. The Nazi and Soviet dictatorships became allies. Among the great powers only the British and French remained as potentially active opponents of German expansion. After the signature of the pact with the USSR, Hitler reportedly exclaimed, " Now, I have the world in my pocket!

Final Crisis

On April 3, Hitler had directed his generals to prepare a plan of campaign against Poland, with September 1 as its probable starting date. On May 23, in a conference with top-ranking officers, he disclosed that his intention was to use the Danzig question as a pretext and "to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity. Meeting Mussolini's foreign minister at Obersalzberg on August 12-13, Hitler stated that he intended to move against Poland before the end of the month, and that he was confident that Britain and France would not intervene. He expressed this conviction to others. After learning that the pact with the Soviets would become a reality, however, he convoked his generals at Obersalzberg and, in the course of a long, rambling speech, told them that while he did not foresee war in the west it was a risk that had to be run. In any event, he said, delay worked to Germany's disadvantage. If the British and French did nothing about Poland, he intended to strike against them soon after the Polish campaign was over. Economically and militarily, he said, they would profit from further respite while Germany would not. He ordered that the armies be ready on August 26 to move against Poland and, if necessary, to hold the western frontier against an Anglo-French attack. But on August 25, two days after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the French warned him once again that they would stand by Poland, and on the same day Chamberlain announced the signature of a formal Anglo-Polish alliance. Hitler wavered. Saying that he needed time for negotiation, he ordered the postponement of the operation.

His chosen pretext had been alleged grievances of the German population in Danzig. Clamor there for annexation by Germany and for establishment of road and rail corridors had been augmented since July as a result of the dispatch to the city of several hundred Nazi agents provocateurs. Citing the evidence of this agitation, Hitler addressed to Chamberlain a long appeal for understanding and sympathy. Obviously hoping against hope that a peaceful solution would emerge, the British prime minister pressed the Poles to make every concession. They agreed reluctantly to negotiate about the issues Hitler raised. When their ambassador in Berlin gave notice to this effect, however, Hitler refused to deal with him unless he had full powers to reach a settlement on the spot. Exploiting this pretext, he declared to the British and French governments that it was not he but the Poles who were rejecting diplomacy. When the government in Warsaw ordered mobilization on August 30, the German press and radio cried that it was planning an attack. On the following day, there occurred a small incident on the German side of the Polish frontier. According to Hitler's subsequent speech, Polish soldiers attacked a German radio station at Gleiwitz (now Gliwice). Actually the attackers were Germans outfitted in Polish uniforms, commanded by an SS officer, and acting on orders from Berlin.

Hitler had already given the final directive for the invasion to begin at dawn on September 1. It was well under way before he delivered a radio address throwing all blame on the Poles and saying that he had had to meet force with force. When the French and British demanded that he recall his troops, he refused. On September 3, Chamberlain and Daladier gave formal notice to Germany that a state of war existed. The long armistice of 1918-1939 was over.