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The 1930s have become almost a blueprint for how not do deal with an international crisis. The Great Depression crippled most major powers (including Germany, Britain, and France) and left its population susceptible to political extremism, as we saw last week. But we must also keep in mind that historical hindsight should not cloud our vision of this period. We must remember that Germany was not a pariah state before the Second World War. Not only had Germany made multiple international agreements (including the Dawes Plan and the Locarno Treaty in the 1920s), Nazi Germany was looked at as a rising power in the world and some saw it as a symbol for the future. As we saw last week with the former PM of Britain calling Hitler Germanys George Washington. This was also seen in the near-universal participation in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the somewhat blas news coverage of the Nazi rise to power in 1933, and even the support of international figures like Charles Lindbergh.

We must remember that Europeans did not want war in the 1930s, as the memory of WWI still cast a long shadow. Multiple peace measures are put forward after the war, including the Dawes Plan in 1924 (which reduced and rescheduled German reparation payment while also guaranteeing American loans to the Weimar Republic) and the Locarno Treaty of 1925 (which solidified the borders on in the West agreed to by Versailles but also allowed for possible changes in the East). Germany was admitted into the League of Nations in 1926, and the Briand-Kellog Pact of 1929 solemnly renounced war as a tool of politics (but was an empty pledge).

When individuals like PM Chamberlain (as you will hear in the podcast) appeased Hitler, it was largely because Britain (and much of the rest of Europe), was simply unprepared for the war. Sadly, few realized the true horrors that were to be unleashed a few months later.

Orwell is a wonderful conduit to understanding this overall uncertainty. While the first half of his book addresses the economic uncertainty of the Depression, Orwells account of the political and social issues of socialism clearly highlights the uncertainty and apprehension that dominated the 1930s. The chapter from Arnsteins work on interwar Britain would also provide additional context (not only for this week but also your critical analysis paper). Orwell was a massive proponent in confronting Hitler and Stalin and was appalled by the idea of appeasement in the late 1930s. As Orwell put it, the problem was that Britain was not willing to pay the price either of peace or war, and so they got both.

It was in this environment of appeasement that war was eventually declared in the Fall of 1939 and unleashed the most destructive conflict in human history. Snyders work gives you a strong sense of the scale and scope of this conflict (especially on the Eastern Front), but casualties aside, in Asia and Europe, the Second World War was very destructive.

Mass aerial bombing had made the ability to destroy cities very effectively. By the end of the war, infrastructure and economies across the world were crippled, along with the millions of people who were driven from their homes and isolated. By wars end, the old capitols of Europe were in ruin, and the once-mighty empires of the 19th century could not even feed their own population. Because of this, there were major doubts that the old imperial powers of Europe would be able to fully recover. This economic weakness only solidified view of the weakness of the Europeans by their colonial subjects.

World War II fundamentally altered the power structure of the globe. This is not only because of the unimaginable loss of life, but because of the direct aftermath, leading to two of the major byproducts of the war: The Cold War and Decolonization. Sadly, we do not have two more weeks to cover these events with our remaining time in the course. We will, however, deal with these questions or the legacy of the war (and the course as a whole next week when we discuss the Holocaust).

Discussion Prompt

Using Orwells Road to Wigan Pier as your primary source, what do you think was the biggest concern or apprehension for Europeans during the buildup to World War II? These concerns can be economic, political, social, or even intellectual.

[Note: Think of this response as a kind of starting point for your Critical Analysis Paper. I fully expect you to incorporate this response into your longer paper to get you a head start on this assignment.]

 

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