The Czechoslovak republic was the only state in central or eastern Europe where parliamentary democracy had succeeded after World War I. It had inherited some of the most highly developed industrial regions of the old Habsburg Empire; consequently, its economy was far better balanced between industry and agriculture than were those of the other states of eastern Europe.
The Second World War
The immediate origins of World War II lay, however, in the mounting series of German aggressions. Hitler had begun openly rebuilding the German armed forces in 1935.
Three years later he felt strong enough to make his first open effort at expansion. Ever since 1918 there had been a strong movement among Austrians for union (Anschluss) with Germany. This movement had been opposed by Italy and France, though the Rome-Berlin Axis lessened Mussolini’s opposition to Anschluss.
The war between China and Japan had fallen into a lull when, on the night of July 7, 1937, a skirmish between troops of the two nations at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking led to full-scale war once again.
The Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936, was the emotional catalyst that aroused millions of men and women all over the Western world. The war pitted fascists, monarchists, and conservatives of the right against socialists, communists, anarchists, and a few liberals of the left.
Meanwhile, the Italians struck in Ethiopia, where an independent state had precariously maintained itself largely because its imperial neighbors—Britain, France, and Italy—would neither agree to divide it nor let any one of the three swallow it whole.
The next breach in the League’s structure was made by Germans-. In October 1933 Hitler withdrew from the League On March 16, 1935, he denounced the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles that limited German armaments and began openly rebuilding the German armed forces.
The first decisive step along the road to World War II was the Japanese seizure of Manchuria in 1931. Henry L. Stimson (1867-1950), President Hoover’s secretary of state, responded to the seizure by announcing that the United States would recognize no gains made by armed force.
Stimson hoped that Britain and the other democracies might follow this American lead, but his hopes were largely disappointed. The League of Nations did send a commission headed by the earl of Lytton (1876-1947); the Lytton Report of 1932 condemned the Japanese act as aggression.
By the mid-1930s, many commentators believed that a second world war was inevitable.
A series of interconnected events, in China and Ethiopia, in Germany, Austria, and Spain, and sometimes faltering responses by Britain, France, the United States, and other nations, brought full- scale war ever closer.
Between 1931 and 1939, these events precipitated the world once again into war.
In 1919 Lenin founded the Third International, known thereafter as the Comintern. It summoned communists all over the world to unite against the “bourgeois cannibals” of capitalism. Gregory Zinoviev was put in charge, and his chief assistants were mainly Russians.
What breaks down the argument that the iniquities of Versailles alone explain the Second World War is the so-called era of fulfillment. The landmark of this era was a series of treaties negotiated in 1925 at Locarno in Switzerland.
During the first part of the twenty years’ truce, international leadership of the democratic world rested with Britain and France.
Though supported in principle and at times in practice by the United States, they were increasingly unable to stem the rise of powers hostile to their preferred form of government—Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan. In the end, Germany once more waged aggressive warfare against the major Allies of 1918, though this time it was allied with two former enemies, Italy and Japan, each disappointed with its share of the spoils of 1918.
World War II was, in many ways, a result of the flawed peace settlement at Versailles, though other causes, such as the Great Depression, also played a role.
The cold war following World War II was in some ways a continuation in another form of the war of 1939-1945, though it was also in part a reversion to the Western fear of Bolshevism so prevalent in the 1920s.
So troubled were international relations for the twenty years after 1919, and so closely in time did the second world war follow on the first, that the interval between the two is sometimes called the “twenty years’ truce.”