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The Interwar Years (1919-1938)

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Nazi Germany (1919-1938)

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Why did Italy turn to Fascism in the years following World War I?

Democracy as an institution was unstable and novel to the Italians, with universal male suffrage only having been granted in 1912. This made it easier for Benito Mussolini to capitalize on the reaction to chaos and bring his party, representing rigid order, to power. Mussolini's power lay in his ability to harness the anger and disillusionment of the returning soldiers and the lower middle class. Soldiers returned to a broken homeland after World War I, filled with misery and poverty. Moreover, they were not thanked for their sacrifices but jeered as the cause of Italy's hard times. These jeers seemed to come more than anywhere else, from the liberal left, which was in control of the Chamber of Deputies early in the inter-war years. Under their rule, conditions only worsened, and in many instances it seemed like they were doing nothing as Italy collapsed. The Fascist party appealed to the frustrations of these soldiers, and to the culturally instilled conservatism of the middle class. Rather than preaching liberalism and newly emerging liberal values, the Fascists offered a return to traditional politics and traditional values, promising to undo the changes made by the liberals and lift poor, crippled Italy to a position of glory once more. Most importantly, they offered the masses a type of government in which the leaders could and would do something about deteriorating conditions. To many, it mattered not what the Fascists did, but only that they acted, and acted within the framework of a stable and strong government.

Some historians claim that Europe's failure to rebound from the First World War was caused by the extensive loss of lives, especially those of the intellectual elites during the war. Evaluate this 'lost generation' theory?

It is beyond doubt that the extensive loss of life in World War One had a profound impact on European life, but to attribute the troubles of the inter-war period, as many do, to the concept of a 'lost generation,' is folly. This concept revolves around the contention that the intellectual elite was destroyed by the war and the mediocre survived, becoming the social and political leaders of the era, unable to deal with the crises of the period. It is true that the young men of the elite suffered greater casualties than any other segment of the population, but while 2,680 Oxford graduates were killed in the war, it must be remembered that 14,650 fought and survived. In uncompassionate economic terms, in view of the rampant unemployment of the inter-war period, this 20% loss of skilled workers actually alleviated some of the problems of the era, which included the wastage of the skilled, intelligent, and enterprising.

How did the League of Nations demonstrate changing concepts of international relations?

The League of Nations was heralded as the bastion of a new system of international relations in Europe. The so-called 'old diplomacy' is known as the Westphalian System since it had been in place since the Treaty of Westphalia, signed by the major European powers in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Year's War. Under this system the elites of government often met in secret to determine the fate of Europe and the world. However, with the Great War, the old system was shattered, along with the empires that had maintained it. American participation in the war was a major step toward a shift in the balance of world power, and the beginning of the end for European dominance. The brutality, and to some, apparent needlessness, of the war and the changing face of European geography led to new ideas about how international affairs should be managed. The secretive nature of the Westphalian system had led to petty resentments, the pursuit of narrow self-interest, and the division of Europe into warring camps. Many, including Woodrow Wilson, felt that a more open, all- inclusive system would be more fostering to cooperation, a concept of international justice, and peace. The League was seen as a way to institutionalize these goals and strive for peace as a collective world community.

What were the causes of instability in Eastern Europe during the inter-war years? How do they compare to the causes of instability in Eastern Europe at the end of the twentieth century?

Why did attempts at disarmament between the wars fail?

What were the characteristics of totalitarianism as practiced between the wars? How did totalitarianism differ from the authoritarian governments of past eras?

What arguments may be presented for and against the statement that the Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for World War Two?

Describe the political battle between the Conservative and Labour Parties in Britain during the inter-war years. What evidence is there of Labour's impact on the generally Conservative British government? What factors kept the Labour Party from establishing and maintaining control over the government?

Which was more important for Adolf Hitler's rise to power: his policy goals or the symbolism of the Nazi Party? Explain your answer.

Why were extremist political parties more successful during the inter-war years than they had been before World War One?

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