Four years later, in 1935, Mussolini ordered the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. Mussolini was a fascist and dreamt of building a 'second' Roman Empire. He needed to show Hitler (who had become German Chancellor in 1933) that Italy was a force to be reckoned with; Mussolini was suffering from the beginnings of an inferiority complex. Italy had a problem much like Japan - the ratio of food/space to people was unbalanced. Presenting himself as 'Il Duce', Mussolini wanted revenge for the Abyssinian defeat of Italy in 1896. He attacked in 1935, but it took a year for Italian tanks, aeroplanes, troops and poison gas to defeat the Abyssinians. The League's predicament was as follows; Britain, France and Italy had formed the Stresa Front in 1935 against Hitler, and this acted as dissuasion against any serious sanctions. In reality, it would have been very easy for Britain to stop Mussolini if they had starved him of oil. By blocking the Suez Canal and the Straits of Gibraltar, Britain would have forced Italy to withdraw from Abyssinia. The only problem with that would have been that Britain would have been putting Anglo-American relations on a bad footing - America needing to export as much as possible to ease the effects of economic collapse. The solution (as Britain and France saw it) was to negotiate with Mussolini and employ minimal economic sanctions. Sir Samuel Hoare and Pierre Laval made the Hoare-Laval Pact in early December. It would have appeased Mussolini by offering him two large strips of Abyssinia, whilst keeping the capital Addis Ababa under Abyssinian rule. The pact was leaked in Paris, and Hoare was forced to resign or apologise by PM Stanley Baldwin. In 1936 Abyssinian resistance collapsed, economic sanctions were lifted and Mussolini withdrew Italy from the League. For a second time, the League was proved almost totally ineffective in practise, contradicting the initial hopes of a solution to all the world's problems. Britain and France had not made the decision to stop Mussolini because they were trying desperately to keep him on their side against Hitler. Sending troops into Abyssinia would not have helped their cause. Thus the League had been shown to be a failure. There were however more than just two short term causes relating to the League's failure.
"Interest does not bind men together: interest separates men. There is only one thing that can bind men together, and that is common devotion to right."
Wilson's faith in 'Moral Force' had been proved unjustified twice more. Wilson's initial speech upon the creation of the League now seemed very shallow indeed:
"…the moral force of the public opinion of the world - the pleasing and clarifying and compelling influences of publicity--so that intrigues can no longer have their coverts; so that designs that are sinister can at anytime be drawn into the open, so that those things that are destroyed by the light may be promptly destroyed by the overwhelming light of the universal expression of the condemnation of the world…"
'Moral Force' had not stopped Mussolini at Corfu, nor in Abyssinia. It had failed also to stop the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or the start of the Greek-Bulgarian war.
Collective security had been a pleasant theory as well. On paper, it appeared infallible. In practice it proved to be almost as effective as moral force. Economic sanctions damaged the country delivering as much as the one on the receiving. Had economic sanctions been utilised to any significant extent during the depression, it would have been financial suicide on the part of the country employing them. Military sanctions were proven ineffective by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. First of all, Japan was on the other side of the world, a strategic nightmare for co-ordinating French and British troops. Secondly, it is questionable as to whether both countries would have been in the slightest bit interested in trekking to the other side of the world to fight a battle that they would undoubtedly lose. Both countries were suffering enough from the depression without the added financial burden of funding an expeditionary force to Japan.
Wilson's 'Moral Force' also did not have any effect upon disarmament. Members of the League were not truly committed; this was proved by the actions of France and Germany in the Geneva Disarmament Conference of 1932-4. France, concerned with Hitler's 'new' Germany and German rearmament, would not disarm on the grounds of national security. Hitler withdrew Germany from the League in 1933 in order to rearm without commitment to the disarmament articles.
"President Wilson had come to Europe with a program of peace for all men. His ideal was a very high one, but it involved great difficulties, owing to these century-old hatreds between some races."
The absence of the United States definitely made a difference to the League - it was the only major world power outside the League. Its presence could have resolved the Italian invasion of Corfu in 1923 much more justly than it was. The presence of USA would not have made such a great deal of difference in the thirties because of the Wall Street crash and ensuing depression. It could be argued that the USA could never have made the League work in the long-term because there would always be a strong public motion against its involvement. Washington's theory of isolationism was deeply ingrained in the average American's psyche. Even if the USA had been part of the League in the beginning, it is highly probable that they would have withdrawn interest after October 1929, if not withdrawn altogether. Having said all that, the remaining members of the League could have combined and made a force to be reckoned with. Collectively a powerful unit, progress was halted by Japan and Italy turning aggressive. Half the major members of the League were bent on expanding their empires. That is not to excuse Britain or France - Britain was a few years ahead on the empire-building front and France was obsessed with the integrity of its German borders. Britain was concerned with maintaining it's empire; Gandhi was campaigning for Indian independence and British overseas territories were under threat from one power or another. In the Mediterranean, Italy was slowly turning aggressive and in the Pacific Japan was expanding. A sign of France's justifiably perpetual fear of Germany was the construction of the Maginot line between 1930-33. France rearmed on a major scale in 1935 as a result of German rearmament.
The Depression acted as a trigger cause for Japan to turn aggressive - as previously explained. It also aided Hitler's ascension to the rank of German Chancellor in 1933. The Nazi domination of Germany put pressure on Mussolini's Fascist party to show that they were for real. Mussolini was not prepared to be on the wrong end of an inferiority complex - he needed to be the No. 1 Fascist dictator (his invasion of Abyssinia was the first step towards accomplishing this).
Finally, the League had no armed forces of its own. This was perhaps the ultimate expression of non-commitment to international peace and security. For any sort of peace to be maintained, there needs to be a co-ordinated peace-enforcing organisation, much like NATO today. Wilson was being a little over-zealous when he advocated international peace and disarmament. It is true to say that if there are no guns then no-one can be shot, but people would not (and still will not as is shown in Northern Ireland) give up their weapons. Such was the severity of the omnipotent mistrust between the countries of the world. As the League had no tangible 'teeth' from the beginning, some would have viewed it as a failure as soon as the early twenties. If the League had formed a single army (which could never have happened if disarmament was to be upheld) then it may have made a better job of keeping international peace. Added to that, if peace had been maintained, then disarmament would have happened eventually as the need for mass armouries would have diminished. It is quite permissible to argue that the League failed as soon as the idea of a single army was dissolved.
In conclusion, it is of the utmost importance that the significance of these causes is realised. It is also necessary to understand how they interlinked to result in the failure of the League. The long-term causes are those that had set roots long before the actual failure of the League. Long-term, the following factors led up to the failure of the League:
- The respective failures of 'moral force' and collective security.
- The absence of disarmament (this was caused primarily by the long-term mistrust between member states and other countries).
- The non-formation of a League of Nations Army.
Moral force failed because it was a social ideal, not a political reality. It was a pleasant theory, but not one that could ever work, especially after the distinct immorality of the Great War. Wilson was quoted as saying that 'friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together'. In order for there to be friendship, there must first be trust. Moral force and collective security would never have worked because there was not sufficient trust between member states. The absence of disarmament meant that there were still weapons with which aggressive manoeuvres could be made. The non-formation of a collective military force was the physical embodiment of non-commitment to the upkeep of international peace and security.
The short-term or 'trigger' causes were:
- The Wall Street crash on October 26th 1929 and the ensuing depression.
- Hitler's ascension to power in 1933.
- Japan and Italy turning openly aggressive as a result of the above.
The Wall Street crash meant the collapse of the American economy and it's surrounding industry. The reduction in American exports meant that Japan needed more food and resources, hence the invasion of Manchuria. Hitler applied the depression in a cunning manner - by claiming a 'new' future for Germany, he ensured the rise of the Nazi party. This prompted Mussolini to turn aggressive, thus reminding Hitler that there were two great Fascists at the time.
Yet if just one of these causes (long or short term) had not been present, would the League have worked? If there had been sufficient trust between member states and Germany, then there is a very real chance that the League would have succeeded. If there had been trust, though, the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand would not have resulted in the cataclysmic series of events that followed. There would have been no Great War, no Armistice, no fourteen points, no Treaty of Versailles and so on. Some people might argue that the American economy was doomed to failure at some point or other (what goes up must come down etc.) and Hitler was always going to exploit it to its full potential. If Hitler had not risen to power, and the Japanese economy had not collapsed, then the League would have had nothing to trouble it. Such are the complexities of counterfactual history. The League failed in the long term as a result of the deeply ingrained mistrust on the part of its member states, and in the short-term as a result of the Wall Street crash, the depression and ensuing events.
Modern day Ethiopia
'THE WAY TO PEACE: Wilson and the League of Nations' by Sanderson Beck
65 Congress, 3 Session, Senate Document No. 389, pp. 12
4 'THE WAY TO PEACE: Wilson and the League of Nations' by Sanderson Beck
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is a thorough response, with excellent knowledge of the key developments in the League's failure during the 1930s. Occasionally unnecessary narrative precedes the analysis but points are well explained and evaluated. 5 out of 5 stars.