The League of Nations (1920-46)


Figure 1.--Geneva in the French speaking area of Switzerland was chosen to locate the League of Nations. Switzerland was located in the center of wetern Europe between many of the major poers. and the country had a long history of neutrality. It as to be situated in the Genthod village outside the city center. The Swiss children muse as to what it would mean for their quiet village. The press caption read, "Will the diplomats wall the place in?: Emile Guignet and Yvonne Morel, who admit they are sweethearts want to know whether the League of Nations is going to drive everybody away from the little village of Genthod, and whether the diplomats are going to wall the League Park in so they can't go cicyling any more on the smooth shady roads. This snapshot was taken on the roads thru the League of Nations Capital near the homes of Emile and Yvonne at Genthod." The photograph was taken in 1919. Both children are wearing smocks. They may be school smocks, but the photgraph was taken after school or on a week day, suggesting that smocks were not just for school.

The League of Nations was the first international organization established oin the basis of collective security to preserve world peace. It was created by the Versailles and other peace treaties ending World War I. The unbrialded nationalism that had inflamed Europe in the early 20th century was widely seen as a major cause of World War I. The horendous losses in the War convinced many Europeans that there must never be another war. A League of Nations as proposed by President Wilson was seen as a way of preventing war in the future through a system of collective security. The League was a culmination of other political thinkers who had layed the intelectual background, men like the duc de Sully and Immanuel Kant. There had also been the development of international organizations in the 19th century with more limited objectives. These included the International Telegraphic Union (1865) and the Universal Postal Union (1874). The Red Cross, the Hague Conferences, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal) were all organizations that before World War I were drawing nations together in an expanding web of international relations. President Wilson was unable to convince the American Senate to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty which included a provision for the League as its leading provision. This weakened the League from the onset as did the exclusion of the new Soviet Union. The victorious Allied nations, Britain and France, during the 1930s refuse to insist on decisive action against Japanese militarists and Italian and German Fascism. Had the Allies acted decisely, World War II with all its horrors could have been prevented. Winston Churchill in political exile at the time came to call World War II as the unecessary war because decissive action through the League could have prevented the War. [Churchill] President Roosevelt as a vice presidential candidate in 1920 had been a strong supporter of U.S. membership in the League. While this never occurred, the President strongly promoted the League's successor, the United Nations, although he died before the U.N charter was signed in 1945.

Background

The League of Nations was the first international organization established oin the basis of collective security to preserve world peace. The League was a culminatioin of other political thinkers who had layed the intelectual background, men like the duc de Sully and Immanuel Kant. There had also been the development of international organizations in the 19th century with more limited objectives. These included the International Telegraphic Union (1865) and the Universal Postal Union (1874). The Red Cross, the Hague Conferences, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague Tribunal) were all organizations that before World War I were drawing nations together in an expanding web of international relations.

World War I

It was created by the Versailles and other peace treaties ending World War I. The unbrialded nationalism that had inflamed Europe in the early 20th century was widely seen as a major cause of World War I. The horendous losses in the War convinced many Europeans that there must never be another war.

President Wilson

A League of Nations as proposed by President Wilson was seen as a way of preventing war in the future through a system of collective security. President Wilson propsed the League January 18, 1918, while World War I was still raging. President Wilson was unable to convince the American Senate to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty which included a provision for the League as its leading provision.

Membership

The first meeting of the League was held in Geneva, Switzerland (November 15, 1920). There were 42 member nations participating. The decission by America not to join weakened the League from the onset as did the exclusion of the new Soviet Union. Germany, Japan, and Italy withdrew from the league when their aggressive policies were question, even though the actions taken by the Laegue were uneffectual. The Soviet Unioin was eventually allowed to join, but was outsted in 1939 after invading Finalnd.

Convenent

The Convenant or governing constitution of the League consisted of 26 articles. The most important was article X which pledged member countries to, "respect and preserveas against external aggression the teritorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League." It was aricle X that the U.S. Senate objected to. League Members also pledged to submit international disputes to arbitration and in all cases to refrain from war until at least 3 months after the announcemet of an award by an arbitrator. The Peramanent Court at the Hague was created to consider international disputes.

Agressor Nations


Japan Withdraws (March 1933)

Japan was a founding member of the League. It was heavily criticized after invading an annexing Chinese Manchuria (1931). Incensed by the criticim, Jpan withdrew (March 27, 1933). After a brief statement, the Japanese dlegation walked out of the League Chamber, the first country to do so.

Germany Withdraws (October 1933)

NAZI Germany withdrew from the League in 1933, soon after Hitler seized power. The NAZIs viewed the League as a creature of the hated Versailles Treaty. The unpoularity of the treaty among a broad spectrum og Germans was an important issue used by the NAZIs in their rise to power. Only 9 months after Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor, the German government announced its withdrawal from the League (October 1933). The reason given was refusal of the Allied powers to accept Germans demands for military parity. Foreign Minister Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath under Hitler's orders tendered the withdrawl in a curt letter (October 19, 1933). He informed League of Nations secretary-general, Joseph Avenol, of Germany’s decision. Germany’s departure from the League took place as Hitler had ordered a massive secret rearmament program (Aufrüstung) which was in complete violation of the Versailles Treaty ending world war I. The rearmament program was, howecer, so massive it could not be hidden. The Allies for several vital years simply chose to ignore it and attempt to appease Hitler.

Italy withdraws (1937)

Italy was a founding member. Following its invasion of Ethiopia (1935) it waa heavily criticized and subject to inefectual sanctions. Mussolini was personally offended. The criticism was a factor in his warming relatiinhip with Hitler. As a result, Italy withdrew (December 11, 1937).

Soviet Union (1939)

The Soviet Union joined the League (September 18, 1934). By this time Stalin was totally un charge. He has just completed he horific Ukranian Genocide. The League expelled the Soviets (December 14, 1939). The reason was the Siviet invasin of Finland. The soviets were the only country ever expelled by the League..

Successes

Although the League had generally been seen as a failure, there were some successes. The League played a role in preventing some regional wars. It helped restore the finaces of Austria, Hungary, and Greece. The League played a beneficial role in improving international travel and health and attacking the illegal trade in drugs and women as well as limiting child labor.

Mandates

The League was given responsibility for the former German and Ottoman colonies. Mandates to administer these colonies were awarded to Britain and France. Britain was awarded responsibility among other areas Iraq and Palestine. France received Syria and Lebanon. British colonies which were moving toward independence received some of these awards. Australia received New Guinea. Soiuth Africa received South West Africa (Namibia). Japan received tghe Caroline Islands. Several of these areas were matters of significant international dispute in later years.

Failure to Confront Agressor Nations

The victorious Allied nations, Britain and France, during the 1930s refuse to insist on decisive action against Japanese militarists and Italian and German Fascism. The Japanese seized Manchuria in 1931. Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Japanese and Italians were heavily criticized in League proceedings and mild sanctions passed. The British and French in particular were concerned about driving Mussolini closer to Hitler. The sanctions failed and both Japan and Italy withdrew from the League. The Geram actioins such as remilitarizing the Rhiineland and illegal weapons programs were moredifficuly to deal with. They involved stepps on German soil or activities conducted in secret. By the time NAZI Germany took more overt steps, the Anchluss and the Sudetenland in 1938, they had rearmed and action threatened a major world war. The only real impact of the League sanctions was in fact to drive both Italy and Japan closer to NAZI Germany. Had the Allies acted decisely, World War II with all its horrors could have been prevented. Winston Churchill in political exile at the time came to call World War II as the unecessary war because decissive action through the League could have prevented the War. [Churchill]

Reader Comments

A Canadian reader writes, "To me Britain and France in the 1930s were leaning so far left with the people's support and with unprepared militaries that it would have impossible to force Germany, Italy and Japan to rid themselves of their Fascist politics. People were still so sickened by World War I that any idea in the old Allied governments of increasing the military forces and threatening war in the mid-1930s was impossible."

The United Nations

President Franklin Roosevelt as a vice presidential candidate in 1920 had been a strong supporter of U.S. membership in the League. While this never occurred, the President strongly promoted the League's successor, the United Nations, although he died before the U.N charter was signed in 1945. The last meeting of the League was held on April 8, 1946 when the delegates met to formally transfer the records and functions to the new United Nations.

Sources

Churchill, Winston, S., "My grandfather invented Iraq," The Wall Street Journal (March 10, 2003), p. A18.






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Created: April 10, 2003
Last updated: 5:43 AM 12/17/2015