Pacifism: Inter-wars Era (1920s-30s)

German pacifism
Figure 1.--Germany like the rest of Europe was apauled by the huge losses of World War I. Many Germans were also swayed by nationlist politicans, especially young Germans. Here some youths in the 1930s stand in front of the grave of aerman soldier, presumably the father of ones of these boys.

"You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
-- Leon Trotsky

The iniitial sentiment in the Allied Nation after the War was one of elation. But this soon changed as a realization of the cost set in with the public, especially the huge numbers of casualties. Anti-war sentiment grew. The "Never again" sentiment became prounounced. One aspect of the growing anti-war sentiment was a declining appreciation of the military. In the wake of the World War I disaster, anti-militarism grew in both Europe and in America. This sentiment was one of the major reasons that Britain and France did not effectively contront the NAZIs. Men like Baldwin and Chamberlain were unwilling to either prepare for War or even fight the war agressively. Even Churchill was very cautious about casualties. Hitler understood better perhaps than anyone in Europe that democratic governments would avoid war so as to avoid casualties. This was a calculation that did not burden him or for that matter Stalin. American attitudes were in part pacifism , but and even stroinger sentiment was a desire to disassociate from Europe which was seen as the source of endless political strife. Pacifism was an elemement in isolationist sentiment in America. The Congress launched a major investigation designed to prove that American arms manufacturers had help involve the United States in the War. It is ironic that the industry that would save Western civilization was during the inter-wars year was being being investigated for disloyalty by Congress. The Committee became known as the Dyes Committee led by Congressman Martin Dyes. After a huge investigation, no evidence was found to justify the charges. Public opinion in America remained staunchly against involvement in World war II until Pearl Harbor. While Socialist inspired pacifism had weakened the Allied response to Hitler, socialist leaders in Germany and occupied countries were targeted by the NAZIs. Some how Hitler and the nationalists managed to shift the war blame from German militarists to the Socialist politicans who signed the peace. Anti-war feeling was strong in Germany after the War, but so was resentment toward the Versailles treaty. The future of Germany would be decided on which of these two sentiments would prevail. The anti-war book and film All Quiet on the Western Front was hugely popular in Germany. At the same time ultra-nationlist poltical parties developed a considerable following, especially after the onset of the Depression. The Socialists warned that Hitler and the NAZIs would bring war. And they were right. Even so, after 6 years of NAZI propaganda, were not enthusiastic as Hitler moved Germany toward war.

Reaction to World War I

The iniitial sentiment in the Allied Nation after the War was one of elation. But this soon changed as a realization of the cost set in with the public, especially the huge numbers of casualties. Anti-war sentiment grew. The "Never again" sentiment became prounounced. One aspect of the growing anti-war sentiment was a declining appreciation of the military. In the wake of the World War I disaster, anti-militarism grew in both Europe and in America. This sentiment was one of the major reasons that Britain and France did not effectively contront the NAZIs. It was pacifism that nearly brought the end of Western Civilizaion, what Primeministr Churchill woyld call 'a ndew dark age'. The movement to prevent another huge blood-letting was a major factor leading to the deaths of perhaps 100 million people in World Wwar II, and the toll would have been much higher had not the Western allies prevailed.

Country Trends


America

American peace groups attempted to negotiare an end to World War, but the Europeans were uninterested. The German were especially dismissive of the American efforts, in part because many officials did not look the United States with its mixed ethnic and racial population as a real nation. The British were more willing to at last humor the Americans as they understood the imprtnce of the Americans. With the end of the War, pace groups were optimistic, believing that war could be oulawed. American pacifists helped draft the constitution (Covenant) of the new League of Nations. Many peace groups were shocked that the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Paece Treaty which included the provision for the League. In fact the American pacifist movement was split on the League. The pacifist movement developed into a pro-League or conservative faction and an anti-League or radical faction. Conservative peace groups included the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Peace Foundation, the League of Nations Association, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. These were groups that emerged out of the Northeastern estabishment and were well funded. The Carnegie Endowment was founded with a bequest of $10 million in United States Steel Corporation bonds (1910). U.S. Steel was on of th major American corporation and had nenefitted from war contracts which in the eues f nore radical pacifist brought their credibility in question. The World Peace Foundation was founded with a $1 million endowment (1910). The Woodrow Wilson Foundation ammaseed conrtributions of almost $1 million for its foundtion (1924) . The radical peace organizations were less fixated on the Legue, some even opposed Amerucan menbership. And they were much less apt to work in quiet wys for peace. They were less well funded, but had more grassroot suport. Many emerged out of the Midwest where isolationist views were also strong. They were newer groups, organized after the War. There were something like 40 national groups. Local groups wre much more numerous. Some had small, less stable memberships. Some did not last long as finabces were shaky. There were changes of names. Objective varied, but all were commited to a peaceful world. The groups included: the American Committee for the Cause and Cure of War, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the National Council for the Prevention of War, the Committee on Militarism in Education, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Parliament of Peace and Universal Brotherhood, the Peace Heroes Memorial Society, the War Resisters' League, the Women's Peace Society, the World Peace Association. Women played a major role in most of these groups anf this of coure was the same time that that women got the vote with the rtification of the 19th anendment and emerged as a major force in American politics (1919). Women were especially important in the more radical peace groups. American attitudes during the inter-War era were in part pacifism, but and even stroinger sentiment was a desire to disassociate from Europe which was seen as the source of endless political strife. Pacifism was an elemement in isolationist sentiment in America. Isolationism and pacifim were different movements, but there was substantial over lap. The Congress launched a major investigation designed to prove that American arms manufacturers had help involve the United States in the War. It is ironic that the industry that would save Western civilization was during the inter-wars year was being being investigated for disloyalty by Congress. The Committee became known as the Dyes Committee led by Congressman Martin Dyes. After a huge investigation, no evidence was found to justify the charges. Public opinion in America remained staunchly against involvement in World war II until Pearl Harbor. During the War, some 43,000 Americans refused to fight for reasons of conscience, Some were recognized as conscintious objectors. Others were not. About 12,000 men served in Civilian Public Service, 6,000 were sentenced to prison terms, and 25,000 served in the military as noncombatants, often in dangerous roles like corpsmen.

Britain

There has always been a strong pacifist element within the British political left. This grew markedly after World War I. There was support for various international efforts. This included the War Resisters' International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The pacifist movement was incouraged by the socialists throughout Europe for ideological reasons. They were also promoted by the Communists (under instruction from Moscow) to weaken countries that were a military threat to the Soviet Union. Pacifist activities and groups were active in Britain. Pacifist activists erected an Anti-War Memorial monument, at Woodford Green, in Essex (1932). It was shaped rather like a bomb. It was meant to memorialize the words of a British delegate at the League of Nations who had spoken against the banning of aerial warfare, on the grounds that Britain needed to bomb rebels on the North-West frontier of India, to keep the "tribesmen in order". The Woodford Green memorial bore the sarcastic inscription, "To those who, in 1932, upheld the right to use bombing planes". [Pankhurst] British Pacifists opposed military spending. The idea ws that military weakness would preclude another war. This was based on the World War I experience which many Brits believed was a huge mistake and pointless slaughter. Very little thought was given to what it would have meant for Germany to defeat France and dominate the Continent. The British Labour Party had a strong pacifist element, as did Socialists throughout Europe. (The major exception here was the Soviet Union.) Particularly important in Britain was the string pacifist feeling within the KLabour Party. As the major opposition party, this had cionsiderable influence. Labour at its annual conderence adopted a resolution without oposition to "pledge itself to take no part in war" (1933). This of course was the same year that Hitler seized power in Germany. Labour did not adopt a pacifist policy and unilateral disarmament. It idealistically supported peace through a world socialist commonwealth and the outlawing of war, but supported 'collective security' through the League of Nations. Labour tended to favor cuts in military spending, insisting that availavle funds be used for social programs. There were more radical pacifist voices. An important Labour pacifist was George Lansbury, a Christian pacifist. He chaired the No More War Movement and was president of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). He was the Labour Party leader (1932-35). He famously insisted in an election, "I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: 'Do your worst' (1933).

France

Other thabn Russia, France suffered more than any other of the major combatants in World War I. The war on the Western Front was fought in Belgium and nortghern France. There was enormous phsical damage. But even more than the physical damage was the enormous loss of life and soldiers who survived with grevious injuries. The German came very close to breaking the French Army at Versun. Ulitmately the French held, but the French Army was rendered largely incapable of offensive operations. Even though the Allies with American aid ultimately emerged victorious, France was for ever changed. The kind of fervent nationslism common before World War I was gone forever. Pacifist and anti-war sentiment was pronounced in the inter-War era. Socialista and Communists were major centers of this sentiment. Another important proponent of pascifist sentiment was French school teachers. After World War II, many authors identified interwar pacifism as playing a major role in undermining the will of the French people to resist German aggression and thus responsible for France's humiliating defeat when the Germans struck in the West (May 1940). This was the positiion taken by Vichy, in part to protect the reputation of the French Army. There are different views. Many military historians point to the poor battle plzan and leasdership of the French military high commnd. One author contends that while anti-war, French school teachers were also highly patriotic. [Siegel]

Germany

Hitler understood better perhaps than anyone in Europe that democratic governments would avoid war so as to avoid casualties. This was a calculation that did not burden him or for that matter Stalin. While Socialist inspired pacifism had weakened the Allied response to Hitler, socialist leaders in Germany and occupied countries were targeted by the NAZIs. Some how Hitler and the nationalists managed to shift the war blame from German militarists to the Socialist politicans who signed the peace. Anti-war feeling was strong in Germany after the War, but so was resentment toward the Versailles treaty. The future of Germany would be decided on which of these two sentiments would prevail. The anti-war book and film All Quiet on the Western Front was hugely popular in Germany. At the same time ultra-nationlist poltical parties developed a considerable following, especially after the onset of the Depression. The Socialists warned that Hitler and the NAZIs would bring war. And they were right. Even so, after 6 years of NAZI propaganda, were not enthusiastic as Hitler moved Germany toward war.

Italy

Unlike the rest of Europe, pacifist groups besides the Socialist, had little time to devlop before Benito Mussolini and his Black-shirtd Fascists seized power (1922). Mussolini before World war I was a Socialist and pcifist. The War, howevr, transformed him. He became and advoicate of building a new Roman Empire and militry force would be a major element bin this quest. War and miliitary service would be promoted by the Balilla, the Fascist Youth movemnt.

Japan


Soviet Union

The Soviet Union stringly promotd pacifism and disarmament in its ovrseas propagand. Communist parties were ordered to stngly promote these thems. At the same time, the soviet Union itself launched a massive program of military expnsion.

Spain


Sources

Siegel, Mona L.

The Moral Disarmament of France: Education, Pacifism, and Patriotism, 1914-1940 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 317p.






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Created: 2:55 AM 10/21/2007
Last updated: 5:24 AM 5/19/2009