There are three large shadows over the world of 1939. The longest and oldest of these is the awesome legacy of imperialism and Queen Victoria.
Twenty years after the horror of Passchendaele and the collapse of its absolute monarchies, Europe remains the world's political overlord. Vast tracts of the planet's surface are still ruled by colonial governors appointed in London, Paris, Lisbon, The Hague, Madrid, and Brussels. In Africa, there are only three independent nations: South Africa, Egypt, and Liberia. South Africa is white-minority ruled and part of the British Empire, while Egypt and Liberia are under heavy British and American control, respectively. Even Ethiopia, one of Africa's great civilizations and nations, is under foreign rule, that of Fascist Italy, and its urbane viceroy, the Duke of Aosta. He has replaced Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, who has left a trail of terror in his wake.
In Asia, the scene is worse for the brown native hands that mine the tin, grow the rubber, and process the oil that runs the world's economy - only Thailand and Japan are free of European control. Despite a population of 1 billion and a 20-year-long civil war, China is still dominated by foreign enclaves, Western gunboats, and "Unequal Treaties." France owns Indochina, The Netherlands rules Indonesia, the Stars and Stripes fly over the Philippines, and Portugal controls Macao and East Timor.
But no empire in the world is greater than that complex and gimcrack assemblage of protectorates, colonies, territories, associated states, and dominions that in 1939 is called the British Empire and Commonwealth. More than 300 portions of the world, ranging from Pitcairn Island and the Chagos Archipelago to India and Kenya are still ruled by civil servants, police commissioners, revenue collectors, chief engineers, district commissioners, residents, generals, admirals, and governors appointed from London.
Every hour on the hour, somewhere in the world, a Union Jack is run up at dawn on a flagstaff. Australian, New Zealander, and Canadian schoolboys sing "The Days of Yore for Britain" and "Wolfe the Dauntless Hero Came." New Zealanders listen to the BBC Overseas Service on eight-valve radios. British officials in Burma sink into immense chairs in Rangoon clubs, where they read two-month-old copies of Tatler and Hare and Hounds. Canadians have a Ministry of External Affairs to handle their foreign affairs, but Canadian citizenship is still not separate from British citizenship. Canadian Scots in Victoria, British Columbia, hold well-attended Highland Games.
Jeweled maharajahs rule their tracts of India with absolute power, backed by the Indian Army. In stinking Sarawak, the Brooke family controls its private raj. The Governors-General of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia, and Newfoundland are all Britons. British District Commissioners on the island of Tulagi in the British Solomon Islands build a cricket pitch and tennis court near the Chinese laundry, and hear crop theft cases from the neighboring island of Guadalcanal, which lacks any raw materials, and is only of interest to missionaries.
More than 560 million people living across more than 11 million square miles owe their allegiance and obedience to King George VI, a shy career naval officer. India is still ruled by a British viceroy, his power secured by the majesty of law and the power of the Indian Army.
Hodson's Horse, Skinner's Horse, the King's African Rifles, West African Frontier Force, the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles, the Rajputana Rifles, and the Gold Coast Regiment are still real regiments, parading in khaki uniforms and pith helmets on barrack squares under the Union Jack. Many of the officers commanding these battalions are highly skilled men, who have mastered the tactics of 1918, but lack the aggressiveness of 1914.
British rule seems held by the Lee-Enfield rifles of its soldiers and sepoys, as well as the 15-inch guns of its battleships, but the firepower is actually a giant confidence trick. Most British garrisons are tiny cantonments of no more than a battalion. Royal Air Force planes flying over the Peshawar Province or based at the Flight Training School in Habbiniyah are Audax, Gladiator, or Vildebeeste biplanes.
Indeed, the British Empire has gained hugely from World War I: adding 988,000 miles of territory and 13 million people to its domain, virtually all of it from the defunct German and Ottoman Empires. These include lands that will later become Iraq, Iran, Jordan, and Israel.
The myths of the British Empire are also intact. Britons insist that their 1914 stand at Mons is directly attributable to ghostly bowmen of past wars rising from the ground to slay the advancing Hun with their arrows - some even claim to have seen dead Germans shot by arrows.
Other members of the Empire honor and revere Captain W. P. Nevill of the 8th East Surreys, who led his company into assault on the first day at the Somme, kicking a football ahead of his men, who kicked three other footballs. The first platoon to kick a ball into the German lines was to received a cash reward from Nevill. However, Nevill and most of his men had but an hour to live, but their sacrifice and sporting gesture inspired a poem, which ended "The Surreys play the game." Nobody got the reward. Two of the balls survived to gather dust and stares in the National Army Museum in London and the Queen's Regiment Museum at Howe Barracks in Canterbury.
Other peoples and later generations may gasp at the concept of kicking soccer balls ahead of a wartime advance, yet this heroic myth, like many others of the time, survives the slaughter of the Somme. What holds the British Empire together are these shared values and the belief that despite Britain's exhaustion and weakness after World War I, the Empire is still invincible. It has won its battles in the past through heroic determination for hundreds of years, and will do so again.
Despite the fears of men like Winston Churchill and the grim economic lines showing Britain far behind her German and American rivals in every industrial sphere, everyone from Vancouver to Melbourne knows the British lose every battle except the last one. Despite the Somme, the myth and rhetoric of the "Thin Red Line" and the heritage of Nelson still hold up. As the Empire faces its greatest war and test, it will find itself with little else to stand against Hitler. And for years, that will be enough.
The Empire is also held together by something more concrete and highly efficient: communications. The entire Empire listens to the honeyed tones and time signals of the British Broadcasting Corporation, all coming from the new Broadcasting House. Pathé newsreels, mass-circulation newspapers, and magazines like Picture Post and Tatler keep the Empire aware of what's going on, or at least what the London press barons think the Empire should know what is going on. In the case of Geoffrey Dawson's The Times, that means endless support for appeasing dictators.
An efficient Imperial postal system of stamps bearing the King-Emperor's portrait keeps birthday cards, official mail, and Christmas logs moving. P&O ships, Cunard and Union Castle liners, merchant ships flying the Red Ensign, and Empire Airways planes connect the far-flung Imperial holdings, binding its people by a steam and 80 octane-fueled web of Indian waiters, Chinese laundrymen, white-jacketed stewards and officers, African and Asian crewmen, roast beef, deck chairs, cargo holds, and tea.
The first of two liners, RMS Queen Mary, makes her maiden voyage on the trans-Atlantic run in 1936, winning the Blue Riband and international attention. When her sister, RMS Queen Elizabeth, makes her maiden voyage in 1941, she also sets a record for the run, but does so in total secrecy.
The Empire is also united by other shared values: tea, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, school uniforms, fish and chips (invented during the Great War as a quick meal for troops and factory workers), the Book of Common Prayer, cricket, sundowners, and polo.
Boy Scouts in New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa wear flat-brimmed hats like their founder, Lord Baden-Powell. Australian housewives in Brisbane wear last year's London fashions. Agronomists at Buna plantation in New Guinea test the swampy soil's ability to grow British crops. Australians and New Zealanders make purchases in shillings and pence, their currencies tied to the Sterling block. At $4.85US to £1, the British pound stands as strong as the Empire.
These traditions all come together in that phenomenon which seemed to happen any time more than three upper-class or official Britons met: the formation of a club.
From London to Lahore, Britain's imperial standard-bearers, administrators, commercial leaders, and military officers take refuge from their working classes or colonial peoples in overstuffed chairs, roast beef, whiskey-sodas, month-old copies of English newspapers, and tradition and ritual.
Clubs are not limited to civilians. The British Army itself is a collection of clubs, defined by regiment, uniform, role, tradition, and dress, all jealously guarding their identity from amalgamation, new ideas, or worse - officers promoted from the other ranks, do not have the right upbringing, or who have not attended Public School. In some British regiments, officers cannot stand on the bearskin rug at mess dinners until they have been in the regiment for three years. A vast and complex set of traditions, written and unwritten, make British officers' messes separate worlds unto themselves, with their own values. Gambling debts, for example, are paid immediately - tailors and cobblers go unpaid for years. With women, politics, and shop banned from conversation in officers' messes, all the officers talk about is hunting, horses, and fishing.
Now that the Great War is over, the Army can get back to "real soldiering." It astounds future historians that virtually every regiment's official history concludes by saying, "After crossing the Rhine and settling into billets, a sound training program was immediately commenced." How troops that have just won history's greatest war need "a sound training program" is not mentioned. However, the programs invariably consist of square-bashing and ceremonial drill. The lessons of the Great War: mechanized warfare, tanks, and air-ground coordination are forgotten. Any officer who brings up these unpleasant topics is regarded as a cad, not fit for the mess.
These character traits will come back to help the British 20 years hence, providing them with determined defenders in battle against ferocious attacks. It will also come back to haunt them, when British tanks, planes, and infantry cannot coordinate in battle against Rommel, leading to disaster.
The Empire also enjoys other benefits of communication - British-style schools that teach the glories of Trafalgar, the Scripture of the King James Bible, and the values of Samuel Smiles and Mrs. Beeton. The schools enable their students, from British Honduras to Papua, to use the English language. Wherever the Union Jack flies, so does British justice, with its constitutional protections and traditions. And virtually all the colonial holdings enjoy some forms of self-governing legislatures and executive branches, and its members are eager to gain more rights.
A 1919 Act of Parliament has given India parliamentary self-government, and the Indian Civil Service, police, and officer corps has been heavily Indianized, but the Viceroy still makes the final decisions in Delhi. Now young Indians attend British-style schools including the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun, to learn to take over the Indian Civil Service, Police, and Army. The British hope to complete a transition that will have these agencies half-Indian by 1952. Despite Winston Churchill's strong anti-Gandhi rhetoric, British politicians are very aware that their time in India is running out, and they must give way to the native population.
South Africa, on the other hand, is extremely divided. The central division is between the white minority ruling class and the black majority native population. Since 1933, Prime Minister J.H. Hertzog, one of the Afrikaner heroes of the Boer War, has been imposing a nationalist and white supremacist agenda. Blacks are denied the right to strike in 1933. A "glass ceiling" blocks Indians and blacks from promotion. By 1939, South African blacks are suffering under "pass laws", denial of the right to vote, and the Native Trust and Lands Act of 1936 starts pushing the native Africans into the shabby townships and "homelands" that will become South Africa's defining feature for the next 60 years.
There is also tension between South Africa's white ethnicities. The numerically dominant Afrikaners dislike the economically powerful English.
Yet despite its increasingly indigent status, weak economy, and flabby national will, The Empire stands tall. The Union Jack flies over Togoland, two Rhodesias, North Borneo, Kenya, British Guiana, Aden, Cyprus, Malta, Antigua, Jamaica, Nigeria, Fiji, Hong Kong, Yemen, Kuwait, The Gambia, and Tristan Da Cunha. The decisions made in London's Square Mile still impact on a quarter of the world's surface. While the Dominions have their own embassies in Washington and Berlin, and votes in the League of Nations, even the League's Covenant obliges the whole Empire to fight on any war declared on behalf of the League.
The United Kingdom is the only nation in the world whose power is projected across the world, mostly by the Royal Navy. The South Atlantic Station guards the Straits of Magellan. The West Indies Squadron and North America Station guard the Panama Canal. The New Zealand Division, Royal Australian Division, Indian Ocean Squadron, Far East Station, and the China Station protect Britain's shipping lines to Asia and the Pacific. The Mediterranean Fleet guards Egypt, Malta, and Gibraltar.
Despite the experiences of World War I and the experiments of Billy Mitchell off North Carolina, the Royal Navy's officers, like Vice-Chief of Naval Staff Vice Adm. Tom Phillips, insist that battleships cannot be sunk by aircraft or submarines. So Britain's power is enforced by immense dark gray battleships, most of them dating back to World War I - well-armed, but slow. The only British battleship that can keep up with the faster vessels Germany, Italy, and Japan are building is that most beautiful of warships, the mighty HMS Hood. To date, she has shown the flag and Britain's glory across the Empire, greeted everywhere by loyal subjects and expatriates, who build in their foreign climes squat replicas of Dorset and Cardiff, Invergordon and Londonderry.
The regimental band of the 1st East Surreys performs Elgar and Gilbert and Sullivan on Shanghai's Bund for the International Settlement's British and American expatriates. High winds on the Falkland Islands require the cruisers of His Majesty's South Atlantic Division to keep their engines running while at anchor.
Across the vast tracts of red on maps is pride in the invincible British Empire. Kofi Genfi of the Gold Coast, who will fight the Japanese in Burma as a member of the Gold Coast Regiment, tells interviewers 50 years later that he feels "safe under the British administration" of 1939.
Jamaica's Connie McDonald, a teenage girl in 1939, and descendant of slaves, recalls "We were British! We were proud to be British! We didn't want to be anything but British. England was our mother country. We were brought up to respect the Royal Family. I used to collect pictures of Margaret and Elizabeth, you know? I adored them. It was the British influence - what other influence had I had? We didn't grow up with any Jamaican thing - we grew up as British."
British planters in Kenya's "Happy Valley" break between adulterous affairs to order their African workers to build huge signs for the Prince of Wales's 1934 visit that read, "Tell Daddy We Are All Happy Under British Rule." There are British Empire exhibitions in London, Empire Days, Empire Games, and King George VI does regular Christmas broadcasts to his Imperial subjects by radio, struggling against his speech impediment.
Yet the British are not the only imperial power whose ideas and guns dominate the world. French governors sip their wine and give imperious orders to Annamites in Indochina, Arabs in Morocco and Syria, Africans in Chad, and Polynesians in the distant and forgotten Pacific island of New Caledonia. On Java and Sumatra, the King's Netherlands Indies Legion, five regiments of Dutch officers and Eurasian men, maintain order and guard oilfields.
In the Belgian Congo, African laborers dig in the mountains under other armed guards to unearth a metallic rock called uranium, whose main use is to provide color for barium-dial clocks in America.
Italian engineers build roads and immense statuary to honor their Duce, Benito Mussolini, in Eritrea, Somaliland, and Libya. In that colony, Italian engineers build a gigantic marble arch at the border between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.
The banners of smaller European nations like Portugal, Denmark, and Spain also fly around the world. Portuguese troops stand guard in their oldest colonial holding, Macau, across the bay from Britain's Hong Kong, whose territory is still mostly empty hills and scrub brush. Danish flags fly over Iceland, and Danish administrators huddle for warmth in huts in their oldest possession, Greenland, trying to ensure accurate census counts of the vast island's nomadic Eskimo (Inuit) population.
One Asian nation has joined this imperial stampede - Japan. Rushing headlong into the 20th century and major power status, the Emperor's samurai have seized control of vast tracts of China and all of Manchuria. Diplomacy has already given Japan dominion over Korea, Formosa, and a vast collection of Pacific islands, all former German colonies. Japanese schoolteachers tell Chinese children to obey the tenno. Japanese Army officers supplement their income and impoverish Manchurians by selling them opium. Other Japanese army officers use Chinese residents of Harbin for experiments in biological warfare and poison gas. Japanese engineers build naval and air bases on islands like Saipan, Truk, Palau, and Eniwetok, barring foreigners from them.
Even the nation founded in opposition to colonialism, the United States, is a colonial power. Despite an official policy of isolation, the US only withdraws its occupying troops from Nicaragua and Haiti in 1934.
US Marines stand mounted guard over the American Legation in Beijing, which is known at the time as Peiping, or Peking. The US 15th Infantry Regiment, once commanded by Joseph Stilwell and George C. Marshall, uses local manpower to wash clothes, clean barracks, and even shave the men in Shanghai's International Settlement. The result is a regiment that has enormous rates of venereal disease. US Marines of the 4th Infantry Regiment based there defend the enclave's neutrality from the overspill of the Sino-Japanese War - now in its third year - and their honor from neighboring Italian, British, and French Marines in the settlement's bars on the Bund. The European and American troops deployed to Shanghai are elated by their easy lifestyle, but more impressed by the toughness and professionalism with which the Japanese attack the Chinese around them.
There are more permanent signs of American colonialism in the Pacific, though. On the island of Guam, a US Navy captain and a detachment of Marines keep order on a coaling and telegraph station, surrounded by Japanese-held islands. On Wake Island, civilian contractors expand the seaplane terminal used by Pan Am Airlines' China Clipper, while US Marines man coastal emplacements.
In Hawaii, police officers direct traffic in downtown Honolulu's often deserted streets, while American sailors from Pearl Harbor Naval Station and soldiers from the new Schofield Barracks and Hickam Air Base swarm down Hotel Street on Friday nights, lining up to taxi-dance with Polynesian and Portuguese girls wearing heavy rouge.
America's chief colonial holding, though, is the 7,100-island Pacific archipelago of the Philippine Islands, a "Commonwealth of the United States," with its own legislature and president, the tubercular Manuel Quezon.
American troops, businessmen, and officials assigned to the Philippines enjoy the archipelago's beautiful scenery, friendly people, ample San Miguel beer, and jai-alai games.
The Philippines have been promised full independence by 1946, and former US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur is creating a Philippine Army, which lacks heavy guns, modern aircraft, and boots for its men, who must march in sneakers.
However, Quezon has sufficient funds and gold braid to appoint MacArthur as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army and provide him with an immense hat suitable for such an exalted rank. With his cane, cigarette holder, stunning wife, and young son Arthur, Douglas MacArthur cuts an imperious and imposing figure in Manila, overshadowing his capable aide and speechwriter, Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The attitudes of colonial overlords have changed little since Queen Victoria's death in 1901. Black South Africans live in an extremely segregated society dominated by white Boer Afrikaners. Jews and Arabs in Palestine both consider themselves as lied to over ownership of that mandated territory. Indians are not allowed in the best clubs of Delhi, or to walk down the main street of the British-built resort town of Simla. While protests and protesters rage against British rule in India, Burma, and West Africa, nobody seriously expects the British to leave in 10 years, let alone five. Despite stirrings, the edifice is intact, as are the French, Dutch, American, and Italian edifices. Only Germany, whose empire was shorn at Versailles, has lost its holdings.
Yet despite differing languages and politics, these imperial overlords have common attributes and beliefs, which are writ large in the new Germany, the Third Reich. All believe in the magnificence of their empire and its greatness. They believe the white Christian man is supreme on earth. The idea that Asians, Arabs, and Africans may drive whites out of Malaya, Palestine, or Nyasaland, is considered ludicrous, and the idea that the natives of these territories may become rulers of their countries is even more absurd.
And also despite this balmy state of colonial overlordship across the earth's surface, more recent events and shorter shadows are threatening to destroy Europe's domination of the world.
The second shadow is the greatest tragedy yet to befall mankind - the First World War. Twenty years after Armistice Day, the personal horrors and political upheavals created by the four-year deadlock in the trenches still impact the minds, spirits, and policies of the world's peoples and their leaders.
World War I is the first war in history to be fought simultaneously on the air, land, and sea. It has seen the first use of aircraft, tanks, poison gas, guided missiles, paratroopers, aircraft carriers, machine-guns, mass amphibious assaults, and motorized armies. The horse has given way to the truck, and brightly colored uniforms to dull grays and browns.
The war has cost the globe 20 million lives, from nearly every continent. 3.1 million members of the British Empire are the "glorious dead" of World War I, 1.1 million of them killed in action, 962,661 from Great Britain alone. More than 2 million British soldiers have returned from Flanders permanently maimed. There are nearly 500,000 war widows and fatherless children, while 10 percent of the population, 3.5 million Britons, receives pensions two years after the war.
The numbers of dead are almost beyond counting in Russia and Turkey. The official estimate of 1.7 million for Russia and 325,000 for Turkey is far too low. France has lost more than half the Frenchmen aged between 20 and 32, more than 1.4 million men, between 1914 and 1918. Germany has lost 1.8 million men, Austria-Hungary 1.29 million, Italy 615,000, the United States 116,000. Millions more are dead of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 and gone with all of them are the energy and vibrant optimism that was the signature of the Edwardian era.
The trench lines of France and Belgium remain a 600-mile streak of white chalk, shell holes, ruined villages, unexploded ammunition, fresh pine trees, and cemeteries, containing the bodies - many of them unidentified - of an entire generation of European leaders and thinkers. The survivors sell matchbooks in Piccadilly Circus or drink heavily in Munich beer halls in SA uniforms, muttering about revenge for 1918.
The war that was fought at the behest of imperial leaders consumed the blood of its makers, collapsing the German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires. The war that was fought to save the world for democracy instead yielded the Bolshevik, Fascist, and Nazi revolutions. The war to end all wars was instead quickly followed by civil wars in Russia and China, colonial wars in Africa, wars in the Balkans and Poland, and violence and labor strife in the democracies.
The young men and women that have come out of World War I are often defined as "the lost generation," either physically dead from battle and wounds or morally dead from the horrors they have endured.
While that is an oversimplification, the postwar generation is disillusioned at all its levels. The most literate generation ever to fight a war, they feel lied to and betrayed - by the politicians who sent them to war and the generals who ordered them into useless battles. They came home to "fit lands for heroes" in Britain and to "return to normalcy" in America, to instead find joblessness in Britain, civil war in Italy, Russia, and Germany, and prohibition in America.
In Germany, the nation believes the greatest lie: that the Reich was defeated because it was "stabbed in the back" by an ugly and unlikely coterie of bankers, Communists, and most of all, Jews.
The disillusionment owes its beginnings to the mutinies in the trenches of World War I, when exhausted troops and sailors refused to launch one more offensive or make a last "death-or-glory" sortie.
Now it has expanded throughout the nations. Americans regard their sacrifice in World War I as a cynical effort to fatten profits for arms manufacturers.
Another great casualty is not seen at first, but it exists nonetheless: the beginning of the dissolving of the British Empire. Despite its success, the cracks are there, and some begin to be seen.
In 1914, the Empire goes to war as loyal assistants to the Mother Country. In 1919, at Versailles, the Empire's top dominions, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa demand and get their own votes in the League of Nations, a sign of independence.
Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, horrified at how inept British generals allowed their young men to be slaughtered at Gallipoli and the Somme, no longer blindly follow the dictates of London. Negotiations and charters must come first.
When Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill asks the Dominions for men to hold the Dardanelles in 1920, only New Zealand and Newfoundland comply. The Australians agree under protest. South Africa refuses. Canada has already refused to commit troops to British command in colonial wars. These nations' prime ministers all vent their hatred of British generalship, particularly Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, upon the stunned David Lloyd George. He has little love for the cold and plodding Scot whose absurd offensives slaughtered 22,316 of his own junior officers, and gassed a young Royal Rifles Corps Captain named Anthony Eden.
The links remain strong, but the war has strained them. Even Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa's most lustrous figure, refers to his country as an "autonomous nation."
By 1931, they become weakened further. While Hollywood shoots movies like Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Gunga Din, Stanley Baldwin sees that the British Empire depicted onscreen is beginning to crumble beneath his feet. Boy Scouts wear their Boer War hats, British troops still fight the Mad Mullah of Somaliland and a Burmese monk whose followers believe he can fly if he chooses, and Baldwin says the British Empire "stands firm as a great force for good. It stands in a sweep of every wind, by the wash of every sea."
Having said that, Baldwin then offers legislation that will start turning power in India back to its brown native hands. Baldwin is aware that ardent imperialists are in the minority, even in his own party, and that Labour is at best indifferent to the tunes of glory.
In 1931, Baldwin passes the Statute of Westminster, which Arthur Balfour calls the "the most novel and greatest experiment in Empire-building the world has ever seen." In actuality, the statute rules that the House of Commons in London no longer has power over Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada, nor can Westminster overrule acts of Dominion parliaments, giving them veto power over the British throne.
In some senses, the passage is inevitable. The dominions have their own agendas and interests - Australia controls its own miniature empire in Papua New Guinea. Canada is copying American culture. But the message is clear: the icon of British imperial magnificence is giving way to disillusionment.
Another form of disillusionment has come with the breaking of atrocity myths and propaganda. Many of the more horrific cases of German "schrechlichkeit" - frightfulness - have been revealed as cheap fiction, invented by British and French propagandists.
There is no truth to the stories that Germans crucified prisoners, melted down dead bodies for food, or bayoneted children. And the atrocities that they did commit - the random and senseless shootings of Belgian civilians, the destruction and looting of Belgian towns, and the introduction of poison gas and unrestricted submarine warfare, are forgotten.
Nobody believes that Germans are capable of such uncivilized barbarities any more. When fresh stories come out from Adolf Hitler's new Germany of new atrocities and slaughters, nobody will believe them - even though these new horrors are far greater than any propagandist can imagine.
World War I has ripped apart society. The old elites of business, aristocracy, and nobility, live in fear of those they once ruled. Workers no longer defer to their bosses, obey their orders, or accept miserable wages. The war has taught workers grim realities and how to combat them. It has increased literacy at a global level, as formerly illiterate laborers have had to learn to read both training manuals with dull regulations and political pamphlets with harsher rhetoric. Many of those illiterate laborers have become combat heroes and leaders of large numbers of men.
And working men and soldiers have suffered the agony of the trenches and enjoyed the giddy sense of being able to launch revolution to overthrow the bosses to whom they once deferred and tipped their caps. They have demands now, and they demand that their next fight be for a good reason.
The old order also faces the loss of power over government. Industry is now subject to government supervision and planning even in capitalist nations. Arms manufacturers have to explain their profits to the Nye Committee, while bankers do the same to the new Securities and Exchange Commission. In Britain, Labour comes to power in 1924 behind Ramsay MacDonald. Government regulation of business follows. German schlotbarone must follow the orders of Versailles, so their leaders, like Krupp and Heinkel, build secret factories to produce guns and bombers, defying the treaties.
The attitudes and loyalties of respect for leadership and nation have been eroded. Australians may sing "Bugles of England," but young Britons no longer support the Empire as their elders and the ruling groups do.
Britain's role models in the 1930s are no longer Kipling and Gordon, but the Prince of Wales, whose life is devoted to pleasure and the pursuit of other men's wives. The popular symbol of the fatherly but victorious British colonel has been replaced by David Low's Colonel Blimp, telling absurd barracks tales to obese pals in a Turkish bath. English intellectuals attack the Raj, the Empire, the Union Jack, even King George V, twisting his last words "How is the Empire" into "What's on at the Empire?" London's desire to hold onto its empire is dribbling away.
In 1924, the split is clearly seen when the British Empire Exhibition is held at Wembley Park in London. In a stadium that will later house rock concerts and soccer matches, the Empire spends £4 million to honor its glory. Elgar provides the music, Kipling the words, archeologists a reconstruction of King Tut's tomb, and Leeds mills thousands of massed Union Jacks. After the Duke of York struggles through his formal opening speech, Lord Milner calls the exhibition "a powerful bulwark" against subversives seeking to undermine the Empire.
Instead, the exhibition becomes a joke. Children ignore the Tibetan buglers, the Gold Coast Village, and the Palace of Machinery in favor of bumper cars. Adults prefer the Planters' Bar in the West Indies section. Intellectuals form the "WGTW," or "Won't Go To Wembleys," sneering at the entire event. Other adults who do go are pulled out of bushes by angry bobbies, half-naked. The idea of going to Wembley to have sex in the bushes near the Nigerian exhibition becomes a minor fad, accentuated by the fact that many of those yanked out are the sons of patricians and the widows of the Glorious Dead. It is a scene already noted by Edmund Burke: "A great empire and little minds go ill together."
The Empire has lost its absolute grip. English schoolchildren write essays about Gandhi. The Statute of Westminster means that Australian and New Zealand judges can ignore British precedents, that Canadian and South African prime ministers can make their own foreign policies, and that the British Empire is now a "family." Some of its members are eager to leave. South African lawmakers talk of exiting the Commonwealth. While the binding ties are strong, they are starting to fray.
But the proof of the difference in society since the Armistice is perhaps best seen in the gleaming British Lutyens and American Battle Monument Commission memorials rising in France to honor the Great War's dead.
The last set of Anglo-American mass memorials built honored the dead of RMS Titanic's sinking in 1912. It listed them by class: First, Second, Steerage, Crew. Such has been the style for many previous memorials: the Maine, the Boer War, and so on.
But the new memorial at Thiepval, the vast Menin Gate at Ypres, and the American cemetery at Oise-Aisne - which will add a secret plot in 1945 for dishonored dead, including Edward Slovik of Hamtramck, Michigan - list the war dead in alphabetical order. Class no longer holds. Breeding no longer tells. The ruling classes still rule, but consent is no longer automatically given by the workers, be they Fascist or Communist. Democracy itself has been found wanting. Sterner ideas are gaining.
In France, democracy itself is disliked and discredited, regarded as the abode and toy of criminals, Communists, and Jews. The Stavisky Affair, the suspicious 1934 death of a financier linked to France's greatest leaders, sets off riots and a national brush with a Fascist coup. The result is the Popular Front under Leon Blum, a collection of left-wing parties. France's leaders build the Maginot Line, her intelligentsia opposes all forms of war, and her workers join Communist gangs or the Fascist Croix de Feu.
Germany has suffered immensely from the war. The humiliating terms of Versailles "Diktat" merely crown the social dislocation caused by the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy, the resulting political chaos and public violence, and the hunger created by the British blockade. The result is the road to Nazism and the rise of Hitler. Two million German hausfrauen are destitute widows in 1920, and many become prostitutes to survive.
Thanks to Prohibition, America is a nation of criminals, with millions making and drinking illegal booze. Al Capone and his gangsters are symbols of this modern America. Their expensive Thompson sub-machine guns, which fire high and to the right, are regarded with revulsion by British, French, and American generals as "gangster weapons," but admired by German officers. Americans and Europeans all idolize the "gangster culture," with nightclubs in Paris and Berlin pouring forth jazz music.
Young American, British, and French women smoke and drink in public, wear skirts that reveal their legs, and gain the right to vote. "Flappers" ridicule the existing norms.
In Berlin, mother-and-daughter prostitute teams offer themselves to visitors. The "Monokel" bar caters to lesbians at a time when the concept is nonexistent in "polite" society. The headline attraction and role model for German girls in Weimar Germany is Anita Berber. She dances naked, mainlines cocaine and morphine, and makes love to men and women sprawled atop bars in the White Mouse club, under spotlights. This behavior - risqué by even today's standards - leads to her death in 1933, aged 29. Berber's life show how little - and how much - change there has been in 70 years, and world's bloodiest war.
Scores of well-bred young men and women from across Europe descend on Berlin's transvestite bars, Paris's "Folies Negre," and watch Josephine Baker perform wearing only bananas, while pursuing jazz, drugs, and sex. They take their values from The Great Gatsby and Journey's End, and worship cynicism and decadence, sneering at the power structure.
Those in power try to reassert that power and clamp down on such antics through internal toughness, which is manifested in unusual ways. Great Britain imposes the tough Means Test to deny funds to dole-seekers. On the other hand, Neville Chamberlain, Britain's Minister of Health, reacts to scenes of intense poverty in his native Birmingham by pushing through slum clearance, school, and health programs that alleviate some of the suffering. Had these works been Chamberlain's sole contribution to his nation's history, he would have died with honor, or at least obscurity, instead of becoming a synonym for shame.
However, despite Chamberlain's efforts, vast tracts of Britain's working classes still live as their grandfathers did at the time of the Industrial Revolution, working in the "dark, satanic mills," going home to ghastly slums that lack running water. British working-class boys still leave home at 14 to work in factories and coal mines, whose production methods as late as 1935 are still outdated by German and American standards.
Other methods of maintaining order fall back on the handy traditions of racism and xenophobia. The State of Tennessee outlaws the teaching of Darwin's Theory of Evolution in 1925, setting up the bizarre "monkey trial." The Nazis close Berlin's glitzy nightclubs. Australia maintains its "whites only" immigration policies. Canada responds to demands to admit a number of Jewish refugees by answering, "One is too many." The United States shuts Ellis Island in 1925, fearing Bolshevism in the waves of immigrants still coming to America.
More prosaically, large businesses in America, Canada, and Britain, all move vigorously to attack that persistent enemy, the trade union, with considerable success. Canadian mine workers are still paid in company scrip, live in company camps, and live in debt to the company store. Canadian miners can't even order goods from Eaton's by mail - company mailroom workers rip open the packages, confiscate the goods, and punish the miners, using Mounties as strikebreakers.
Things are no better in Britain, where the postwar economic slump leads to a General Strike in 1926. For a week, British troops in battledress camp out on the Embankment and drive food trucks. Titled peers collect fares on buses. University students deliver milk. After a week of harsh rhetoric on both sides, the strike collapses. Emerging out of the mess as a hero is the unlikely figure of Baldwin, whose main contributions to Britain will be to support appeasement and disarmament.
American workers are under the lash, too. Henry Ford's exceptionally safe plants put a covering sheen on an incredibly vicious secret police, the "Service Department," a collection of thugs and goons under Harry Bennett, who enforce speedups, and burst into workers' houses to ensure they go to church on Sundays - their only day off.
Miners, farm workers, steelworkers, automobile workers, all work without union protection. Indeed, unions are regarded as Communism in thin disguise. The workers dislike their bosses, and the bosses are afraid and contemptuous of their workers.
The disillusionment has been followed by pacifism. Novels like All Quiet on the Western Front and plays like Goodbye to All That have permanently destroyed the myths of military glory and jingoism, revealing the ghastly nature of modern warfare. The desire to avoid another war has overtaken leaders like Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, and Pierre Daladier, who are only too willing to sell out fellow democracies like Czechoslovakia to vicious dictators like Hitler. Chamberlain has a particular loathing of war - during World War I, he was in charge of conscription in his native Birmingham, and sent his nephews to their deaths.
The diplomats and national leaders sense this loathing, too. They convene in Locarno, London, and Washington, and sign a variety of treaties, filled with ribbon, official seals, solemn covenants, and "whereases," that slash at armaments, armament spending, and battleship levels. The ambassadors and ministers of state return in their top hats and striped pants to their capitals, where chancellors, presidents, and legislatures obediently sign off on the treaties, believing their diplomats' recommendations that approving these high-minded documents will prevent another World War.
The Kellogg-Briand Pact bans the use of aggressive war. Among the nations signing it is the Republic of Germany. The 1921 Naval Treaties of Washington set a ratio of battleships that ends the Royal Navy's principle of having a Navy twice the size of any other's. They agree to parity with the United States, with Japan allowed three battleships for every five the British and Americans each build.
Having a weak negotiating position, the Japanese - whose negotiators include a young captain named Isoroku Yamamoto - have little choice but to submit to this formula. They are prepared from the start to accept this formula anyway, and the Americans and British know it: their Black Chambers have broken the Japanese diplomatic codes, and read their messages. But in 1931 Secretary of State Henry Stimson ends this practice, saying, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." The fact that the Japanese do not engage in gentlemanly behavior in China does not impress him.
The Washington Treaty sends most of the dreadnoughts that survived Jutland to scrapheaps, and national leaders think they have eliminated a terrible threat to peace. But the treaties make no mention of aircraft carriers, and the Japanese, British, and Americans, despite their doubts about this new weapon, don't hesitate to convert unfinished or unsuccessful battleships into carriers, like HMS Courageous, USS Lexington, and IJN Akagi. Akagi's commanding officers include Capt. Isoroku Yamamoto and, later, Capt. Chuichi Nagumo.
A follow-up London Naval Treaty of 1932 sets limits on the size and tonnage of another powerful weapon, the heavy cruiser. They also make the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, the cause of America's entry into World War I, completely illegal.
The diplomats make further attempts to prevent war: they ban the use of poison gases, and pass a 1929 Geneva Convention that requires all of its signers to treat prisoners of war in a humane manner. The Soviets don't bother to sign the covenant, and the Japanese reject its provision that POW camps must come under supervision and shelter of the International Red Cross.
But this web of treaties and covenants, along with the League of Nations, whose great record in fighting drug trafficking, slavery, and helping refugees is obscured by its inability to act forcefully to halt aggression, helps add to the growing sense of pacifism in the democracies. Fighting for a nation and nationalism are now almost criminal concepts.
The most visible manifestation of this philosophy comes when the Oxford Union resolves on February 9, 1933, by a 275-153 vote that "This house will in no circumstances fight for King and Country." Later that year, a Labour challenger in East Fulham swamps the Tory incumbent when he promises to "close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force." His victory margin is 5,000 votes.
In any case, the vision of a future war is a grim one: clouds of bombers dispensing poison gas upon defenseless cities, as envisioned by Italian theorist Giulio Douhet. To turn his theories into action, leading airmen spend their limited budgets on heavy bombers. Billy Mitchell proves the point when his bombers sink a captured, immobile, and defenseless German battleship off Virginia's Capes. Nobody asks what would have happened had the battleship been sailing at full speed under fighter cover. More importantly, very few admirals notice how easily the battleship sank. The bomber has gotten through. Airmen doing long-range planning work on large bombers and larger bombs, ignoring the effectiveness of fighters.
Yet even the British Air Staff is filled with despair. They determine that casualties in London will be 1,700 killed and 3,300 killed in the first day of bombing, 1,275 killed and 2,475 wounded in the second day, and 850 killed and 1,650 wounded every day after that: That, they say will be followed by three million Londoners driven out into the countryside in terror from the bombs and gas, and the breakdown of law and order. No wonder Baldwin and many others are so frightened. Ironically, the entire 1940-1941 Blitz on London will take the lives of 20,000 Londoners all told, with no collapse of authority.
H.G. Wells joins the gloomy prognosticators with his 1936 book, Things to Come, imagining the Britain of 1966 a sea of ruins, ruled by petty dictators driving around in ox-drawn cars. Alexander Korda's film depicts this horrifying destruction between the new Mickey Mouse cartoons and Pathé newsreels.
Reacting to all this, Stanley Baldwin proclaims that "the bomber will always gets through," and sees the only defense as being 1 million cardboard coffins and 1 million burial forms for London's victims of fire and gas bombing - or to support a policy of appeasing dictators. Nobody can imagine worse fates than those conjured by Wells and Baldwin - but the war will do just that.
American pacifism is strong as well, as is isolationism. President Calvin Coolidge refuses to give European powers a break on their war debt, repeating grimly, "They hired the money, didn't they?" Herbert Hoover is the only American president whose administration does not launch a single major new warship. Like many people at that time, he has had a bellyful of war's horror, having led efforts to feed World War I's starving victims. Like many political leaders of the time, he believes that war has been permanently outlawed by post-World War I disarmament treaties since then.
In the victorious Allied powers, armament spending is down to next to nothing. The U.S. Army of 1932 is 16th in the world, behind Yugoslavia, its soldiers earning $17.85 a month. US Army lanterns are stamped with the date "1863" on the side, while blankets still bear bloodstains from the Argonne. The Army Air Corps has less than 100 planes, most of them open-cockpit machines.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff in 1932, enjoys exclusive use of the Army's only limousine. Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower, MacArthur's aide then as in 1939, has to ride a trolley car to Capitol Hill to plead for appropriations. MacArthur doesn't share the limo. Ike has to walk down a corridor, fill out a form, and receive two streetcar tokens. But Maj. George Patton equips his regiment with fine horses for polo tournaments out his own pocket. Patton is rich. When not playing polo or instructing on mobile tactics, Patton leads his horsemen and sometimes his FT17 whippet tanks on occasional maneuvers…and to attack the Bonus Marchers in Anacostia in 1932.
The French rely on those same FT17 tanks, armed with machine guns, to protect their holdings in Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, and the French Settlement in Shanghai from Arab raiders or Chinese thugs. The British depend on RAF bases in Iraq, new County-class cruisers in the Mediterranean, cavalrymen in Palestine, and the massive and unfinished Singapore naval base to underpin their empire. Britain's fighter command's first lines of defense are Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Hart biplanes well after I-16 and Me 109 monoplanes prove their worth in Spain.
Other military services are equally penurious. Italy sells its newest guns, planes, and tanks to foreign powers like China and Turkey, to maintain its balance of payments. Poland does the same, selling its fighter planes to Yugoslavia and Rumania. German officers denied their career by Versailles also go to China to train Chiang Kai-Shek's troops to fight Communists and Japanese. Norway possesses Italian patrol bombers because it paid for them in fish. Construction of British fortifications for the north side of Singapore Island are postponed, and postponed again, under the "Ten-Year Rule," which foresees Britain not having to fight a war for 10 years. Besides, nobody except the deeply religious General Sir William Dobbie seriously expects an enemy assault through Malaya's massive jungles and swamps.
The only European army that is shaping a new sword and shield through the 1920s is doing so in violation of solemn treaties of Versailles and Locarno: that of Germany. Her officers are working with armored vehicles and dive-bombers at a secret base outside of Moscow, under a secret and solemn treaty with the Soviet Union.
In any case, the whole world of the military has changed completely. The military career is no longer glamorous or exciting to Western men, because of the pacifism. Those who join the inter-war armed forces, like Trinidad's Carlton Best or India's Danny Misra, enlist because of sheer patriotism, or more prosaically, the crushing joblessness of the Great Depression. German aristocrat Hans Von Luck joins the Reichswehr in 1931 as an officer cadet simply because of a documented family tradition of Prussian military service that dates back to Frederick the Great. Von Luck enjoys being trained by a warm and charismatic instructor with his own heroic record of World War I combat action: Major Erwin Rommel. Von Luck and his colleagues sit riveted to his lectures, which stress boldness by infantry.
Britons are aware that the flip side to glamorous-sounding RAF service in Iraq is that airmen captured by Iraqi rebels run the risk of castration. American National Guard units are overrun with political promotions and are only capable of strike-busting and disaster relief. American officers serving in Washington, D.C. are not allowed to wear uniforms.
There is almost no need for major or minor nations to maintain armies. World War I's squadrons of Fokkers have been chopped up under Versailles to provide firewood for freezing Germans. French farmers have converted tanks into tractors, while Britain's "Little Willie," the first tank, stands on a war memorial. The German High Seas Fleet lies scuttled at the bottom of Scapa Flow, while the British ships that fought at Jutland are being scrapped under disarmament treaties. The battlecruiser HMS New Zealand, for example, dies a premature death in 1922, a victim of the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. Her 5-inch guns are put in storage. The battleship's replacements for what is still called in 1939 the New Zealand Squadron of the Royal Navy are two small 6-inch gun cruisers, HMS Achilles and HMS Leander.
All that is really required to maintain national power in the face of unruly Chinese students, rapacious Arab brigands, boisterous strikers, or angry African natives is a cruiser, a few soldiers or Marines, the slap of a few gleaming rifle butts on the pier, or a machine-gun deployed outside a courthouse or factory.
The idea that war might come to the District Commissioner's bungalow at India's Kohima, the Monastery at Cassino, the olive groves of Crete, the flowered jungles of Bataan, the shingled volcanic terrain of Iwo Jima, the mosque at Libya's Sidi Rezegh, the October Revolution Factory in Stalingrad, the cobblestoned village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France, the railroad bridge at Remagen, or the plantation at New Guinea's Gona is patently ridiculous. But wiser heads, like Winston Churchill, and angrier ones, like Adolf Hitler, regard the 1919 peace as merely a 20-year armistice, and prepare for the second round.
Those who undertake military careers resign themselves to years of penury, public derision, and the impossibility of promotion. Officers are forced to accept demotions because of cutbacks. Washington department stores complain about Army officers borrowing silver service sets to entertain and then returning them all scratched.
Most officers take refuge in polo, hunting, fishing, and acquiring socially-connected and wealthy wives. Brian Horrocks competes in the 1924 Olympic pentathlon for Britain. Lucian Truscott and Terry Allen are polo champions. Lord Louis Mountbatten and his glamorous wife Edwina Ashley are staples in the society columns, when Mountbatten is not conning his destroyer across the Mediterranean. Major Erwin Rommel collects postage stamps when not writing his book, Infantry Attacks, a collection of his superb lectures. General Gerd von Rundstedt reads detective mysteries.
Some officers teach, like Kent Hewitt, who lectures in mathematics at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, or Capt. Chester Nimitz, who moves from pioneering US Navy submarine operations to developing US Naval ROTC. Bill Slim is commandant of the Senior Officers' School at Belgaum, India. Omar Bradley and Joseph Stilwell teach infantry tactics and operations at Fort Benning under George Marshall. Alphonse Juin gains a reputation for teaching unorthodox tactics at St. Cyr. Later, Stilwell goes to China as an attaché, and sees both the Japanese invasion and the Chiang government's corruption at firsthand.
Other officers have opportunities to peer into the future. Maj. Maxwell Taylor, assigned as an attaché to Japan, purchases Japanese Army training manuals, the only ones the US Army will have in 1941. Maj. Orde Wingate, serving in Palestine to put down the Arab revolt, organizes and leads Jewish irregulars, training them in commando tactics against Arab terrorist bases. Charles De Gaulle writes The Army of the Future, calling for France to create a mechanized force to fight its battles, which appalls military men for its radical view and civilians for the apparent suggestion of creating a Praetorian Guard.
Col. Bernard Law Montgomery teaches meticulous lessons at Camberley Staff College, for his boss, Gen. Lord Gort. Maj. Alexander Patch serves on the US Army Infantry Board at Fort Benning. Maj. Robert Eichelberger, back from the American intervention in Siberia, serves as an intelligence officer, putting his notes on the Japanese troops he served with to good use. Maj. Heinz Guderian tests out theories of mechanized warfare with small Panzer I tanks armed with machine-guns on the fields at Grafenwöhr. Col. Kurt Student develops the use of gliders and paratroopers as a combat arm for Germany. One highly capable pilot is out of a job when he loses his legs in an air crash: RAF pilot Douglas Bader. He goes to work in London for Shell Petroleum, determined to show the world he can still fly fighter aircraft.
Others have to fight, like Maj. Claude Auchinleck, Maj. Harold Alexander, and Brig. Richard O'Connor, who lead Indian Army troops against Afghan and Pathan raiders in what is now Pakistan. Wing Commander Charles Portal bombs Arab raiders in Aden, successfully silencing them, and demonstrating the importance of combined arms operations. Thomas Blamey serves as Commissioner of Police in Victoria, Australia.
Majors Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders lead pilots of the Condor Legion into air battles for Francisco Franco's Nationalists in Spain. Their boss is the huge Maj. Hugo Sperrle, known to his pals as "Ugly." Italian Marshal Rodolfo Graziani hurls Italian colonial troops into battle against Libyan rebels. Maj. Bruno Mussolini bombs the same rebels. Japanese bomber pilot Joichi Tomonoga racks up 600 hours flying missions over China.
The greatest impact of the disillusionment and destruction of World War I is on democracy itself. Gone is the giddy optimism of the Edwardian era, Barbara Tuchman's "Proud Tower." European and American leaders, businessmen, reformers of the early 1900s firmly believed that mankind was on the edge of being capable of solving all of its problems and defeating nature itself. The idealism of Britain's Liberals and America's Progressives, exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt, Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson, has been crushed into dust by the sacrifices and brutality of war. Harsher rhetoric has appeared in their place.
Man's belief in mastering nature has been destroyed, too. The inability of Europe's great leaders to extricate itself from the horror of the trenches has created a generation that believes ordinary men are incapable of managing their own nations and affairs…and that democracy is a mere talking shop. Only a superman and an authoritarian state can address man's problems.
And the problems have become unbelievably deep. For the third shadow over the world of 1939 is only 10 years old…that of the Great Depression, still worldwide, still unresolved, still a mortal terror for millions of people.
Later historians will not see 1939 as being part of the Great Depression, but the economic catastrophe unleashed in October 1929 with the Wall Street Crash is still haunting most of the world. Indeed, as late as 1941, American newspapers will offer tableaux of ragged, jobless men in New York City - as many as 10 million out of work in 1939, many of them men who have not known a steady income in more than a decade.
The Depression has a gigantic effect on lives that are unprotected by the modern American (for example) social paraphernalia of Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, job training, Welfare, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation backing, Medicare, and Section Eight housing programs.
In the 1930s, bank failure means loss of money and closed businesses. Lack of money means no medical care. Senior citizens expect to end their days in poverty, or living off their children's earnings, and do so. Closed businesses means loss of jobs, which ultimately leads to personal bankruptcy, eviction, and thousands of men shuffling across nations as hoboes, wearing newspapers, selling apples.
The worst impact of the Great Depression is personal humiliation. Men and women who have worked all their lives see their jobs, bank accounts, homes, and possessions taken away from them. Also carted off are what modern sociologists would call their self-worth and self-esteem…and perhaps most importantly, what is left of their optimism and faith in democracy and civilized political order. The Depression leaves suicides, paupers, starvation (six days for a baby to die), and tragedy in its wake.
All across the industrialized world, the Great Depression pounds on nations and lives like an endless, raging storm. Millions of Americans, Canadians, Britons, Australians, Frenchmen, and New Zealanders are on the dole or living in poverty. Jack Hinton, Charles Hazlitt Upham, and Keith Elliott are among a generation of New Zealand "swagmen," tramping New Zealand's South Island with their gear, looking for casual labor. Striking American workers in Michigan face baton-wielding police, as do striking Canadian workers in Vancouver. American farmers, unable to sell their milk and pork, spill the liquid into ditches and slaughter their hogs. Other farmers facing foreclosure ring courthouses with horses, cars, and shotguns, to intimidate judges and bankers into stopping the proceedings. Even when they fail, the judges do not file charges.
America's cities are impoverished, too. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak lets the poor rip up paving stones to heat their homes. Major shopping streets are jammed with shivering apple sellers. A newspaperman finds the fired cook from a now-bankrupt chic hotel living in a cardboard shack, torturing himself by reading his old menus. Hungry children in New York schools fall asleep in class. Unemployed workers wonder why their old boss, millionaire Jesse Livermore, can't help them, and stop wondering when he shoot himself, one of many Depression suicides. Richard Whitney, the symbol of the New York Stock Exchange's integrity, goes to jail for embezzlement. The other cons let him get hits in prison baseball games.
Thomas Hunter, a young Canadian who will fight at Dieppe, faces feeding a family at age 13 when his father dies. With a mother and two sisters, Hunter goes to work at a chrome-plating plant, earning $8 a week. South African Bob Gaunt sees poor white men lining up at soup kitchens and walking around in tattered clothes. Many other South African Boer farmers, impoverished and forced to sell their land, support Fascist organizations. New Zealander Paul Radomski and his father have to trap rabbits in the hills near their home to avoid starvation. Unemployed Australian veterans drive horse-drawn floats down the street, playing music, hoping for pennies. Among the Australians selling door-to-door to stave off poverty is Gallipoli Victoria Cross recipient Albert Jacka.
In England, the Depression actually has little impact on a nation already battered from years of slump and the 1926 General Strike. Millions of British workers have not known steady employment since World War I. An island nation, Britain depends upon exports. But her industry has fallen behind her American and German competitors, and goods pile up in warehouses. Some neighborhoods in Tyneside and Barrow suffer unemployment figures of up to 70 percent. Angry workers hurl stones at passing limousines and join the Communist Party.
But in 1932, starving and unemployed British workers march under Communist banners on Whitehall to demand food and jobs, being turned back by the Household Cavalry in their red uniforms. The spectacle frightens the ruling Conservative politicians, who see alliance with Fascism as a way to avoid the menace of Red revolt - perhaps the only way.
The danger is indeed real: British Communist membership in 1929 is 3,200. The following year it jumps 140 percent, then 259 percent, then 282 percent. Adherents of Communism in England include W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Stephen Spender. American supporters of Communism include John Dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, Lincoln Steffens, and William Carlos Williams. Communism's rise, of course, combines with the World War I disillusionment and the 1929 Great Depression.
In 1931, all these factors force the British government to cut costs by slashing Royal Navy pay. Able seamen see their packets drop from four shillings a day (97 cents) to three shillings (73 cents). For men with families, this is a disaster. The sailors react in a manner unseen in the Royal Navy in centuries: mutiny. With the Home Fleet at Invergordon for exercises, bluejackets march out of their messes on an early morning and refuse to weigh anchor or raise steam. Crewmen mass on their forecastles, refusing to weigh anchor, and sing "The Red Flag." There is no violence, but the Sailors won't work. Battleships with proud names like Rodney, Nelson, Valiant, and Hood will not sail.
Faced with this revolt and logically fearing that the Sailors will train their guns on British cities, the government - over Admiralty objections - gives in. The pay cuts are restored. Britain goes off the gold standard. British naval officers realize that their men can no longer be driven…they must be led.
The Americans do not face rebellion in their armed forces, instead using them to crush protests by World War I veterans, doing so in Washington, in the Capitol's shadow, with a brutality that disgusts the nation. George Patton leads his cavalrymen and tanks, attacking, among others, the man who saved his life in the Argonne. The blazing shacks of World War I veterans in sight of the U.S. Capitol enrages a nation and eases the election of a new president that most political experts write off as a cheery but ineffective lightweight, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Instead he will transform a nation and become democracy's "first soldier."
Under one of FDR's programs, the Army oversees millions of American teenagers and young men working in Civilian Conservation Corps camps, planting trees, saving watersheds, or preventing erosion. In Oregon, the local CCC boss, Col. George C. Marshall, studies them to determine the sociological basis of the US Army of the future.
Thousands of Canadians work in camps as well, but their conditions are more prison-like, thanks to the harder line emanating from Prime Minister MacKenzie King, a devout spiritualist who studies the whirls of shaving cream in his mirror and consults psychics to get advice from his long-dead mother.
Regardless of the nation or state, the Depression batters every aspect of life. Factories across the world are closed. Berlin has the world's longest breadline. A combination of drought and surpluses lead to hunger and food shortages worldwide. Banks fail, savings are wiped out, and democratic institutions, already worn and frayed by the failures of World War I, are simply unable to cope with the catastrophe.
Latin American nations reel with coups, bringing to power fearsome names like Vargas, Peron, and Batista. French workers form the Croix de Feu, a fascist organization.
American farmers abandon their dust-choked homes and drive to California as migrant labor, so well chronicled by John Steinbeck. The photographs of the Dust Bowl, and novel and movie of The Grapes of Wrath become the defining influence on Adolf Hitler's view of America.
American cities like Key West, facing bankruptcy, simply give up and stop providing services. Detroit and Chicago stop paying their municipal workers. A week after sending Chicago cops into the streets to club unruly unemployed men with billy clubs, the city lays off 10 percent of those cops, to cut costs. The teachers are already giving what little money they have to starving children in their classes.
Around the world, vast numbers of unemployed men, facing personal and family ruin, listen to the opposite rhetoric to Communism: hard right-wing speakers like Britain's Sir Oswald Mosley, America's Charles Coughlin, and Germany's Josef Goebbels. All promise powerful and rebuilt nations where all will have jobs, homes, and security, marching behind the glorious leader in an autocratic dictatorship based on class or volk. This nirvana will be achieved once the defined scapegoats have been eliminated and certain "temporary measures" to crush democracy have been put in place.
One such person who hears a Goebbels speech in 1931 is a young architect named Albert Speer. Entranced by the prospect of a restored and powerful Germany, he rushes out and joins the Berlin gau of the Nazi Party. Because of his architectural expertise, the Party has him design the new Berlin Party headquarters. Speer is delighted to do so. He does his work so well, it attracts further commissions.
Fascism comes in many forms and has many adherents in the 1930s. George Bernard Shaw, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and even George Orwell praise Hitler's powers of decision and his achievements. Henry Ford proudly accepts a German medal, the Cross of the German Eagle Order, unaware that Hitler has privately sneered at the decoration as being only fit for foreigners. Charles Lindbergh tours the Luftwaffe's new bases and comes away convinced that the new Ju 87 dive-bombers will crush all opposition in its path, and the only salvation for America is alliance with and adherence to Nazism.
Fritz Kuhn's strutting German-American Bund Nazis pass out anti-Semitic fliers in Manhattan's Yorkville and attack Jews leaving synagogues on Yom Kippur. In Chicago's Italian neighborhoods, junior Fascists strut around with similar agendas, enjoying the backing of Al Capone.
A shady group of American bankers tries to launch a right-wing 1934 coup d'etat, with retired Marine Lt. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, twice recipient of the Medal of Honor, as their man on horseback. Luckily for the nation, the revered Butler is a loyal American and denounces the plotters.
In Britain, the Right Club, the Cliveden Set, and the Anglo-German Friendship Society are all united in opposing Communism and supporting closer ties with Hitler. Some of their members include the Empires' most lustrous titles, including the Duke of Wellington, whose son will defy parental views by leading British troops into battle - and his own death - at Salerno.
Leading British politicians like Samuel Hoare, Chips Channon, and Lady Nancy Astor support alliance with Germany. When Astor is asked about Winston Churchill's vociferous opposition to Nazism, Astor gives a scornful little laugh and replies, "Oh, he's finished."
The theories of Fascism come in many forms, some quite bizarre: American William Dudley Pelley's Silver Shirts, Mexico's Golden Shirts, Rumania's Iron Guard, Hungary's Arrow Cross, Japan's Imperial Way Assistance Association, the British Union of Fascists, the Belgian Rexists, the Italian Fascists, and the most successful of them all: Nazism, under its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.
In 1939, Germany is the example state of dictatorship. In the seven years since Adolf Hitler was placed into power by senile President Hindenburg and brown-shirted legions, Nazi Germany has become at once an admired model of power and success and a hated monster of oppression and tyranny.
Its successes are visible and illusory, made larger by Josef Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. According to the newsreels of UFA and the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Germany is a prosperous, peaceful, orderly nation. There is no unemployment - except for Jews and political opponents who have been banned from occupations or chased out of the Reich, like Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Bertolt Brecht, Mies Van der Rohe, Hans Bethe, Walter Gropius, and Erich Maria Remarque. The latter's All Quiet on the Western Front has so infuriated Hitler that his book has been specifically selected for burning.
German factories, coal mines, and shipyards are thriving. Alfried Krupp's massive steel works in Essen is churning out Mark III tanks, his shipyards producing litters of Type-VII ocean-going U-boats, both in violation of solemn treaties and Hitler's pious promises. The Fuhrer has promised his citizens Volkswagens, and Germans are eagerly saving up their stamps for the free cars. Those Germans who have cars are driving them on new Autobahns, divided-lane superhighways that crisscross the Reich and enable the new Wehrmacht to move its mechanized divisions on interior lines.
German workers go on cheap "Strength Through Joy" cruises on massive new liners like the Wilhelm Gustloff or attend huge party rallies in Nuremberg beneath Albert Speer's "cathedrals of ice" searchlight displays. At the rallies they cheer live wargames, where Mark II tanks and Junkers 87 Stukas carry out attacks orchestrated by an aggressive colonel named Heinz Guderian.
Youngsters aged 12 and up are marching in the khaki uniforms of the Hitler Youth or the Bund Deutscher Madchen, going on field exercises by day and studying anti-Semitic propaganda by night. Foreign journalists are amazed by the cheer and energy with which the German youth take part in these activities, running across fields in lederhosen and Bavarian skirts. Foreign journalists aren't told that the teenage couples are being encouraged to create illegitimate Aryan babies in those fields, to provide the Fuhrer with more and more blond-haired, blue-eyed Soldaten.
The schools and universities join in the anti-Semitic parade, teaching Julius Streicher's appalling pornographic attacks on Jews and showing children models of Aryan and non-Aryan facial features. German children are taught to thank God for sending them Hitler to lead them, but are denied classes on the existence of atomic theory, as Reich Minister of Education Bernhard Rust calls it a "Jewish science."
Visitors to Germany are stunned by the cleanliness, the order, and the lack of crime or political or labor trouble. With good reason.
There are no strikes in Germany - there are no labor unions, save the German Labor Front. No political parties save the National Socialist German Workers' Party. No press beyond the directives of the Daily Keynote of the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. No opposition of any sort. All the political opponents have been festering in the Dachau Concentration Camp since 1933, commanded by SS Major Kurt "Dummi-Dummi" Daleuge, a former Berlin sanitation official, and therefore an expert in handling the Reich's human "trash."
Nazi Germany derives its order from a series of decrees, which include a law that unites the Nazi Party organization with the state. That law in turn makes the Party's intelligence service, the SS, part of a combined Party-State police organization, the most powerful and ugliest in history, the "Geheime Staatspolizei" - the Gestapo.
Under the rule of its filing clerk boss, Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo and its leather-jacketed agents have infiltrated nearly every aspect of German life. Himmler's strength comes from his unlimited law enforcement power, his voluminous files, and his obedient 45,000-man force of investigators, torturers, guards, kleptomaniacs, and sadists.
Using Blockwart informers, torture, wiretaps, and the simple expedients of arresting people without warrant, jailing them without trial, and torturing them in jail, the Nazis have created an "informer state." Blockwarts in every building and every street track the loyalty of everyone else in the new workers' housing blocks rising in Berlin, Munich, and the Ruhr.
Germany is a state where citizens' merest jokes about their leaders can lead to imprisonment at new concentration camps like Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. At these camps, prisoners merely endure hard labor, thin rations, and torture. The highly efficient extermination camps do not yet exist. But conditions in the camps that do are horrific enough. But nobody outside of them cares. The Nazis are making the trains run on time, and suppressing annoying hooligans, trade unionists, liberals, criminals, Communists, homosexuals, and Jews.
Nazi Germany is also an orderly state because of the innate tendencies of its people towards a strong and authoritarian leader. And Germany has such a man in the unlikely form of a vegetarian, flatulent, ill-educated, petulant failed artist and successful Army messenger named Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler in 1939 is 50 years old. His eyes are blue, his hair dark-brown, often flecked with dandruff. In private, he wears nickel-rimmed glasses, but is not allowed to be photographed wearing them. He stands five feet 10 inches high, and weighs about 155 lbs. Although in general good health, Hitler suffers from hypochondria, and believes that he must fight and win his empire quickly, as he will die soon. Hitler desperately fears cancer, the disease that killed his mother. In May 1935, he has had a polyp removed from his larynx, which has proved benign.
He actually suffers from stomach cramps and chronic flatulence, which make his conferences olfactory ordeals for everyone but him. With the support of his quack physician, Dr. Theodor Morell, he treats himself with injections that include poisonous wood alcohol and a patent medicine called "Dr. Koester's Anti-Gas Pills." These pills include small amounts of atropine and strychnine. Hitler is convinced these pills save his life.
Later, Hitler also develops ringing in the ears and eczema, which are the results of fatigue, stress, and hysteria.
Hitler abstains from alcohol and tobacco, and eventually bans smoking in his presence. He has been a vegetarian since attending the 1931 autopsy of his niece and lover, Geli Raubal, but eats eggs. He likes to taunt his fellow diners for eating meat.
As autocrat at the dinner table, as author James O'Donnell observes, Hitler is a crashing bore. He lectures his audience with long diatribes on subjects he knows nothing about, repeating the same subjects, until 4 a.m. Yet his boundless energy and immense personal charm attracts admirers and makes guests believe that he is sympathetic to their problems and actually a gentle man, who seeks to relax the totalitarian aspects of his state. He tells his audience what they want to hear. Even George Orwell refers respectfully to Hitler's "cooing voice."
Hitler's knowledge of the world is limited, but he can patch fragments together from reading of technical manuals and pamphlets, as well as his photographic memory. In arguments with his generals, he usually can overwhelm them with trivial and technical points, proving that his knowledge of bar bet questions makes him a superior general to the red-striped Generalstab.
By the war's outbreak, Hitler has surrounded himself with pliant generals like Wilhelm Keitel and Paul Zeitzler, who readily agree that the Fuhrer is "The greatest Feldherr of all time." These toadies rapidly support and carry out even his most bizarre orders, regardless of consequences or reality. Such are the advantages of absolute dictatorship.
As historian Len Deighton points out, "to think of Hitler as a deviant or a monster is to miss the point. He was the epitome of the common man. He went to the First World War in a mood of idealism. He returned home to a chaos of social inequality and became embittered. His knowledge lacked the pattern that formal education grants and was unsupported by languages or foreign travel - Hitler saw the Slav races and the French that he hated so much only after his armies had conquered them.
"Hitler's type of crazy rhetoric about Jewish blood, capitalist conspiracies, and slave nations could be heard in every factory canteen throughout Europe, and perhaps still can be."