Chapter 15: Years of Crisis, 1919-1939 by shanna rice

Postwar Uncertainty

a New Revolution in Science

Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were thinkers during the Scientific Revolution that impacted the 20th century greatly.

Impact of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Albert Einstein, thinker behind the idea of the Theory of Relativity, helped make implications for science and change the way people think. This theory replaced Newton's beliefs of absolute laws of motion and gravity.

Influence of Freudian Psychology Sigmund Freud's ideas regarding psychology were as revolutionary as Einstein's. He studied the patterns of the mind and the psychological problems that went with it. He named the irrational part of the mind the unconscious and explained the drives that went with it.

Literature in the 1920s

Literature in the 1920's was written about the anxieties about the future of postwar life.

Writers Reflect Society's Concerns Novels began to be written in a way to reflect people's feelings after the horrible war. Books focused on Freud's theory on the unconsciousness of the mind and James Joyce even broke normal sentence structure and vocabulary in an attempt to show how the mind works and thinks. (1920s)

Thinker React to Uncertainties Soon, some thinkers and philosophers began to question the meaning of life and existentialists were born, or people who believed there is no universal meaning to life, but life's meaning was individual based on personal beliefs and choices. (1920s-1930s)

Revolution in the arts

Art and music evolved after the first world war.

Artists Rebel Against Tradition Artists wanted to break the barriers of painting realistically and depict the inner world of emotion through bold colors and distorted forms. Some of these painters were Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Cubism and Surrealism were two artistic movements during this time. Cubism was the art of breaking objects down into geometric shapes and Surrealism was the link between real life and the dream world.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Composers Try New Styles Composers began moving away from traditional works in all forms of music, trying different sounds like irregular rhythms and dissonances. Igor Stravinsky did just this in his piece, The Rite of Spring. Arnold Schoenberg from Austria turned against traditional harmonies and music scales. In the United States, a new form of music called jazz emerged and swept the nation and even traveled all the way to Europe. Jazz was created by mostly African American musicians in New Orleans, Chicago, and Memphis.

Society challenges convention

New ideas about different ways of life began an individual freedom in the 1920s. Younger people were more likely to break traditional convention and test modern values rather than older people.

Women in a 1912 suffrage march in New York City.

Women's Roles Change Because of the effort women had made during WWI, their suffrage was more attainable. In countries such as England, Germany, Sweden, Austrian, and the U.S., they gained the right to vote. Women empowerment and equality soon arose as they began to cut their hair short, wear shorter, looser dresses, wear makeup, and drink, drive, and smoke in public. Women careers in journalism, education, medicine, and other professions also increased.


Scientists development of new drugs and medical treatments to help postwar life inspired more technological advances to improve transportation and communication.

The Automobile Alters Society In prewar times, automobiles were strictly owned by the rich but after the price drop in postwar years, autos became attainable by middle class families. As more people began travelling for pleasure, auto businesses in Britain and the U.S. increased.

Airplanes Transform Travel After the war, international air travel became a big feat. Though the first commercial airlines were only affordable by the rich, people from all over were mesmerized by air flight and enjoyed the exploits of pilots flying solo around the world. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Radio and Movies Dominate Popular Entertainment The success of the radio came almost overnight during WWI when the very first commercial radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania began broadcasting. Soon stations in every major city started broadcasting plays, news, and live sporting events which encouraged most families to own a radio. Motion picture was another big thing in the '20s and most countries around the world produced films. English-born Charlie Chaplin became known as a comedic genius in his silent and then later on sound movies.

Charlie Chaplin

A Worldwide Depression

Postwar Europe

The Great War had an immense effect of everything and everyone. Human and economic suffering, most European countries went bankrupt, and overall Europe's world domination declined.

Unstable New Democracies From 1914 to 1918 democracy rose all over Europe and soon the last absolute ruler had been overthrown and democratic governments replaced them. These democracies were very unstable and in many countries, dozens of parties were formed and very little could get done which made countries weak.

The weimar republic

In Germany, a new democratic government started called the Weimar Republic and it was weak from the beginning. Postwar Germany was filled with numerous major & minor parties and millions of Germans blamed the new republic for the country's defeat and humiliation with the Versailles Treaty.

Inflation Causes Crisis in Germany Germany faced many economic problems after the war due to no raising taxes during wartime. Inflation was severe as they Germany continued to print more money, trying to get out of debt. By late 1923, a loaf of bread in Berlin costed some 200 billion marks.

Attempts at Economic Stability An international committee thankfully came in and offered help to Germany to get them back on their feet. A $200 billion loan from America was given to stabilize Germany and their economy, the Dawes Plan. This helped slow inflation and by 1929, after more loans and investments from the United States, German factories were producing as much as prewar times.

Efforts at a Lasting Peace Gustav Stresemann, Germany's foreign minister, and Aristide Briand, France's foreign minister, met in 1925 in Switzerland with Belgium, Italian, and British officials to discuss a peace treaty. Soon almost every country in the world signed the Kellogg-Briand peace pact to "renounce war as an instrument of national policy." The United States wouldn't join the League of Nations, an obvious enforcer of the pact, which weakened it.

Financial collapse

During the 20s, the United States economy was booming and carrying other countries' economies with it, but in 1929, American economy collapsed and brought all others with it.

A Flawed U.S. Economy The American economy had certain weaknesses such as uneven distribution of wealth, overproduction by business and agriculture, and the fact that many Americans were buying less.

The Stock Market Crashes In 1929, New York City's Wall Street was the financial capital of world, the place were banks and investment companies lined the street and sold stocks. A downward slide of stock prices started happening in October and then on the 29th, after a record 16 billion was sold, the market crashed.

The great depression

Stocks became worthless, unemployment rose, and industrial production, prices, and wages declined. By 1932, factory production was cut in half, businesses and banks closed, and around 9 million people lost money in their saving accounts and farmers lost their land when they couldn't pay their mortgage. A year later, one-fourth of all Americans were unemployed.

Migrant Mother photographed by Dorothea Lange

A Global Depression The Wall Street crash radiated shock throughout the world, and American investors withdrew their money from Europe and the U.S. Congress raised tariffs on imported goods, which started a chain reaction of other countries raising higher tariffs. World trades dropped by 65% and contributed to economic downturn while unemployment rates grew.

Effects Throughout the World Due to war debts and dependence on American loans and investments, many countries were hurt. In '31, Austria's largest bank failed and farmers and urban workers in Asia suffered.

The world confronts the crisis

The Depression confronted democracies with a serious challenge to their economic and political systems. Each country met the crisis in its own way.

Britain Takes Steps to Improve Its Economy Britain suffered because of the depression severely and British voters elected a coalition known as the National Government that passed high tariffs, increased taxes, regulated the currency, and lowered interest rates to encourage industrial growth. This slowly brought recovery and by 1937, unemployment had been cut in half.

France Responds to Economic Crisis France was less dependent on foreign trade and therefore was not as effected by the U.S. stock market crash at first, bu by 1935, 1 million French workers were unemployed. The Popular Front, a coalition of moderates, Socialists, and Communists, helped make reforms, and while inflation and unemployment remained high, France was able to preserve a democratic government.

Socialist Governments Find Solutions The governments of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway met the economic challenges with success while keeping democracy in order.

Recovery in the United States In 1932, U.S. voters elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president as he appealed to many Americans who felt overwhelmed by the Depression. He immediately began a government reform called the New Deal, which helped to provide jobs give financial help to businesses and farms. Eventually, the reforms made did provide help to the American economy.

President Franklin D. roosevelt

Fascism Rises in Europe

Fascism's rise in italy

Fascism had no clear theory or program, but ideas of extreme nationalism were still shared amongst leaders. Fascists believed that a country's struggles meant success and peace meant failure, each social class had certain functions, and they were nationalists. Fascism was similar to communism because both systems were ruled by dictators who only allowed one political party, both denied individual rights, the state was supreme, democracy wasn't practiced.

Mussolini Takes Control In Italy, Fascism rose as a result of rising inflation and unemployment and democracy seemed helpless. Benito Mussolini boldly promised to rescue Italy and in 1919, founded the Fascist Party.

Il Duce's Leadership Once Mussolini became leader, he abolished democracy and all political parties except the Fascists, secret police jailed his opponents, he censored radio stations and broadcasts to only publish Fascist doctrines, he outlawed strikes and controlled economy. Despite this, he never had the total control that Stalin or Hitler had.

Hitler rises to power in germany

In the mid-1920s while Mussolini became dictator, Adolf Hitler was a little-known politician who had entered the German army for WWI and was twice awarded a medal for bravery.

The Rise of the Nazis After the war, Hitler settled in Munich and in 1919, he joined a political group that discussed overturning the Versailles treaty and combating communism, called Nazi. The Nazis created a German form or fascism, adopted the swastika as its symbol, and set up a private militia. Shorty thereafter, Hitler's success within the party got him elected leader and he planned to seize Munich in 1923, which once failed, got him arrested. He served 9 months in prison, which is where he wrote his book Mein Kampf - My Struggle. After he left prison in '24, he revived the Nazi Party. He was ignored by most Germans, until post-WWI when American loans stopped, economy collapsed, and a civil war broke out. Frightened and confused, Germans turned to Hitler.


In 1932, the Nazis are the largest political party in Germany and a year later, Hitler is named chancellor. Hitler used his power to turn Germany into a totalitarian state, banning all other parties and getting opponents arrested. His enemies were murdered by the SS - Schutzstaffel, or protection staff. The economy was taken control of by the Nazis, new laws banned strikes, independent labor unions were dissolved, Germans were put to work building factories, highways, weapons, and serving in the military. Unemployment dropped from 6 to 1.5 million in 1936

The Fuhrer Is Supreme Hitler not only wanted to control Germany politically and economically, he wanted to control all aspects of life. He used propaganda and extreme censorship to way public opinion. Schoolchildren had to join youth groups that taught Nazi beliefs.

Hitler Makes War on the Jews Antisemitism was a key aspect of Nazi ideology. Jews, despite only one percent of the population, was blamed for all of Germany's troubles since the war. The hatred of Jews swept all of Germany and most of their rights became deprived. November 9, 1938, a rampage against the Jews was struck and Nazi mobs attacked the homes, streets, and Jewish-owned buildings, destroying everything. This night was called Kristallnacht, Night of the Broken Glass.

Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938

other countries fall to dictators

While Fascists took control in Germany and Italy, other European countries faced dictatorship such as Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania over the next 20 or so years. Only a few European countries - Britain, France, and the countries of Scandinavian - did democracy survive. This splits the most powerful nations between democratic and totalitarian.

Aggressors Invade Nations

Japan seeks an empire

Throughout the 1920's, Japan's government grew more democratic. Japan signed a treaty to respect China's border in '22, and six years later, signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact to renounce war.

Militarists Take Control of Japan While Japan stayed prosperous, the government thrived, but when the Great Depression struck in '29, many citizens blamed the government. Military leaders gained support and soon took over the country. Militarists kept the previous government, unlike Fascists in Europe. They kept Emperor Hirohito and made him a symbol of state power while the army ruled in his name. Though not forceful like Hitler and Mussolini, militarists also had extreme nationalism and wished to solve Japan's economic problems through expansion.

Japan Invades Manchuria Japanese businesses had heavily invested in a northeast Chinese province called Manchuria because it was rich in coal and iron. In 1931, the Japanese army seized Manchuria even though their government prohibited it. They used the province to test run a form of government. This attack was a direct challenge to the League of Nations, which included all major democracies - including the three greatest threats to democracy - Germany, Italy, and Japan. Japan ignored the protests and withdrew from the League.

Japan Invades China In 1937, a border incident between Japan and China started a battle between the two countries. Northern cities such as Beijing and the capital, Nanjing, fell to the Japanese. Troops of tens of thousands were killed by the Japanese and civilians and soldiers were captured.

European Aggressors on the march

European Fascists were encouraged by the League's failure to stop Japan, inspiring Italian leader Mussolini to dream of building a colonial empire similar to those in Britain and France.

Mussolini Attacks Ethiopia Though Ethiopia was able to resist the attacks of the Italians in the 1890s, their spears and swords stood no chance to the Italian airplanes, tanks, guns, and poison gas. Haile Selassie, Ethiopian emperor, appealed to the League, but while the League resented the attack, the members did not provide help. Italians were continuously granted permission to travel through the British-controlled Suez Canal to transport troops and supplies to Ethiopia. By allowing this, Britain and France hoped to keep peace in Europe.

Hitler Defies Versailles Treaty Hitler had pledged to undo the treaty, which had restrictions on the size of Germany's army. In 1935, the Fuhrer announced that Germany would not be following these rules, but the League only issued mild condemnation. This League of Nations failure only sparked Hitler to take greater risks such as expansion. Germany's growing strength, encouraged Mussolini to ally with Hitler, and a month later, the two dictators also formed an alliance with Japan. These three countries became known as the Axis Powers.

Civil War Erupts in Spain Hitler and Mussolini again tested the democracies again in the Spanish Civil War by sending troops, tanks, and airplanes to aid General Francisco Franco in a revolt. Through the three year war, the Republican side fought against Franco's troops, or the Nationalists as he called them. In 1939, the Republican side collapsed and and Franco became the Fascist leader of Spain.

Democratic Nations try to preserve peace

Britain and France, wishing to keep peace, refused to take a stand against Fascism in the 1930s because both were struggling financially due to the Great Depression and the horrors of WWI created a strong desire to avoid war.

United States Follows an Isolationist Policy Many Americans believed in isolationism, or the belief that political ties with other countries should be avoided. This stemmed from their belief that entering into WWI had been an error and in 1935, Congress passed laws to ban loans and sales of arms to nations of war.

The German Reich Expands November 5th, 1937, Adolf Hitler announced his plans of absorbing Austria and Czechoslovakia into the Third Reich, or German Empire. The Versailles treaty prohibited alliance between Germany and Austria, though many Austrians supported unity. Less than a year later in 1938, Hitler sent an army and annexed Austria while Britain and France ignored their pledge to keep Austria independent. Next, Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia and demanded that Sudetenland be given over to which the Czechs refused and asked for France's aid.

Britain and France Again Choose Appeasement France and Britain were preparing for war when the Munich Conference was proposed - a meeting of Germany, France, Britain, and Italy in Munich to discuss the problems. By the end, Britain and France agreed that Hitler could take Sudetenland. British crowds cheered for peace, but Winston Churchill, a member of British Parliament, strongly disagreed. Not 6 months later and Hitler had taken Czechoslovakia and Mussolini had taken Albania. Hitler also demanded that Poland return the former German port of Danzig to which the Poles refused and asked upon Britain and France for help, though their appeasement had Hitler believing that neither nation would risk war.

Munich Conference in Munich, Germany 1938

Nazis and Soviets Sign Nonaggression Pact Britain and France called upon the Soviet Union to assist them in stopping Hitler, but Stalin was also bargaining with the German leader and despite once being enemies, the Fascist Germany and Communist Russia made a pact on August 23, 1939 to never attack one another.


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