The brutality of World War I caused philosophers and writers to question accepted
ideas about reason and progress. Disillusioned by the war, many people also feared
the future and expressed doubts about traditional religious beliefs. Some writers
and thinkers expressed their anxieties by creating disturbing visions of the present
and the future.
s In both classical and popular music, composers
moved away from traditional styles. In his ballet masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, the
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky used irregular rhythms and dissonances, or harsh
combinations of sound. The Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg rejected traditional
harmonies and musical scales.Guglielmo Marconi conducted
his first successful experiments with radio in 1895. However, the real push
for radio development came during World War I.
War’s end saw the sudden rise of new democracies.
From 1914 to 1918, Europe’s last absolute rulers had been overthrown. The
first of the new governments was formed in Russia in 1917. The Provisional
Government, as it was called, hoped to establish constitutional and democratic
rule. However, within months it had fallen to a Communist dictatorship. Even so,
for the first time, most European nations had democratic governments.Germany also faced enormous economic
problems that had begun during the war. Unlike Britain and France, Germany had
not greatly increased its wartime taxes. To pay the expenses of the war, the
Germans had simply printed money. After Germany’s defeat, this paper money
steadily lost its value. Burdened with heavy reparations payments to the Allies and
with other economic problems, Germany printed even more money. As a result, the
value of the mark, as Germany’s currency was called, fell sharply. Severe inflation
set in. Germans needed more and more money to buy even the most basic goods.
For example, in Berlin a loaf of bread cost less than a mark in 1918, more than 160
marks in 1922, and some 200 billion marks by late 1923. People took wheelbarrows
full of money to buy food. As a result, many Germans questioned the value
of their new democratic government.
A newspaper editor and politician named Benito Mussolini boldly promised to
rescue Italy by reviving its economy and rebuilding its armed forces. He vowed to
give Italy strong leadership. Mussolini had founded the Fascist Party in 1919. As
economic conditions worsened, his popularity rapidly increased. Finally, Mussolini
publicly criticized Italy’s government. Groups of Fascists wearing black shirts
attacked Communists and Socialists on the streets. Because Mussolini played on
the fear of a workers’ revolt, he began to win support from the middle classes, the
aristocracy, and industrial leaders.When Mussolini became dictator of Italy in the mid-1920s, Adolf Hitler was a
little-known political leader whose early life had been marked by disappointment.
When World War I broke out, Hitler found a new beginning. He volunteered for the
German army and was twice awarded the Iron Cross, a medal for bravery.The Nazis had become the largest political party by 1932. Conservative leaders mistakenly
believed they could control Hitler and use him for their purposes. In January
1933, they advised President Paul von Hindenburg to name Hitler chancellor. Thus
Hitler came to power legally. Soon after, General Erich Ludendorff, a former Hitler
ally, wrote to Hindenburg:
During the 1920s, the Japanese government became more democratic. In 1922,
Japan signed an international treaty agreeing to respect China’s borders. In 1928,
it signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war. Japan’s parliamentary system
had several weaknesses, however. Its constitution put strict limits on the powers
of the prime minister and the cabinet. Most importantly, civilian leaders had little
control over the armed forces. Military leaders reported only to the emperor.
a Japanese businesses had invested heavily in China’s
northeast province, Manchuria. It was an area rich in iron and coal. In 1931, the
Japanese army seized Manchuria, despite objections from the Japanese
parliament. The army then set up a puppet government. Japanese engineers and
technicians began arriving in large numbers to build mines and factories.a Ethiopia was one of Africa’s three independent
nations. The Ethiopians had successfully resisted an Italian attempt at conquest
during the 1890s. To avenge that defeat, Mussolini ordered a massive invasion of
Ethiopia in October 1935. The spears and swords of the Ethiopians were no match
for Italian airplanes, tanks, guns, and poison gas.
The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, urgently appealed to the League for
help. Although the League condemned the attack, its members did nothing. Britain
continued to let Italian troops and supplies pass through the British-controlled
Suez Canal on their way to Ethiopia. By giving in to Mussolini in Africa, Britain
and France hoped to keep peace in Europe.
On November 5, 1937, Hitler announced to his
advisers his plans to absorb Austria and Czechoslovakia into the Third Reich (ryk),
or German Empire. The Treaty of Versailles prohibited Anschluss (AHN•SHLUS), or
a union between Austria and Germany. However, many Austrians supported unity
with Germany. In March 1938, Hitler sent his army into Austria and annexed it.
France and Britain ignored their pledge to protect Austrian independence.Britain and France asked the
Soviet Union to join them in stopping Hitler’s aggression. As Stalin talked with
Britain and France, he also bargained with Hitler. The two dictators reached an
agreement. Once bitter enemies, Fascist Germany and Communist Russia now
publicly pledged never to attack one another. On August 23, 1939, their leaders
signed a nonaggression pact. As the Axis Powers moved unchecked at the end of
the decade, war appeared inevitable.