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Chapter 21. World War: Second Verse, Worse Than the First

In This Chapter

Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini take the stage

• Appeasement—worst idea ever?

• World war all over again

• The horrible, horrible Holocaust

As Europe tried to move forward from the disastrous First World War, uncertainty faced everyone on the continent. No one knew exactly how long the rebuilding process would take or how much it would cost. No one knew if the tenuous peace of the Treaty of Paris would hold up, or for how long.

Continental Drift

This sense of uncertainty heightened as Britain and France drifted apart after the war. The two nations already differed greatly over how to treat post-war Germany. Britain definitely wanted Germany punished, but not to the extent that France did. France’s animosity toward Germany led to icy relations with Britain and with the United States. Feeling alone, France turned to the fledgling states of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia as allies.

The relationship between France and Germany looked as though it might improve after Germany made its first installment reparations payment in 1921, but things changed when Germany couldn’t pay in 1922. Britain wanted to cut Germany a little slack, but France wouldn’t dream of it. In 1923, France marched into Germany and occupied the Rhineland. Rather than fight back with guns, the Germans of the Rhineland simply quit working. The factories closed and France grew more frustrated than ever. In late 1923, Germany got new, moderate leaders in the government who called off the strikes. In return, they asked France to reevaluate Germany’s ability to pay. Remarkably, France agreed and things looked up again.

The United States, Britain, and France sent financial experts to Germany to reevaluate the situation and settled on what became known as the Dawes Plan, which set Germany’s payments based on realistic German productivity. It also created a strange system of loans. The United States loaned money to Germany so that Germany could make reparations payments to Britain and France so that Britain and France could repay loans to America. Things got a little more cordial in 1926 when Germany joined the League of Nations, and things looked up again, at least for idealists, in 1928 when a number of nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an official declaration that war should not be used as foreign policy. Realistically, the Pact did nothing; neither did the League of Nations.

What little optimism existed amidst the widespread anxiety in 1928 vanished with the Stock Market crash the next year. Little did Europe know that the tough times ahead would give rise to a few of the worst regimes to ever rule in Europe.

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