Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The League of Nations: Root of U.N. Evil

It seems obvious and beyond dispute to me that the United Nations is a thoroughly contemptible organization that ranges from wastefully ineffective to horrifically malevolent in its actions. It has lofty goals of course but it has no oversight, is not accountable and is rife with corruption. Moreover, we have since found out for a fact that UN forces have participated in an unprecedented and disgusting criminal campaign of rape, child molestation and exploitation in Africa. What little good it might do is far outweighed by the horrors it has perpetrated and these good things could be done by other organizations. It does not prevent conflict, it shelters despicable characters, stops some countries from doing good and enables others to do evil. However, the root of all evil for the United Nations was its predecessor the League of Nations. The United Nations was originally the primary Allied nations of World War II, a conflict which the League of Nations had failed to prevent, and the U.N. was intended to be the League of Nations but with all of the mistakes that had made it a failure corrected.

Woodrow the Worst
That did not happen of course but maybe, just maybe, that was because the real mistake was the League of Nations itself. The idea for some sort of international organization had been advocated for some time by British leftists, Labour Party members, Fabian Socialists and the like but the League of Nations that was actually created was born out of the uninformed idealism of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I. When the former professor turned Democrat politician went to the Versailles Conference to lecture the nations of the Old World on how to fix things, Wilson was a failure. He later admitted he did not know what he was talking about and almost everything he called for was ignored by his Allied partners. In the end, he sacrificed almost everything he said he stood for in order to get agreement to his legacy project which was the League of Nations. The creation of the League of Nations was the only major goal of Woodrow Wilson that he was able to see achieved. However, even then, it proved an embarrassment at the outset when he returned to his own country.

The United States of America refused to accept the Versailles Treaty, later making its own separate peace treaties with the Central Powers, and also refused to join the League of Nations. The United States would be the most significant world power that never joined the League of Nations but others who had originally been excluded were later admitted and it reflects the politics of the League and what was deemed acceptable by the leaders of this new international world order. Germany, the enemy in World War I, was excluded from the League but, after the Weimar Republic proved sufficiently subservient and willing to disarm and not resist the League, was allowed to join in 1926. This followed the French occupation of the Rhineland in 1919, which caused outrage across Germany after numerous rapes of German women by French colonial troops (from the African colony of Senegal) and the 1923 occupation of the Ruhr valley by French and Belgian troops. Soviet Russia, also initially excluded for being a communist state most regarded as illegal and illegitimate, was also admitted in 1934. What is interesting about the timing of that was the fact that Adolf Hitler, who had always despised the League, had taken Germany out the previous year.

Sinister Stalin
Ultimately, the League of Nations had decided that having a communist member was acceptable, even though the Soviet leadership had done nothing but condemn and castigate the leading members of the League from ‘day one’ as bourgeois capitalists and imperialists. The Soviet Union was expelled from the League at the end of 1939 because of the Soviet invasion of Finland. The League was supposed to respond to aggression with economic sanctions, however, that was never a viable option for the Soviet Union. At that point, they were still doing business with Nazi Germany, which was outside the League and would certainly not be following their orders, and the leading countries such as France and Britain were at war with Germany by that point and were not looking to antagonize the Russians. It is interesting to note that the Soviets had carried out a number of aggressive acts prior to joining the League, and was only expelled as a result of such aggression after making a pact with Germany which, under Hitler, had never had much use for the organization.

If this makes the League seem rather inconsistent and perhaps less than honest, the first major problem the League was unable to solve shows it even more. That, of course, was the 1931 occupation of Manchuria by the Imperial Japanese Army following the Mukden Incident. The Japanese military, acting independently of the government in Tokyo, moved quickly, took control of the country and soon set up a client state, the “State of Manchukuo” (which is simply ‘Manchuria’ in Chinese). By the time the commission from the League, headed by the Earl of Lytton, arrived in Manchuria, they were investigating what was already an accomplished fact, not something that was about to happen or in the process of happening. Their final report concluded that the Japanese had acted aggressively and that the State of Manchukuo was not a legitimate country. Deeply offended, the following year in 1933 the Empire of Japan officially left the League of Nations. What makes this case smell of corruption is that few historians doubt that if Japan had pursued an “Open Door” policy in Manchuria, reducing their own interest and control in the region to allow in other countries to invest, the commission would likely have come to the opposite conclusion.

The Mild Manchu Emperor
Such might have been in the best interests of Japan as opening Manchuria up to other countries would have induced them to recognize the State of Manchukuo immediately and given them a vested interest in its survival. However, it is easy to see why Japan did not do this, given that they had done the work, they had taken the risk and thus they saw no need to share the spoils. They had a valid point when they asked why there was a Monroe Doctrine for the Americas but an “Open Door” policy in China. There seems little room for doubt that the League found against Japan because Japan cut out the other great powers from having a share of the profits. It is also clear that the historical argument was on the side of the Japanese. They had restored the legitimate Manchu ruler to his ancestral homeland. The League also, contradictorily, branded Japan an aggressor while not saying anything to refute the claim of the Japanese military that the Chinese had been responsible for the Mukden Incident itself. So, they let this accusation stand, that the Chinese had attacked the Japanese-owned railroad and yet still ruled that the Japanese had acted aggressively.

In the end, nothing was done by the League and the only result was that it discouraged most of the international community from recognizing the State (and later Empire) of Manchukuo as a legitimate country. Putting sanctions on Japan would have been futile. The deed was already done and such sanctions would not be able to undo it as the source of most of the imports Japan relied on was the United States, which was not a member of the League, not bound by their decisions and which was not about to cut off trade with Japan over Manchuria. In fact, the President of the United States, Republican Herbert Hoover, was of the opinion that, given the Soviet occupation of Mongolia and support for the Chinese communists, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria was a justified act of self-defense. Any such action, he felt, would put America on the road to war with Japan and that he was not about to do. His Democrat successor, Franklin Roosevelt, would later take the opposite view, would put sanctions on Japan and would ultimately end up at war just as Hoover had predicted.

The Uncooperative Duce
The issue of Manchuria, however, was only deemed significant for the League in retrospect, not at the time. The League was supposed to resolve international disputes and, with the Japanese occupation being already accomplished, no major dispute seemed to exist. The Chinese were upset of course, but they had not been able to put up much of a fight nor did they feel compelled to go to war over the issue. Basically, the League wanted to have for itself the power to make the big decisions in world affairs. Japan had acted without League approval but it had not acted with League disapproval either because the issue was resolved before the League became involved. They would not have to wait very long, however, before the League was faced with a real challenge and one there would be no way to escape without either showing that they were the real arbiters of international affairs or that they were ultimately powerless to enforce their liberal, idealistic vision of the world on the global community. That challenge can be traced to a single man and that man was Benito Mussolini.

Most are probably aware of the basic facts. There was an “incident” at an isolated outpost, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) claimed the outpost had been built in their territory and a large force attacked it. Mussolini responded with preparations for war. It would take about a year for arrangements to be made and Italian military forces to be transferred to East Africa and so this time the League of Nations had plenty of time to respond. Once again, they acted against the findings of their own investigation, at least in a way. They never really said which side was to blame for starting the trouble, never asserted that the Italians had not been attacked nor, contrarily, did they show how or why Italian forces would have attacked an Ethiopian force five times as large without their own army to back them up. The fact that it took so long to transfer the bulk of Italian military strength to Africa rather proves the point that this was not some pre-planned conspiracy. However, the League of Nations nonetheless condemned Italy as an aggressor, threatening to place sanctions on the kingdom, if Mussolini did not back down. A line had been drawn.

Haile Selassie, chosen showcase
This was about power on the world stage and much bigger than Abyssinia. Liberal idealism had little to do with it. After all, Abyssinia was an absolute monarchy, no more democratic than Fascist Italy was. It still practiced slavery on a large scale and this, in fact, had been part of the reason why it became a member of the League of Nations in the first place. Ordinarily, such a tribal state would not have been considered the proper material for a League member but Abyssinia had been brought in, ironically enough, under the sponsorship of Italy. This was because anti-slavery societies in Britain had been pushing for British intervention in the country to end the practice and Italy, not wanting Britain to gain control of the country as a result, backed the Abyssinian bid for membership along with a promise to end slavery (which the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie had promised to do but which was so entrenched that it had not been accomplished over a decade later).

The status, the power and prestige of the League of Nations was put on the line when Italy was condemned and sanctions threatened if Mussolini went ahead with his war. The issue was far bigger than one African country and Mussolini was more than willing to be the one to accept their challenge, to call their bluff in a way. After so many years of portraying himself as the strong leader, the man who was always right, the modern-day Caesar who was going to re-build the Roman Empire, Mussolini could not back down. He was also thoroughly disgusted by the League in general, infuriated by their efforts to overrule him, their threats of sanctions and was determined to defy them. National pride was also involved, which ran counter to the internationalism of the League. Italy had been humiliated in Abyssinia once before, the defeat at Adowa which had brought down the powerful Crispi regime, Mussolini was not going to let that happen again. The man who had been fairly popular around the world, other than in the socialist/communist sectors, suddenly became a villain as he chose to openly defy the League of Nations. He warned them in a public address that Italy would respond to economic sanctions with discipline and to sanctions of a military nature with war.

Mussolini, fashionable strongman to international villain
Some leaders in Britain and France, not wishing to lose Italy as an ally against Germany, tried to come to a compromise. Mussolini was receptive to the idea, war could have been avoided, but when the attempted deal was leaked to the public, such an outcry arose that it fell apart and the British and French foreign ministers were forced to resign. This was, in a wider sense, not so much a conflict between Italy and Abyssinia but a conflict between Italy and the League of Nations. Sanctions were imposed which severely hurt the Italian economy but it did not turn the people against the Duce, rather it turned them against the League of Nations. Nor were the sanctions strict enough to bring Italian military operations to a halt. Oil, for example, was not embargoed. However, once again, even if it had been, that could not have stopped Italy from buying oil from the United States. Many have pointed out that the British did not close the Suez Canal to Italian warships, however, long-standing agreements stated that Britain could not close the canal to any country except in time of war and a war with Italy was the last thing Britain wanted, particularly over a conflict in one of the relatively few parts of the world where Britain had no interests.

The League was confident that they would win. They predicted that it would take the Italian military at least two years of hard fighting to totally dominate the huge local population and rugged terrain of Abyssinia. By that time, the effect of the sanctions would be crippling and the Italian people would rise up in opposition and remove Mussolini from power. Of course, it did not work out that way and the sanctions were actually part of the reason why. The hopes of the League were obvious to everyone, not excluding Rome, and Mussolini soon replaced the commander of his forces in Africa who was waging a slow, cautious campaign to minimize losses, with another commander who had orders to use any means necessary to win the war quickly. Rather than two years, Abyssinia was conquered in seven months.

Proclaiming the empire, death knell of the League
Mussolini crowed to his Blackshirts, “…lift on high, legionaries, your standards, your steel and your hearts and salute, after fifteen centuries, the reappearance of the Empire on the fatal hills of Rome!” The mood at the League of Nations, was one of furious dejection. The organization which has set itself up as the arbiter of world affairs and the guarantor of the post-Great War world order, the promoters of internationalism had their illusions shattered by the Kingdom of Italy. This was far more significant than the fate of Ethiopia. Mussolini had defied the League of Nations, the supposed ruling class of the world community, defied their sanctions and, worse, had beaten them. The rest of the world had seen them beaten. Immediately, even before the conflict in Africa had been fully resolved, countries began to take notice and to make changes accordingly. Liberal idealism had failed its test and pragmatism began to come back into style among some nations. Since the League had so championed the cause of Ethiopia, they tried to gain at least some moral support from outside its membership. The Ethiopians called upon the Empire of Japan, asking for no actual assistance but simply a show of moral support by condemning the Kingdom of Italy. The Japanese refused. Given their occupation of Manchuria not so many years before, it would have seemed rank hypocrisy to do otherwise. Instead, Japan came to a practical agreement with Italy. The Empire of Japan formally, and before the western democracies, recognized the King of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia. In return, the Kingdom of Italy formally recognized and established diplomatic relations with the Japanese-sponsored Empire of Manchukuo.

Franco, who stopped the reds in the west
The League of Nations was officially a “lame duck” and the world soon saw the evidence with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The idealists were rendered rather powerless by their own idealism while the pragmatists made real headway. The League of Nations was appealed to, the League of Nations studied the problem and finally took no more action that to offer safe haven in Switzerland for the art treasures of Spain. The republicans received assistance from Soviet Russia but Stalin made them pay such a heavy price for it that, had the republicans won, he would have effectively owned Spain when it was over. General Franco and the nationalists received some limited, though highly effective, support from Adolf Hitler and a huge amount of help from Benito Mussolini. Idealism nor ideology had nothing to do with it, contrary to what many now say, Franco was not a Spanish Hitler. He was simply an old-style conservative, not any sort of radical out to change the world or the course of history. He just wanted his old Spain back. He was not even very similar to his greatest benefactor Mussolini, other than an authoritarian streak, use of the Roman salute and a preference for nationalism over internationalism. Mussolini helped Franco because he wanted Franco in his debt, he wanted to extend his influence throughout the Mediterranean area and even hoped of returning the House of Savoy to the vacant Spanish throne. And, of course, there was a genuine sympathy among Latin, Catholic Italians for Latin, Catholic Spaniards and the suffering they were enduring at the hands of the republic.

The League of Nations, rather like a referee that everyone ignores, simply sat on the sidelines, ineffectively blowing a whistle, while General Franco and his nationalists won a great victory. Franco did better than anyone would have likely thought. He won the war, solidified his hold on power, had sense enough to stay out of World War II and thus outlived his primary creditors. Spain withdrew from the League of Nations in 1939 but it mattered little by then as the outbreak of World War II was the final nail in the coffin. Those powers who tried to be idealistic in the build-up to that war, ultimately lost everything, while those who pragmatically and even cynically, took the opportunities that came, such as Stalin, who would ally with Nazi Germany, imperialist Britain or capitalist America as it served his interests, would come out with the greatest gains. Yet, those liberal idealists seemed to learn very little if anything at all from the demise of the League of Nations.

The Big Three at Yalta
The fact that no lessons were learned is rather proven by the fact that the League of Nations never officially died. It did no business after the outbreak of World War II but legally it still existed until 1943 when the Allies agreed to replace it with a new organization; the United Nations we still have today. Think about that fact for a moment. An organization which was intended to stop there being any more wars, was revived and refurbished during the largest, costliest war in human history which had broken out on its watch and which it had failed to prevent. And so the madness continues, only on a larger scale, with a more entrenched, more corrupt, more power-hungry bureaucracy which has taken on a life of its own. It also, for a change, had the United States of America as a founding member this time. That was due to the grip on power that Roosevelt and the Democrats had at the time. Republicans have never been nearly so supportive and most conservative Americans instinctively despise the organization to this day. It has not prevented any major wars, fought one significant conflict and that mostly because the communists had gone on strike before figuring out they could manipulate it to their own advantage as often as not.

The U.N. today is still preaching the same vague, liberal idealism that the League of Nations preached before, if anything even more hypocritically, being a worse version of the League. It benefits no one other than the internationalist, elite class who make fortunes for themselves by working for it. They spend most of their time jetting around the world to luxurious resorts in exotic locations to talk about this or that and congratulate themselves on their own imagined superiority. Their internationalism and their slavish though always hypocritical, devotion to liberal idealism setting them apart from all that has gone before.

That is the important part for readers here to remember. The League of Nations was the first organization of its kind. The nearest thing to a precedent that had gone before them was the “Concert of Europe” which tried to put Europe back together after the French Revolutionary wars and to keep the peace and maintain the existing order of traditional authority. That final part, the “traditional authority” part, makes all the difference. The League of Nations was the first effort at international cooperation that did not consist of monarchs or the representatives of monarchs coming together and that makes all the difference. Monarchs, after all, have a paternal attachment to their nations which makes them inherently more responsive to practical reality than some ideology or political idealism. The Congress or Vienna System of the Concert of Europe was practical and not idealistic. The fact that the King of Great Britain and Ireland was a constitutional monarch and the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was an absolute monarch did not matter. The fact that the King of Prussia was a Protestant and the King of Spain was a Catholic made no difference, they were not trying to spread some ideal formula for solving the problems of the world, they were simply trying to maintain peace and stability. History clearly shows which of these two systems was more successful in achieving the goals they set for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly enough, we find that Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump seems to be pointing to the elimination of NATO.
    Along those lines he has made many telling comments about the way he feels about the United Nations.
    This being the case, perhaps Mister Trump would be highly more suitable to serve, as King.
    His business empire and his system of control over it seems more like a Monarchy, than any other American industries.
    That being said, let me be clear...I am not endorsing Mister Trump to run anything for I feel his Presidency would actually be a Monarchy, steeped in lunacy!

    respectfully, Observer Jules


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