|Woodrow the Worst|
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.
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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
|Franco, who stopped the reds in the west|
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 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.