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The Eve of War 1939- Survey of international Affairs 1939-1946

Ed: Arnold Toynbee (581.1/36109)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
From the John Laffin Library

The months March to September 1939-the interim between Hitlerís entry into Prague and his attack on Poland-form the theme of this volume of the War-time Survey. Hitler, as the captured German documents sho, was by now firmly set on his course of aggression. Any doubts or hesitations on his part were concerned only with the question of timing and direction: should Poland or the West be his first objective, and how soon should he strike? Once Poland was selected as the first victim, the Nazis employed the now familiar technique of provocation and intimidation, with Danzig as the Ďtrouble spotí, in their attempt to put the Poles in the wrong in the eyes of the world before the German attack was launched.

Hitlerís ally, Mussolini, lost little time in imitating the Nazisí coup in Prague by attacking and annexing Albania early in April. But after this essay in aggression the Italians, although they were ready to negotiate the Pact of Steel with Germany in May, were reluctant to enter a war at Hitlerís bidding which might embroil them with Britain and France, and so chose, temporarily, a policy of non-intervention.

Meanwhile, the Western Powers were at last-but too late-seriously engaged in the process of rearming and initiating defence measures. At the same time they tried, though with no great success, to build up resistance to aggression in Europe. Britain and France gave guarantees to Poland, Rumania, Greece, and Turkey, and spent the summer months in fruitless efforts to conclude a political and military alliance with Russia. But Russia was playing a double game, and her pact with Germany, signed on 23/24 August, was the final blow to any hope of peace.

In the United States, where indignation over the German and Italian acts of aggression had been widespread, Rooseveltís two chief concerns were to avert or delay the outbreak of war in Europe and to hasten measures to secure the safety of his own country and the Western Hemisphere. He was bent on keeping peace in the world, and he used both diplomatic channels and personal appeals in his attempts to check the aggressors (and these included Japan). But at home he was debarred by the inter-war neutrality legislation from assisting possible victims of aggression, and these months saw a protracted struggle over the repeal of amendment of the Neutrality Act of 1937.

Japan still engage in 1939 in the misnamed China ĎIncidentí, was by that summer on bad terms with the Western Powers over their settlements in China. Her relations also with Russia were strained (particularly over Manchukuo frontier incidents), and it was because of this that she would not at that time join Germany and Italy in a tripartite pact, which Japan but not the Axis Powers wanted to be aimed specifically at Russia.

April 2009


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