Nazi enthusiasts rally in Berlin in 1934. Associated Press

The League of Nations was established upon the assumption that the World War had brought about a complete change in the nationalistic spirit of peoples, that they were all equally ready to submit their respective aspirations and ambitions to international adjustment as the sole means of escaping the horrors of another universal catastrophe. From the very outset it was obvious that if all peoples were not similarly ready to accept what existed, then the League could only become a combination of the satisfied powers to restrain the discontented. And as such it was doomed to lack moral authority in the eyes of peoples thus forcibly restrained.

For 14 years the struggle was carried on at Geneva and elsewhere to create an institution which would substitute international agreement for national rivalry. But during those 14 years, although an enormous mass of machinery was created and pacts without number were signed and ratified, not the smallest progress was made in establishing international authority in a world in which nationalistic sentiments and emotions were ever visibly on the gain. While Germany was weak and at first outside the League, the semblance of unity and progress there existed. When Germany entered the League, while her statesmen and people still believed the League was a way to the recovery of lost provinces and departed prestige, that illusion still prevailed.

But the success of the League of Nations always turned on the ultimate consent of the German people to surrender their hopes or of the neighbors of Germany to cede their territories. When the German people clearly and definitively declared for the restoration of their Polish [claims] and for union with Austria, while their neighbors with equal clarity indicated their resolution to resist all such aspirations, by force if necessary, and to keep Germany disarmed while she nourished these ambitions, then the League was finished for precisely as long a period as these various peoples were in their present state of mind …

For peace, like all else in this world, turns upon what men do and not upon what they say; upon what their purposes reveal and not what their phrases conceal. And nothing that Germany or her neighbors might sign would change the basic fact that their purposes are irreconcilable and their spirits intransigent …

Europe is now going back to a system of balance of power with the purpose of restraining German ambitions, which menace various states not only individually but collectively, for the realization of the program of the Nazis would restore the [Central Europe] of the war period and give Hitler a power in Europe which Napoleon never enjoyed …

With the rise of the National Socialists to power, Europe has passed from a postwar to a prewar period …

The machinery of peace of the postwar era having collapsed, Europe has returned to its traditional methods, and the United States has now to retire to its similarly traditional isolation or to take sides in a new Continental war to preserve the balance of power. In a word, Europe is back in 1914, and America is facing the problems which confronted it two decades ago.


Originally titled "Consequences: The Sequel to the League's Collapse"

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