Life Is Hard: The League of Nations 1920-1946

by Tina Kong

It was on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918” when both sides hit the pause button and agreed to an armistice.

Despite that, the Great War was not truly over until the 28 June 1919 when Germany, along with the victorious Allies, signed the Treaty of Versailles - also known as the diktat (dictated peace), formally marking the end of bloodshed, misery, suffering.

From the carnage and ashes of this war, an international organisation - the League of Nations - was created in order to facilitate 20th century international relations.

The league of nations was a powerful machine built to avoid another war at all costs through encouraging international cooperation. By the 1940s, this organisation could no longer stand on its feet.

Its incompetent attempts to resolve international disputes 5000 kilometres away drove the organization to failure.

Although this article acknowledges the contributions of the League of Nations in restoring international peace and its achievements in improving the lives of civilians, the focus of this article will be the examination of the causes that ultimately led to its cessation.

Perhaps the failure of the League of Nations was not a surprise.

Its existence had sprouted from President Wilson’s idealistic suggestion; maybe the machine was not built to last. Even congress knew that.

During the war years, the United States had been pursuing isolationism. Although it was dragged into what was initially an European war, the US longed to return to its own bubble.

When President Woodrow Wilson presented congress his proposal for the nation to join the League, the congress did not buy into it, nor did the American people.

As a result, the United States - arguably the most powerful nation in the world - did not join the League, and this created hurdles along the way for the organisation when it responded to a dispute.

To discuss this matter in more depth, one must examine the structure of the League of Nations and the potential setbacks it caused.

Firstly, the League of Nations had a unanimous voting system. This meant that all member nations had to agree before a decision could be made, rendering decision-making a slow and inefficient process.

On top of that, the League of Nation’s levels of reactions to a call of dispute - moral condemnation, economic sanctions, and military force respectively - were hard to achieve in an effective manner. This was mainly due to the absence of the United States.

On the side of economic sanctions, the United States acted as a huge trading partner to many condemned nations; therefore, economic sanction was of no use, since the country could still maintain trade with the USA.

On the side of military force as the League of Nation’s last resort, a military force was hard to assemble. This was due to the fact that the organisation itself had no army; it relied on the supply of men from member nations and was voluntary.

Thus, it can be argued that this top level response was incompetent, acknowledging the powerful aggressors the League faced during its years. And once again, the United States did not help by being absent.

What became evident in the 1930s was the increasing self-interest of the organisation members; the Great Depression played a significant role there.

Moreover, it was also clear that Britain and France were dominating decision-making, and although other nations played part, it seemed like an organisation for two.

Meanwhile, a once permanent member Japan stirred up trouble in the East by invading Manchuria, of which contributed to the failings of the League. The League’s response was another of its slow and inefficient responses.

Some historians even argue that the League did not contribute to resolving peace at all!

The inefficiency of the League can be highlighted with its Lytton Commission, set up to investigate the situation in Manchuria.

The report was filed in October 1932 as the committee spent over 6 weeks in investigation. Following the report, the League confirmed the aggressor - Japan.

In response, Japan simply walked out, leaving the fallible League - as illustrated in David Low’s cartoon “The Doormat.”

Bringing matters back to Britain and France, one must examine their fear of Germany, which was currently in its years of war preparation under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.

In 1935, permanent member Italy decided to invade Abyssinia - modern-day Ethiopia - turning its back against the principles of the League. Britain and France, currently appeasing Hitler’s demands, were scared that Italy would ally with Germany; therefore, they did nothing to stop Italy, resulting in the full take-over of Abyssinia - an occupation that would last until 1941.

By then, public support of the League had long been wiped away; even its members lost hope.

The international organisation’s principle of collective security had failed, especially in the latter years of its life. It was a life cut short, an organisation that failed to reach its potentials, and by 1946, the League of Nation ceased its work forever.






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