The Rise of Militarism and Dictators

The 1930s are typically remembered by the tremendous economic hardship countries around the world. These hardships became prominent after the stock market crash of 1929 and grew into a worldwide economic depression. During this time, some countries found their citizens engaged in revolutions to change or overthrow their systems of government. A few nations turned to the militaristic control of dictators to bring some semblance of structure. Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union are among those who saw dictators rise to power between World War I and World War II. 

After World War I ended in 1919, the Weimar Republic in Germany found itself in a massive depression. Inflation, which occurs when the price of goods increase, but the purchasing power of a country’s money decreases, contributed to a sense of economic turbulence. To make matters worse, the Nazi Party was steadily gaining support by blaming the country’s financial troubles on Jewish people and other scapegoats.

Adolf Hitler was open with these antisemitic feelings in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf. He gained popularity by blaming others for Germany's problems and was named Chancellor of the country in 1933. He assumed the title of "Führer" the next year and Germany became a dictatorship under his control. Hitler gained more support when he flexed his military muscle: his forces invaded Poland by surprise in 1939, followed by a string of invasions in Europe, including Denmark, Norway, and France in 1940.

Repeating some of the steps from World War I, Germany entered into another war time alliance; this time, it was with Japan and Italy, and they were known as the Axis Powers

Italy would follow a similar journey to that of Germany. Fascism was a political ideology that gained traction in the 1920s, especially with the rise of the National Fascist Party. A fascist government is one that is controlled by an authoritarian figure, usually someone who utilizes terror to suppress or sway its citizens, and places an emphasis on nationalism, or the superiority of one’s country above all others. Benito Mussolini came to power during this decade with the intention of restoring the country to the glory of the Holy Roman Empire. In the 1930s, Italy would go on to invade Ethiopia and Albania, later joining the Axis Powers in the 1940s. 

The third Axis Power, Japan, saw militarists take control of the country in the 1920s. Japan’s economy during and after the 1920s was a rocky one, plagued by instability and attempts at restructuring. Industrialization in the country helped it to emerge from the Depression earlier than other countries, and made its economic system dependent on raw materials for industry. In the 1930s, Japan would invade China for coal and oil, and shortly after, invaded Korea and Manchuria. A decade later, in the 1940s, Japan invaded Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. For this, the U.S. responded by imposing an oil embargo on Japan, which caused tension between the two countries. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii, which would escalate the United States’ entry into World War II. 

The USSR, or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, saw Joseph Stalin rise to power in the 1920s alongside a Communist government takeover, which controlled much of society. By the 1930s, the USSR had developed a five-year plan to industrialize while still maintaining elements of a dictatorship: the implementation of street police and the Great Purge, in which anyone who questioned the government would be killed, terrified citizens and kept them oppressed. In late 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed the non-aggression pact, in which they promised not to attack the other or use military force for the next ten years. By the 1940s, the USSR had invaded a handful of eastern European countries, including Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. 


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