Between The Two World Wars

World War One, Between the two world wars

A strong impulse toward the development of international studies in universities came in the 1920s. New centers, institutes, and schools devoted to teaching and research in international relations were founded. Courses were organized and general textbooks on the subject began to appear. Private organizations were formed, and large grants of philanthropic funds were channeled to the support of scholarly journals, to the advancement of citizenship in world affairs through special training institutes, conferences, and seminars, and to the stimulation of university research.

Initially, three subject areas commanded the most attention. All three had roots in the period of World War I. In the revolutionary upheavals at the end of the war, great portions of the government archives of imperial Russia and imperial Germany were opened and made public in a series of documentary publications. Very exciting scholarly work began to appear that pieced together the theretofore-unknown history of prewar alliances, secret diplomacy, and military planning. These materials were integrated to provide explanations of the origins of World War I. The two decades between the two great wars were the heyday of diplomatic history, and the most famous of the students of international affairs were historians. With great ingenuity and industry, they presented the world with superb examples of the art and science of diplomatic history.

The second subject that captured attention was bound up with the hope and expectation of a new world order in the making through the League of Nations. Some of the schools of international relations that were founded in the 1920s had the explicit purpose of preparing civil servants for what was expected to be the dawning age of international government. Thus the genesis and organization of the League, the history of earlier plans for international federations, and the analysis of the problems and procedures of international organization and international law were investigated with enthusiasm.

The third study of consequence during the early part of the interwar period was an offshoot of the peace movement and was concerned with scholarly investigations of international warfare: its cause, its costs, and its sociological and psychological aspects. In addition to the data and the interpretations dredged up in the study of war, the interest in the question "why war?" brought a host of new social scientists--economists, sociologists, and psychologists--into active participation in international studies for the first time. They were pioneers in what later came to be known as the "behavioral approach" to international relations.

The breakdown of the League, the rise of the aggressive dictatorships, and the coming of World War II in the 1930s caused a reaction against the international government and peace-inspired themes in the study of international relations. Idealism and moralism were criticized, and "realism" became the new thought in the field. The image was built at that time that the first stage of academic development of international studies was the handiwork of starry-eyed idealists and peace visionaries who ignored the hard facts of international politics. This characterization is untrue, the fact being that the scholarship on world affairs of the '20s and the '30s was extensive and sound in the organization of data and in the development of some fundamental concepts.

In the European tradition since early modern times, the knowledge of international relations had been loosely ordered in two branches of learning. The first is diplomatic history, which has been considered to reflect the variety of political experience, the particularity of events, and the contingencies in the actual practices of diplomacy and war. The second is international law, which has been viewed as registering the "residue of history"--the fundamental principles of conduct, the uniformities in international phenomena, and the permanent aspects of practice. The effect of the new field of international relations was to broaden the traditional organization almost beyond recognition.

Some of the topics that today are considered novel and of recent origin were being explored vigorously in the two interwar decades; by the time of World War II, they already had acquired large bibliographies. It is instructive to recall a few of those topics in order to correct the stereotype that moralist teachings were then entirely dominant: the relationship of problems of racial and ethnic minorities to international affairs, the effects of the population explosion on foreign policies, the linkage between raw materials and other of the "life-support systems" of the planet with the actions of nations, the effects of imperialism and colonialism, the strategic aspects of international relations including the effects of geographical location and space on military power and the influence on governments of what has come to be called the "military-industrial complex," the economic inequalities of nations, and the role of public opinion, national differences, and cultural orientations in world affairs. If these studies tended to be short on theory and long on description, nevertheless the topics investigated remain relevant.

Certain individual scholarly contributions of the 1930s deserve particular notice because they were forerunners of what was to be developed after World War II. Harold D. Lasswell was making explorations of the relationships between world politics and the psychological realm of symbols, perceptions, and images. Abram Kardiner and his associates were laying the groundwork for a psycho anthropological approach to the analysis of national behavior and culture, which later became a popular but short-lived theory of international relations. Frederick L. Schumann was producing foreign policy analyses that synthesized analytic comment with accounts of current international events. Schumann thus set the style that is still followed by government interpreters of foreign policy developments and by the news analysts of world affairs.

Quincy Wright was leading one of the first team research projects in the field and was investigating numerous aspects of international behavior in a very broad approach to the study of war. Carl J. Friedrich, Frederick L. Schumann, Harold Sprout, Nicholas Spykman, E.H. Carr, Brooks Emeny, and others were developing the main lines of analysis of what became the power-politics explanation of international relations.

Some 30 years later, one begins to appreciate that the definition of the study of international relations and the widening of its scope were the fundamental contributions of the scholars of the interwar period. Many of the innovators of the 1930s found their services enlisted by governments during World War II for work in intelligence, propaganda, and political analysis. In this respect, the war stimulated systematic social-science investigations of international phenomena. On the other hand, World War II became a divide for academic international relations. The war made a drastic change in the agenda of world politics. The postwar intellectual climate shifted away from many of the earlier interests, emphases, and problems. There was a readiness in the early postwar years for an analysis that would cut through the details of studies of myriads of international topics and that would provide a focused view of the fundamental nature of international politics. An intellectual hunger for theory existed.

Between World Wars I and II

The period between 1918 and 1939 saw strategy once more in process of flux. As an outgrowth of the experience of World War I, strategy came largely to mean defense. In France, particularly, a mentality favoring fixed defenses began to take hold, eventually leading to the building of the concrete fortifications of the Maginot Line, bordering Germany. The belief was strong that field fortifications aided by the machine gun would contain any attack. The huge losses of World War I would thereby be avoided.

Douhet: air supremacy Countertrends, however, were soon to dispute this prevalent emphasis in strategic thinking. One strong challenge came from the new school of exponents of air power. In World War I the air arm had had its beginnings. The period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II saw it come into its own; air forces and air organization expanded greatly. Theorists began to develop the strategy of warfare of the third dimension. Foremost among these was the Italian general Giulio Douhet (1869-1930). He first presented the doctrine that the air arm alone would decide wars of the future. In his view, land and sea forces would no longer be decisive. On the ground, armies could act henceforth only on the defensive, since attack, and with it the decision, could be gained only through the air. Air power could quickly conquer time and space. The air arm could circumvent every kind of ground resistance and nullify fortified positions and obstacles of terrain. It could strike at the enemy's sources of power before his armies could fire a shot. It could strike at his capital, industrial centers, and communications. In short, it could so reduce his ability and willingness to resist that he would surrender. Douhet proposed to expand the air arm as much as possible, keep land and sea forces only as support for war in the air, and gain control of the air by defeating enemy air forces in battles or destroying them in their airfields. He made strategic bombing and the industrial objective--strikes at the opponent's heart--the core of his doctrines.

Douhet's epoch-making ideas found many supporters in other countries. This school of thought generally argued that huge armies would no longer be necessary. The opponent's will, could be overcome even if his armed forces remain undefeated. Some of Douhet's adherents went further and demanded the abolition of land and sea forces altogether. In any event, the rise of air power accentuated the need of thinking of strategy as dealing with something more than the movements of armies on land or of ships at sea.

You Might Also Like