Here Come the Turks: The Sick Man of Europe is Put Out of His Misery



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Here Come the Turks: The Sick Man of Europe is Put Out of His Misery

The Ottoman Empire, already on its last legs, made a fatal mistake by joining the losing Central Powers of World War I. In the peace negotiations, it lost most of its remaining land, and was therefore ripe for attack from the Greeks, who picked up arms in 1919. Mustafa Kemal, who later became known as Ataturk, “the Father of the Turks,” led successful military campaigns against the Greeks, and then overthrew the Ottoman sultan. In 1923, Ataturk became the first president of modern Turkey. He successfully secularized the overwhelmingly Muslim nation, introduced Western-style dress and customs (abolishing the fez), changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin, set up a parliamentary system (which he dominated), changed the legal code from Islamic to Western, and set Turkey on a path toward Europe as opposed to the Middle East. However, he instituted these reforms against opposition, and sometimes was ruthless in his determination to institute change.



  1. The World War II Era

Even though World War II didn’t get started until 1939, its causes were already well underway in the 1920s. In some ways, World War II isn’t a separate war from World War I, but instead the Great War Part II.

Stalin: The Soviet Union Goes Totalitarian

Once the Soviets removed themselves from World War I, they concentrated on their own domestic problems. Lenin first instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP), in the early 1920s, which had some capitalistic aspects, such as allowing farmers to sell portions of their grain for their own profit. The plan was successful in agriculture, but Lenin didn’t live long enough to chaperone its expansion into other parts of the Soviet economy. When Lenin died, the leadership of the Communist Party shifted to Joseph Stalin.

Stalin believed the NEP was ridiculously slow, so he discarded it. Instead, he imposed his Five Year Plans, which called for expedient agricultural production by ruthlessly taking over private farms and combining them into state-owned enterprises, a process known as collectivization. The plans also advocated for the construction of large, nationalized factories. This process was achieved in the name of communism, but it was really totalitarianism. The people didn’t share in the power or the profits, and had no choices regarding participation. Untold numbers died fighting to protect their farms. Even more died in famines that resulted when Stalin usurped crops to feed government workers at the expense of the farmers themselves.

Stalin’s plans successfully industrialized the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), the formal name for the Soviet Union, and improved economic conditions for the country as a whole, but Stalin relied on terror tactics, such as a secret police force, bogus trials, and assassinations. These murders peaked between 1936 and 1938. Collectively, they are sometimes referred to as the “Great Purge” because the government systematically killed so many of its enemies. Stalin also established labor camps to punish anyone who opposed him. It’s hard to know for sure how many Soviet citizens were imprisoned or killed during the 1930s, especially because so many died of famines during the collectivization process, but historians agree that millions of Soviets were slaughtered under Stalin’s direction.



The Great Depression: Capitalism Crashes, Germany Burns

World War I was shockingly expensive. Countries spent more than $180 billion on armaments, boats, and trench warfare. Europe spent an additional $150 billion rebuilding. The massive scale of the war meant massive spending, at a level that nations had never experienced previously, and in the years following World War I, capitalism financed most of the recovery. As a consequence, the financial headquarters of the world shifted from London to New York, which had become a major center of credit to Europe during and after the war. In other words, Americans lent Europeans money, and lots of it.

In particular, the economies of two countries relied on American credit: France and Germany. France had loaned huge sums of money to Russia, its prewar ally, but the Bolshevik government refused to honor the czar’s debts, leaving France almost out of luck, except that Germany owed it a bunch of cash as well. Germany experienced extreme financial hardship because of the wartime reparations they were required to make under the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s answer was to use American credit to pay its reparations by issuing I.O.U.s to countries like France. France took these “payments”, backed up by American credit, and spent them on rebuilding its economy. From 1924 to 1929, this arrangement looked great on paper due to growth in both the United States and European economies. But in many ways, the growth was artificial, based on loans that were never going to be repaid.

When the U.S stock market crashed in October 1929, a spiral of monetary and fiscal problems called the Great Depression quickly escalated into an international catastrophe, and shattered the illusion of financial health in Europe. American banks immediately stopped extending credit. The effect was that Europe ran out of money, which it never really had in the first place. Germany couldn’t pay its reparations without American credit, so France had no money either.

The depths of the depression were truly staggering. The United States and Germany were hit hardest. In both countries, almost one-third of the available workforce was unemployed. In the United States, out-of-work Americans rejected the dominant political party and in 1932 elected Franklin Roosevelt as president in a landslide election. But other countries had much more fragile political structures. In places where democracy had shallow roots, such as Germany and Italy, whose shaky elective assemblies had been created only a decade earlier after World War I, the crisis resulted in the triumph of a political ideology that was anathema (look it up!) to the very spirit of democracy—fascism.

Fascism Gains Momentum

Between the First and Second World Wars, fascist parties emerged across Europe. They did not possess identical sets of beliefs, but they held a few important ideas in common. The main idea of fascism was to destroy the will of the individual in favor of “the people”. Fascists wanted a unified society (as did the communists), but they weren’t concerned with eliminating private property or class distinctions (the principal aim of communists). Instead, fascists pushed for another identity, one rooted in extreme nationalism, which often relied on racial identity.



Contrast Them: Fascism and Totalitarianism

Fascism is a subset of totalitarianism. A totalitarian dictator rules absolutely, attempting to control every aspect of life. Fascist rulers are a particular kind of totalitarian ruler, often regarded as extremely right-wing because they rely in traditional institutions and social distinctions to enforce their rule, and are extremely nationalistic. Their particular brand of nationalism is based on racism. Communist totalitarian leaders like Stalin are often referred to as extreme left-wing because they seek to destroy traditional institutions and class distinctions, even as they retain absolute power themselves. Therefore, they’re not referred to as fascist, but they’re just as militaristic and controlling. Put another way, in their extreme forms, right-wing (fascist) and left wing (communist) governments use the same tactics: totalitarianism. In both cases, all power rests in the hands of a single militaristic leader.

Fascism in Italy: Another Step Toward Another War

Italy was the first state to have a fascist government. The founder and leader was Benito Mussolini, who created the National Fascist Party in 1919. The party paid squads, known as Blackshirts, to fight socialist and communist organizations, and actions that won over the loyalty of both factory owners and landowners. By the 1921, the party seated its first members in the Italian parliament.

Although the fascist held only a few seats in the legislature, Mussolini demanded that King Victor Emmanuel III name him and several other fascist to cabinet post. To rally support, Mussolini organized his parliamentary thugs to march to Rome and possibly attempt to resize power. If the king had declared martial law and bought in the army, most believe that the fascist would have scattered. However, the king was a timid man---facing economical troubling times---who was not unsympathetic to the fascist program, So, he named Mussolini prime minister, and the fascist march on Rome turned into celebration.

As the postwar economy failed to improve, Italy was demoralized. Mussolini faced very little opposition to his consolidation of political power. He dabbled as a parliamentary leader for several months before completely taking over parliament in 1922. He then implemented a number on constitutional changed to insure that democracy no longer limited his actions, and, by 1926, Italy was transformed into a totalitarian fascist regime. TO rally the people in a national cause, Italy started to focus on expansion, specifically in North Africa.



The Rise Of Hitler

Immediately following the end of World War I, a revolt occurred in Germany when the emperor abdicated. Germany might well have become socialist at this point. Workers’ and soldiers’ councils (not unlike Russian soviets) formed in cities like Berlin. Yet, because the middle class in Germany was quite conservative and a large number of Germans had been relatively prosperous before the war, a socialist or communist system was rejected in favor a fairly conservative democratic republic, called the Weimar Republic.

At the same time, Germany was in economic crisis, and Mussolini’s success influenced Germany in many ways. The National Socialist Party (Nazis) rose to power in 1920’s, ushered in by the worldwide depression. As Germany’s economy collapsed under the harsh reparations dictated by the Treaty of Versailles and the faltering world economy, German people increasingly rejected the solutions of the Weimar Republic’s elected body, the Reichstag.

During this period Adolf Hitler rose to power as head of the Nazi Party. Like Mussolini’s fascism, Hitler’s Nazism inspired extreme nationalism and the dreams of renewed greatness for a depressed and divided country. But Hitler’s philosophies differed from Mussolini’s in their emphasis on the superiority of one racer over the others. Well versed in social Darwinism, Hitler was convinced that the Aryan race was the most highly developed race. Her argued that Jews should be deported (later that changed it eliminated”) and that Germans should take over Europe.



The Nazi Party gained political power in the 1920s with Hitler as its guide, or fuhrer. At first, the Nazis received voted democratically and participated in the Reichstag. In the early 1930s, as the Great Depression devastated the German economy, Hitler received increasing support. In the election of 1930, the Nazi Party increased its seats in Parliament tenfold. By the 1932, the Nazis dominated German government and many who disagreed with Hitler still backed, thinking he was the country’s only hope. In 1933, Hitler became chancellor, or leader of the Reichstag. He then seized control of the government, known under his fascist rule as the Third Reich, and set his eyes on conquering Europe.

  1. Who was Joseph Stalin and what was his Five Year Plan?


  2. How did the USSR finally industrialize?


  3. How did Stalin institute total control of the Russian people and absolutism of his regime?


  4. Which countries were hit hardest by the stock crash and WHY?


  5. What is the difference between Fascism and Totalitarianism?


  6. Explain the rise of Hitler.


  7. Explain the rise of Mussolini.


  8. How did the NAZI party come to rule Germany?


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