|The rise of European fascism
The Treaty of Versailles had ended World War 1, and the nations of Europe set to the task of rebuilding the damages from the war. The War to End all Wars had taken its heaviest toll on France, which led them to force Germany to accept full responsibility and pay huge reparations for the damages of the war. These sudden payments would collapse the German economy and create the conditions for a new type of government to rise out of the ashes of war; Fascism.
Why can’t we just print money?
Money is a medium of exchange. Nobody really wants money, they want what they can trade money to get. When governments print a lot of extra money to pay off debts, that causes people to want it less, because it’s easy to get (Supply of money goes up, demand stays the same.) Therefore, if a government doubles the amount of money that they print, the price of everything also doubles. This ends up hurting ordinary citizens, because now their money only buys half as much as it did before.
German money was so easy to get after World War 1 that nobody wanted it, and it became totally worthless.
1920’s Germany was not a very good place to live. Immediately after World War 1, the Germans refused to pay the reparations ordered by the Treaty of Versailles, so the British and French used their militaries to live in Germany and force them to pay. The German solution was to begin to print money, which caused inflation. In 1920, less than 2% of all Germans who wanted to work were unemployed. By 1930, that number had climbed to 15%. The Germans were willing to accept the leadership of anybody who had a plan, and it just so happened that a war hero from the recently re-born Nazi Party had just such a plan.
Hitler’s first plan was to ignore the Treaty of Versailles. He took the unemployed Germans and gave them jobs working in factories building airplanes, tanks, and ships to rebuild the army, air force, and navy. This was forbidden by the Treaty, but most nations saw it as being fair that the Germans got to rebuild their army, and didn’t enforce those restrictions. Shortly after that, he stopped paying reparations to France for the war as well. Most nations disagreed with this policy, but weren’t willing to go to war over it. Hitler had succeeded in rebuilding the German economy, but he wasn’t done.
Hitler began to use the Nazi party to also create a pure Aryan race. Heavily relying on the ideas of Social Darwinism, Hitler argued that the reason Germany had struggled so greatly was because they were not racially pure enough. This meant that anyone considered to not be truly Aryan, like Jews, Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, African, and many other ethnicities or groups were targeted for genocide.
Hitler knew that he couldn’t just kill millions of people, so he used propaganda, schools, and a series of laws (called the Nuremburg Laws) to slowly isolate these groups from the rest of society. He first convinced the Germans that “they” weren’t like “us.” Then he convinced them that “they” were inferior to “us,” and then that “they” were holding “us” back from progress. Then slowly Jews and other groups property were seized by the government, they were persecuted, and German citizens were encouraged to boycott their businesses. Crimes against Jews were seldom prosecuted in the courts. Finally, ghettos were established to give separate living spaces to Jews and other “undesirable” groups. It would not take the Germans more than 10 years to accept Hitler’s final solution to the “Jewish Question,” which would be the death camps like Auschwitz that were built throughout Poland and other occupied territories.
Even before Hitler had taken control of Germany, a different form of fascism had developed in Italy under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini reckoned his people’s memory back to the Roman Empire, and claimed that Italians rightfully were owed the legacy of that great empire.
The Fascists soon began to expand the Italian Empire into Africa, Greece, and the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe. They argued that these people were inferior to the Italians, and therefore the Italians had a right to conquer them. This was yet another use of Social Darwinism.
Reading Comprehension Questions
What is the impact of a government printing money on everyday citizens?
How did Hitler break the treaty of Versailles?
What groups were targeted by Nazis and Fascists as “inferior?”
Write (not a Venn Diagram) about it.
Compare and contrast Nazism to Fascism.
Mussolini was the leader of the Italian Fascist Party, and was just as popular as Adolf Hitler was in Germany
Mussolini’s party also had many social policies that criminalized behavior such as homosexuality, pedophilia, and prostitution. Again using contemporary scientific beliefs, the Italians began to treat people who expressed homosexual tendencies as though they had a mental disorder. They believed very strongly that men were warriors and women’s role was primarily in child bearing and raising. The government gave special financial assistance to larger families to try to encourage them to have as many children as possible. They worked hard to get women out of the workforce, and blamed unemployment mainly on women’s desire to work, essentially stating that if women left jobs, then no men would have a hard time finding a job. Just like Hitler, Mussolini seized control of the educational system, and used extensive propaganda and school curriculum to indoctrinate the children into believing that the Fascist Party was morally and socially correct.
In general, both Italian Fascism and German Nazism both contained the essential elements of a traditional Fascist state. They both played on people’s belief in Social Darwinism and claimed to be members of a superior or “master race.” They extensively controlled the educational system and indoctrinated youth. They were both led by a dictator who was very popular with the nation, and promised to restore the greatness of the nation. These two nations would soon join forces to create two of the three nations that would become the Axis Powers of World War 2.