The Rise of Dictators



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The Rise of Dictators

In the two decades following World War I, most of the world was swept up in economic depression. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, most nations attempted to cope with the problems of the post-war economy and uncertainties, with the U.S. stock market crash exacerbating the problem. The war ravaged nations of Europe had become dependent on financial help from America; however, U.S. economic policies made it increasingly difficult for European nations economies to recover after the war. The Fordney - McCumber Tariff increased the duties on foreign manufactured goods by 25%. Intending to protect American businesses, it ended up causing the Europeans to respond by imposing tariffs of their own. To facilitate European war debt repayment the U.S. created the Dawes Plan which established a cycle of payments from the U.S. to Germany and from Germany to the Allies. It allowed Germany to pay war reparations to Britain and France while attempting to help Germany rebuild its economy. After the U.S. stock market crash in 1929, the U.S. halted loans to foreign nations; the Dawes Plan collapsed and so too did the economies of Europe. This caused dissatisfaction and blame within Germany and Italy, giving rise to totalitarian dictators.

In response to the economic disaster, some nations fell prey to totalitarian dictators. A combination of postwar nationalist resentment and economic hardship allowed military dictatorships to rise in Italy, Germany, and Japan. Though dictatorships arose in other nations as well, such as Spain, the Soviet Union, and Latin America, this lesson will focus on the three main nations that went to war with America.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini led Italy’s Fascist party. This party was composed of dissatisfied war veterans, nationalist and also people fearing the rise of communism and Stalin’s consolidation of power. Italy’s economy was weak after World War I and faced with unemployment and labor strikes which were often led by communists. Mussolini, or Il Duce, established a fascist totalitarian regime with his powerful speeches inciting nationalism among his people. Fascism is characterized by dictatorship, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of opposition and extreme nationalism. Mussolini knew how to appeal to Italy’s wounded national pride, and played on their fears of economic collapse and communism. Mussolini promised order and stability and was not content to merely rule the nation, but with his “Black Shirts” Mussolini controlled every aspect of Italian life and crushing all opposition. (Danzer, p. 736). Mussolini’s rise to power attempted to restore Italy’s position as a world power and in order to prove Italy’s military might, Mussolini ordered the invasion and conquering of Ethiopia.



Italy was not the only nation to lose faith in capitalism and democracy, Germany turned towards an authoritarian leader as well. The Fascist party arose to power in the 1920’s as a reaction to terrible economic conditions and resentment over the Treaty of Versailles. Adolf Hitler, also a powerful speaker and organizer, rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Nazi party. Similar to Mussolini’s fascism, Nazi Fascism was based on extreme nationalism. Hitler used the anger of the German workers to promote his anti-Semitic agenda and enforcement of racial “purification.” Hitler also promoted national expansion and claimed that Germany needed more “living space.” Hitler planned on securing land and soil for his German people and would do so by force. Though elected democratically, Hitler was similar to Mussolini, in that once established in power he suppressed all opposition and ruled with fear. To flex his power and demand for living space, Hitler invaded the Rhineland and later the Sudetenland.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, nationalists and militarists in Japan were trying to take control of the imperialist government. Also plagued by a poor economy, the militarists promoted the idea of needing more living space, and convinced the Japanese Emperor Hirohito that Japan needed raw materials and the only way to get them was to invade Manchuria. Hideki Tojo moved his way up the ranks in 1940 becoming the Minister for War, and advocated closer ties with Germany and Italy. Tojo was appointed Prime Minister in 1941 where he pushed his strategy for empire and taking over the colonies of defeated European powers. It was Tojo who promoted the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tojo had direct control over the Japanese military and was now a virtual dictator and crushing his opposition whether they were more moderate Japanese generals or territories in Indochina and the South Pacific. Japanese militarists continued to expand their empire and flex its militarist muscle. Tojo was similar to the other dictators in his militarism, nationalism, quest for world domination and territorial expansion.


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