Dictators in Germany and Italy Challenge Democracies

Dictators came to power in many European countries during the twenty years following World War I. About 9:20 P.M. on February 27, 1933, the rumble and clang of fire engines echoed through the heart of Berlin, capital city of Germany. Down the broad avenue called Unter den Linden the trucks roared toward the Reichstag building where the German legislature met, but the firemen were too late; they could not check the flames which licked savagely from the windows. Within a few hours the big building was no more than a smoke-stained skeleton. The Reichstag fire was a grim prophecy of what lay ahead for Germany. Investigation proved that the fire had been started at many points in the building at the same moment; but by whom? Police claimed they had the answer when they arrested a dull-witted fellow found poking about the fire-gutted building that night. He had been arrested before for setting fires; besides, they said, he was a Communist. It is quite possible, however, that the person mainly responsible for the fire was a man with unruly hair, burning eyes and a toothbrush mustache. The dictator of all dictators, his name was Adolf Hitler. The confusion and hard times which Germany had suffered since its defeat in World War I provided an excellent opportunity for power-hungry dictators like Hitler. A few months before the Reichstag fire he had been named Germany’s Chancellor, or Prime Minister. Neither dictators like Hitler nor the Nazi Party which backed him had a firm grip on the government. (The name Nazi consists of the first four letters of the German word for “National,” in the name of the National Socialist Party.) A troubled Europe saw the rise of dictators in Italy and Germany and violent civil war in Spain. A new election was set for March 5. Something had to be done to …

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Russia Becomes a Communist Dictatorship

When the United States entered World War 1, President Wilson had stated that America’s aim in taking up arms was “to make the world safe for democracy.” The first results of the war seemed to show that this attempt had succeeded. Old empires had crumbled and new republics had risen from their ruins. Democratic constitutions were adopted in most of the countries which the war had created or remodeled, but this apparent victory for democracy did not last, even though kings did not return to power as they had in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat. What happened was that the kings were replaced in many countries by military adventurers or by ambitious political party leaders. This change occurred chiefly in those countries where the people had had little or no experience in self-government. Much of the world’s history from 1918 to 1939 was made by these dictators. Modern Russia overthrew czarist rule but came under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Russia was the first major country to go through profound changes. Even before Germany was defeated, you will remember, Russia had overthrown its all-powerful Czar. The Communists, who soon seized power, set up what they called the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” or rule of the workingmen. Actually, power in Russia was centred in the hands of a few top leaders. The Communists established a system in which Western ideas of personal liberty, democracy and private ownership had no place. What is more, they tried to force Communist ideas on other countries. By their ruthless control over Russia’s millions they changed Russia from a defeated and disorganized country in 1918 to the greatest threat to the free world by the late 1940’s. 1815 A.D. – 1939 A.D. How did all this come about? Just as we found that the causes of …

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World War I and the Peace that Failed

The soldier stood on the muddy “fire step” that reached, shelflike, the length of the deep trench. It was too dark to see his tired, mud-smirched face or to judge how old he was. He wore a steel helmet or “tin hat” and the khaki coloured blouse, pants and spiral leggings of the British Expeditionary Force. The barrel of his Enfield rifle rested on the top of a sodden sandbag. Tensely he crouched, his head thrust forward and turned slightly to the right, the better to hear with. His squinting eyes bored into the foggy gray of pre-dawn light. If he only knew what was out there in the hundred yards of shell-pocked “no mans land” between the British and the German trenches! Had he heard the rasping sound that a man’s leather boots make as he crawls along the ground? Had he heard the dull plunk which meant another strand had been cut in the barbed-wire entanglement that zigzagged in front of the trenches? Was a German wiring party out there cutting a path for German troops to use to launch an attack on the British? Nervously his hand gripped tighter the stock of his rifle. Why didn’t the fog lift and the daylight come? He shook, partly from the cold and partly from nervousness. He was hungry and tired, too, but he had his job to do. Nations throughout the world lined up on opposing sides in World War I. This was the kind of fighting that took place in World War I, when Allied and German forces pinned each other down in deeply dug trenches. There was little of the open-held charging of earlier wars or of the rapid, slashing sweep of tanks that was to take place in World War II. Instead, World War I was …

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Play-acting had been developing at Athens since Peisistratus had introduced the Dionysia and the Panathenaea festivals; but to call it play-acting in the early stages gives a false impression. It was more like open air opera and ballet with a strong religious flavour. Originally there was a “chorus” of fifty men who chanted and danced in a dignified way. In the intervals an actor recited. Aeschylus added a second actor and the two actors, as well as conversing with each other, conversed with the chorus or its leader. All wore masks and impressive robes. Several plays were performed one after the other and the performance lasted all day. Later there were three actors, each of whom could play more than one part and a chorus of only fifteen. There were plenty of female parts, but they were always played by men. The little we know of the music makes it certain that we would have found it monotonous. It was usually provided by a man playing a kind of flute. Aeschylus grew up to the sound of poetry, but none of it was Athenian. Homer was Ionian; Hesiod was a Boeotian; so was Pindar (c. 522-442), who wrote odes in honour of victors in the Olympic games. Sappho, the woman lyric poet (c. 600 B.c.), was a native of Lesbos. Simonides, was from Ceos. There were many others, from the islands, from the mainland and even from Sparta. Aeschylus, however, is the first great Athenian poet of whom we know. The Persians was exceptional among tragedies in dealing with recent history. The characters in most tragedies were drawn from legend or the distant past, but Aeschylus was interested in the sin of getting above oneself, of getting too big for one’s boots and the conduct of Xerxes was an excellent …

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Imperialism Affects the Moslem World

Slowly the train had puffed over the heights of the Lebanon Mountains. Now, at last, it was coasting down the eastern slope. Hasan Ali, an Arab trader, gazed ahead down onto the broad Syrian plains far below. Already in the growing light of early morning he could make out some of the tall minarets of the 300 mosques in Damascus. Hasan Ali had first looked on the ancient city many years before when he was a boy. He and his father had joined the great caravan which yearly wound its way from Damascus across the Arabian Desert to Mecca, the holy city of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah. Hasan Ali smiled as he thought of the changes that had occurred in his lifetime. This jolting train was one and so was the telegraph line. Both were good for trade. The hospital and the school for girls in Beirut, the city he had just left, seemed to him fine things, although many of his countrymen were less pleased with such changes in their way of life. The same could be said for the modern guns and the clever machines which sewed cloth. The spread of Western imperialism helped to bring about the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. We have read about widely separated parts of the globe — Africa, the Far East, the Pacific and Latin America. All these areas were brought into contact with Western industrialized nations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Contacts with the West and Western ways likewise took place, as the opening paragraphs indicate, in the area which extended from southeastern Europe to what is now western Pakistan. Most of the people of this region, along with those of North Africa, shared a common bond — they were followers of the great religious leader, …

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The British Empire Becomes the Commonwealth of Nations

On a January evening in 1896, a famous British statesman, Joseph Chamberlain, attended a banquet in honour of an Englishman about to go to Australia as a colonial governor. Chamberlain was called upon to make an after dinner speech. What he said that wintry evening years ago explains what people at that time meant by the “British Empire” and points to the changes which he hoped would take place in the future. Here is part of what Chamberlain said: I have heard it said that we [English] never had a colonial policy, that we have simply blundered into all the best places in the earth. I admit that we have made mistakes . . . but, after all is said, this remains –that we alone among the nations of the earth have been able to establish and maintain colonies under different conditions in all parts of the world, that we have maintained them to their own advantage and to ours, that we have secured not only the loyal attachment of all British subjects, but the general good will of the races, whether they be natives or whether they be Europeans that have thus come under the British flag. . . . Let us do all in our power by improving our communications, by developing our commercial relations, by co-operating in mutual defense and none of us will then even feel isolated; no part of the Empire will stand alone, so long as it can count upon the common interest of all in its welfare and in its security. . . . In the words of Tennyson, let Britain’s myriad voices call, “Sons, be welded each and all, Into one Imperial whole, One with Britain, heart and soul! One life, one flag, one fleet, one Throne!” In time to come, the …

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Persian Soldier

“Wooden Walls” and Salamis

After Thermopylae the Spartans were only interested in defending the Peloponnese. Their next line of defence was across the Isthmus of Corinth. The atmosphere on the two sides of that line was now very different. Much of the Peloponnese was still far from the war. At Olympia the four-yearly games were taking place as usual. (Who on earth was free to attend them? one wonders.) North of the Corinthian gulf, however, townsmen and countrymen alike knew that the Persian army would be on top of them any day now. Knowing this, what did they do? The men of Delphi routed the Persian force which hoped to plunder the treasures of their sanctuary. They were helped by a storm and probably by some hocus-pocus arranged by the resourceful priests of Apollo. The men of Baeotia, with its capital, Thebes, put up no opposition and submitted to Persian occupation. The Athenians evacuated Attica, moved their families over to Salamis, Aegina or the Peloponnese and waited to see what Themistocles and his ships would do. Themistocles had been with the Greek fleet at Artemisium, opposing the Persians at sea, while Leonidas fought them on land. He then moved south, inscribing propaganda slogans on the rocks, where he hoped the Ionians in the Persian fleet would read them and be moved to  but when the Persian fleet later passed that way (there had been a period of shore leave for the sailors to inspect and exult over the Spartan deed) no Ionian showed any sign of wanting to change sides. The Persian army advanced through Attica and entered Athens. The Delphie oracle had said that Athens would he kept safe by her “wooden walls” and a few diehards, refusing to take part in the evacuation, remained behind a wooden barricade on the Acropolis. They learned …

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The first narrow place where the Persians might have been held was the pass of Tempe in the north of Thessaly. A force was sent there but withdrew when news came that the Persians might take another route and outflank them. Thessaly was thus abandoned to the Persians; but they were not to be allowed farther south without a fight. The only route lay through the pass of Thermopylae. Here Leonidas the Spartan, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Greek forces, decided to make a stand, while the combined Greek fleet kept watch near Artemisium on the Persian ships, which were sailing along the coast in support of their army. Thermopylae is still a position vital to the defence of Greece, but it is no longer a narrow pass. The sea has retreated. When Leonidas and his men took up their position it came close to the foot of the mountains, leaving only a narrow passage between. Xerxes was surprised when he was told that the pass was held. He was inclined to be contemptuous when a spy reported that the enemy troops were engaged in gymnastics and were combing their hair. In fact the spy had been looking at the cream of the Greek force — three hundred Spartans. It was the Spartan custom to wear long hair and to prepare for battle in this apparently lackadaisical fashion. These same men had been warned that the arrows of the Persians would be so numerous as to darken the sun, to which one of them had replied: “Excellent. We shall have our fight in the shade then.” Xerxes did not attack for four days, since he still expected the Greeks to retreat without fighting. On the fifth day however he sent a force with orders to capture the Greeks and bring …

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The Second Persian Invasion

Darius I died in 486. In the last years of his life he had no need of the slave who had whispered. “Sire, remember the Athenians.” He remembered Marathon all too well and was making preparations for another attack on Greece. These preparations were continued after Darius’s death by his son Xerxes. By the year 480 an enormous force had assembled at Sardis and a fleet was ready to sail in support. This “Persian” army and fleet was in fact made up of contingents drawn from all over the vast Persian Empire, including Ionian Greeks. The march out of Sardis was a gorgeous and gigantic pageant. Dark Ethiopians had come in leopard skins from their mysterious country in the far south. Indians in a light cotton uniform represented the easternmost territories of the Empire. From the north came Scythian bowmen in long trousers and pointed caps. Xerxes himself rode in a chariot with picked Persian cavalry and spearmen marching in front and behind. Xerxes might well feel confident. The expedition had been carefully planned. Food and supplies had been collected along the route and a canal had been cut through the promontory of Mount Athos, so that the fleet might avoid the stormy passage round the end of it. Even the problem of crossing the Hellespont had been solved, though not without some unpleasantness. Two bridges consisting of hundreds of ships placed side by side had been built across the mile-wide strait, but they were soon destroyed by a storm. This infuriated Xerxes, who decided that the Hellespont should be brutally punished. Its waters were to receive three hundred lashes, to be branded, loaded with chains and ceremonially cursed. The penalty imposed on the builders of the bridges was less complicated. They simply had their heads cut off. Their successors …

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The Rivals

After a battle there is a great deal of clearing up to be done. A small part of the Athenian force had been left behind to do this. The general in command was Aristides. “The Just”. There was no fear of his taking any of the rich Persian spoil for himself. He had gained a reputation for scrupulous honesty, for putting country before self and for modest behaviour. These qualities were rare. Perhaps as he returned to the  Athenians after completing his task at Marathon, he felt that he had a good chance of occupying a powerful position such as had been held by Cleisthenes, whom he had known and admired. Far from it. A few years later Aristides was ostracised. On the day when the votes were cast it is said that an illiterate citizen, who did not even know Aristides by sight, came up to him and asked for help in marking the piece of broken pottery which served as a voting paper. The citizen wanted “Aristides” written on his. The owner of the name was a little surprised and asked the citizen whether Aristides had injured him in any way. “Oh no,” was the answer. “I haven’t even met him. But I’m tired of hearing him called ‘The Just’.” Aristides did not argue but wrote his name on the piece of pottery. If he had had less high principles and more sense of humour he would have written the name of his rival – Themistocles. Themistocles was pushy and boastful. In the company of artistic people he said, with slimy mock-modesty: “I’m sorry I can’t play any musical instrument. All I can do is to make a small city into a great one.” When a visitor from one of the Aegean islands belittled the fame Themistocles had …

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