ITALY WAS THE FIRST of the World War I victors to go. She had been the weakest of the great powers in 1914, and her democratic institutions had been the most fragile. Measured in terms of industrial potential and productive capacity, she was a great power only on sufferance.
In 1914, Italy had been allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary as a member of the Triple Alliance. This was a defensive alliance, and when war broke out the Italians stood on the letter of their treaty; as Germany was technically the aggressor, the deliverer of the ultimata that began the war, Italy was not obligated to enter it, and she announced her neutrality. Through the next year both sides angled for Italian support. Most of the territory Italy coveted belonged to the Central Powers—either Austria or Turkey—so in 1915 she entered the war on the side of the Allies.
Through the war, the Italians and the Austrians fought thirteen battles of the Isonzo River before the Germans intervened and beat Italy at Caporetto. Nevertheless, with belated help from France and Britain, Italy survived the war and emerged officially one of the victors in 1918, at cost of 1,180,000 war dead.
The Italians then appeared at Versailles and presented their bill. They could point not only to their one million war dead, but also to a disproportionately large number of blinded and assorted other head wounds, the price of fighting in the rocks and mountains where it was impossible to dig in properly. They found that many of the things that had been used as bait to lure Italy into the war had now been promised to other states as well, or simply outpaced by the tumble of events in the Balkans at the end of the war. Having fought the war not as an ideological crusade, but as a straight nineteenth-century territorial and diplomatic deal, the Italians now felt cheated and went home from the peace talks the least happy of all the winners.
As it did in every other country, the war caused great social and economic dislocation and distress in Italy. Through 1919 and 1920, there was a wave of strikes, lockouts, and riots. Communists and Socialists threatened to take over the country. Action, as usual, bred reaction. Out of the chaos there gradually emerged a dominant group, right wing and authoritarian. It started out as a veterans’ organization, the Fascio di combattimento, or Fascists for short, and its leader, a lantern-jawed orator and writer named Benito Mussolini, became the man of the hour in Italy.
In this terribly confused period it was a measure of the times that Mussolini was the type who could dominate events. Born in 1883, the son of a blacksmith, he had been a teacher in his early years. Moving into left-wing politics and journalism, he was for a time before the war the editor of the Socialist newspaper Avanti. He broke with socialism over the war which, as did so many others, he supported wholeheartedly as a national purging. After serving in the army—it failed to cure him—he began to edit a rightist paper, Popolo d’Italia, and he gravitated from there to fascism. His veterans met the Communists with their own medicine—violence—and he formed groups of toughs who joined in the riots, wearing their distinctive black shirts. Their opportunity lay in disruption and unrest, and they often fomented riots so that they could then put them down. Gradually, it appeared that only the Fascists could save Italy from complete disaster. In 1922, in Naples at a Fascist conference, Mussolini demanded full political power and began the famous “March on Rome.” The march itself went only from the Fascists’ meeting hall to the railway station; they actually went on trains the rest of the way, and Mussolini ended up as the premier of Italy.
Italy became a one-party state. Opposition was driven underground, or imprisoned, sometimes tortured, occasionally murdered. It was, according to Mussolini, a necessary price for efficiency and stability. There were rewards: marshes were drained, malarial swamps cleaned out, industry fostered. As well-disposed English tourists never tired of remarking, the trains ran on time. In the general climate of interwar Europe, many people thought Mussolini was “a good thing.”
It was in foreign affairs that he began to make himself a nuisance. His weakest spot was a grandiose vision of Italy’s power, potential, and rightful place in the world, a vision he was determined to realize. Part of it was harmless; Italian planes made long-distance flights and world records, Italian ships were fast, well designed, and a visible reminder of the new Italy. When he referred to the Mediterranean as “mare nostrum,” “our sea,” he could either be forgiven for pardonable pride or ignored as a comic-opera heavy. But then he began trying to make it work.
In 1923, Italian officers engaged in settling a boundary dispute between Greece and Albania were assassinated. Mussolini responded by sending in troops, bombarding and occupying the island of Corfu, on the Greek side of the mouth of the Adriatic. Greece appealed to the League of Nations, which settled the issue, largely in favor of Italy, and the Italian forces evacuated the island a bit sheepishly, looking as if they had barked before they were kicked.
The policies of internal reorganization and external assertion went on simultaneously. Yugoslavia ceded Fiume to Italy, the Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti was murdered, there was tension with Germany over a policy of Italianization of the Tyrol, an Irish lady named Violet Gibson tried to assassinate Mussolini, but succeeded only in shooting him in the nose. It was still difficult to know if he should be taken seriously.
Yet gradually, by the mid-twenties, it became obvious that Mussolini was setting out on a policy of allying with and dominating all the revisionist states, those dissatisfied with the conditions after Versailles and wanting to do something about them. In 1925, there was a treaty of friendship with Spain and a virtual takeover of Albania. In 1927, there was a treaty with Hungary, in 1930, with Austria.
The Depression slowed Mussolini down a bit, as it did everything else. It brought Hitler to power too, and gave Mussolini a potential right-wing bedfellow. Mussolini was not initially impressed with Hitler. Hitler admired Mussolini; Mussolini regarded Hitler as an upstart, a flattering but not too successful imitator. In those early years of fascism, Mussolini was definitely the senior. It was largely his intervention that thwarted Hitler’s first attempt to take over Austria. Only slowly did the demonic power of Hitler and the real potential of Germany overtake the perhaps illusory power of Italy.
Meanwhile, there were foreign adventures, which had the effect of sounding the death knell of the League of Nations and of collective security and which made Mussolini appear rather less of a clown and more of a villain. In 1935, Italian forces operating out of their territories on the Red Sea coast invaded Ethiopia.
The Italians had tried to take over Ethiopia (Abyssinia as it was then called), in the 1890’s. Their army had been ambushed and destroyed at Adowa in 1896, and they had never gotten over it. Not even the takeover of Libya in 1911 had assuaged their humiliation, so now Mussolini tried again. The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, protested to the League of Nations, which found itself caught in a bind. Eventually, the League voted economic sanctions against Italy and cut off supplies of everything except those things, especially oil, which she needed to win her war. The British did not close the Suez Canal, which was the lifeline of the Italian war effort. Haile Selassie protested in vain.
The problem was that Britain and France wanted Italian support against the growing power of Hitler, and though they could not condone his takeover of Ethiopia, they did not wish to antagonize him any more than was absolutely necessary. They did not dare fight to stop him, as they were all too conscious of their own weakness. Italy had oil reserves for no more than a couple of days’ steaming for her fleet. The British did not know that; all they knew was that their own Mediterranean fleet had ammunition in its lockers for fifteen minutes’ firing. Anxious to offend no one, the Western Powers inevitably ended by alienating everyone. Haile Selassie lost his country, the League lost its credibility, assorted French and British politicians who tried to make deals with Mussolini lost office, Britain and France lost both prestige and the friendship of Italy.
The whole sorry story ended with Mussolini on his balcony proclaiming to a cheering crowd—a few of whom cared—that King Victor Emmanuel III was now “Emperor of Ethiopia” as well as King of Italy. Muscular, virile fascism, with the aid of tanks, bombers, and poison gas against tribesmen with antiquated rifles and a touching belief in the sincerity of the League of Nations, had fulfilled its destiny.
Conquest awaits those who are ready for it. Two months after the Ethiopian War ended, civil war broke out in Spain. In 1931, a republic had been set up in Spain, on the collapse of the monarchy of King Alfonso XIII. The new regime was too radical for the conservative forces in Spain—the landowners, army, and Church—and not radical enough for the masses—the urban poor and the landless peasants. There were constant risings and attempted coups from both right and left. In 1936, army officers in Spanish Morocco rose up against the leftist government, and the country burst into a full-scale civil war. Liberals and leftists not only in Spain but around the world rallied to the republic. Russia supported the Communists and, to a much lesser extent, the official Republican forces. Volunteers from Britain, France, the United States, Canada, and elsewhere went to Spain to fight. The rightist governments of the world supported the generals, or the Nationalists as they called themselves. Mussolini was the chief intervener. Italy eventually sent more than 50,000 troops to Spain. They were called volunteers, but they volunteered with their tanks, aircraft, and artillery.
The war became the great ideological battle of the thirties, not unlike the Vietnam War for the United States in the sixties. The western democracies refused to get involved and set up embargoes, nonintervention agreements, and neutrality patrols. The Russians were the main prop of the republic, though their selective support of only its Communist element may have done as much harm as good. The Italians and later the Germans were the chief support of General Franco and the Nationalists. The Italian contribution was probably greater, but as was by now coming to be normal, the Germans stole the limelight. It was they who tested their tactical concepts, by bombing undefended towns such as Guernica, and perfected some of the material they would use later and more profitably elsewhere. Eventually, they intervened on both sides; while overtly supporting Franco, they gave surreptitious aid to the Republicans to keep the war going, so that Mussolini would still be busy in Spain while they took over Austria.
While the civil war ground down to a Franco victory, Italy came more and more into the German orbit. Mussolini joined the Anti-Communist Pact with Germany and Japan in 1937 and withdrew from the League of Nations. He meddled around the fringes of the Munich crisis in 1938. He took over Albania openly in 1939, and in May of that year he signed a political and military alliance with Germany. The master had by now been thoroughly upstaged by the pupil; Italy had become the tail of the Fascist kite.
Germany tried democracy from 1919 to 1933, and nearly made it work. Kaiser Wilhelm, who did so much to bring about his own destruction, abdicated in November of 1918. A republic was proclaimed, a constitutional convention met in early 1919 at the university town of Weimar, and the Weimar Republic was launched on its hopeful but ill-fated journey. From the beginning it was hampered by burdens imposed by others.
The members of the Weimar government, for one thing, had to bear the stigma, in German eyes, of having signed the Versailles peace, the humiliating “Diktat” against which German politicians and demagogues raged so profitably for the next decade. The German Army very cleverly and successfully passed off the fiction that it had not been defeated “in the field,” but that it had been stabbed in the back by insidious and cowardly politicians, who were now, of course, running the country. The republic also had to bear the weight of Allied reparations payments, and although it can be argued that these were no real burden, that in fact the German government made more from American loans than it paid to the Allies in reparations, nonetheless, reparations became a major bone of contention in Germany and were a chief factor in the Germans’ ruining their own economy by bringing about massive inflation.
At bottom, however, the root of the whole matter was that there were simply not enough people in Germany committed to parliamentary forms and the idea of democracy. The essence of that, ultimately, is compromise, and the Germans could not quite make it work. The president of the republic himself, for most of its existence, Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the “wooden titan,” was a heartfelt monarchist and hoped someday to see the Kaiser restored to power. His views were shared by substantial groups of right-wing politicians and agitators, who, if they did not necessarily want a return to monarchy, wanted some form of one-party authoritarian state. Equally strong on the other side were the left-wing radicals, especially the Communists, who also wanted their own form of authoritarian state. The republic was caught in the middle.
A regime which lacked broad popular support could hardly hope to deal with the social and economic problems left by the war. Happily for Germany, the war had not been fought on her soil; she had not therefore suffered the kind of property damage that France and Belgium had. But she had incurred damages of another kind. The Allied blockade had eventually taken its toll by the end of the war, and thousands of Germans had suffered from malnutrition and deprivation of one kind or another. Germany had had nearly two million war dead, she had lost millions more in the great influenza epidemic at the end of the war—as had indeed everyone else—the Allied blockade had been kept up until mid-1919 after the signing of the Versailles treaty, and the country’s institutions lay in chaos by then.
The government was beset by attempts on its life from both sides. In January of 1919, the extreme left, Communists known as Spartacists, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, broke out in revolt. They were finally put down after bitter fighting by the provisional government and troops of the regular army. Later in the spring, a Soviet government was established in Bavaria; it too was crushed by the regular troops. Early in 1920, there was a rightist coup. Organized veterans’ groups known as the Freikorps led by a nonentity named Dr. Kapp temporarily occupied Berlin. This time, when called upon to put them down, the army commander, General Hans von Seeckt, refused, saying, “Troops do not fire on troops.” Fortunately, the Kapp Putsch collapsed of its own ineptitude, helped by a massive general strike of German workers. At the same time there was a Spartacist rising in the Ruhr; the troops put this down too, apparently unaware that there was a certain degree of selectivity about their willingness to support the government.
Next, as a result of vast amounts of paper being printed to pay off reparations, the mark collapsed. The French and Belgians occupied the Ruhr and seized German industry. The government responded with an unsuccessful policy of passive resistance. The Allies took over various German territories; assorted others were lost to breakaway movements among minority groups on the frontiers. Even some of the major states threatened to go their own way, negating the work of Bismarck in his unification of Germany a generation ago. The French supported a Rhenish republic. Bavaria was a hotbed of intrigue and separatism. Against this background an unknown but enterprising politician named Adolf Hitler made his own bid for power.
One of the myriad of mini-parties spawned by postwar Germany was a small group known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Initially, it consisted of no more than half a dozen cronies. Hitler joined it in 1920, ironically as a paid informer for the army, to keep watch on potentially dangerous political groups.
Born an Austrian in 1889, Hitler had had a totally undistinguished career to this point. Destined to follow his father into the lower ranks of the civil service, Hitler saw himself instead as a great artist. He failed, however, to pass the exams to get into art school in Vienna. From 1904 to 1913 he lived, or existed, on part-time jobs in Vienna, selling not very good postcards, living in flophouses, engaging in passionate arguments about politics, and doing nothing very successfully. All he managed to do was develop a hatred of the Jews—anti-Semitism was a swelling current in central Europe in the years before the Great War—and an equal distaste for the system that was refusing to recognize his own genius. In 1913, he left Austria and went to Munich in Bavaria, and he has actually been identified in a photo of a cheering crowd listening to the declaration of war in 1914. Hitler enlisted in a Bavarian regiment, fought on the Western Front, and was promoted to corporal. At the collapse of Germany he was lying in a hospital, temporarily blinded by gas. He drifted through the period immediately after the armistice and ended up in low-level political intelligence work for the army, a nonentity.
He soon came to dominate the little party of which he had become a member, and it was he who gave it its name and what program it had, a mixture of radicalism, contempt for the politicians, provincialism, and resentment of Versailles. Slowly, profit-ting by the currents of dissatisfaction and despair throughout Bavaria, the party grew.
Its most illustrious recruit was General Eric Ludendorf, Germany’s second soldier and Marshal von Hindenburg’s alter ego. Ludendorff was becoming more and more radically anti-Semitic, anti-Jesuit, anti-Freemasons; he would eventually become totally immersed in the delights of Norse mythology. He was a natural for Hitler.
By 1923, the NSDAP, or Nazis, as they called themselves, were ready to act. In November, they tried to seize the government of Bavaria, in what came to be known as the Beer-Hall Putsch, named after the place where the idea was concocted. Supported by their Brownshirts—Mussolini had pre-empted black—they marched through the streets of Munich. They thought they had a deal with the police, but instead the police machine-gunned the column, and that was the end of the Putsch. Ludendorff was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason; another recruit, a famous air ace named Hermann Goering, was badly wounded. Hitler himself was arrested, and sentenced to five years in jail. He served a triumphal nine months during which he wrote his political statement for all the world to see. He called it Mein Kampf or My Struggle. Turgid and wordy, but full of venom, it was nicknamed by the few who bothered to read it, Mein Krampf, or My Diarrhoea. As soon as he was released, he returned to politics.
Meanwhile, however, Germany was beginning to pull herself together. Foreign loans, the American Dawes Plan which poured money into Germany, a firm government in which the outstanding figure was Gustav Stresemann, finally put Germany on the road to recovery. The five years from 1924 to 1929 were the best Germany had between wars. They were lean years for Hitler; good times for everyone else were bad times for the Nazis. As a national party, they could muster only twelve out of 491 seats in the Reichstag in 1928.
But in 1929, the world’s bubble burst. The Depression began with the failure of Austrian banks and rapidly spread throughout the world. American loans stopped coming in, the world economy ground to a halt, unemployment rose, and with it Hitler’s hopes.
There was an election to the Reichstag in 1930. The Nazis went all out, damning the government, the Western Powers, the capitalists, the Jews. In the desperate masses of Germany they found willing listeners. They returned from the elections with 107 seats, more than the Communists, and just less than the majority Socialists. Nazism was a force in Germany, and Hitler a major contender for power.
The next couple of years were bad ones. The country was run by successive coalition governments, who went through the same process: formation of a coalition, attempt to solve the country’s difficulties, government by decree, setting aside of the regular parliamentary system, collapse. By 1932, it was really the army that kept governments afloat, or sank them, by granting or withholding its willingness to back any given combination. The army leaders did this while steadfastly denying that they were interested in politics. What they really wanted was a leader acceptable to them. Their first choice was Franz von Papen, a fellow officer and politician. He could not square the circle, so they then turned to Kurt von Schleicher; he too proved unable to master the German scene.
The irony of Hitler was that he was nobody’s first choice, but most people’s second or third. The men who really counted in Germany—the soldiers, the businessmen, the established politicians—kept making their deals and shutting him out. His followers urged him to carry out a coup d’état, but he insisted on waiting. He moderated his tone and promised all things to whatever group he was talking to. He told the generals he would give them what they wanted, which was true enough; he said the same to big business, which was also true. Finally, they all thought they could use him, and on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, ex-artist, ex-corporal in the List Regiment, took office as Chancellor of the German Republic.
Hitler then carried out what has come to be called the Nazi Revolution. In effect, he used the organs of parliamentary government to destroy parliamentary government. The state governments of Germany were stripped of their powers. All public positions were restricted to Aryans, that is, non-Jews. The judicial system was overhauled and a series of People’s Courts set up; summary execution and the concentration camp made their appearance in German life. The National Socialist Party was declared the one legal party in the state. Racial laws were passed against Jews; the churches in Germany were nationalized; in industry, strikes and lockouts were forbidden. From now on, Germans would march forth together—and they would all be in step.
Of all the factions in Germany which had to be satisfied, or eliminated, the army was the most important. Ostensibly shunning politics, it was in reality the one force in the country whose support a would-be politician must have. Hitler was highly conscious of this, and his early moves were calculated to assuage the army’s misgivings, just as his later ones would be to destroy the army’s independence. In October of 1933, he withdrew from the League disarmament talks and then topped that by walking out of the League itself.
The most important step in his affair with the army, however, was one that satisfied both the soldiers and Hitler himself. Now that he was securely in power it was necessary that he rid himself of the more unsavory elements in the Nazi Party. Some of these were radical in their social and political ideas, some were just bully boys from the street-fighting days of the Depression, some of them with their “storm troopers” had ambitions to form a private army, even to take over the regular forces. On the night of June 30, 1934, Hitler carried out what came to be called the Great Blood Purge or the “night of the long knives.” The Sturmabteilung (SA) or party army, prominent party men, and potential rivals to Hitler were rounded up and summarily shot. Big names in the party disappeared: Ernst Roehm, leader of the SA; Gregor Strasser, one of the most radical leaders. There was a bit of overzealousness. General von Schleicher, the former Chancellor, and his wife were taken out and shot, but by and large Hitler could now tell the army he was clear of the kind of radical they found distasteful.
In August, Hindenburg died, and Hitler combined the roles of head of government with head of state. Having cleaned his house to the satisfaction of the generals, he now presented his bill. It did not look too heavy; it was an oath:
I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.
That simple formula may have produced more misery and more shame than any set of words of equivalent length in human history.
The next year was a good one for professional military men in Germany. In March, Hitler decreed universal military conscription, and in June the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed. The keel of the Bismarck was laid at the Blohm und Voss yard in Hamburg, and the roads of Germany were filled with young marching men. Hitler was soon ready to move.
His generals were less certain of events. Nothing is more upsetting to soldiers than war; it disrupts their training routines, and few professional soldiers are really ever ready to go. When Hitler called his generals in and said it was time to move back into the demilitarized Rhineland, they were terrified; France had the strongest army in the world, while they still had very little with which to work. Hitler pushed, and on March 7, 1936, German troops moved back into the Rhineland. They could manage to move only a division, and they could support it with a mere two squadrons of the newly founded Luftwaffe. Only three battalions crossed to the west bank of the Rhine. Orders were not to fight, but to retreat at the first sign of resistance.
There was no such sign. Britain and France hastily consulted. The British urged inaction; the French generals pointed out that their army was aligned solely for defensive measures, and that if the government wanted it to move forward, it would probably entail full national mobilization; they could perhaps advance in several weeks. In the end, Britain, France, Belgium, and Italy combined to register a protest. The League of Nations recognized that there had been a violation of the Locarno treaties. Hitler was delighted; his generals, though they felt a bit foolish at their misjudgment, were delighted too.
Hitler had still further designs, both in foreign affairs and more importantly, for the moment, on the army. He was not content that he and it should be equal partners in Germany’s rehabilitation. In early 1938, he brought the officers corps to heel by purging the high command. The Minister of War, General von Blomberg, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General von Fritsch, were both sacked. It was a particularly sordid business, designed not only to replace the commanders, but also to strike at the army’s sense of self. Blomberg was a widower; he made a second marriage, to his secretary; it turned out she had once been arrested for prostitution. The misalliance was sufficiently shocking, in the social context of the German officer class and 1938, to cause Blomberg’s fall. Von Fritsch, next in line, was accused of homosexuality. The matter was allowed to drag on for some weeks. While the army fumed and fretted about its honor, Hitler made a clean sweep of the upper echelons. He also annexed Austria, so that his personal stock skyrocketed. By the time von Fritsch was cleared, the Army High Command was now dominated by Hitler’s representative, Keitel, and its Commander-in-Chief was General von Brauchitsch. Twist and turn as it might from then on to escape, the army was securely in Hitler’s pocket. As for Fritsch, a colonel-general leading an artillery regiment, he was killed by a Polish machine gun in September of 1939.
In the words of the slogan, Germany was now truly, Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuehrer (“One state, one people, one leader”). Hitler was ready to roll.
Clouds were gathering in Asia as well as in Europe. Like Italy, Japan had been an Allied power and one of the victors in World War I. She had not been invited in, but had insisted on joining, and the Japanese had used war as an opportunity to take over the scattered but useful German imperial holdings in the north Pacific and on the Chinese mainland. Japanese expansion went back actually before World War I, to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. She was interested especially in the Korean Peninsula, the Yellow Sea, and the great underdeveloped hinterland of Manchuria. Her ambitions had brought conflict with China, and then with Russia, both of whom she was in the process of displacing. World War I led to a boom in the Japanese economy and unrest after it ended. Overpopulated and over-productive, the Japanese believed they needed room for economic exploitation and for territorial expansion.
Like most of the secondary powers, they left Versailles dissatisfied. Japan wanted to insert in the League Covenant a statement on racial equality, but the other powers refused this. In 1920, Japan took over as formal mandates the islands granted to her by the League—the Carolines, Marshalls, and Marianas—mere names on the map at that time, and not nearly as much as Japan wanted. The country felt humiliated at being only three to five of the United States and Britain in the naval treaties, and further offended by the American policy in the twenties of exclusion of Japanese immigration on the West Coast.
By the late twenties a short era of liberalism in Japan was coming to an end. Emperor Hirohito acceded to the throne in 1926, marking the beginning of the Showa period. The population was increasing by more than a million a year, to more than sixty million by 1930. In a desperate search for solutions to their national problems, the Japanese turned increasingly to militarism and the manly virtues that so strongly infused the national character anyway. Army men were coming more and more to the forefront, as seems to be a norm in a crisis period.
In 1931, soldiers of the Kwangtung Army were involved in the “Mukden incident.” This army, garrisoning the Liaotung Peninsula and Port Arthur, fruit of the Russo-Japanese War, was the most militaristic of all the forces of Japan. When several soldiers on night maneuvers were hurt in an explosion, the Japanese used it as an excuse to invade the Chinese-held territories of Manchuria. The weak Chinese forces were able to offer no resistance and withdrew to the south, toward China proper. The Chinese responded with a boycott on Japanese imports, but the army went ahead, and by early 1932 had occupied most of Manchuria. In February of 1932, Japan announced the independence of a new puppet state, Manchukuo. The United States refused to recognize it, and the League of Nations, after sending an investigatory commission, withheld recognition and gently chided Japan. The Japanese delegation later walked out of the League; in Manchukuo, Japanese soldiers advanced south into Chinese territory and were soon butting up against the Great Wall of China.
If that were not enough, the Japanese decided to force China into abandoning her boycott by direct action. In late January of 1932, 70,000 Japanese troops landed at Shanghai in China, and drove the Chinese Army out of the city. There was great consternation among the Powers as they tried to protect their international settlements in Shanghai. Finally, the Japanese found they had bitten off more than they could manage. The Chinese fought back, the diplomats went to work, and the Japanese pulled out in May, after China had given up the boycott.
The army was not satisfied yet, however. Reactionaries assassinated the Premier at home, soldiers moved to the fore in the cabinet, and in 1934, Japan announced a virtual protectorate over Chinese foreign relations. Two years later, young officers attempted a coup; though several were executed, they succeeded in getting rid of most of the civilian ministers of the government. Japan joined Germany in the Anti-Communist Pact that came to be known as the “Axis.”
Finally, in July of 1937, what is known in Japanese history as “the China Incident” began. Once again it was precipitated by soldiers on night maneuvers. This time there was an exchange of shots near the Marco Polo Bridge north of Peking. Chinese troops were alleged to have fired on Japanese units. The Japanese Army responded with a full-scale invasion of China. Fighting spread rapidly along the entire length of the China-Manchukuo border. Before the month was out, the Japanese had taken the ancient Chinese capital of Peking, as well as the port city of Tientsin. In the late summer, they attacked Shanghai and, after fierce resistance by the Chinese, took the city. They then advanced up the Yangtze River valley, driving the Chinese before them, resorting to heavy bombing and machine-gunning of refugees to clear the way. They imposed a naval blockade on the coasts of the rest of China. In December, they attacked British and American ships and sank the United States river gunboat Panay. The second Chinese capital, Nanking, fell before Christmas. The rest of the world watched in dismay and horror, and in this part of the globe, although it never was declared, World War II had already begun.