Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14, 1926 – Brazil Remains in the League of Nations

During his famous “Fourteen Points” speech in 1918, ten months before the Great War would reach its armistice, United States President Woodrow Wilson concluded with his fourteenth point about the terms needed for a peaceful and stable Europe: “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” While the combined session of Congress applauded, genuine reception was cold. Many Americans felt that they had been needlessly involved in Europe’s war despite the submarine warfare and that “return to normalcy” was preferred to making the United States an international figure. During the next year, Wilson began to realize the difficulties of his envisioned League of Nations and decided to refine its character before its institution during the Paris Peace Conference in January of 1919.

The idea of a League of Nations was not new. It could be traced back to ancient ideals in Greek city-state confederations, Enlightenment writings of nations that openly welcome and talk with foreigners, and more overtly in the Concert of Europe opposing Napoleon. Formally, the international community began to come together with the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1889 with a voluntary parliament collecting delegates from dozens of countries by the Great War. With millions dead across Europe, activism for peace amid the horrors of modern weapon technology grew powerful, and Wilson took advice from South African Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts’ The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion to institute a central point for world diplomacy.

However, as the reluctance for admission to a voluntary League became obvious, Wilson determined that volunteerism, while idealistic, would not be enough. For a League of Nations to ensure that this was “the war to end all wars,” nations needed to be encouraged, though not quite forced, into the league as a stern father would encourage a son into education. Warfare as diplomacy would be outlawed and treaties allowable only overtly to fellow member nations in the league. Rather than disarmament, the armies of the nations would be at the disposal of the league to punish violations. Nations might never come to such an agreement on their own volition, but the aftermath of the Great War was the precise timing for strong institution.

Thusly emboldened, the League of Nations met in Council on January 16, 1920, with its first General Assembly meeting five days later with the closing of the Paris Peace Conference. The United States notably did not join the league with its Senate refusing to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and President Wilson and his Democrats losing power. The nations of the world pointed out the stipulation that no new treaties could be made with America, and so the United States technically continued at war well into the Harding administration until combined economic and political pressures made the US join in 1923, shortly after Harding’s death. Coolidge called the action Harding’s “dying wish” and commented on the League’s advances in labor, health, and technology, furthering rights to refugees, non-white races, and women, and working internationally to abolish trade in slaves and drugs. After several unsuccessful bids blocked primarily by the French, Esperanto was taken as one of the four official languages of the League (added to Spanish, which had joined the original French and English). The “artificial language” would soon become one of the world’s major trade languages and commonly spoken by millions.

The test of the League of Nations came as famously libertarian Costa Rica decided to shed the restrictions and codes, announcing on December 24, 1924, that it would withdraw. The question of secession raised, but the Latin American state would be allowed to leave, though it would be severed from new treaties the nations within the league. Theorists noted that Costa Rica would thusly be open to imperialization by any country wishing to do so, and the United States was quick to speak up with its old Monroe Doctrine protecting the Western Hemisphere from interference. Costa Rica left the League, and in June of 1925, Brazil announced that it would do the same. Having been a founding member, the stakes were higher, and political pressure settled on the South American nation. When Italy spoke up about its opportunities for expansion and numerous trade partners giving up renewing treaties, Brazil determined to stay, deciding that the Soviet Union and remnants of Germany would not be suitable trade partners.

Germany soon joined the League, and its Fuhrer Hitler eagerly began building influence. However, the majority of the League moved to block him and other Fascists. Using the same militaristic speed that had solved the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay, Italy was punished for its invasion of Ethiopia using illegal tactics (such as chemical warfare and water poisoning) by a naval blockade that would ultimately bring down Mussolini’s government. The Spanish Civil War became a divisive matter that finally led Hitler, who had chafed in the League since 1933, to leave and propose his own “Axis” of nations. While Germany, Japan, and a few others left, the Soviet Union joined as an antagonist, Stalin having held out for years. The call for aid from China in the Second Sino-Japanese War would prompt a war almost as massive as the Great War as the League descended upon Japan and its German allies with the Soviet Union taking the brunt of the fighting.

Victory in the Axis War proved the League to be solid. It governed much of the decolonization period with plebiscites it had perfected in the Balkans and Middle East. Still, outside of the walls of the Palace of Nations in Geneva, countries work covertly and economically to one-up or hinder one another in what has been termed “Cold Warfare.” Costa Rica, after its government being overthrown repeatedly by different factions, rejoined in desperate need of aid in 1960.


In reality, the League of Nations ultimately proved impotent. The United States rode the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression without ever seeking membership. While the League made great strides promoting international health, the unnoticed sanctions on Italy for its Abyssinian invasion showed that it had very little real power. As World War II erupted, the League would disintegrate, ultimately to be replaced with the United Nations in 1945.

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