Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 2

Home History Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 2

Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 2

Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 2

As we have seen in part one, the standard “road to war” and Manchurian crisis explain that Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 strained relations with the United States, a situation aggravated by the empire’s invasion of China in 1937, and then brought to a breaking point in 1941 by Japan’s advance into southern Indo­china.

That the Manchurian crisis acted as a powerful ideological catalyst and coagulant in Japanese flunking can be deduced by comparing Kawakami’s spirited piece above on Japan’s mission with a commentary he wrote ten years prior, during the Washington Conference:

All the Powers … have bound themselves by agreements or resolutions not to return to the old practice of spheres of influence or special interests [in Chi­na). This change is no shadowy thing. It is as definite as it is accurate. Twenty years ago, the Powers were talking only about what they could take from China. Today they are talking about what they can give her. Certainly, that indicates vast moral progress.

Thus, what was once the “vast moral progress” of liberal self-denial now required Japan’s civilizing intervention.

Eventually, Pan-Asianist-inspired “special responsibilities” developed into the principal justification for Japanese expansionism in the decade fol­lowing the Manchurian crisis.

Underneath: Delegates to the Washington Conference, 1921-1922. Pictured (L to R): Japan’s chief delegate, Navy Minister Kato Tomosaburo, Shidehara Kijurd (ambassador to the United States), and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes:

As we have seen in part one, is that the conventional chronology of 1939–45 is no longer helpful and that the war must be understood as a global event since the Asian and Pacific theatres were as important as the European one, and possibly more so in their consequences. 

As we have seen in part one by 1938, the Yellow River inundation certainly prevented the rapid seizure of Wuhan. Still, in full spate, the Japanese navy could use the river to move men to the interior and provide covering fire. In August, the Japanese Eleventh Army was ordered to advance on Wuhan, and through excessive heat, was plagued with malaria and dysentery. Short of food and supplies, the Japanese infantry trudged or sailed towards the city. The battle involved almost 2 million men and ended with Japanese occupation on 21 October 1938; Chiang Kai-shek moved the center of power permanently to Chongqing, shielded by mountains from the areas now under Japanese control.

Further south, a successful amphibious landing saw Japanese forces capture the major port of Guangzhou (Canton) on 26 October, while the Japanese navy seized the southern island of Hainan in February 1939, thus dominating the Gulf of Tonkin, the French colony of Indochina. The wave of occupations in 1938 completed the acquisition of the wealthiest industrial areas of China and denied Chiang an estimated 87 percent of the nation’s productive capacity.1 Japan now occupied a vast area of central and eastern China, and the pace of advance inevitably slowed. During 1939 pressure was exerted on the new frontier provinces of Hubei and Hunan. Still, after two years of significant warfare, the capture of China’s productive area, and the destruction of one Chinese army after another, Japan was little closer to completing the China Incident and consolidating its imperial presence on the mainland.

The Sino-Japanese war copying Western imperialism had the unusual character that neither side was in a position to win, and the longer the war went on, the less the likelihood of outright victory. Chiang’s decision to wage a war that would wear the enemy down by regular attrition made sense only if the Japanese military and government decided that their Chinese empire would have to be given up. Of this, there was no prospect. Chinese forces fought with significant disadvantages: short of modern weapons, with poor training facilities, a lack of experienced frontline officers, a residual air force entirely dependent on foreign aid, and almost no navy. Although Japan had a modern army by the standards of the 1930s, a substantial army and navy air force, one of the world’s largest navies, a significant base of military production at home, and an officer corps with solid battlefield experience, it proved difficult to bring these strengths to bear to win more than local victories. The sheer scale and diverse geography of the regions Japanese forces occupied made success elusive; rural areas that were temporarily secured were lost once Japanese troops moved on. Because of the fundamental logistics problem, Japanese troops were expected to live off the land. Still, villagers soon became adept at concealing their grain in underground stores, making the food supply a battle in itself. If there were enough warning of the approaching Japanese, an entire village would decamp to woods or nearby mountains with their food supply: ‘cleared the walls and emptied the fields,’ as Japanese reports put it.2 The problem of policing rear areas provided vast opportunities for insurgents to establish base areas to harass the Japanese enemy, both communists in the north-west and guerrilla fighters sent in by Chiang across the porous frontline between the two sides.

In 1939 much of Japan’s military effort was devoted to fighting insurgencies rather than pushing on to defeat the regular Chinese armies, while across the summer months, troops were needed in Manchuria for a major frontier battle with Soviet forces on the heights of Nomonhan, which ended with an armistice agreed in September. In December 1939, Chiang gathered seventy understrength divisions to launch an unexpected counter-offensive in the north, in the Yangtze valley, and around Guangzhou, but the fighting was inconclusive once again. By 1940 both sides faced a stalemate. To create the fiction that Chiang really could be replaced, the Japanese in March 1940 established a puppet ‘National Government of the Chinese Republic’ in Nanjing under the Nationalist renegade Wang Jingwei, who favored agreement with Japan rather than sustaining the war. Still, he was in no position to deliver the settlement that the Japanese wanted except to confirm what they had already got.3 The Japanese government had not expected or wanted a protracted war, with its exceptional economic and human costs, but the dynamic nature of the conflict for a new order in Asia made it impossible to admit that the strategy had failed. By 1941 the war in China had cost 180,000 Japanese dead and 324,000 wounded. Figures for Chinese losses, which were much higher, have proved difficult to calculate with any precision. 

Italian imperial ambitions under Mussolini were more modest than those of Japan, but here too, territorial conquest was the critical component. As early as 1919, Mussolini had declared that imperialism was ‘an eternal and immutable law of life.’ He never deviated from the desire to make the new Italian nation the core of a Mediterranean and African empire a modern version of Ancient Rome throughout his dictatorship.4 His initial hopes were to expand Italian territory in Europe, to acquire the areas in what was now Yugoslavia promised in the 1915 Treaty of London. It was denied to Italy at the Paris peace conference. Still, the military leadership, backed by King Vittorio Emanuele III, reined Mussolini back because of the severe risks of a major war. As the international order plunged into crisis in the early 1930s, Mussolini and the Fascist Party radicals decided to pursue a course of active imperialism regardless of the opposition. The prominent area for expansion was in East Africa, where Italy had tried to extend its influence from the Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia into the still independent state of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) – although Mussolini toyed briefly with the dangerous idea of taking Corsica from the French. The conflict against Ethiopia was difficult to reconcile with the caution displayed by some prominent Fascist Party leaders, the army and the royal household, or his anxiety about not risking his political position. Mussolini finally overrode all objections to the risks involved and, mindful of the success of Japan is defying the League over Manchuria, he ordered plans to be drawn up for the conquest of Ethiopia in the autumn of 1935.

Extensive preparations went ahead as Eritrea and Somalia were filled with troops and supplies; the British carefully watched the flow as Italian ships, crowded with soldiers and vehicles, plied their way through the Suez Canal.5 For Mussolini, Ethiopia would be just the beginning. In 1934 he argued privately that Italy must conquer Egypt, currently under British domination (‘we shall only be great if we can get Egypt’), then in March 1935, he added the future conquest of Sudan to the list; he ordered two radio stations, Radio Bari and Radio Roma, to start broadcasting anti-British propaganda across the Arab world, and exploited a ten-year Treaty of Commerce and Friendship signed with Yemen to embarrass the British in their neighboring protectorate of Aden.6 In Malta, local Italian Fascists clamored for recognition that Malta was an Italian island under the heel of British colonialists and should return to the Italian motherland. In contrast, the Italian navy drew up contingency plans to seize the island.7 Mussolini’s imperial vision saw the Eastern Mediterranean and north-east Africa as stepping stones to a new Roman Empire. 

The invasion of Ethiopia was prepared as a short military campaign, an Italian blitzkrieg. Still, few plans were made for the period after the conquest, and little effort was made to understand the nature of the people Mussolini wanted to subject to Italian rule. At the same time, he came under pressure from the British and the French, who proposed various schemes to give Italy a more significant say in Ethiopian affairs, even a limited League mandate over part of Ethiopian territory, to make war unnecessary. However, Mussolini had embarked on his empire-building precisely to escape the situation in which Italy could be compensated only at the behest of the League powers. On 22 September 1935, despite the reservations of the king and the Italian Colonial Ministry, he rejected the League’s proposals. By then, it was too late to opt for a limited solution because there were 560,000 men and 3 million tons of supplies packed into Italy’s cramped colonial territory in the Horn of Africa.8 On 3 October, citing Ethiopian provocation, the Italian army, and air force, under the overall command of General Emilio De Bono, moved forward on the northern and southern fronts. The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, ordered the traditional war drum of the empire to be pounded in front of his palace in the capital Addis Ababa summoning his people to combat. It was an asymmetric conflict, which Mussolini wanted to finish swiftly to avoid further international complications or League interference, but it soon stagnated. Haile Selassie, aware of the uneven balance of forces, ordered his armies to fight a guerrilla war to take advantage of the topography and Italian disorientation: ‘Hide, strike suddenly, fight the nomad war, steal, snipe and murder singly.’9

This was the most significant colonial war since the South African War thirty-five years before. The outcome was predictable, but under De Bono, the Italians made slow progress. By December, Mussolini was forced to consider the possibility of settling for limited territorial gains. British and French politicians were pressing him to accept this outcome at the expense of Ethiopian sovereignty until the so-called Hoare–Laval Pact (named after the two ministers who devised the offer) became public and had in the resulting outcry to be disavowed. In November, De Bono was replaced by General Pietro Badoglio; in December, General Rodolfo Graziani, attacking northwards from Somalia, won a battle at Dolo, using poison gas for the first time on Mussolini’s direct orders. Heedless of their emperor’s advice, Ethiopian commanders opted for open war. After two engagements at Tembien and the defeat of 50,000 Ethiopians at Amba Aradam, Ethiopian military resistance was destroyed by a combination of anti-personnel bombs and poison gas (both mustard gas and phosgene), which undermined the coherence of army units and provoked widespread demoralization.10 Mussolini still considered the possibility of imposing a protectorate or a puppet state under Haile Selassie like the puppet state of Manchukuo. Still, with the fall of the Ethiopian capital in May 1936, he decided on outright annexation. On 9 May, he announced to an ecstatic crowd in the Piazza Venezia in Rome, ‘Italy finally has its empire.’11

The claim proved premature. Ethiopia was not yet conquered, and a vicious pacification war was fought over the following year. The cost for the Italian forces was high: 15,000 dead and 200,000 wounded. More than 800,000 Italian soldiers and airmen served in the war to create what was now called Italian East Africa (Africa orientale italiana). From Ethiopia’s scattered forces and civilians caught in the crossfire, an estimated 275,000 died.12 More deaths followed the Italian victory. Mussolini ordered the execution of Ethiopian nobles who refused to acknowledge and collaborate with the new Italian administration and the elimination of religious leaders, alleged sorcerers and witches, and local ‘minstrels’ who traditionally traveled through Ethiopian society bringing news and rumors. In February 1937, following a failed assassination attempt on the Italian governor, Graziani, an orgy of reprisal in Addis Ababa left at least 3,000 Ethiopians dead, women raped, and houses looted.13 The new regime soon institutionalized racial differences. Ethiopians could not become citizens; marriage was banned between Italians and Ethiopians in December 1937; cinemas, shops, and public transport were segregated. In 1939 a decree was introduced imposing penalties for anyone violating the principle of racial difference under the title ‘Sanctions for the Defence of Racial Prestige against Natives of Italian Africa’.14

What Mussolini had hoped would be a swift victory turned into a long, draining conflict. A large garrison had to be maintained and paid for: in 1939, there were still 280,000 troops in East Africa. Casualties mounted as local Ethiopian resistance challenged Italian suzerainty; the harsh three-year pacification campaign resulted in 9,555 Italian dead, 140,000 sick and wounded, and unnumbered thousands of Ethiopian victims.15 Defence spending in Italy had been 5 billion lire in 1932–3 (22 percent of government expenditure), but by 1936–7 it totaled 13.1 billion (33 percent) and in 1939–40 reached 24.7 billion (45 percent). The war in Ethiopia cost an estimated 57 billion lire, paid for by loans and taxes; later intervention in Spain cost a further 8 billion.16 The effort to construct 2,000 kilometers of modern roads to make it easier to police the new colony almost bankrupted the colonial budget.17

Any economic advantages could not compensate for the rising levels of military expenditure brought about by extending the empire. Unlike the Japanese experience in Manchuria, trade with Ethiopia remained one-sided. Exports to the realm rose from 248 million lire in 1931 to 2.5 billion in 1937, but chiefly to meet the extensive military demands. The idea that Ethiopia would supply the food to feed Italians in the empire and export a surplus to Italy proved a chimera. In 1939, 100,000 tons of wheat had to be imported into Ethiopia as crop yields declined, and in 1940 only 35 percent of the region’s needs could be produced locally. Although it was intended to modernize Ethiopian agriculture by bringing in millions of Italian migrants, only 400 peasants had arrived by 1940, 150 of them bold enough to bring their families with them.18 There were more workers than farmers, but the 4,000 Italian firms that operated in East Africa essentially serviced the substantial military presence or looked for quick, short-term profits rather than undertaking the economic transformation of the new African empire. There was some effort made to search for oil and minerals, but without success. In Ethiopia, the Italian governor of Harrar province deplored the corruption and self-seeking brought on by ‘gold fever.’ Still, in truth, there were few riches for Italians to enjoy in the heart of the new empire.19 The search for additional foodstuffs for Italy’s population, which the conquest failed to solve, had, in the end, to be remedied by a strict policy of domestic self-sufficiency or ‘autarky.’ Wheat imports fell by two-thirds between 1930 and 1940 while domestic wheat production expanded by almost one-third. Investment in the industry to sustain the new commitment to empire and its defense expanded substantially. Still, it all had to be found from domestic resources and required, as in Japan, increased intervention by the state in planning industrial development.20

In the end, the new empire brought a brief wave of enthusiastic nationalist support but little else. This did not stop Mussolini from capitalizing on what he regarded as his new-found status as leader of an autonomous nation-empire. In defiance of the Western powers, he committed air and land forces to support Franco’s nationalist rebellion through almost three years of combat in the Spanish Civil War. The Italian Corpo truppe volontarie in Spain numbered 30,000 by August 1937. Eventually, over 76,000 Italian soldiers, airmen, and Fascist militia served on the Nationalist side, fighting in some cases against Italian anti-Fascist exiles supporting the Spanish Republic. A further 3,266 Italians died during the campaign, raising the total dead from the wars of the 1930s to more than 25,000.21 Collaboration with German ‘volunteers’ in Spain moved Mussolini closer than ever to Hitler’s Germany.

However, Italian leaders were keen to ensure that Italy’s expanding empire was independent of anything Germany might do. Mussolini, in particular, soon speculated on the possibility of new imperial targets. In a private conversation in 1938, he sketched out aspirations to dominate the southern Balkans as far as Istanbul, to seize Tunisia and Corsica from France, and to annex the British and French Somali colonies in the Horn of Africa; in February 1939, he imagined expelling the British Empire from the Mediterranean basin by taking the Suez Canal, Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus.22 Fantastic as these remaining ambitions now seem, the relative success in Ethiopia, and Mussolini’s growing confidence that he could replace the ‘age-weakened forces’ of the old empires, made them seem less fantastic at the time. The Fascist phase, as the Italian anti-Semite Telesio Interlandi put it in 1938, as defined by a will to Empire’.23 This will found expression again in the Italian takeover of Albania. Like Ethiopia, Albania was widely regarded as a natural object for annexation. A brief protectorate exercised by Italy between 1917 and 1920 had to be given up under international pressure, and Albania became a member of the League of Nations. A 1926 defensive alliance gave Italy virtual responsibility for the defense of Albania, while close economic ties were forced on the Albanian ruler Ahmet Zogu (better known as King Zog).

Despite Italian hopes for a re-establishment of some protectorate in the 1930s, no further gains could be made.24 By the late 1930s, with Italy’s new imperial well, established, Mussolini and his foreign minister (and son-in-law) Galeazzo Ciano moved to convert informal influence into a direct rule. There were strategic benefits since Albania meant the domination of both sides of the Adriatic Sea. It was also a potential foothold for constructing a European dimension to Italy’s empire. Italy still ruled the distant Dodecanese islands, taken from Turkey in 1912 and confirmed as an Italian possession in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Reinforced with an army garrison and airfields within striking distance of the Suez Canal, they were Italy’s first small step to a more extensive empire. 

The acquisition of Albania as part of Italy’s empire presented the inviting prospect of eventually linking the territory from the Adriatic to the Aegean under Italian rule. Plans were initiated in May 1938 to annex Albania, supported by spurious claims that the country was rich in oil and chrome to feed Italy’s war economy. By early 1939 they were ready. After the German occupation of Prague in March 1939, which provoked no Western intervention, Ciano favored immediate action. Mussolini hesitated once again; both the king and the army were unimpressed by the plan and anxious that Italy lacked the military capability, bogged down in Ethiopia and Spain to take on more commitments. The end of the Spanish Civil War in March 1939, when the Italian Littorio Division captured the last Republican outpost in Alicante, freed up resources. An ultimatum was presented to King Zog on 5 April to turn Albania into an Italian protectorate. Following the expected refusal, 22,000 Italian troops, supported by 400 aircraft and 300 small tanks, invaded early in the morning of 7 April. The operation was hastily put together and poorly organized. Soldiers who did not know how to drive were given motorcycles; staff who knew no Morse code were recruited to signals units; infantry could be seen in photographs of the invasion beaches cycling into battle, a striking contrast with the images of German troops marching through Prague.25

The deficiencies were masked by Italian propaganda, which hailed the invasion as a triumph of modern arms, but it succeeded only because there was almost no armed opposition. Italian casualty figures remain contested. The official loss was reported as 12, but Albanian estimates suggest 200 and 700 Italian deaths. Zog fled from his capital, and on 13 April, the Italian monarch was declared king of Albania. Although Albania was not formally a colony of a puppet state like Manchukuo, the country was exploited along colonial lines. A lieutenant general was appointed, and Italian advisers dominated the Albanian administration; the economy was controlled or taken over by Italian interests; Albanians became subjects of the Italian king; the Albanian language was forced to take second place to Italian in public life; a brutal police presence crushed resistance. Even Ciano, who benefitted extensively and corruptly from his role in Albania, complained that the new Italian administrators’ treat the natives badly’ and ‘have a colonial mentality, but this was an inevitable consequence in an authoritarian state committed to crude methods of territorial expansion.26 

The imperialism embarked upon by Japan, and Italy meant, in the end, a commitment to large-scale military mobilization and war-making across most of the 1930s. In both cases, hundreds of thousands of young Japanese and Italian men experienced warfare for years on end long before the coming of global conflict: the Japanese armed forces from 1931 onwards, the Italian army and air force almost continuously from the pacification of Libya in 1930–31 to the Albanian invasion in 1939. By contrast, Hitler’s Germany began its expansion program later and acquired another territory through a series of bloodless coups for most of the decade. In 1939, with the invasion of Poland, German soldiers fought a war for empire on the scale of China or East Africa. The assertion of national autonomy meant something very different for Germany as a disarmed and impoverished power. The first years of Hitler’s government were spent rejecting the strategy of ‘fulfillment’ of Versailles briefly pursued in the 1920s. In October 1933, the German delegation walked out of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva to protest the failure of other states to disarm. In the same year, the regime defaulted on Germany’s significant international debts and formally repudiated reparations.

In 1936 the Rhineland was remilitarized, tearing up the 1925 Locarno agreement. But despite the publicity surrounding the challenge to Versailles and Locarno, German leaders pursued a cautious strategy while Germany was still weakly armed. When the Rhineland was reoccupied on 7 March 1936, Hitler was observed to be in a state of high anxiety lest he had pushed his early ambitions too far. The young architect Albert Speer found himself on Hitler’s train that day to Munich and later recalled ‘the tense atmosphere that emanated from the Führer’s section.’ Hitler, he claimed, always looked back at the remilitarization as ‘the most daring’ of his undertakings.27 

There were two crucial priorities for Hitler before there could be any thought of constructing imperial living space: economic recovery from the disastrous situation brought on by the economic crisis and the remilitarization of Germany to a level that would restore Germany’s great power status and provide the room for maneuver in whatever direction the regime chose to move. Rearmament began in 1933, expanded with a five-year program in 1934, and was publicly declared, in defiance of the peace settlement, in March 1935. Expenditure rose from 1.2 billion Reichsmarks in 1933/4 to 10.2 billion in 1936/7, by which time much of the military infrastructure had been restored. The production of weapons and training of conscripts was a long-term program.

High levels of defense spending, as in Japan and Italy, required close supervision by the state of the rest of the economy to avoid an economic crisis and to control consumer spending by a population that had experienced years of poverty and unemployment and now wanted to spend again. Plans were put in place to make Germany more self-sufficient in food and raw materials and less reliant on a potentially hostile world market while at the same time creating a German-dominated trading bloc in central and south-eastern Europe as a safety net in case of an international crisis. Between 1934 and 1939, trade deals with Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary shifted the balance of Eastern European trade strongly in Germany’s favor. The purchase of oil and food raised exports from Romania to Germany between 1933 and 1938 from 18 percent of Romanian trade to 37 percent.28 When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Germany used aid to Franco as a lever to secure advantageous trade deals in yet a further extension of a German ‘informal’ economic empire. As a share of Spanish exports, German trade rose from 11 percent at the end of 1936 to almost 40 percent two years later, providing much-needed metals for the German military industry.29 Hitler was obsessed with the role blockade had played in the Great War and anxious that in any future conflict, Germany would control enough resources in the European trading bloc, like the Japanese yen bloc, to shield Germany from external economic pressure.

By 1936 the strains imposed by high defense spending and the slow revival of international trade brought a crisis. The military leadership and the economics minister, Hjalmar Schacht, who had masterminded much of the recovery, wanted to restrain further military spending and encourage trade. Hitler was hostile to the idea of limiting the growth of German military power at just the point when he felt confident at last about pursuing a more active policy of imperial expansion. In August 1936, he set down his views on the economic and military future in a strategic memorandum. In recognition of the growing Soviet threat, Hitler wanted German military preparations to be on as large a scale as possible, together with an accelerated program of self-sufficiency. The failure to defeat the Bolshevik threat would lead to Hitler’s raw materials required ruction and even extermination of the German people. To find the resources necessary to feed the population and supply the raw materials required for the struggle ahead could only be solved, he concluded, by ‘expanding the living space and in particular the raw material and food basis, of the German people.’30 

By 1936 the strains imposed by high defense spending and the slow revival of international trade brought a crisis. The military leadership and the economics minister, Hjalmar Schacht, who had masterminded much of the recovery, wanted to restrain further military spending and encourage trade. Hitler was hostile to the idea of limiting the growth of German military power at just the point when he felt confident at last about pursuing a more active policy of imperial expansion. In August 1936, he set down his views on the economic and military future in a strategic memorandum. In recognition of the growing Soviet threat, Hitler wanted German military preparations to be on as large a scale as possible, together with an accelerated program of self-sufficiency. The failure to defeat the Bolshevik threat would lead, Hitler argued, to the ‘final destruction, even extermination of the German people. To find the resources necessary to feed the population and supply the necessary raw materials for the struggle ahead could only be solved, he concluded, by ‘expanding the living space, particularly the raw material and food basis, of the German people.80 The direct result of the memorandum was the public declaration of a Second Four-Year Plan in October 1936 (the First had been a re-employment plan), with the party leader and commander-in-chief of the German air force, Göring, as its director. The plan marked a sharp break in German policy. The state now controlled prices, wage levels, the import-export trade, foreign currency transactions, and investment. Like Japanese and Italian state economic planning, the so-called ‘managed economy’ (gelenkte Wirtschaft) was essential to balance the demands of accelerated rearmament with domestic economic stability.31 Under the plan, a large-scale investment program was established for synthetic substitute materials (oil, textiles, chemicals, rubber) to provide the economic foundation for large-scale military production. By 1939 two-thirds of all industrial investment was going into strategic materials, while military spending absorbed 17 percent of the national product (compared with 3 percent in 1914) and 50 percent of government expenditure.32 Beyond this, additional resources were provided by extending German’ living space’ into a new European empire. 

There is nevertheless much less certainty about precisely what Hitler planned to do to establish the ‘living space in the East and its ruthless Germanization’ that he had first suggested as a long-term goal to army leaders in February 1933.33 Despite the efforts of historians to unearth his intentions from the scattered remarks Hitler made from the writing of Mein Kampf onwards, there is little evidence of programmatic planning on Hitler’s part, beyond the desire to expand future German living space in Eurasia. Hitler was influenced by the discourses he discovered in the early 1920s about ‘race and space,’ which framed much of his subsequent thinking. Hitler borrowed the idea of conquest in a metaphorical ‘east’ from German imperial thought that stretched back forty years. Still, aside from Hitler’s strong anti-communism and regular assertions that the future of the German people lays ‘in the east,’ there is frustratingly little from the 1930s to suggest what Hitler’s precise aims were or how he defined the East in his mind. The idea that he sought ultimate ‘world dominion’ remains speculation. However, he wanted German expansion to provide the foundation for an empire that would match the global power of Britain or France, or even of the United States.34 For Hitler, the view of what was possible in practice was reactive rather than programmatic, his strategy opportunistic and short-term, even if his obsession with securing living space was invariable.

By the mid-1930s, it was easier to understand who Hitler’s friends were than to anticipate his enemies – except for the Jews, who remained consistently in Hitler’s vision the principal enemy of the German people in its struggle for national assertion. In 1936 the imperial aggressors, Japan and Italy, drew closer to Germany. In November 1936, Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact to coordinate their resistance to international communism (joined a year later by Italy). By 1938 both Germany and Italy had recognized the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. In October 1936, Italy and Germany reached an informal agreement, later nicknamed the Axis pact following Mussolini’s claim that Europe would now revolve around Rome and Berlin’s ‘axis.’ In the discussions, Hitler confirmed that in his view, the Mediterranean was ‘an Italian sea.’ At the same time, he assured the Italian leadership that German ambitions now lay ‘towards the east and the Baltic.’35 The Italian conquest of Ethiopia, carried out in defiance of the League powers, impressed the German public. In 1937 as many books were published in Germany approving Italian colonization in Libya and Ethiopia. Critical accounts of the British Empire were ‘a pirate state’, ‘robbing half the world.’ In a book on Colonies and the Third Reich by Hans Bauer, Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia was applauded as a model for Germany to emulate in tearing up the Paris peace settlement and acquiring its own colonial living space.36 

Speculation in Germany about the direction of Hitler’s strategy was reflected in the renewed popularity of the lobby for overseas colonies. As Versailles was rapidly undone, the vociferous minority of colonial enthusiasts in the 1920s hoped that Hitler might find the means to restore the lost African and Pacific territories or to find new ones. In 1934 the National Socialist Party established a Colonial Political Office under the former colonial administrator (and party leader) General Franz Ritter von Epp, and then in 1936 ‘co-ordinated’ the existing colonial organizations into a new Reich Colonial League (Reichskolonialbund) with von Epp as its leader. In 1933 there had been only 30,000 supporters of the colonial lobby, but by 1938 the new League had a million members. By 1943 over 2 million.37 Propaganda literature on the colonies proliferated, from no more than a handful of publications in the early 1930s to between forty-five and fifty each year later in the decade. Young Germans were targeted with heroic colonial adventure stories and films; a ‘Handbook for Schooling Hitler Youth in the Colonies’ was produced to prepare them for a colonial future.38 There was widespread discussion that African territories would somehow alleviate scarce metals or more exotic foodstuffs, fuelled by Schacht. ‘It is clearer than ever,’ announced the economics minister in a speech in Leipzig, ‘that for an industrial state, the possession of colonial areas for raw materials to expand the home economy is indispensable.’39 Yet in the end, the popular clamor for overseas colonies, though manipulated by the Hitler regime in 1936–7 to try to drive a wedge between Britain and France, held little appeal for the new German leadership, whose territorial appetites were continental rather than conventionally colonial. ‘We want a free hand in Eastern Europe,’ Göring told his British contact in February 1937, and in return, Germany would respect Britain’s imperial interests.40 The idea of an African empire resurfaced only later when the old empires had been defeated in the summer of 1940. 

Hitler indicated a definite program for expansion in a meeting at the Reich Chancellery on 5 November 1937, subsequently made notorious by the notes taken by his army adjutant, Fritz Hossbach. He called together the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces and the foreign minister to explain his strategy to solve the German problem of ‘space’ and the future of the racial community. The size and racial solidity of the German people gave them ‘the right to a greater living space.’ The future of the nation was ‘wholly conditional upon the solving of the need for space.’ Overseas colonies were, he considered, an insufficient solution: ‘areas producing raw materials can be more usefully sought in Europe.’

The British Empire was weakened and unlikely to intervene, and without Britain, France, too, would abstain. Hitler told his listeners that Austria and Czechoslovakia, which, he claimed, could feed 5 or 6 million Germans between them, would provide that space and, if international circumstances permitted, sooner rather than later, at some point in 1938. The army and the Foreign Ministry were unenthusiastic, anxious about risking the fruits of economic and military revival.41 The lukewarm response from the army commanders and von Neurath provoked a significant political revolution. By February 1938, the army leadership had been replaced, and the War Ministry scrapped. Hitler assumed the supreme commander of the armed forces and created a unique institution, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), to cement his new position. Foreign Minister von Neurath was sacked in favor of the party foreign affairs spokesman, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Schacht, still critical of the risks of further rearmament and unwilling to relinquish his campaign for gains in Africa, was replaced by the party press officer, Walter Funk, a bibulous and ineffectual personality, dominated now by Göring.42

Even this new strategic trajectory was hedged around with uncertainties. Hitler was aware that the timing of the start of German expansion depended on the attitude of the other major powers and the extent to which they might be distracted by anxieties over the Japanese and Italian threat or the opaque menace of growing Soviet power. But in the end, the possible date of 1938 became the firm date. A month after the ‘Hossbach’ meeting, the army was told to prepare contingency plans for the occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. By March 1938, Hitler judged that circumstances were favorable enough to take the first step. The consequences were not predictable, and Hitler hesitated as he had done with the Rhineland. In the end, Göring took the lead in forcing Austrian submission and permitting the entry of German troops on 12 March. The absence of severe international protest paved the way to the next decision. On 28 May, Hitler called a meeting of the military leadership, confirming that the provisional plans for ‘Case Green,’ the invasion and conquest of Czechoslovakia, would go ahead. The army chief of staff, General Ludwig Beck, noted Hitler’s assessment of the opportunity: ‘Russia: will not take part, not geared up for a war of aggression. Poland and Romania: Fear of Russian aid will not act against Germany. East Asia: Reason for England’s caution.’ Hitler concluded that the time had come to act: ‘favorable moment must be seized … Lightning march into Czechoslovakia.’ Decisive, coercive action in Central Europe, like the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, was also a signal that Germany now disregarded the old international order and wished unilaterally to construct a new one.

The following story of British and French intervention and the agreement at Munich on 30 September to allow Germany to occupy the majority German areas of Czechoslovakia is well known. Though Hitler wanted a short, imperial war – not least to match the action already taken by Japan and Italy – a European crisis provoked much more international concern than distant Manchuria and Ethiopia. On 28 September, following meetings the day before with a British envoy, Sir Horace Wilson, sent by Neville Chamberlain to explain that an invasion of Czechoslovakia would result in war, Hitler was reluctantly persuaded by Göring and von Neurath that he should take the Czechs by stages. So anxious were several senior commanders about the risks Hitler ran that they began to consider a coup against the dictator in the autumn of 1938, though it was to be another six years and after several significant defeats before a coup materialized. In the end, Hitler backed down from his small war and accepted a compromise that gave Germany almost immediate access to the Sudeten German areas of the Czech state, occupied on 1 October. The Czechs had to get virtual autonomy for the Slovak half of the state and reach unfavorable economic agreements with Germany. Six months later, on 15 March 1939, after the Czech president, Emil Hácha, had been summoned to Berlin and subjected to heavy, irresistible pressure by Germany’s leaders, German forces marched into Prague. The following day, Hitler declared a protectorate over the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. Slovakia was established as a puppet regime.

The imperial character of these annexations is evident. However, it was a different kind of imperialism from the traditional dynastic empires that had ruled the region only twenty years before. It was more akin to the pattern of empire practiced outside Europe. Even the case of Austria, which was incorporated into a Greater Germany with the backing of an almost unanimous plebiscite, was part of this process. Austrians found themselves subject to a legal system they had not instigated.

At the same time, the name chosen for the region, the Ostmark, echoed the term coined for the area of internal colonization before 1914. The Austrian past was extinguished in favor of a German present. The Sudeten regions acquired from the Munich Agreement were similarly incorporated into Greater Germany, overturning the ambitions of local German-speaking nationalists for an autonomous Sudetenland. In the Czech lands, the protectorate resembled the system imposed in Manchukuo: the Reich protector acted as a viceroy in the region, responsible for external affairs and defense, while a system of local governors (Oberlandräte) oversaw the police, the local administration, and the enforcement of laws and ordinances that derived ultimately from the government in Berlin. A Czech administration was kept in place under Hácha for organizing the day-to-day running of the protectorate. Still, according to the 16 March decree, its activities had to be carried out ‘in harmony with the Reich’s political, military, and economic needs. Some 10,000 German officials supervised the work of 400,000 Czechs.43 The armed forces exercised a separate military layer of supervision over vital strategic resources, civil defense, the press and propaganda, and the conscription of Czech Germans. In all the annexed areas and the protectorate, citizenship became a defining factor in separating citizens from subjects based on race, as it was in Ethiopia. In Austria and the Sudetenland, citizenship was reserved for those classified as ethnic Germans, while Jews and non-Germans became subjects; in the protectorate, Czech Germans could apply for Reich citizenship (though many did not), but Czechs remained issues of the Reich protector, while Jews lost even this limited privilege. Germans who married Czechs lost their right to citizenship, encouraging racial apartheid in the protectorate. Citizens and subjects were treated by two different legal regimes: Reich laws and Czechs to the ordinances and decrees enforced by the viceroy. Czech resistance was crushed savagely with the same lack of restraint practiced by Italy in Ethiopia or Japan in China.44 

Throughout Austria, the Sudetenland, and the protectorate, German state corporations or German banks took over essential economic resources. In contrast, gold and foreign currency resources, either belonging to the state or privately owned by local Jewish populations, were seized by force and allocated to the German central bank.45 The critical institution was the Reichswerke’ Hermann Göring’, a state-backed corporation established in June 1937 to acquire state control of German iron-ore supplies. The Reichswerke quickly developed a controlling interest in the significant Austrian iron-ore and machine-engineering sectors by compelling private interests to sell their capital stakes to the state. In the Sudetenland, where the Four-Year Plan organization had already identified a range of essential mineral resources well before its annexation, the Reichswerke moved at once to control the supplies of lignite (brown coal), which was then used to develop local synthetic oil production at Brüx.46 The protectorate provided:

  • Additional mineral resources.
  • Extensive iron and steelworks.
  • Significant European arms producers Škoda and the Czech Armaments Works.

By the end of 1939, the Reichswerke organization had a controlling shareholding in all these companies.

Firms owned or part-owned by Austrian or Czech Jews were expropriated under legislation to ‘Aryanize’ Jewish commercial interests. This process had begun in Germany at the start of the dictatorship. Louis Rothschild was held hostage by the German occupiers until he had signed over to the Reich the extensive Rothschild holdings in the protectorate. The capital assets of the Reichswerke eventually reached over 5 billion Reichsmarks, five times larger than the nearest German corporation, the chemical giant I. G. Farben. The resources available for the Reich, like the state-controlled Manchurian resources for Japan, helped sustain high levels of military production and do so within a closed economic bloc, controlled entirely from Berlin, which provided the capital needed for colonial exploitation.47 This was not wholly ‘living space’ in the sense in which Hitler appears to have understood it. Though he spoke at the Hossbach meeting about expelling a million people from Austria and 2 million from Czechoslovakia, the population transfers which took place essentially involved the emigration of around half a million German, Austrian and Czech Jews, who sought refuge abroad from the racial remodeling explicit in German plans for the captured territories. There was much discussion among German officials responsible for the new domains about whether a future policy should be based on racial assimilation or racial separation. Later in the war, the regime explored the prospect of expelling all Czechs who could not be ‘Germanized’ – an estimated half of the population – and treating the protectorate as an area for German settlement.48 A program to dispossess Czech farmers and to settle their lands with Germans began on a small scale, growing in scope only later: by 1945, 16,000 farms occupying 550,000 hectares had been confiscated.49 

It is not clear when Hitler decided that living space in the East could be found more usefully in Poland. Until 1938, the Poles were regarded as potential allies in a German-dominated anti-Soviet bloc. They would hand back the German lands they were granted at Versailles and voluntarily became a German satellite. Only when the Polish government repeatedly refused the German request for an extra-territorial rail and road link across the Polish Corridor and the incorporation of the League-run Free City of Danzig back into Germany did Hitler decide to launch against the Poles the small war he had been denied in 1938, and to take Polish resources by force. Poland now contained the vast former German coal and steel region in Silesia and promised vast areas for German settlement and an agricultural surplus to feed the German population. At the meeting on 23 May 1939, when Hitler presented to the military leadership his intentions against Poland, he claimed that ‘Danzig is not the object in this case. For us, it involves rounding off our living space in the East and securing our food supplies.’ Food supply could only come from the East because it was sparsely populated, continued Hitler. German agricultural proficiency would raise the productivity of the region many times over.50

An imperial war against Poland nevertheless ran the same risks of intervention from the other European powers as the Czech crisis the year before. Hitler might well have accepted a second protectorate solution if the Poles had acquiesced to German threats, but at the end of March 1939, against Hitler’s expectations, Britain and then France publicly guaranteed Polish sovereignty. While the German military campaign was carefully prepared over the summer months, German diplomacy sought to separate the Poles from their guarantors and the two guarantors from each other, though without success. Propaganda was used to whip up domestic support for a war to protect the Germans living in Poland from alleged Polish atrocities and supply a pretense for invasion. Since Britain and France would not be moved from their support of Poland, Hitler sought an agreement with the Soviet Union to guarantee that a combined Soviet-British-French bloc would not obstruct his small war. The Non-Aggression Pact, signed on 23 August 1939, was used by Hitler to justify to all around him that the Western states would now no longer dare to intervene. Though it has often been argued that Hitler sought a general war in 1939 because the costs of rearmament to a brittle and overstretched economy forced his hand to wage war against the West before it was too late, almost all the evidence demonstrates that Hitler wanted a localized war to support the expansion of living space in the East, rather than a significant conflict with the British and French empires – an end to a decade of empire-building rather than a prologue to world war.51 There were indeed economic motives for seizing more land and resources but not for waging world war, for which these additional resources would eventually be needed when, or if, it happened. Hitler believed that major battles should be prepared for only by 1942–43 when the armament programs were completed.52 On 21 August, Hitler authorized the introduction only of limited economic mobilization, designed for a local and temporary state of conflict; the order to initiate the total mobilization of the economy was given only after Britain and France had declared war.53

The risks multiplied. However, the closer drew the planned date for invasion. Hitler hesitated once again. The invasion was scheduled for 26 August, then postponed when news arrived of an Anglo-Polish Alliance, together with the information that Italy would not honor the Pact of Steel, signed in May, to join Germany’s side in a more general war. Intelligence from London suggested that this time Britain was not bluffing.54 Hitler overcame his doubts and issued the order to march on 28 August for a campaign to begin on 1 September. His long-held view that the French and British empires were in terminal decline hedged about with fears of Italian ambitions in the Mediterranean and Japanese initiatives in East Asia, fed a fixation that the West would find some way to let Poland down once it was clear that the Poles were militarily beyond help. One of his military adjutants noted that Hitler made it clear he wanted war with the Poles but ‘with the others he wanted no war at all.’ Göring later insisted to his post-war interrogators that Hitler was sure he would reach an agreement with the West over Poland as he had over Czechoslovakia. ‘As we saw it,’ claimed Göring, ‘he held much too rigidly to this.’55 Hitler rejected all advice to the contrary because he did not want to be cheated of his first imperial war by a show of inconsistent leadership and misplaced anxiety. ‘I have at last decided,’ he told his foreign minister, von Ribbentrop, ‘to do without the opinions of people who have misinformed me on a dozen occasions, and I shall rely on my judgment, which has in all these cases [from the Rhineland to Prague] given me better counsel than the competent experts.’56

The sudden, bold decision, which this time remained unwavering, had much in common with Mussolini’s rejection of the timid advice in 1935 not to risk war over his projected invasion of Ethiopia. Like the African adventure, the build-up of forces before the war made it difficult to contemplate abandoning the campaign. For many German military commanders, the war with Poland was a welcome renewal of the drive to the East in the Great War, in which many of them had fought, and of the post-war conflicts along the new German-Polish frontier in 1919–20, when demobilized soldiers joined the volunteer Freikorps to fight the Poles. Poland was regarded as a mere ‘seasonal state’ (Saisonstaat), the illegitimate offspring of the peace treaty, and an area ripe for future German settlement.57 The army chief of staff, General Franz Halder, expressed in spring 1939 a ‘sense of relief’ to an audience at the Armed Forces Academy that war with Poland was now on the agenda: ‘Poland,’ he continued, ‘must not only be struck down but liquidated as quickly as possible.’58 Soldiers were told in the summer of 1939 that the enemy they faced was ‘cruel and sly’; an armed forces’ report on the Poles claimed that the peasant population was marked by ‘cruelty, brutality, treachery, and lies.’ Halder considered Polish soldiers to be the ‘stupidest in Europe.’ German officers quickly imbibed the anti-Polish prejudice and the sense that Poland deserved its fate in blocking German expansion into ‘ancient German land,’ as the commander of an infantry division told his men on the eve of the invasion. ‘This,’ he continued, ‘is the living space of the German people.’59 Hitler did not consider the coming war to be a conventional great power conflict but a war against a barbarous and threatening enemy in which no pity should be shown, one to be waged. He told his commanders on 22 August, with ‘the greatest brutality and without mercy.’ Later that same day, Hitler spoke about the physical elimination of the Polish people from a land that was to be ‘depopulated and settled by Germans.’60

At 4 p.m. on 31 August, Hitler ordered the invasion to begin the following morning. He assured Halder that ‘France and England will not march.’ In his diary, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, noted that ‘Führer does not believe England will intervene.61 During the night, under the codename ‘Himmler,’ an operation was mounted to simulate a Polish attack on German frontier posts: SS men left six dead concentration camp prisoners dressed in Polish uniforms at Hochlinden border station, while at the Gleiwitz radio transmitter a simple message in Polish was broadcast, while a dead Polish prisoner was left on the floor as evidence of Polish territorial violation and a justification for war. This was a device as crude as the Japanese army’s sabotage of the Manchurian railway in 1931.

Thus the Second World War, as we will further see, was essentially an imperial war that brought to an end the era of traditional colonial rule and left in its wake a world of nation-states rather than empires.


The critical factor for Japan, Italy, and Germany was territory. Control over a domain, exercised in various formal and informal ways, lay at the heart of the empire. The model for ‘territoriality’ was the forty years of violent territorial expansion and pacification that preceded the 1930s and were still going on. In this more extended context, the decisions taken in Tokyo, Rome, or Berlin to wage their local wars of aggression make historical sense. The discourses of ‘race and space’ that had supported empire since the late nineteenth century had lost none of their explanatory force for the generation that came to power in the 1930s. Though this form of imperialism appears anachronistic, even delusional, the paradigm of empire seemed familiar and near. The results of the redistribution of territory in 1919–23, or the consequences of the economic catastrophe after 1929, only strengthened rather than weakened the belief that seizing more territory and resources was an indispensable means to save the nation. From the Manchurian Incident to Word War II.

The calculation that Hitler would be deterred by the sight of the rapidly rearming British and French empires or by the wave of anti-fascist sentiment washing across the democracies was not entirely misplaced. A weaker hand had forced Hitler to climb down from war in 1938. Intelligence sources suggested a severe economic crisis in Germany, even the possibility of an anti-Hitler coup. Even after the German invasion of Poland on 1 September, Chamberlain allowed him to withdraw his forces rather than face a world war. The idea of a conference was briefly mooted by the Italian leadership on 2 September, echoing Mussolini’s intervention in September 1938. Still, the foreign secretary Lord Halifax told his Italian counterpart Ciano that the British condition was ‘the withdrawal of German troops from Polish soil,’ which ended any prospect of peace.60 Historians have searched for convincing evidence that Chamberlain wanted to wriggle out of his commitment even at this late stage, but there is none. Only a complete German capitulation to British and French demands for an end to the violence would have averted world war, and by 1 September, that was the least likely outcome. Neither containment nor deterrence had in this case worked. Chamberlain announced a state of war on the radio at 11.15 on the morning of 3 September; Daladier announced a state of war at 5 p.m. that afternoon. A temporary alliance of imperial elites and democratic anti-fascists had made possible a new world war. ‘We can’t lose,’ observed the British army chief of staff in his diary. When the war of empires started in Manchuria not included Western Europe.

While the collapse of resistance on the northeast front continued in late May, the significant Allies began to consider the awful capitulation scenario unthinkable two weeks before. Weygand, despite his apparent resilience and energy, told the French Cabinet on 25 May to think about abandoning the fight, and Reynaud was the first to pronounce the word ‘armistice,’ though it was an ambiguous term, as the Germans had discovered in November 1918. According to a commitment made on 25 March 1940, this had to be agreed with the British that neither ally would create a separate peace. On 26 May, Reynaud flew to London to explain to Churchill that France might consider giving up. Unknown to him, the British War Cabinet had begun to discuss a proposal from the foreign secretary, Halifax, presented to him by the Italian ambassador, for a possible conference convened by Mussolini. Italian motives remain unclear since, by now, Mussolini was also preparing to declare war to profit from what seemed to the Italian leadership a ripe opportunity for exploiting the imminent conquest of France. After three days of debate, the British decided against any initiative. Though often seen as a turning point at which the appeasers might nearly have triumphed, some discussion of the consequences of a comprehensive defeat was inevitable, and not even Halifax had favored any settlement that compromised Britain’s primary interests. Eventually winning support from Chamberlain, who kept a seat in the War Cabinet, Churchill carried the debate to reject any approach to Mussolini. British leaders were already contemplating war without France. ‘If France could not defend herself,’ Churchill told his colleagues, ‘it was better that she should get out of the war. The war in the West deepens while at the same time it spread further into the western colonies.

The British Empire did not collapse or accept defeat in 1940, but the year was a turning point in the long history of European imperialism. Failure and occupation in Europe undermined the claims of the other metropolitan powers, France, Belgium fatally, and the Netherlands. Fatally undermined For the British Empire, the crisis raised awkward questions about the future. Nevertheless, the British government refused to confront the paradox of emphasizing the value of the empire to Britain’s war effort while at the same time using force to stifle demands for greater political autonomy in India and running Egypt under virtual martial law. The priority was the survival of the home islands. Neither side, German nor British, could find a strategy capable of undermining the other’s war willingness or achieving a decisive military result. Still, it seems almost certain that with an army of 180 divisions and the spoils of much of continental Europe, Germany would have found a way in 1941 of bringing the war in the West to an end if Hitler had not turned to the East. Britain, by contrast, had no way of achieving victory over Germany. Expelled from Europe twice in Norway and France, facing a crisis in Africa, economically weakened, desperately defending its access to the broader world economy, Britain faced strategic bankruptcy. The war Britain waged for a year after the fall of France was the one prepared for in the 1930s – air defense, a powerful navy, and lesser imperial conflicts. This was the war Chamberlain had prepared for, but Churchill was the one forced to wage it. War almost lost.

The two major campaigns against British Malaya and the American Philippines protectorate began on 8 December. Pilots with specialized training for extended overseas flights attacked the Philippines, flying from Japanese Empire bases on Taiwan; as in Oahu, they found American aircraft lined up on the tarmac at Clark Field and destroyed half the B-17s and one-third of the fighters. Amphibious landings began on the 10th on the main island of Luzon and made rapid progress towards the capital, Manila, which surrendered on 3 January. The United States commander, General Douglas MacArthur, appointed earlier in the year, withdrew his mixed American–Filipino force south to the Bataan peninsula. The staff was doomed with no air cover and only 1,000 tons of supplies shipped by an American submarine. MacArthur was evacuated to Australia on 12 March to fight another day. Bataan was surrendered on 9 April. On 6 May, after a grueling and tenacious defense of the island fortress of Corregidor, the surviving American commander, General Jonathan Wainwright, gave up the fight.

The Japanese Fourteenth Army captured almost 70,000 soldiers, 10,000 of them American. They were marched along the Bataan Peninsula to an improvised camp; ill, exhausted, and hungry, they suffered beatings, killings, and humiliation from Japanese Empire forces. The geopolitical transformation of Asia and the Pacific.

In 1942 the new Fair Employment agency was absorbed by the War Manpower Commission, limiting the prospects for using the agency to combat racial inequality. In the South, the administration offered subsidies and training programs to help raise the productivity of white farms while turning a blind eye to the increased control over black workers that wartime reforms made possible. The president remained largely silent on the paradox presented by his rhetoric of freedom and the survival of racial segregation and discrimination at home. The same held for Roosevelt’s view of racism in the British Empire, which was prudently cautious about undermining the wartime alliance, despite his private view that the colonial empires were morally bankrupt and ought to be brought under international trusteeship or granted independence. When the British authorities arrested Gandhi in August 1942 and thousands of other Indian supporters of his ‘Quit India’ campaign, Roosevelt made no public statement condemning the decision or the violence. Walter White, secretary of the NAACP, canceled a speech he was to make on behalf of the Office of War Information in protest and sent a telegram to Roosevelt linking the civil rights movement to the broader world struggle for emancipation from Western imperialism: ‘One billion brown and yellow people in the Pacific will without question consider ruthless treatment of Indian leaders and peoples typical of what white people will do to colored people if United Nations win. How the various countries justified WWII.


1. Paine, Wars for Asia, 134–5, 140–42; Mark Peattie, Edward Drea and Hans van de Ven (eds.), The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945 (Stanford, Calif., 2011), 34–5. 

2. Dagfinn Gatu, Village China at War: The Impact of Resistance to Japan, 1937–1945 (Copenhagen, 2007), 415–17. 

3. Paine, Wars for Asia, 165–7. 

4. MacGregor Knox, Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Cambridge, 2000), 69. 

5. Morewood, British Defence of Egypt, 32–45; Labanca, Oltremare, 184–8. 

6. Alberto Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini: Fascism and the Colonial Experience (London, 1985), 13–14; Morewood, British Defence of Egypt, 25–7. 

7. Claudia Baldoli, ‘The “northern dominator” and the Mare Nostrum: Fascist Italy’s “cultural war” in Malta’, Modern Italy, 13 (2008), 7–12; Deborah Paci, Corsica fatal, malta baluardo di romanità: irredentismo fascista nel mare nostrum (1922–1942) (Milan, 2015), 16–19, 159–67. 

8. Matteo Dominioni, Lo sfascio dell’impero: gli italiani in Etiopia 1936–1941 (Rome, 2008), 9–10; Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 15–18. 

9. Steer, Caesar in Abyssinia, 135–6, 139; Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 16–18. 

10. Angelo Del Boca, I gas di Mussolini (Rome, 1996), 76–7, 139–41, 148. There were in all 103 attacks using 281 mustard gas bombs and 325 phosgene bombs. 

11. On the war see Labanca, Oltremare, 189–92; Giorgio Rochat, Le guerre italiane 1935–1943 (Turin, 2005), 48–74; Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 25–8. 

12. Figures from Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 33. 

13. Labanca, Oltremare, 200–202; Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 36–7. 

14. Giulia Barrera, ‘Mussolini’s colonial race laws and state-settler relations in Africa Orientale Italiana’, Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 8 (2003), 429–30; Fabrizio De Donno, ‘“La Razza Ario-Mediterranea”: Ideas of race and citizenship in colonial and Fascist Italy, 1885–1941’, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 8 (2006), 404–5. 

15. John Gooch, Mussolini and His Generals: The Armed Forces and Fascist Foreign Policy, 1922–1940 (Cambridge, 2007), 253. 

16. Vera Zamagni, ‘Italy: How to win the war and lose the peace’, in Harrison (ed.), The Economics of World War II, 198; Rochat, Le guerre italiane, 139. There are different estimates of the cost of the Ethiopian war, ranging from 57.3 billion lire to 75.3 billion, depending on what is counted as a contribution to the war effort and subsequent pacification. 

17. Haile Larebo, The Building of an Empire: Italian Land Policy and Practice in Ethiopia (Trenton, NJ, 2006), 59–60. 

18. Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, 98–100; De Grand, ‘Mussolini’s follies’, 133; Haile Larebo, ‘Empire building and its limitations. Ethiopia (1935–1941)’, in Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller (eds.), Italian Colonialism (Basingstoke, 2005), 88–90.

19. Barrera, ‘Mussolini’s colonial race laws’, 432–4. 

20. Alexander Nützenadel, Landwirtschaft, Staat und Autarkie: Agrarpolitik im faschistischen Italien (1922–1943) (Tübingen, 1997), 144, 317, 394. 

21. Rochat, Le guerre italiane, 117–21. 

22. De Grand, ‘Mussolini’s follies’, 128–9; Rodogno, Fascism’s European Empire, 46–7. 

23. De Donno, ‘La Razza Ario-Mediterranea’, 409. 

24. Fischer, Albania at War, 5–7; Moseley, Mussolini’s Shadow, 51–2. 

25. Nicholas Doumanis, Myth and Memory in the Mediterranean: Remembering Fascism’s Empire (London, 1997), 41–4. 

26. Fischer, Albania at War, 17–20. 

27. Ibid., 20, 35, 37–40, 90–91; Moseley, Mussolini’s Shadow, 53–5; Rodogno, Fascism’s European Empire, 59–60. 

28. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (London, 1970), 72. 

29. Christian Leitz, ‘Arms as levers: matériel and raw materials in Germany’s trade with Romania in the 1930s’, International History Review, 19 (1997), 317, 322–3.

30. Pierpaolo Barbieri, Hitler’s Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War (Cambridge, Mass., 2015), 180–82, 260. 

31. Treue, ‘Denkschrift Hitlers’, 204–5, 206. 

32. Bundesarchiv Dienststelle Berlin (hencefort BAB), R261/18, ‘Ergebnisse der Vierjahresplan-Arbeit, Stand Frühjahr 1942’, for a summary of the Plan’s activities since 1936. 

33. Richard Overy, War and Economy in the Third Reich (Oxford, 1994), 20–21. 

34. Manfred Weissbecker, ‘“Wenn hier Deutsche wohnten”: Beharrung und Veränderung im Russlandbild Hitlers und der NSDAP’, in Hans-Erich Volkmann (ed.), Das Russlandbild im Dritten Reich (Cologne, 1994), 9. 

35. Milan Hauner, ‘Did Hitler want a world dominion?’, Journal of Contemporary History, 13 (1978), 15–32. 

36. ‘Colloquio del ministro degli esteri, Ciano, con il cancelliere del Reich, Hitler’, 24 October 1936, in I documenti diplomatici italiani, 8 serie, vol v, 1 settembre–31 dicembre 1936 (Rome, 1994), 317. 

37. Bernhard, ‘Borrowing from Mussolini’, 623–5.

38. Wolfe Schmokel, Dream of Empire: German Colonialism, 1919–1945 (New Haven, Conn., 1964), 21–2, 30–32; Willeke Sandler, Empire in the Heimat: Colonialism and Public Culture in the Third Reich (New York, 2018), 3, 177–83. 

39. Robert Gordon and Dennis Mahoney, ‘Marching in step: German youth and colonial cinema’, in Eric Ames, Marcia Klotz and Lora Wildenthal (eds.), Germany’s Colonial Pasts (Lincoln, Nebr., 2005), 115–34. 

40. Linne, Deutschland jenseits des Äquators?, 39. 

41. CCAC, Christie Papers, 180/1, ‘Notes of a conversation with Göring’, 3 Feb. 1937, pp. 53–4. 

42. Colonel Hossbach, ‘Minutes of the conference in the Reich Chancellery, November 5 1937’, Documents on German Foreign Policy, Ser. D, vol. I, (London, 1954), 29–39. 

43. Geoffrey Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command (Lawrence, Kans, 2000), 41–8. 

44. Bryant, Prague in Black, 29–45; Alice Teichova, ‘Instruments of economic control and exploitation: the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia’, in Richard Overy, Gerhard Otto and Johannes Houwink ten Cate (eds.), Die ‘Neuordnung’ Europas: NS-Wirtschaftspolitik in den besetzten Gebiete (Berlin, 1997), 84–8. See too Winkler, Age of Catastrophe, 658–60. 

45. Teichova, ‘Instruments of economic control’, 50–58. 

46. Full details can be found in Ralf Banken, Edelmetallmangel und Grossraubwirtschaft: Die Entwicklung des deutschen Edelmetallsektors im ‘Dritten Reich’, 1933–1945 (Berlin, 2009), 287–91, 399–401. 

47. Overy, War and Economy, 147–51. 

48. Ibid., 319–21; Teichova, ‘Instruments of economic control’, 89–92. 

49. Bryant, Prague in Black, 121–8. 

50. Teichova, ‘Instruments of economic control’, 103–4. 

51. Roman Ilnytzkyi, Deutschland und die Ukraine 1934–1945, 2 vols. (Munich, 1958), i., 21–2. 

52. This view has been argued most forcefully by Gerhard Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany: Starting World War II, 1937–1939 (Chicago, Ill., 1980), and Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London, 2006), 332–5, 662–5. For a different perspective see Overy, War and Economy, 221–6. 

53. Overy, War and Economy, 238–9. 

53. Imeprial War Museum Lambeth, London (hencefort IWM), Mi 14/328 (d), OKW minutes of meeting of War Economy Inspectors, 21 Aug. 1939; OKW, Wehrmachtteile Besprechung, 3 Sept. 1939. 

54. Richard Overy, 1939: Countdown to War (London, 2009), 31–40. 

55. Hildegard von Kotze (ed.), Heeresadjutant bei Hitler 1938–1945: Aufzeichnungen des Majors Engel (Stuttgart, 1974), 60, entry for 29 August; IWM, FO 645, Box 156, testimony of Hermann Göring taken at Nuremberg, 8 Sept. 1945, pp. 2, 5. 

56. Cited in John Toland, Adolf Hitler (New York, 1976), 571. 

57. Vejas Liulevicius, ‘The language of occupation: vocabularies of German rule in Eastern Europe in the World Wars’, in Robert Nelson (ed.), Germans, Poland, and Colonial Expansion in the East (New York, 2009), 130–31. 

58. Alexander Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (Lawrence, Kans, 2003), 6–7. 

59. Ibid., 7, 24–5, 27. 

60. Winfried Baumgart, ‘Zur Ansprache Hitlers vor den Führern der Wehrmacht am 22 August 1939’, Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 19 (1971), 303. 

61. Elke Fröhlich (ed.), Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels: Band 7: Juli 1939–März 1940 (Munich, 1998), 87, entry for 1 Sept. 1939; Christian Hartmann, Halder: Generalstabschef Hitlers 1938–1942 (Paderborn, 1991), 139.

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