Week One ReadingWeek 1 – 1/29 to 2/4
Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II (69-122)

Ron’s Responses
3. In the section on Italy and Ethiopia, Stokesbury says “conquest awaits those who are ready for it” (36).  What did he mean by that?
I believe that Stokesbury is stating that Italy laid the groundwork for the conquest of Europe to begin. With the quote, he jumps from Italy’s conquests in Africa to its attempt to conquest Spain, but I think it’s merely a continuation of the theme he began at the onset of the chapter, “Italy was the first of the World War I victors to go.” (p. 33). For the next three pages, he makes the case for Mussolini’s rise to power and Italy’s calculated maneuvering first through World War I and then through the interwar period. Mussolini set the wheels in motion, on the European front at least, that would lead to the greater battles that would be waged in World War II. “Only slowly did the demonic power of Hitler and the real potential of Germany overtake the perhaps illusory power of Italy.” (p. 35). Another supporting comment comes earlier on that page, “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.” Italy was ready for conquest and Hitler’s Germany was not far behind. Across the Eurasian landmass, Japan was paving its own path of conquest.

4. Why does World War II start in 1937?
The build-up and posturing of the first six years of the 1930s culminated in a lot of blood being spilled in 1937. It is the year in which the Axis powers crystallized thanks to Italy joining with Germany and Japan. All three countries were tipping their hands while the other powers of the worlds stood by, feigned weak responses, and trembled in fear over the prospect of another war. Stokesbury makes the claim that, “Although it was never declared, World War II had already begun” on page 46 after talking of Japanese actions against China in 1937. This Japanese invasion was brutal and virtually unstoppable despite the intervention of British and American ships. Meanwhile, in Europe, Germany had mobilized troops back into the Rhineland without a hitch. Hitler could see that France, England, the League of Nations, and others were inept or fearful of taking action. Mussolini was bogged down in Spain but holding up against the meager defensive provided by a smattering of volunteers from nations unsure of which side to fully support. Also, Hitler was emboldened when he realized his ideals could move forward even when his generals were hesitant. The year 1937 would have made for an interesting History Day topic because it was certainly a turning point in history.

On a note about Stokesbury…
I find his writing to be very well voiced and it’s easy to imagine listening to him as you read it. I keep finding myself trying to get into his head and look beyond the words to piece apart the way he has chosen to tell the story. Stokesbury inserts snarky comments, witticism and personal commentary but I’m curious to know where he places himself in our modern global context. Do his remarks only reflect the time or is he trying to influence readers to modern discussions/debates as well. Statements like, “Their basic weakness stemmed not from the war, but from the attitudes of their governments, and even more fundamentally, of their citizens. People eventually get the government they want…At bottom, their basic problem was a lack of national will. Among the dictatorships, there was no such problem.” (p. 32). It matters not what Stokesbury thinks of modern times as I read this book, but it makes for some interesting fodder for discussion and thought when framed on contemporary issues.

Matti’s Responses
1. Why could historians refer to World War I and II as one conflict with an extended break?
Historians could refer to World War I and World War II as an extended conflict due to the fact World War I was never completely resolved. Due to the fact Germany and the Central Powers were seen as the aggressors of World War I, the allied powers during the peace talks post war didn’t give the central powers a voice and tried to accomplish peace by restricting them. However, these stipulations not only upset the central powers. The demilitarization and stipulations that the peace talks called for meant Britain would have to downsize her precious navy and Italy wouldn’t receive control of the North Adriatic as she had wanted. The general negative feeling that remained then post war in most of Europe fueled the tensions that had never really left, typified by the desire of the French to cripple Germany economically.

By the time Hitler had rose to power these tensions were painfully evident and through a façade of an internal police force Hitler built up his military thus going against the peace talk decisions. The desires of World War I, for Germany to rise as the dominant European power, began to show through again when the German military moved into Rhineland uncontested and the tensions of World War I began to boil over into what would later be known as World War II. Even though there was a 25 year break between the two wars the failure to resolve the first, as shown by the issues stated above, is why Historians can refer to the wars as one continued conflict.

6. How did the deal between Germany and the Soviet Union save the Soviets when the Germans decided to invade?
The nonaggression pact signed between the Russians and Germans in August of 1939 provided a cushion of 100 miles between the soviet frontier and Germany through the splitting of Poland. At the time, the Russians by signing this pact denied British and French Pleas for aid but also saved themselves casualties early in a war that was not entirely theirs to be fighting. This further down the road would save the Russians from a Nazi offensive when the Germans decided to invade this area of Poland, potentially saving many Russian soldiers lives.