In the inter war years both the British and French empires, the last two major colonial players after the First World War, struggled to contain economic and ideological storms that threatened to tear them apart. These sometimes allied, sometimes antagonistic imperial systems were fundamentally different from one another on an organisational and ideological level, watch the video below for more on how France’s empire operated:
Joseph Goebbels and Total War
By early 1943, Adolf Hitler was an increasingly remote and reclusive figure in Germany. His health had declined due to the stresses of the war and he had begun to suffer from Parkinson’s disease. The Nazi government attempted to suppress the defeat at Stalingrad of the German Sixth Army (which had marched triumphantly into Paris three years earlier), but by February it was announced that the army had been lost, sacrificing itself for the Reich.
The catastrophe, combined with Hitler’s diminished presence became an opportunity for his propagandist Goebbels to increase his role and make a bid to be a de facto wartime leader under the auspices of a new policy ‘Total War’. Goebbels was still deeply loyal to Hitler and whilst he never usurped him, he increasingly became the public face of the regime.
To find out more watch the video below:
The Partition of India
In 1947 British rule in India came to an end and the subcontinent was partitioned into a Muslim East and West Pakistan and a majority Hindu India. The British Judge who drew the new borders of these states was Cyril Radcliffe, a secretive and territorial figure who had no prior knowledge of India. The result was catastrophic bloodshed as communities were divided, ancestral lands were lost and millions had to flee ethnic violence or the prospect of being stranded in a state where they would be a minority. Conventional accounts of the end of the British Empire and Indian Nationalist accounts of the struggle for liberation place the partition as a footnote in an otherwise palatable tale. British historians sympathetic to the imperial project have often presented the end of empire as an ordered and civilised affair. The reality was far different. It was an immense human catastrophe that Britain could distance herself from as she did not take part in the violence. However, the divide and rule politics of the raj, combined with an astonishing indifference and in some quarters, incompetence, led to mass bloodshed along the ‘Radcliffe Line’.
Watch the video below for more:
Churchill, Roosevelt and the Atlantic Charter, 1941
In August 1941, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Roosevelt met along with their top military and diplomatic advisors at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland. Their discussions shaped the western allied war aims and laid the foundations of a post war order based on the United Nations. American intervention in the war seemed increasingly likely following the introduction of lend-lease and the barely conceal naval war that was being waged between American warships and German U-boats in the Atlantic. The meeting at Placentia Bay was not simply a love-in for the two leaders but a chance for Roosevelt to assess the terms on which America would come to Britain’s aid. In particular, the Americans were keen to know what
kind of post w
ar economic order would emerge and what the British Empire would look like after the war, as there was understandable reluctance across the American political classes to fight a war against Nazism merely for the preservation of British imperialism.
For more on the historic meeting and the Atlantic Charter watch the video below:
Hunger, Housing and Stalin’s First Five Year Plan
In 1928 the Soviet economy experienced a moment of massive change. For four years, as power struggles between Stalin and the ‘troika’ of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev left Russia in a period of confused collective leadership, the biggest question had been one of economic direction. It was unclear how long Lenin’s New Economic Policy that had been introduced in the aftermath of the civil war and allowed a limited amount of free enterprise in Russia was meant to continue. Lenin, who died in 1924 after several strokes robbed him of speech did not make clear how long it should be, though he implied it might last many decades. Stalin decisively answered the question of when the NEP should come to an end by introducing the Five Year Plans, the massive state led industrialisation of Russia. It was inevitably the Russian people who would bear the economic and social burdens of the plans, which created a massive influx of labour from the countryside to the towns and cities. There was very little housing provision to begin with but overcrowding and shanty towns (Magnitogorsk was being built during this period and began life essentially as a tent city in the arctic north) defined the era for many Russians. Poverty and hunger became epidemic problems during the first plan, with only the civil war years to rival them in terms of hardship.
For more on Stalin’s first Five Year Plan see the video below:
America in 1945 – podcast and study notes
At the end of the Second World War, the United States of America emerged as the wealthiest society in human history. The contrast from the 1930s was stark; Britain, France and Germany had emerged from the great depression between 1933 and 1934, whereas mass unemployment was still prevalent in America in 1939. New industries, massive government help in the guise of the GI Bill for returning servicemen and a youthful population that had been unique across the world in actually experiencing rising living standards during the war all created the conditions for an enormous post war boom. America’s competitors in Europe and Asia were either physically devastated or, like Britain, mired in debt. The fact that America also emerged as a creditor nation meant that the post war generation would be fortunate to benefit from decades of prosperity. Many who had lived through the depression did not see it that way and there were fears of a return to depression once the war had ended and government orders for armaments dried up. By 1948, when no downturn had occurred, a shift in public attitudes was recorded and consumer confidence lifted America into a consumer boom, buoyed by cheap oil and credit that eventually fell away into recession in the 1970s.
Listen to the podcast for more
Also get the study notes here:
The origins of the Gestapo: Study notes
This is a quick post for history students focusing on Nazi Germany. I’ve created some
notes to download on the origins of the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), the Nazi Secret State Police. Secret political police forces in Germany existed before Hitler came to power and were amalgamated into the Gestapo, which fell under the auspices of the the SS by the mid 1930s. The Gestapo is a much mythologised institution, it was relatively small compared to the population it had to police and would not have been able to operate effectively without German citizens ready to denounce each other. You can download study notes by clicking on the link below:
You can also download a guide to developing arguments in your essays on this topic here:
The First World War and Britain’s Liberal Government
In the three years before the First World War, the Liberal Government, which had swept to power on a platform of social reform in 1906, faced unprecedented challenges and unrest. Foreign commentators saw the problems of Ireland, trade union militancy and the suffrage movement and assumed Britain might well be sliding towards a civil war. The First World War gave the Liberals a stay of execution, but the machinations of Chancellor David Lloyd George against the weak and indecisive Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, combined with the pressures that conscription and the Defence of the Realm Act placed on the basic beliefs of Edwardian Liberals left the party in tatters by 1918. For more on this watch the video below:
Churchill and Greece
Throughout the Second World War, Winston Churchill favoured a ‘Mediterranean Strategy’, believing that the ‘soft underbelly’ of Hitler’s Europe was Italy, Greece and the Balkans. By 1945, as the German occupiers of Greece withdrew in the face of a possible Red Army invasion Winston Churchill prioritised a British occupation of Greece to ensure that there was no possibility of a communist takeover. He had agreed with Stalin that Greece would fall into a British sphere of influence when the two leaders met in Moscow in 1944. Stalin had little interest in Greece and was happy to keep to the agreement, knowing that dominating Poland was a far greater prize.
For the full story, watch the video below:
Nixon and Kissinger 1968-74
The Watergate Scandal is the first thing most people think of when Richard Nixon’s name is mentioned. Whilst this was the defining point of his presidency, the shadow it casts blots out other important aspects of the years from 1968 to 1974. Nixon’s very own Cardinal Wolsey, Henry Kissinger, came to exert an enormous amount of power in the White House. He was able to bypass the normal channels of American diplomacy and attempted, with immense violence across much of Asia, to dig the USA out of a series of foreign policy quagmires. The Cold War was in deadlock, America was bogged down in Vietnam and Kissinger had to deliver to his master a foreign policy triumph, even though Nixon was for the most part disinterested in the art of diplomacy.