Altogether, the Western Democracies responded to the Great Depression by looking out for their interests, through raising trade tariffs. However, in doing so they ended up making it difficult for any type of international trade to be present, causing each country to sink deeper into economic decline, instead of rise out of the Depression. Furthermore, it was the preparation for the next World War that re-stimulated their economies.

In contrast, the totalitarian regimes looked out for their own ideals and countries by defying the Treaty of Versailles through re-armament and invading other nations in order to stimulate trade as well as their own countries’ economies.


The US made international trade difficult by raising their trade tariffs. In raising tariffs they hoped to protect their own interests, but ended up making matters worse for both themselves and other countries (including Britain and Japan). Furthermore, Great Britain suffered as a result of loosing a profitable trade in the US due to high trade tariffs. Just as the US and many countries during this period, Britain’s economic decline showed itself in high unemployment rates and the shutting down of factories throughout the country. France experienced the same economic plights of its Western neighbors, but unlike Britain, they blamed their economic decline on Germany and wanted payment in the form of reparations.

Immediately following WWI, Italy, who fought with the Allies, did not reap the rewards it thought it was due. As in many European countries a weak economy, combined with ineffective government, led to poverty and social unrest. The people wanted order and strong leadership, which is how Benito Mussolini came in and rose to power. Mussolini was a veteran of WWI, he organized the Fascist Party in 1919. The party was supported by unemployed former soldiers and industrialists who feared communism. Mussolini came to be named Prime Minister in October 1922 by using the history of Rome, promises to fight communism, and intimidation tactics to gain power.

Once in control of parliament the Fascist Party gave Mussolini the power to “Rule by decree.” Mussolini then eliminated any possible threats by outlawing Opposition parties and controlling the press. The Fascist Party gained favor from the Catholic Church by exempting them from taxation, recognizing Vatican City as independent state, and also making Catholicism the state religion.

As for domestic policy, Mussolini was not as successful as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia – many people continued as before and military remained loyal to the King. He condemned concept of the equality of people – the state came first. Attempts to make Italy economically self-sufficient failed as import taxes only raised the prices of products. Another way that it did not work out was he constantly used war as means to distract populace from their internal economic issues.

Japan fought with Allies in WWI and came out of war relatively strong having a Two-party, democratic political system and social reforms taken, rise of labor unions, and lower military expenditures. Though their economy relied heavily on foreign markets to sell products and suffered during global depression as foreign markets took efforts to dissuade trade – particularly with the United States. By 1931 half of Japan’s factories were closed.

Due to a poor economy, famine set the stage for Ultranationalists, who are those that have an extreme devotion to their own nation and who have hostile attitudes to other nations. The Ultranationalists of the empire of Japan wanted to gain power. Ultranationalists argued that economic security required secure Asian markets, this led to the idea to create an Asian Empire led by Japan’s military. To follow through with this ideal they ignored the League of Nations, and began taking over other lands – as noted by fascist Italy and Germany. Manchuria was Japan’s first target because of its rich resources. Japan was able to conquer the region within 6 months (March 1932).

Extreme Nationalism set in soon afterwards, and in 1936 Army officers attempted to overthrow the parliamentary system and replaced it with a government that favored traditional emperor worship and Bushido code. Nationalists believed strongly in Japan’s racial superiority. Although Japan controlled Manchuria and other areas by 1938, they still lacked access to adequate raw natural resources; therefore, they wanted further expansion. Later on, Japan’s interests in British and Dutch territories led to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

In August 1919, after the abolishment of the Hohenzollern monarchy the year before, the Weimar Republic was formed. Working off of a democratic method involving a congress-like body known as the Reichstag, the Republic seemed promising. Unfortunately, the Treaty of Versailles called for extremely high reparations. In response, the new government decided that the simplest solution was to simply print more money. The plan ultimately backfired in the worst way possible. German Marks became useless scraps worth less than the paper they were printed on.

Eventually, in 1924, the British, French and Americans agreed to reduce the overall debt and extend the deadlines. While helpful, the high tariffs at the time limiting trade between the US and Europe slowed the recovery. It did, however, start a recursive cycle of repayment, with the US lending money to Germany in order to pay back Britain and France, who then repaid the US for wartime supplies. Until the stock market crash of 1929, the plan worked. Germany was on the fast track to success, with its admittance into the League of Nations in 1926.

After the Great Depression, all the stability of the Weimar Republic vanished. In 1930, the president of the Republic invoked Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, thereby outing all the current politicians. This sudden power vacuum allowed for the National Socialist or Nazi party to gain major foothold, as well as their leader, Adolf Hitler, to take power.

In 1923 Hitler tried to overthrow the Weimar Republic. His subsequent nine month imprisonment that resulted in his attempt to overthrow the government was spent writing Mein Kampf (My Struggle). His autobiography/propaganda outlined the anti-Semitism that would become one of the main points of the Nazi party, as well as a crude outline of how Hitler would get the German state out of the economic crisis.

After having little power in the 1920s, the Nazi’s promise of economic recovery led to booming support in the 1930s. When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, he called for a re-election of the Reichstag. Just before the elections, the Reichstag building was conveniently “attacked” and burned down. Hitler and the Nazis used this so-called attack to catapult themselves to complete control of the Reichstag. Hitler swiftly banned all other political parties and had all opposing political and military leaders assassinated. With no one left to oppose him, Hitler had Germany’s entire inner workings reworked to conform to the Nazi world view. Schools, movies, music, and much more were reformed or eliminated in fear of Hitler’s secret police, the Gestapo.

Hitler was now running an efficient dictatorship. He allowed deficit spending, something other nations saw as counterintuitive, in order to get out of the economic slump at the time. Once the infrastructure of his nation was sound, Hitler pulled out of the League of Nations and broke the rules of the Treaty of Versailles. Using his new military, Hitler employed many of the unemployed German citizens who hadn’t yet benefited from the various economic policies. Some in the rest of Europe and the US wondered if Hitler’s fascist regime was the way out of the Great Depression. Ultimately, however, the anti-Semitism of the Nazis turned the Western world against Germany in the events of the Second World War.

To conclude, the interwar period was a time of economic distress worldwide. Some countries, such as Britain and US, turned to high trade tariffs, which in turn made matters worse for both themselves and other countries struggling. Furthermore, France sought to stabilize their country by demanding payment of war reparations from Germany, who was blamed for the economic decline worldwide. On the other hand, fascist governments sought to save their countries by turning to extremist leaders, who in turn turned to policies that defied the Treaty of Versailles. Japan, Italy, and Germany, in defiance to the League of Nations, invaded other countries in order to stimulate trade within their countries. However, Germany was by far the worst, choosing to rearm and to pass anti-Semitic policies that led to WWII.

By: Zachary Reinsel, Samantha Telford, Elisha Sese-Khalid


1 Comment so far

  1.    Kupon Kodları on June 19, 2020 11:56 am

    The busker hoped that the people passing by would throw money, but they threw tomatoes instead, so he exchanged his hat for a juicer.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind