Conventional wisdom holds that what is past is prologue. In that regard, the West’s long-running battle with islamo-fascism has a similar clash still in living memory.
The geopolitical clock was running in 1934. Despite a Europe wracked by the lingering effects of the 1914-1918 Great War, that summer the five-year countdown to another conflagration ran inexorably onward. The sands of time draining in history’s hourglass were pressed from above by the weight of an emerging political philosophy: fascism. It was bound to collide with Western democracies.
Fascism is usually seen as an extreme right-wing, one-party state. However, fascism shared much with communism since both were highly authoritarian philosophies—presumably populist but in fact antidemocratic--in which national priorities prevailed over rights of the individual.
A chart of the political spectrum frequently portrays fascism on the far right and communism on the far left, but that is a skewed depiction. In fact, both belong on the left—communism at the far end--with anarchy properly laid on the far right. Democracies fall somewhere in between.
Historically, both philosophies are outgrowths of 19th century socialism. A distinguishing feature is that communism is ostensibly international socialism, while fascism is national socialism. The best example of such philosophical overlap is the Nazis in Germany—the National Socialist Workers’ Party.
The roots of fascism were Italian national “syndicalism,” evolved from a form of French socialism. In the turbulent political, economic and social aftermath of WW I, fascism gained strength in Europe. In Italy around 1920, future dictator Benito Mussolini drew upon both sides. He denigrated the traditional right as backwards and the left as destructive. In order to avoid constant turmoil, fascists believed in an extremely strong central government, yielding Mussolini’s “century of authority.”
After fighting among communists, socialists and anarchists, at least nominally fascist movements took power in Mussolin's Italy in 1922, Adolf Hitler's Germany in 1933, and Francisco Franco's Spain in 1939.
Fascism’s appeal was widespread among many nationalist factions: at least ten other nations followed the Italian and German paths by 1939, in Europe, Asia, and South America. Other countries sprouted significant fascist movements, including much of the British Commonwealth. Their emergence reflected growing disaffection with the naiveté and pacifism still evident two decades after the armistice of 1918.
The international “peacekeeping” body, the League of Nations established in1920, had no means of enforcing peace, and quickly descended into irrelevancy. Including civil wars and revolts, more than 40 conflicts on four continents arose during the 1930s, though only about a dozen lasted a year or more. The most significant were the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) with heavy foreign involvement, and Japan-China (1937-45.)
Other notable conflicts involved Paraguay-Bolivia (1932-35), Italy-Ethiopia (1935-36), Palestinians versus the British (1936-39), and Finland-Russia (1939-40).
Adolf Hitler came to power as chancellor in 1933 and immediately began expanding the armed forces. In July 1934 parliament passed legislation making the National Socialists the only legal political party, and the next month President Paul Hindenburg died, leaving Chancellor Hitler as head of state.
Hitler wasted little time proceeding with his agenda. In October 1934, only nine months after becoming chancellor, he withdrew from the League of Nations by demanding military equality with France and Britain. After secretly forming the Luftwaffe (partly in Russia) Hitler announced its existence in 1935.
Fascism’s advance did not occur in a vacuum. In 1933 members of the Oxford Union voted that they would “in no circumstances fight for king and country” because presumably nothing was worth another Great War. The vote came six years after Cambridge students easily passed a resolution for pacifism.
In March 1936 Hitler seized the Rhineland, a demilitarized zone between France and Germany established after World War I. In two days the crisis passed: Germany remained free to pursue its wider goals. The upshot set a deadly pattern: the democracies’ perennial unwillingness to challenge aggression.
Thus emboldened, in 1938 Hitler renounced the Versailles Treaty signed after WW I and ordered his general staff to prepare for full-scale war by 1940.
A native Austrian, Hitler wanted his homeland in German Reich, but the Vienna government declined. Faced with possible invasion in 1938, Austria sought assistance from Britain and France, who refused. Hitler invaded in March.
Next Hitler set his sights on Czechoslovakia. He insisted that the Sudetenland—heavily ethnic German—join the Reich. The Czech government was willing to fight, however poor its chances, but again France and Britain opted for “peace,” declining to support the Czechs. Naïve Europeans believed Hitler’s previous statement that Sudentenland was “the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe.” The seal was set in September, and in March 1939 Hitler seized the rest of the nation.
Then in August 1939 Hitler and Stalin astonished the world by signing a mutual nonaggression pact, only three years after the anti-Comintern alliance. The path was clear for Germany to direct its attention against traditional enemies: France and Britain. Neither had demonstrated any willingness to oppose fascist aggression, convincing Adolf Hitler that pacifism had stripped the democracies of their courage.
Unlike Italy and Germany, Japanese fascism did not produce a dominant individual. But an amalgam of army, government, and industry leaders pushed an anti-democratic agenda that led to a de-facto fascist state from 1931.
Japan had ten prime ministers through the 1930s, only four being elected. Emperor Hirohito had ascended the throne in 1926 but sat as head of state rather than head of government. It was a time of extreme unrest, with army and right-wing factions resorting to assassination on occasion.
In 1931 Japanese forces invaded Manchuria and established a puppet state, Manchukuo. The League of Nations was incapable of resolving the dispute, though held Tokyo responsible. Consequently, Japan pressed its military advantage while withdrawing from the league.
Increasingly aggressive in eastern China, Japan pressed ahead with full-scale war from 1937. Japan seized Shanghai and Nanking, the Nationalist capital. In December the rape of Nanking began with an estimated 300,000 Chinese killed or raped.
Thus was set the stage for the Second World War, which conceivably could have been averted had the democracies displayed some intestinal fortitude.
In the 1930s fascism was ascendant in Europe and Asia. Today, Islamo-fascism continues its march toward the global caliphate. Yet in the West, even the phrase “radical Islam” draws venomous responses from the American president and a chorus of liberal feel-gooders. The West lacks a 21st century Churchill, let alone a Charles Martel, the French leader who repelled Islam’s hordes at Tours in 732.
We live in historic times: we are witness to the decline of Western Civilization, a victim of the virus of political correctness.