Why the 1930s Was the Most Shameful Decade in History
While many of us are witnessing some of the worst events of our lives, there have darker times than the year 2020. In fact, there was a whole decade of terrible years known as the 1930s¹.
This decade was so bad that poet W. H. Auden referred to it as the ‘low dishonest decade.’
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It was as if all the evil stars in our universe lined up to create the 1930s. Every facet of what we humans value was under attack, and every conceived nightmare that humans fear seemed to manifest itself in that decade.
Not only did this evil leave a permanent stain on our world, but there have also been too many wrongdoers who carried the torch of its wicked ideologies into modern times. Let us examine how humanity has been scarred forever by this horrific decade.
Elements of a global social crisis
Many forces drove the turbulence of the 1930s. Among them were a growing rejection of liberal ideas, an erosion of the global economy, and paranoia of an evitable clash of ideologies. But there were plausible reasons for all this unrest.
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The Great Depression
The Great Depression choked the life out of the financial world after 1929². It reached its deepest valley in the United States during the year 1932 when about 25% of all Americans were jobless, and industrial production fell by 60%. Germany was also badly hit by the Great Depression, as six million Germans were unemployed in 1932.
Millions of people worldwide were suffering and looking for answers — and they became vulnerable. Because of this, support for both the Nazis and Communists began to grow and gather more influence.
Demand for different ideologies
Another idea that was examined once again was imperialism. Many Europeans remembered their imperialist past and hoped to bring that culture back to life again — as it offered more promise than present circumstances.
Germany began to view geopolitics as a pseudo-science. They encouraged their own national populous to embrace the idea of economic self-sufficiency. German leaders saw the world as a handful of blocs that would be controlled by superpowers. As a result, they were greatly concerned over how the world’s living space would be divided.
The notion of a superior race
Eugenics is the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of humans³. Proponents of eugenics believe that such practices will solve countless societal problems from a biological or medical standpoint.
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The Nazis eagerly embraced the notion of creating a superior race. They passed numerous eugenics laws and enacted very ambitious programs to achieve their racial goals.
Eugenics had become such a popular topic that Aldous Huxley was inspired to write his famous novel, Brave New World, in 1932. The story took place in a future dystopian world based on what he saw during the early 1930s. It was an illustration of what could happen if eugenics were taken to extremes.
Invasion of Ethiopia
In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia as dictator Benito Mussolini aspired to establish new lands as the ancient Romans had done⁴. Not only that, it was done to avenge an earlier 1896 defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia.
Mussolini employed airpower and poison gas to subdue the Ethiopians. And in 1936, the nation was officially annexed, and the Italian leader became Emperor of Ethiopia.
This became a milestone event as it exposed a glaring weakness among global leaders. While the League of Nations harshly condemned this act, it placed feeble sanctions against the Italians, none of which included an oil embargo. Their feckless response to blatant aggression was seen as a weakness by the rest of the world.
German dictator Adolph Hitler was the first to praise Mussolini’s military actions. As a result, relations between Germany and Italy began to warm, eventually leading to the Rome-Berlin Axis in October of 1936.
Imperialism of Japan
During the 1930s, Japan began to embrace an imperialistic political philosophy⁵. They sought to dominate other non-Japanese cultures of Asia. Propaganda was used to spread their new doctrine that boasted of Japan’s racial superiority and the need for Asian unity under their divine emperor.
During the 1931 Manchurian crisis, Japanese military operatives staged the Mukden incident and blew up a railway. These actions were blamed on a Chinese terrorist attack, so they captured the entire province and established a new puppet state in Manchukuo.
After receiving criticism from the League of Nations, Japan promptly left the league in 1933. Japan continued its ruthless attacks on China. In the year 1937, Chinese and Japanese troops begin fighting in Beijing at the Marco Polo Bridge — a battle that sparked an eight-year war between the two countries.
Later in 1937, Japanese forces invaded Nanking, which was the capital of the Chinese Nationalist government. Over the following weeks, some of the most hideous atrocities in human history took place in what was called the ‘Rape of Nanking.’ Civilians were massacred, tortured, and brutalized in the worst ways imaginable.
To the surprise of no one, the Japanese repeatedly used biological weapons against innocent Chinese civilians.
The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939
In July of 1936, General Francisco Franco engineered a military revolt against the Republic of Spain⁶. These actions were supported by the Fascist Phalange. The Spanish Republic was supported by Socialists, Democrats, Communists, and Anarchists in that country.
This Spanish Civil war created a new global dimension where some world leaders began choosing sides. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy firmly supported Franco and his revolutionaries, giving him troops and supplies.
Conversely, the Soviet Union supported the Spanish Republican forces and provided soldiers to them. In the end, the war claimed over 500,000 total lives. Thousands of atrocities against humanity were committed, including a terror-bombing attack on Guernica in April 1937, by the Germans.
By the year 1939, Franco had won the war and immediately established a very harsh authoritarian rule. Judging by the brutality of Franco’s ideological camps, many felt they saw a dress rehearsal for the next war.
The Rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazism
It was the year 1930 when the Nazi Party finally made a mark in German elections. Then after promising to restore law and order, to abolish democracy, and to create unity, the Nazis came to full power in 1933.
Their core beliefs involved racism and anti-Semitism. Hitler’s vision of the world was both a constant race war and a constant battle for living space. He believed that only through racial strategies and dominating the natural conflict would survival be achieved.
Nazism supported the idea of a superior race that embodied creativity and health. They demonized the Jewish way of life and depicted them as parasites that contaminated a decent society.
The big promise of the Nazis was the creation of true racial unity. This utopia would be accomplished by the purification of Germany, aggressive expansion, and the elimination of Jews.
To sum up, the darkest decade in history began in the middle of the Great Depression. As the world population suffered from poverty, joblessness, and hunger, then became susceptible to new — and often dangerous — ideologies.
Dictators sprung up worldwide to capitalize on this human need. Military actions began to rise, followed by governments with vicious objectives. Atrocities of every variety began to occur, and even worse, became normalized.
This global doomsday was further exacerbated by weak world leaders who only put blood in the waters for the sharks lurking beneath its surface.
As would be fitting, the shameful 1930s ended with the beginning of the Second World War.
: Nigel Jones. (April 4, 2009). Silence, Exile and Cunning: Culture and Politics in the 1930s. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/silence-exile-and-cunning-culture-and-politics-1930s.
: Troy Segal. (April 13, 2020). What Was the Great Depression? https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/great_depression.asp.
: Edwin Black. (November 9, 2003). Eugenics and the Nazis — the California connection. https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Eugenics-and-the-Nazis-the-California-2549771.php.
: Ruth Ben-Ghiat. (January 27, 2017). Making Italy Great Again. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/01/mussolinis-racial-policies-in-east-africa-revealed-italian-fascists-ambitions-to-redesign-the-social-order.html.
: Oleg Benesch. (December 22, 2017). Imperial Japan saw itself as a ‘warrior nation’. https://theconversation.com/imperial-japan-saw-itself-as-a-warrior-nation-and-the-idea-lingers-today-87289.
: Michael Peck. (July 24, 2016). The Spanish Civil War: A Trial Run for World War II. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-spanish-civil-war-trial-run-world-war-ii-17086.
: Alan de Bromhead. (September 23, 2019). Rise and fall in the Third Reich: Nazi party members and social advancement. https://theconversation.com/rise-and-fall-in-the-third-reich-nazi-party-members-and-social-advancement-123297.