THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1937
Franklin D. Roosevelt began his second of four terms in office as President of America with his inaugural speech on the 20th January 1937. His first inauguration was held in March 1933 but the 20th Amendment made the 20th January the official inauguration date for future presidents.
In January 1937, the American Congress passed a joint resolution outlawing the arms trade with Spain. The “Neutrality Act 1937” was passed in May 1937 and included the provisions of earlier acts although an expiration date was not included. The Act was extended to cover civil wars. U.S. ships were prohibited from transporting any passengers or articles to warring nations, and U.S. citizens were forbidden to travel on these nation’s ships. In a concession to President Roosevelt a provision of ‘cash-and-carry’ was also added. This allowed the warring nations to obtain materials and goods from America as long as purchaser arranged transport and paid immediately in cash. The thinking was that this arrangement would not draw America into the conflict. Roosevelt believed the cash-and-carry would aid Britain and France in the event of a war with Germany. Both Britain and France were able to take advantage of the provision as they were the only countries who had control of the seas.
The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (German Sturzkampffugzeug meaning “dive bomber”) made its combat debut on 11th April 1937 with the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. The aircraft first flew on the 17th September 1935 but needed considerable modifications to the original design to produce a successful aircraft that was easily recognised by its inverted gull wings and fixed undercarriage. Fitted to the leading edges of the main gear legs were wailing sirens which became the propaganda symbol of German air power. The Stuka was able to dive between sixty degrees and vertical prior to releasing a bomb on target before recovering to normal level flying.
Arthur Neville Chamberlain was a British statesman of the Conservative Party who took the place of retiring Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister on the 28th May 1937. His premiership was dominated by the question of policy towards an increasingly aggressive Germany. He sought to conciliate Germany and make the Nazi state a partner in a stable Europe, He believed Germany could be satisfied by the restoration of some of her colonies. Chamberlain is best known for the foreign policy of appeasement and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938. By conceding the German Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany he announced on his arrival back in the U.K. what he believed would be ‘peace for our time’.
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a battle between the Republic of Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army. On the night of the 7th July 1937, Japanese units stationed at Fengtai crossed the Chinese border to conduct military excercises. Japanese and Chinese troops exchanged fire outside the town of Wanping, 10.2 miles southwest of Beijing. Later in the night Japanese infantry attempted to breach Wanping’s walled defences but were repulsed. At 02.00 on the morning of the 8th July 1937 the acting commander of the Chinese Army sent the mayor of Wanping alone to the Japanese camp to conduct negotiations. This proved to be fruitless as the Japanese insisted they be admitted into the town to investigate the cause of the exchange of fire. A couple of hours later reinforcements on both sides began to arrive. The Chinese Army opened fire on the Japanese Army and attacked them at the Marco Polo Bridge along with a modern railway bridge on the outskirts of Wanping. The Japanese Foreign Service began negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese Nationalist government and a verbal agreement was reached and ceasefire declared. However, heightened tensions of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident led to a full scale Second Sino-Japanese War that continued until 9th April 1945.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the Quarantine Speech on the 5th October 1937 calling for an international ‘quarantine’ against the ‘epidemic of world lawlessness’. The speech intensified America’s isolationist neutrality and was aimed at specifically aggressive nations. No countries were directly mentioned, although it was interpreted as referring to the Empire of Japan, the Kingdom of Italy and Nazi Germany. Roosevelt suggested a forceful response of economic pressure rather than outright aggression.
In Rome on the 11th December 1937 Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took his nation out of the League of Nations. In October 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia and in May 1936 they occupied Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Emperor Hail Selassie pleaded with the League for assistance but this was not forthcoming. The League did, however, rule against Italy and voted to apply economic sanctions. His disagreements with the League occured when his delegates walked out of a lively League Council meeting after it had voted to continue economic sanctions against her over the Ethiopian war. Mussolini addressed a crowd of 100,000 black-shirts and asked them if they would prefer to stay in the League or not and their overwhelming response was that Italy should leave. At this point Italy abandoned the League of Nations.
The USS Panay Incident was a Japanese attack on the American gunboat Panay while she was anchored in the Yangtze River outside Nanking, China (now spelt Nanjing) on the 12th December 1937. Japan and the United States were not at war at the time. The Japanese claimed they did not see the American flags painted on the deck of the gunboat, apologised and paid an indemnity. On that morning the Japanese air forces received information that fleeing Chinese forces were in the area of Nanking. While anchored at Nanking, Panay and three Standard Oil Tankers came under attack from the Japanese naval aircraft. The result was Panay and the three oil tankers sank with the loss of three American lives and forty three wounded. The sinking of USS Panay caused the U.S. opinion to turn against the Japanese.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Nanking, the capital of China fell to the Japanese Army and the Chinese government fled to Hankow which is further inland along the Yangtze River. On the 13th December 1937, Japanese General Matsui Iwane ordered the city of Nanking be destroyed. Much of the city was burned and Japanese troops launched a campaign of atrocities against the civilian population. In what became known as the “Rape of Nanking”, the Japanese butchered an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners”, massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians. They raped at least 20,000 women and girls of all ages, many of whom were mutilated or killed. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Matsui Iwane was found guilty of war crimes by the International Tribunal for the Far East and was executed.
The Chinese Civil War, began on the 12th April 1927 between the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists. The war was carried out sporadically until the latter part of 1937, when the two parties came together to form the Second United Front in order to resist the Japanese invasion.
In America during 1937, a Committee sat for the purpose of defending Russian Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him in Moscow. Having fallen out with Joseph Stalin, the charges against Trotsky was that of a terrorist conspiring against Stalin, found guilty and sentenced to death. The American Committee found that Trotsky was innocent of the charges made against him. Stalinist assassins raided Trotsky’s Mexico City home on the 20th August 1940, and drove a pickaxe into his skull. He survived for 30 hours, dying on the 22nd August 1940 at the age of 60.