Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Britain between the World Wars



The British Empire attained its greatest territorial extent after World War I but lost power due to the internal weakening of the kingdom. The economic and political problems at no time threatened the democratic traditions of Great Britain but did force it into a defensive peace policy to preserve its interests at any cost. Until 1939, it was indecisive and uncertain in the face of the German Nazi regime's aggressive policies.


British Foreign Policy between the Wars

The United Kingdom sought to secure the British position of world power by a policy of preserving international peace. Strong nationalist movements in the colonies led to the crumbling of the British Empire.


The conviction that 2 Great Britain should seek peace at all costs to maintain the empire's worldwide sphere of influence, formed the core of British foreign policy after 1919.

2 Houses of Parliament, London, ca. 1900

The consequent avoidance of conflict, preference for diplomatic negotiation, and striving to protect imperial trade were the key principles of the British "peace and trade" foreign policy up until 1939.

In the League of Nations, Great Britain demanded that the organization take on the regulation of armament production and became the driving force in international disarmament efforts after WWI.

Great Britain, Belgium, China, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States resolved to reduce the size of Pacific fleets at the 4 Washington Conference of 1920-1921; in the process.

4 Washington Conference, 1920-21

Great Britain agreed to allow the United States equal strength in its battle fleet and so relinquished its traditional naval superiority.

In Europe Britain supported the peace efforts of the former belligerents: In 1925, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Germany signed the 1, 3 Locarno Treaty, which included a declaration of intent to resolve all conflicts without resort to the force of arms.

The British Empire found itself confronted by nationalist movements in many of its colonies. Centuries-old Irish efforts to gain independence culminated in the division of the island in 1921; southern Ireland became independent. Britain, whose complete name since 1801 had been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, modified its name in 1927 to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In other parts of the world, the empire also had to relinquish territory. It gave up its protectorate of Egypt in 1923, and in 1932 consented to Iraq's independence.

Great Britain and the now autonomous dominions of the British Empire founded the 5 Commonwealth of Nations in 1926.

To a great extent, Britain remained calm in the face of japan's imperialistic strivings in East Asia and those of Italy in the Mediterranean. Increasingly, the focus in East Asia was on Hong Kong and Singapore. However, the powerful movements for independence in India were still suppressed by force.

1 Locarno Treaty, 1925; from left:
Gustav Stresemann, Austin Chamberlain
(half-brother of Neville),
and Aristide Briand

3 Locarno Treaty, signatures

5 Empire Conference establishing the Commonwealth, 1926



British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

"Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so longpoi-soned the air...

The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous."





Neville Chamberlain

Arthur Neville Chamberlain

prime minister of United Kingdom

born March 18, 1869, Birmingham, Warwickshire, Eng.
died Nov. 9, 1940, Heckfield, near Reading, Hampshire

British prime minister from May 28, 1937, to May 10, 1940, whose name is identified with the policy of “appeasement” toward Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the period immediately preceding World War II.

The son of the statesman Joseph Chamberlain and younger half brother of Sir Austen Chamberlain, he managed his father’s sisal plantation on Andros Island, Bahamas, and then prospered in the metalworking industry in Birmingham. Chosen lord mayor of that city in 1915, he organized in 1916 a municipal savings bank, the only one in Great Britain. In December 1916 he joined David Lloyd George’s World War I coalition government as director general of national service, but, having insufficient powers, he resigned in August 1917. A Conservative member of the House of Commons from December 1918, Chamberlain served as postmaster general (1922–23), paymaster general of the armed forces (1923), minister of health (1923, 1924–29, 1931), and chancellor of the exchequer (1923–24, 1931–37). He became prime minister on May 28, 1937.

In a futile attempt to sway Fascist Italy away from German influence, he agreed (April 16, 1938) to recognize Italian supremacy in Ethiopia and kept Great Britain out of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), in which Italy was deeply involved. A few days later (April 25) he also undertook to abandon British naval bases in Ireland, a move opposed by some as weakening Britain’s defense capability.

On three occasions in September 1938, Chamberlain went to Germany in efforts to prevent the outbreak of a general European war over Hitler’s demand that Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland to Germany. By the Munich Agreement of September 30, he and Premier Édouard Daladier of France granted almost all of Hitler’s demands and left Czechoslovakia defenseless. He returned to England a popular hero, speaking of “peace with honour” (echoing an earlier prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli) and “peace in our time.” Nonetheless, he immediately ordered the acceleration of the British rearmament program. When Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia (March 10–16, 1939), Chamberlain definitely repudiated appeasement, and he soon published Anglo-French guarantees of armed support for Poland, Romania, and Greece in the event of similar attacks. The next month, peacetime military conscription was instituted for the first time in British history.

The Soviet-German nonaggression treaty (Aug. 23, 1939), frustrating Chamberlain’s plan for a mutual assistance agreement among Great Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R., was followed by an Anglo-Polish pact (August 24). When the Germans attacked Poland (Sept. 1, 1939), Chamberlain countered with a British declaration of war (September 3). He remained prime minister during the “phony war” period of sporadic military action, taking into his war Cabinet his foremost critic, Churchill, as first lord of the admiralty.

After the failure of a British expedition to Norway in April 1940, Chamberlain lost the support of many Conservatives in the House of Commons; he resigned on May 10, the day of the German invasion of the Low Countries. In Churchill’s coalition government he served loyally as lord president of the council until Sept. 30, 1940, when ill health forced him to resign that office and the Conservative Party leadership. He died a few weeks later.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Appeasement of Nazi Germany

In an attempt to avoid another war in Europe, Great Britain at first tolerated the aggressive revisionist politics of the Nazi regime. Only after the invasion of Poland in 1939 showed that diplomacy was futile did the British government declare war on the German Reich.


Great Britain had already warned its partners against isolating the German Reich during the peace negotiations in 1919 and later criticized France's huge reparation demands. In the 1920s it put its weight behind the economic and political rehabilitation of Germany, expecting therewith the pacification of Central Europe and an increased market for British goods.

Hitler's rise to power did little to change this policy, even if Great Britain did gradually begin to 9 rearm.

9 Production of grenade launchers for the British Navy, 1940

British leaders believed that war should be avoided through negotiation and accepted Germany's more moderate revisionist demands.

In the 7 Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, Hitler was granted a fleet equal to 35 percent of the capacity of the British Navy and parity in the submarine fleet.

7 The German envoy Ribbentrop outside
the German consulate in London, June 4, 1935

The deployment of German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936 and the union with Austria in 1938 were tolerated, although both were clear violations of the Treaty of Versailles.

The British prime minister,  6 Neville Chamberlain, even accepted the annexation of the German-speaking territories of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement in 1938, and appeared to have saved the peace at the last minute.

6 Chamberlain (left) visiting Hitler to discuss the Sudeten Crisis, 1938

“How horrible, fantastic it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here
because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.
I am myself a man of peace from the depths of my soul.”
– Neville Chamberlain

When Hitler again violated the treaty and marched into Prague in March 1939, Chamberlain recognized the failure of his appeasement policy and began to make the initial 8 preparations for war.

Universal conscription was introduced, and Poland and Romania were assured of military support in case of a German in vasion. Following Hitler's invasion of Poland, Great Britain met its obligations and declared war on Germany.

Chamberlain, widely discredited by appeasement's failure, announced his resignation in 1940 and was succeeded by 10 Winston Churchill.

8 Prime minister Chamberlain (front row, middle) and his war cabinet
(Churchill, second row, middle), February 1939

10 Winston Churchill



Munich Agreement

In the Munich Agreement, Great Britain and France granted the Nazi regime control over the German-speaking Sudeten territories after Hitler had declared these his "last territorial demands."

Although Britain and France had signed defensive alliances with Czechoslovakia, neither felt prepared for war, and the idea of another European conflict aroused dismay among the populations of both countries.

Some were also sympathetic to German grievances over the territorial losses imposed after World War I. Czechoslovakia, whose territory was at stake, was excluded from the negotiations, and the agreement that emerged was dubbed the "Munich dictate" by angry Czechs.

Chamberlain talking to the
Italian dictator Mussolini at the
Munich Conferences, 1938




Munich agreement

Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement.

Chamberlain and Hitler

Hitler and Mussolini

Europe [1938]

(Sept. 30, 1938), settlement reached by Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy that permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia. After his success in absorbing Austria into Germany proper in March 1938, Adolf Hitler looked covetously at Czechoslovakia, where about 3,000,000 people in the Sudeten area were of German origin. It became known in May 1938 that Hitler and his generals were drawing up a plan for the occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovaks were relying on military assistance from France, with which they had an alliance. The Soviet Union also had a treaty with Czechoslovakia, and it indicated willingness to cooperate with France and Great Britain if they decided to come to Czechoslovakia’s defense, but the Soviet Union and its potential services were ignored throughout the crisis.

As Hitler continued to make inflammatory speeches demanding that Germans in Czechoslovakia be reunited with their homeland, war seemed imminent. Neither France nor Britain felt prepared to defend Czechoslovakia, however, and both were anxious to avoid a military confrontation with Germany at almost any cost. In mid-September, Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, offered to go to Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden to discuss the situation personally with the Führer. Hitler agreed to take no military action without further discussion, and Chamberlain agreed to try to persuade his Cabinet and the French to accept the results of a plebiscite in the Sudetenland. The French premier, Édouard Daladier, and his foreign minister, Georges Bonnet, then went to London, where a joint proposal was prepared stipulating that all areas with a population that was more than 50 percent Sudeten German be returned to Germany. The Czechoslovaks were not consulted. The Czechoslovak government initially rejected the proposal but was forced to accept it reluctantly on September 21.

On September 22 Chamberlain again flew to Germany and met Hitler at Godesberg, where he was dismayed to learn that Hitler had stiffened his demands: he now wanted the Sudetenland occupied by the German army and the Czechoslovaks evacuated from the area by September 28. Chamberlain agreed to submit the new proposal to the Czechoslovaks, who rejected it, as did the British Cabinet and the French. On the 24th the French ordered a partial mobilization: the Czechoslovaks had ordered a general mobilization one day earlier.

In a last-minute effort to avoid war, Chamberlain then proposed that a four-power conference be convened immediately to settle the dispute. Hitler agreed, and on September 29, Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier, and the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini met in Munich, where Mussolini introduced a written plan that was accepted by all as the Munich agreement. (Many years later it was discovered that the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in the German Foreign Office.) It was almost identical to the Godesberg proposal: the German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by October 10, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government chose to submit.

Before leaving Munich, Chamberlain and Hitler signed a paper declaring their mutual desire to resolve differences through consultation to assure peace. Both Daladier and Chamberlain returned home to jubilant, welcoming crowds relieved that the threat of war had passed, and Chamberlain told the British public that he had achieved “peace with honour. I believe it is peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s policies were discredited the following year, when Hitler annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March and then precipitated World War II by invading Poland in September. The Munich agreement became a byword for the futility of appeasing expansionist totalitarian states, although it did buy time for the Allies to increase their military preparedness.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

1. Germany occupies the Sudetenland (October 1938)
2. Poland occupies Zaolzie, an area with a Polish minority (October 1938).
3. Hungary occupies border areas (southern third of Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia)
with Hungarian minorities in accordance with the First Vienna Award (November 1938)
4. Carpathian Ruthenia receives autonomy.
5. In March 1939 the remaining Czech territories become the German satellite
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
6. From the remainder of Czechoslovakia Slovakia is created, becoming another German satellite.

Agreement concluded at Munich, September 29, 1938, between Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy

GERMANY, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement, which has been already reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon, and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure its fulfilment:

(1) The evacuation will begin on 1st October.

(2) The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by the 10th October, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that the Czechoslovak Government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations.

(3) The conditions governing the evacuation will be laid down in detail by an international commission composed of representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia.

(4) The occupation by stages of the predominantly German territory by German troops will begin on 1st October. The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German troops in the following order:

The territory marked No. I on the 1st and 2nd of October; the territory marked No. II on the 2nd and 3rd of October; the territory marked No. III on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October; the territory marked No. IV on the 6th and 7th of October. The remaining territory of preponderantly German character will be ascertained by the aforesaid international commission forthwith and be occupied by German troops by the 10th of October.

(5) The international commission referred to in paragraph 3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar plebiscite. The commission will also fix a date, not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite will be held.

(6) The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission. The commission will also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite.

(7) There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. A German-Czechoslovak commission shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfer.

(8) The Czechoslovak Government will within a period of four weeks from the date of this agreement release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be released, and the Czechoslovak Government will within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment for political offences.

Munich, September 29, 1938.




Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy