The suggested epitaph -- "Died at the age of twenty!" -- is not correct, for actually the League of Nations did not live even that long. Born in 1919; denied at birth by the United States; nevertheless flourishing for a time; but later neglected by France and Great Britain, and then abandoned by them outright, it finally succumbed at the end of September 1938 under the repeated and unresisted blows of the totalitarian aggressors. The destruction of the League signified more than the decline of a political system in which Great Britain and France had played the dominant part. That would have been dangerous enough. But in addition it meant the collapse, for the time being at least, of the most powerful barrier which men had ever sought to erect against war. Without it Europe lacked its most promising instrument for preventing the overthrow of civilization and a return to chaos.

Some authorities, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, attribute the League's downfall to its weakness in the Manchurian affair, or to its failure to solve the disarmament problem, or to its lack of any effective procedure for the revision of treaties. These were all important matters, though they were connected with imperfections in methods of operation (responsibility for which lies at the door of the Great Powers) more than in any basic principle. The writer gives it as his opinion, formed after participation in League activities from the very start, that its faults in procedure were far from dooming it to death. As a matter of fact the League never seemed more flourishing or more powerful than it did in 1934 and 1935.

The destruction of the League was an integral part, indeed the most important and necessary part, in the deliberate design of the totalitarian states -- Germany, Italy and Japan -- to divide, weaken and immobilize the peace forces in the world and thus to open the door to domination of the world. In the following pages the writer proposes to trace the origin, the underlying causes and the principal phases of this struggle -- which in less than three years (1936-1938) brought the project of the totalitarian states to success.


The League as given shape at the Peace Conference in 1919 was not a pacifist Utopia. It represented an attempt to establish international relations on a juridical and contractual basis, and to give the people of the world practical and effective means for expressing and affirming their will to peace. In its preamble the Covenant set forth the principles which henceforth were to govern relations between the member states of the League "In order to promote international coöperation and to achieve international peace and security by the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war, by the prescription of open, just and honourable relations between nations, by the firm establishment of the understandings of international law as the actual rule of conduct among Governments, and by the maintenance of justice and a scrupulous respect for all treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another."

Thus the League of Nations brought to the world a basic law, a code of obligations, methods for the peaceful settlement of international disputes and agencies for putting those methods into practice (the Assembly and the Council). Under this system all states had the same rights and the same obligations, if not the same responsibilities. Respect for the sovereignty, independence, individuality and dignity of each state was proclaimed and established. Under this system no state had the right to take the law into its own hands; resort to violence was prohibited; problems were to be studied and discussed so as to solve them fairly; and provision was made for mutual assistance against aggression.

For fifteen years the League worked and developed. Its achievements were respectable and it seemed gradually to be winning a position as an indispensable element in modern international life. Then came the decline. This was caused by the impact of National Socialism and Fascism.

The doctrines, aims and practices of the totalitarian states are in direct conflict with the purpose and actions of the League. Achievement of its hopes and aims is certainly not less desirable or necessary today than when President Wilson stated them over twenty years ago. But it is by nature incompatible with the hopes and aims of the totalitarian states. The dictators do not respect international pledges because the nature of their aims are such that they cannot. They scorn the independence of states just as they scorn the liberty of individuals. They refuse to discuss their claims on equal terms with other states because it is an essential part of their thesis that states and races are not equal. They proclaim instead their supreme "right to existence" in the form of a vital "living space." They countenance no limits on their "natural aspirations." They cannot renounce the use of force, for it is their accepted mode of action. The only negotiations which they will carry on are those with a single other Power, because in such circumstances the advantage lies with the stronger. They reject every restraining action because their success depends on surprise and intimidation. They repudiate any and every form of collective security because it would make them vulnerable.

Besides their instinctive and natural hatred of the League, both doctrinal and practical, they also feared the strength which association with it gave to Britain and France. Japan and the Third Reich were the first to resign from the League. Japan announced her intention to withdraw on March 27, 1933, after having flouted successfully her obligations under the Covenant in her dispute with China and having escaped the application of sanctions. The Third Reich promptly followed suit. Germany resigned from the League on October 21 of the same year, in order that the Nazi leaders might proceed with rearmament free of all restraint, preparatory to embarking on their determined course of treaty violations and coups de force. Both countries broke with the League so that they might without hindrance carry out their plans for conquest in Asia and in Europe and throughout the world.


Despite the withdrawal of Japan and Germany, the League continued to be a center of considerable attraction for the nations which desired peace, and of resistance against the would-be aggressors. The admission of Soviet Russia to membership, the condemnation of German rearmament, and the application of sanctions to Italy are three striking evidences that it retained great vitality and power.

In 1934, Louis Barthou, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Doumergue Cabinet, decided to utilize the League as the mainspring in a positive plan of political action. His Eastern European Pact, based on the Covenant and renewing the tradition of the Franco-Russian alliance, aimed at rallying within the League framework all those nations which were firmly determined to make a stand against the imperialism of the Third Reich. On French instigation Soviet Russia was invited in September 1934 to become a member of the League and to occupy a permanent seat on the Council. This move was of capital political importance, for it marked the return of Russia to the European community at the moment Germany was leaving it. It was a victory for France and her friends, and it was a victory for peace, because Soviet Russia was an international factor for peace rather than for war. For Germany it was a resounding defeat, as was also the conclusion of the Franco-Soviet Pact in the following year. Admission of Soviet Russia to the League was the signal for Germany and Italy to begin their campaign of propaganda against the League's "Bolshevization" -- a line of argument, incidentally, which they subsequently used successfully to tar other good institutions and causes.

In March 1935, Germany denounced the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. On April 17, on the motion of France, the League Council condemned this violation of a treaty. At the same time the Council decided to study "measures to render the Covenant more effective in the organization of collective security." Indignation ran high in Berlin. Germany had secured an important specific goal; but longer-range German calculations seemed to have misfired. In abandoning the League the Third Reich had intended not only to create a large military force free from outside supervision, but to make sure of being completely free to use it however she might choose. The resolution of April 17 was an unpleasant warning. The shot found its mark; for a year thereafter, until March 7, 1936, the Nazi Government refrained from breaking the Covenant or any individual treaties.

Italy voted for the resolution condemning Germany's violation of the treaty. But the successful German example was persuasive. Within six months the Fascist Government had invaded Ethiopian territory, thereby not only violating the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of Friendship, but also the Briand-Kellogg Pact, the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and the League Covenant itself. The world thereupon witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon -- the spontaneous formation of a coalition of fifty states against an aggressor state. The League furnished this coalition with its means of action. In the forefront stood England, where public opinion had just expressed itself, in the famous "Peace Ballot," as being overwhelmingly in favor of enforcing the collective security clauses of the Covenant. On June 26, the day before the final results of the Ballot were announced, Prime Minister Baldwin, anticipating this striking victory for the supporters of the League, had declared that "The Covenant of the League of Nations is the sheet anchor of British policy."

It was on October 3 that Italian troops crossed into Ethiopian territory. Swiftly, on October 7, the League Council denounced this as aggression. At its meeting four days later the Assembly took the same course, and also decided to apply sanctions. This was a unique moment in the short life of the League, and indeed in modern history. Those of us who lived through it hour by hour felt that at last an international conscience, a collective soul, had been created. Gravely and with a full sense of their responsibilities, each of the delegates to the Assembly went to the rostrum to affirm his country's intention of remaining faithful to its pledges under the Covenant and of upholding whatever decisions the League might take. Immediately after the Assembly vote, a Coördinating Committee (really a conference of states members of the League) met to consider applying Article XVI of the Covenant. Between October 11 and 19 the Committee adopted four proposals aimed to deprive Italy of certain products and raw materials indispensable for waging war and to limit her financial resources. November 18 was set as the date for imposing sanctions. In the interval Great Britain had obtained from the smaller Mediterranean states assurances of their naval support in those waters.

Thus it took the League Council only four days to decide and declare that aggression had taken place. In four days more, a coalition of the member states had been formed. And five weeks later sanctions were put into force.

The reverberation of these events was extraordinary. Intense fear was aroused both in Germany and Italy, as we know now for a certainty from numerous witnesses, diplomatic, military and other. Mussolini has never been able to forgive or forget the deep anxiety which descended on his people, while in Germany too the impression made on the public by the League's prompt and vigorous action was profoundly disturbing to the Nazi Government. From that moment the two dictators realized that they had no choice: the influence of the League must be destroyed.

Even so, the Covenant had not really been fully applied, either in letter or in spirit. Although faced by an undoubted (indeed avowed) war of aggression, the member states had refused to demand the severance of diplomatic relations with the aggressor and had continued the Council in its rôle of conciliator. They rejected the most important of all sanctions, that on oil. And they deliberately avoided military sanctions. In other words, they limited sanctions to economic measures which would make themselves felt in Italy only after a considerable lapse of time. They thus mutilated Article XVI and thwarted the mechanism for applying it.

Chief responsibility for these fatal errors, which in the end were to lead to Mussolini's victory over Ethiopia and over the League, rests on the government of Pierre Laval. His policy was a personal one, and it was contrary to the treaties, traditions and interests of France. His blows against the League, keystone of French diplomatic policy, came, moreover, at the very moment when the British people and their government were in process of being converted to the French view on collective security. After long years of effort, a Prime Minister of France at last had an opportunity to obtain Britain's promise of automatic aid in case of a threat of war. In this crisis Laval wavered, reserved French liberty of action, and ended up by favoring the aggressor.

The effects of Laval's behavior on British opinion were clear and immediate. As early as October 16, Sir Austen Chamberlain had declared in an interview in the Paris-Soir: "If the Covenant triumphs, our confidence in it will be fortified, and Great Britain will have created a precedent which will govern her attitude in other crises to come. If, on the other hand, other nations which have signed the Covenant, which have repeatedly declared their loyalty to it, and which have sometimes accused the representatives of Great Britain of being lukewarm in their support of it, now default on their engagements in this decisive hour, then Great Britain will consider that she has been released from her obligations."

In spite of this and many similar warnings, Laval stuck to his chosen course. On December 8, he obtained Sir Samuel Hoare's consent to certain proposals for settling the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The plan, which in effect would have rewarded aggression, aroused the indignation both of British public opinion and of the British Parliament. It forced Sir Samuel Hoare to resign and obliged Prime Minister Baldwin to make humiliating excuses in the House. But although the Council of the League discarded the Hoare-Laval plan, the damage was done. Laval's policy had estranged England from France, paralyzed the League, and headed the whole system of collective security towards the abyss.


Thereafter events came thick and fast. In April 1935 the League had condemned German occupation of the Rhineland in violation of treaty obligations. In October 1935 the League had voted limited sanctions on Italy for her attack on Ethiopia. By September 1938 the totalitarian states had definitely worsted the League. Through each of the Italian, German and Japanese adventures which now took place the main objective can be easily discerned. As in the reoccupation of the Rhineland and the Italian war on Ethiopia, so in the war in Spain, the Sino-Japanese "incident" of 1937, the debates on the "reform" of the League Covenant, Mr. Chamberlain's experimentation in European settlement outside the framework of the Covenant, Germany's annexation of Austria, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and Italy's seizure of Albania -- all were stages marking the League's decadence and final destruction.

Let us look back briefly at the chief of these events. In January 1936 Anthony Eden, new head of the British Foreign Office, strove sincerely and with youthful energy to rally the dispersing League forces and to assume moral and political leadership at Geneva. At the Quai d'Orsay Laval was succeeded by Flandin. For France, the change was merely a jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Flandin continued Laval's policy by refusing to accept Eden's proposal for an oil sanction, alleging that he had received threats from Rome that "the oil sanction means war" and that Mussolini would leave the League (sic) if this new and effective measure were taken against him. Thus once again France refused to run the risks of collective security and headed toward the alternative risks of war.

This brings us to March 2, 1936. Less than a week later, on March 7, Hitler denounced the Treaty of Locarno and sent the Reichswehr into the Rhineland. Hesitating to resort to force, the French Government swung round towards the League. Here, now, it was her turn to find herself abandoned. The League Council met at London. A wave of Gallophobia had enveloped Parliament, the City, society and the press. Hitler had been clever enough to follow up his violation of the Locarno Pact by presenting a "Peace Plan." British public opinion swallowed it and demanded negotiations with Germany. Some League members saw in all this a just reward for France's policy in the Ethiopian conflict. But most of them were as much dismayed by French passivity before the new German menace as by the menace itself. It was impossible to obtain more from the Council than moral condemnation. Attempts to form a "second coalition" met with a cold hostility in Britain and produced only confusion in the other countries. The League functioned poorly because France had been discredited, because she had become estranged from Great Britain, and because all the nations of Europe had consequently fallen prey to suspicion and fear.

If in the closing days of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict the League managed to save its honor by upholding the law, this was thanks mainly to the courageous stand of the smaller countries and the Soviet Union. Three times during 1936 -- in April, in June and in September -- Mussolini tried in vain to make the League withdraw its condemnation of his aggression and accept the fait accompli in Ethiopia. By May the defeat of the Negus had been complete and in July sanctions had been lifted. Yet to each Italian demand the Council or the Assembly replied by repeating the declarations and the decisions they had previously made. The League thus emphasized its intention not to reconsider its earlier condemnation nor to recognize the conquest of Ethiopia.

In September, in particular, the Italian Government (encouraged by a much-criticized visit made to Rome by the Secretary-General of the League) sought to prevent the League Assembly from seating the representatives of Ethiopia. Notwithstanding pressure from various sources, the Assembly allowed the Ethiopian delegates to take their seats. The steadfast attitude of the League delegates reflected not only their desire to protest against Italy's violation of the Covenant, but a feeling of betrayal and anger on the part of the smaller states toward the Great Powers. This was especially evident as regards Great Britain. The smaller states felt that after having won them to the policy of collective security, British statesmen had left them (and especially the Mediterranean states which had agreed to naval cooperation) to the tender mercies of Italy.

We now come to the Spanish war. London (in the lead) and Paris (reluctantly) adopted the principle of "non-intervention." Heedless of the requests of the Spanish Government, long a loyal member of the League, neither the Council nor the Assembly was willing to recognize that Italy and Germany were guilty of aggression in Spain. To contrary proofs they shut their eyes.

In the Sino-Japanese "incident" which began on July 7, 1937, the League evinced the same hesitations, and in the end refused similarly to act, even though the Chinese Government formally informed the Council that Japan's action was "an aggression against the territorial integrity and existing political independence of China, a Member of the League of Nations." In both the Spanish and Chinese cases a sense of caution, if not of impotence, seemed to have affected the British and French Governments. Their fear of "irritating" the totalitarian states spread through the entire League.

Despite all these blows the moral force and the potential strength of the League remained considerable. The feeling that they belonged to an international community still persisted among the member states and preserved the basis for concerted action whenever leadership should appear. Though they showed signs of timidity in putting the Covenant into effect, the nations still thought of it as a reserve fund of security for future use. In Paris and London there were men who understood this situation. Though handicapped by the injury done Anglo-French solidarity by Pierre Laval, the Blum Government sought to revive confidence in France and in the League. "France boldly declares," said the Premier in the Chamber on July 1, 1936, " and will attest by her acts, her loyalty to international law. She will put far from her mind at this hour all thought of disappointment or discouragement. She gives her word; she will keep it. Her wish is to make the idea of collective security a reality. She will contribute by all the means in her power to revive within the League and around it that outburst of enthusiasm and faith which threw a lustre on certain great days: in 1924, at the time of the Protocol; in 1932, when the Disarmament Conference opened; and again last autumn, when the associated states proclaimed their unanimous resolve."

In London, Anthony Eden and Lord Cranborne remained sincere advocates of collective security, despite their inability to follow an always logical course in supporting it on specific occasions; for though they understood the League's value, the same could not be said for the British Government of which they were a part. The Prime Minister and his most powerful colleagues had decided to draw a lesson from the defeat suffered in the Italo-Ethiopian affair and to go a separate way regardless of France and the League. They were determined that, since apparently the Covenant could not be applied, it should be amended by lessening its obligations, notably those concerning sanctions in Article XVI. Furthermore, with Berlin making overtures to London, many British Tories began to envisage the return of Germany to a modified League and the resumption of Italy's collaboration "without obligations or sanctions."

This was the genesis of the idea of reforming the Covenant, as put on the League agenda by the British Government as early as July 1936. It was an artificial question, for, as Titulesco once remarked, "If the League has miscarried, the fault lies not in the Covenant, but in man." The question was full of dynamite, too, for to discuss the Covenant might jeopardize the high purpose of the League and was almost certain to shake its unity.

At first there was considerable resistance to the idea: France, Soviet Russia, and the members of the Little Entente and the Balkan Entente decided that any new study of the Covenant undertaken should aim at "reinforcing the authority of the League" and "increasing the true efficacy of the guarantees of security which the League offered its members." They purposely adopted a slow procedure. But at the end of May 1937 Stanley Baldwin retired and was succeeded as Prime Minister by Neville Chamberlain. He retained Eden as head of the Foreign Office, but with the tactic of "imprisoning" him and at the same time using his presence in the Cabinet to reassure the Opposition and the French Government. In the past Chamberlain had rendered at least lip service to the League, and had campaigned on a League platform. But he neither liked the League nor really understood it. He had come to think of it as not merely useless but positively dangerous. He allowed Eden to affirm the British Government's fidelity to the League; but in his own mind he had chosen another policy, that of direct negotiation for the defense of limited British interests as he understood them. He discouraged the little nations from appealing to Geneva. He preferred Franco to win in Spain. He sought personal contact and reconciliation with the dictators. At the end of July he sent a personal message to Mussolini; in November, profiting by Eden's absence in Brussels, he sent Halifax to Berlin.

Meanwhile, what of France, rent by domestic dissension? After the advent of M. Chautemps to power in June 1937 she followed the lead of Great Britain. Her allies in Eastern Europe forsook her; her best friends were in disgrace. Poland, with the approval of England, drew steadily closer to the Third Reich and let the Nazis assume a dominant position in Danzig. Belgium, under van Zeeland and Spaak, slipped gradually into what was called neutrality. In Rumania, Titulesco had already been removed from power. Jugoslavia, where Premier Stoyadinović had fostered German economic penetration, concluded a political agreement with Italy after consultation with London. The Little Entente was shaken to its foundations. Czechoslovakia, against which a German campaign had already begun, slowly became isolated. Henlein started his series of trips to London and Berlin and Berchtesgaden. Soviet Russia, prey to an intense and bloody domestic crisis, withdrew within herself. The Franco-Soviet Pact became a dead letter.

In November 1937, MM. Chautemps and Delbos went to London. Neville Chamberlain did not hide from them his scorn for the League. The French ministers heard him out. For the first time in seventeen years the communiqué issued after Anglo-French conversations did not mention the League. To Eden's surprise the French ministers did not object. They accepted Chamberlain's formula reaffirming "the desire of their Governments to coöperate with all countries in the common task of promoting international appeasement by methods of free and peaceful negotiation." Downing Street had won. Eden was beaten on his own ground. He resigned soon thereafter.

The great "Chamberlain experiment" had already begun, and we must note in fairness that it had at heart the tacit approval of the French Government. It was to continue for many months at the expense of both Great Britain and France, as well as of Europe and the League. We all know into what terrifying territory it eventually led us.

The consequences for the League of the Anglo-French communiqué of November 30 were soon evident. Earlier that month an Anti-Communist Protocol had been signed at the Chigi Palace in Rome by Ciano, von Ribbentrop and Hotta, Japanese Ambassador to Italy. This pact became the nucleus of the totalitarian coalition against the League at the very moment that Great Britain and France deserted it. On December 11, 1937, Mussolini announced to the world, on a great flood of publicity, that Italy was withdrawing from the League; on the next day the official Nazi press bureau published a communiqué in which the German Government solemnly declared that " a return to Geneva will never be considered." These reciprocal assurances gave birth to the "Axis." It was not coincidence, we might note, that this expression became a part of the world's political vocabulary simultaneously with the first overt steps against the League. "We are withdrawing from the tottering temple where they do not work for peace but prepare for war," declared Mussolini in a speech on December 11. The German press followed suit and warned the smaller states that the League was merely "a war machine" and that "to adhere to the Covenant is to enlist."

Never had arguments of doctrine, used to show the inevitability of the conflict between the League and the totalitarian states, been so clearly and vigorously expressed. Never had the attack on the Anglo-French political system been so direct or so frank. According to the totalitarian spokesmen, the German-Italian-Japanese alliance was undertaking a task even more universal than that of the League -- to put an end to "obsolete positions of monopoly" and to "create a world-order in which the really vigorous nations can live together." The warning to the Western democracies thus was clear: the goal of the new confederation was a world domination. The totalitarian states had set out by promise and by threat to tear the League asunder, thus isolating France and Great Britain for the final Machtprobe.

Faced with this menace, London and Paris came to life. They had two opportunities to reply to the dictators: the one-hun-dredth session of the Council, which met at Geneva on January 26, 1938; and the meeting of the Committee of 28, created to study the reform of the Covenant. In the Council, the French and British delegates answered Mussolini's speech of December 11 and the German communiqué of December 12 by reaffirming their loyalty to the League. All the other members thereupon followed their example. Said Mr. Eden: "His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom does not think it inappropriate, at a moment when it has to acknowledge the repudiation in some quarters of the League of Nations, to declare that its faith in the aims and ideals that inspired the League remains unchanged." "The Government which I represent," declared M. Delbos, the French Foreign Minister, "desires to reaffirm its loyalty to the League of Nations and its continued faith in the future of that organisation." The Soviet representative boldly approached the ideological problem and cleared up misconceptions created by totalitarian propaganda. "But there is another kind of ideology," he said, "the essential principles of which are respect for the integrity and independence of all existing states, inviolability of their frontiers, renunciation of war as an instrument for settling international disputes, recognition of the equal rights of all peoples, great and small. The League of Nations undoubtedly, if it wishes to be true to its aims, cannot but be a bloc of that kind of international ideology."

In late January and early February 1938, 17 states represented on the Committee of 28 -- Finland, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, China, Soviet Russia, Iran, Turkey, Colombia, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Greece, Bulgaria, France, Rumania, Great Britain and New Zealand -- announced that for the time being they were opposed to any reform or to any modification, either unilateral or collective, in the articles or the application of the Covenant, and that as regarded the future they were against any decision which might weaken the Covenant or circumscribe the League's authority and its field of action. The representatives of The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden, while they would have liked the Committee to recognize formally that under existing conditions Article XVI could not be applied in its entirety, nevertheless emphasized that their governments rejected the idea of neutrality, that they intended to remain faithful to the principle of collective security, and that they hoped some day to be able to reëstablish the obligation to impose sanctions.

The offensive against the League was thus for the time being repulsed. The small states, reassured and appeased, stayed within the fold; at heart most of them were glad that nothing had been done to Article XVI, a source of anguish and yet of comfort to them all. At this juncture it would still have been possible for France and Britain to draw the other countries firmly within the framework of the League. But this would have required the adoption of a resolute stand by France and Britain themselves -- and for this neither showed any inclination.

On February 20, 1938, Hitler delivered an insolent and threatening speech before the Reichstag. On the same day Chamberlain parted company with Eden, who had remained till then in the Cabinet as the champion of collective security even though his initiative had been extremely circumscribed. In order to dispel any doubts as to his true sentiments and the direction of his policy, Chamberlain in a speech in the House two days later deliberately rejected "the imposition of sanctions and the use of force," and, sounding the knell of collective security, warned the little states clearly not to count any longer on the League.

Almost at once came Germany's invasion and annexation of Austria, whose independence had been guaranteed by the League. When Britain and France failed to offer any resistance, terror and confusion overtook the League's smaller members. On April 16 Chamberlain went a step further by signing the Anglo-Italian agreement and exchanging cordial messages with Mussolini.

The policy of appeasement and reconciliation with the totalitarian Powers appeared to observers in the smaller states of Europe as a mixture of egoism and weakness. Thenceforward the idea of neutrality made rapid and steady progress in Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Belgium. In May, the Swiss (on special grounds, to be sure) decided to resume their full and unconditional neutrality. A burst of energy shown by Britain and France at a moment of crisis in Czechoslovakia in May was not followed up. In July, Chamberlain reaffirmed his intention of pursuing the "policy of appeasement," condemned anew the system of sanctions, and preached the transformation of the League into a union of nations devoted to "consultation and conciliation." Enlightened beyond all peradventure as to Chamberlain's intentions, the states in the "Oslo group" met in July and agreed to demand of the next League Assembly that it state authoritatively the discretionary character of sanctions. "This," gloated the Giornale d'Italia, "means the end of collective security. . . . Henceforth the powerful armaments of the democracies cannot be excused on the ground that they are for the use of the League of Nations."

This brings us down to August 1938. By that date Hitler's intentions toward Czechoslovakia were no longer a mystery to anyone. Everybody therefore expected that the French Government, bound by a treaty of assistance to the Czech Government, would shortly be seeking to induce the League Council to declare that a German aggression had been committed against Czechoslovakia, a member of the League, and would demand that sanctions be applied. The Franco-Soviet Pact, like the Franco-Czech Pact, could come into force only within the framework of the League.

The League Assembly met on September 12 in an atmosphere heavy with anxiety. The totalitarian states had of course exerted every possible effort to frighten the smaller League members and obviate the danger of sanctions. Would France and Britain stand firm, reassuring the anxious ones, rallying the laggards and restoring cohesion by determined leadership? Once more the fate of the Covenant, the very existence of the League, rested in the hands of Great Britain and France. But could the spirit of 1935 be reawakened? Could the coalition for peace be reëstablished?

On September 26 and 27 President Roosevelt sent his famous messages to Beneš and Hitler. A day later the League Assembly gave its support to President Roosevelt's lead. The following day the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Premier of France -- ignoring the initiative taken by Roosevelt and the Assembly, brushing aside the Covenant of the League of Nations and disregarding the Franco-Czech Treaty of Mutual Assistance and the German-Czech Convention of Conciliation and Arbitration -- went to Munich, as Chamberlain had already gone to Berchtesgaden and Godesberg.

President Masaryk once said: "Jesus and not Cæsar, that is the essence of democracy." He might have added "and of the League of Nations." At Munich the British and French Governments deserted Jesus to make a sacrifice to Cæsar. On October 1 the Assembly broke up. Nothing was left of the League of Nations, either of its spirit or of its Covenant.


Between the League of Nations, a free association of states determined to observe certain principles in their relations with one another and prepared to submit to certain rules, and the totalitarian states, which cannot and will not accept any limitation but that of force, conflict was inevitable. But the conflict need not have ended as it did.

In 1935 the League seemed headed for ultimate victory. But victory was denied it, and for this a large measure of the fault lies with the French Government and another large measure lies with the British Government. The final triumph of might over right and the collapse of the League in the general "save-yourself" flight of frightened peoples, stemmed directly from the conciliatory overtures made to the totalitarian states, now by Paris, now by London. Resistance to aggression by the dictators required the existence of an "international ideology" and the resolute will of those who accepted it to defend it. Such an ideology did, in fact, exist in the Covenant of the League. Around it men of good will, who regarded it as the highest expression of international right and justice so far achieved by man, should have gathered determinedly and confidently even in days of greatest stress.

After Munich the world was confronted with this dilemma: either to restore the reign of law among nations, which meant to revive the League, or to accept the life of slaves in a universe directed by primitive instincts and dominated by force.

Deceived and betrayed by Hitler and Mussolini, the British and French Governments decided to act. After having allowed the League, their best instrument for action, to be smashed under their very eyes, they began striving, at the price of countless difficulties and much haggling, to reëstablish a peace coalition, to reawaken the spirit of 1935, to revive an international conscience. Would it not have been better to have enforced the Covenant in the first place? Much would have been saved -- much that was of value spiritually as well as much that was worth saving materially.

When our Western democracies have at last imposed peace on the totalitarian states, France and Britain will have before them the task of reawakening the good will, the confidence, and the support of other peoples, both in Europe and beyond the seas. They must revive that cult of liberty, equality, law, justice and honor which inspired those who prepared the Covenant of the League and gave it shape and life. When peace is restored, they must, this time let us hope with the help of the United States, reconstruct the world in accordance with the League's original principles. The League is dead. Long live the League!

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  • MARCEL HODEN, member of the Secretariat of the League of Nations from 1921 until 1938, most recently as Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary General
  • More By Marcel Hoden