Anna Walley
December 7, 2009
IB History/Great Britain in the Inter-War Years
With the end of World War I, Great Britain was handed the title of the leading democratic state in Europe. These years after the war, the years between 1919 and 1935, can be characterized as years of consistency. Britain stuck to its old policies, both domestic and foreign, and the people of Britain stood by their government. Despite a series of setbacks including a war in Ireland, a failing League of Nations, a virtually great economic depression, and a gradation of inept Prime Ministers, Great Britain remained unvarying and stable during the inter-war years.
In January of 1919, a War of Independence began in Ireland when Sinn Fein and his MPs proclaimed the Republic an independent nation, one wholly independent from Great Britain.[[#sdendnote1sym|i]] George had granted Ireland conscription in 1918,[[#sdendnote2sym|ii]] allowing Sinn Fein to rise to power. Following the declaration of Independence, “bloodshed, guerilla war and the breakdown of law and order” occurred throughout Ireland.[[#sdendnote3sym|iii]] Reasons for the war are varied and excessive, but those most pertaining to Britain include; the 'Home Rule', (the idea of self-government[[#sdendnote4sym|iv]]) was no longer enough for Irish nationalists, and the vast killings by the Irish Republican Army. Wherein lies the object analysis, however, is the British reaction to the war. In the early stages of turmoil in Ireland, the British did not put the war at the top of their list of issues. The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, dismissed the affair and refused to grant Ireland it's total independence, an independence with no “link to Britain.”[[#sdendnote5sym|v]] The number of British volunteers was lowering, therefore IRA attacks on the Black and Tans continued to increase and the government sent little aide. This was in part due to the fact that the war “was never popular among the British media or amongst the public.”[[#sdendnote6sym|vi]] Most people in Britain were under the impression that the war had ended with Parliament's decision in Belfast. There were little news headlines pertaining to the problem in Ireland when viewing the war as a national crisis. The London Times archive contains 124 stories on the 'War of Independence' in Ireland between January 1, 1919 and December 31, 1935. The citizens of Britain were not entirely concerned with this war in Ireland, most likely the reason that “not until the spring of 1923 was Ireland at peace,”[[#sdendnote7sym|vii]] and this was governmental peace, not one among the inhabitants of Ireland. British blasé in dealing with the war is partly responsible for the continued violence in Ireland throughout the duration of the 20th century.
Similarly to the pacifism with the war in Ireland, Great Britain led the struggling League of Nations with the same amount of callous. Frank P. Walters, a participant in the League of Nations in 1919, boldly stated that “Lloyd George as Prime Minister cared nothing about the idea of a League of Nations.”[[#sdendnote8sym|viii]] Another account from Lord Robert Cecil, leader of the British delegation on the League of Nations in its Commission at Paris, recalls Lloyd George stating the League was of “secondary importance,” not sure as to what was of first.[[#sdendnote9sym|ix]] Both of these men spoke of the creation of the League, not of its demise. Thus the problem of the League cannot be wholly attributed to the League's inability to overcome the Axis powers in WWII, but in the British construction of the League as early as 1918. When the Council of Ten met in March of 1918 to construct a peace council, French leaders noticed that “[George and his men were] not strong believers in the League.”[[#sdendnote10sym|x]] When the leaders of an organization are not in favor of that organization, it is difficult for it to prosper.
In coincidence with the early stages of the League of Nations was an economic meltdown worldwide, and Britain was met with problems in industry earlier than the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Between 1917 and 1924, Lloyd George ruled as Britain's Prime Minister. One of his finer accomplishments was the creation of a welfare state; one that provided financial relief for the Britain's lower classes. However, in 1926 there was a strike among the working class in Britain, notably “the most widespread and dramatic breakdown of Britain's industrial relations for a century.”[[#sdendnote11sym|xi]] By universal standards of a major strike, the General Strike of 1926 was not a terrible one. Its main result was that it “manifested Britain's division into the laboring classes and the middle and upper classes.”[[#sdendnote12sym|xii]] With heightened bitterness among people toward the deeply rooted British class system, why, then, did Britain not turn to communism which would provide an elimination of this class system? Because since its days under Oliver Cromwell, parliament, “the impartial administration of the law, and civic freedoms of the individual, were too deeply embedded in the British way of life to be overthrown by any authoritarian movement.”[[#sdendnote13sym|xiii]] The British populous unites under the idea of democracy and consistency. The General Strike was in fact a strike, not an attempt at revolution.
Lloyd George was not the only British Prime Minister to lead with apathy without distress occurring among the British people. George's predecessor, Ramsay MacDonald, led with little expertise. His government was never able to produce a useful response to the Crash in 1929, and MacDonald only held office for nine months. He came to power due to the rise of the Labour Party, and was its first representative. In post-market crash Britain, the “Liberal Party had simply lost its identity,” thus allowing the Labour party to prosper in the Liberal's decay.[[#sdendnote14sym|xiv]] As the leader of the newly popular Labour Party, Ramsay MacDonald slid into the office of Prime Minister. His most notable success is that he “provided to contemporaries that Labour was capable of running the government.”[[#sdendnote15sym|xv]] MacDonald also, had no notable failures and was succeeded by Stanley Baldwin in 1923. An encyclopedia on Britain describes Baldwin's greatest accomplishment as “successfully presiding over a party with many rivalries and responsibilities.”[[#sdendnote16sym|xvi]] In other words, he held the office of Prime Minister without being overthrown. Baldwin retired in 1937, allowing for Neville Chamberlain to take office. The British people neither despised nor supported their leaders in these years, for their leaders neither floundered greatly nor achieved greatness.
It appears that in nearly all internal and external matters, whether pertaining to a strike amongst the working class or when creating a League of Nations, Great Britain coasted in the inter-wars years. The nation, however, coasted with small scale success and stability. They remained a world leader, but did not take any political risks too great. Great Britain co-led the League of Nations with France, thus could not be fully blamed when the League ended in 1946. The British people chose not to revolt against its government, and its government chose not to revolt against other nations. Britain, in essence, played it safe and they succeeded in doing so. There were no 'failures' per se, in Britain in the inter-war years. Chamberlain's misspeaking when he declared 'peace in our time.' caused an uproar in world media, but this event occurred in 1937. The inter-war years are judged by many historians as years of success for Great Britain, despite problems at home and abroad. But no real improvement came out of these years, simply no failures. Generally speaking, history seems to have exemplified that the failures of one generation become the dogma of the preceding one. Opposition arose against Chamberlain, a factor not occurring in years prior. In a poem by English poet, Stevie Smith, she notes, “Perhaps England our darling will recover her lost thought,
We must think sensibly about our victory and not be distraught, Perhaps America will have an idea, and perhaps not.”
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Cronin, Mike. A History of Ireland. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Print. p. 199
[[#sdendnote2anc|ii]] Cronin p. 199
[[#sdendnote3anc|iii]] Grenville, J.A.S. A History of the World in the 20th Century. Cambridge: Harper Collins, 1980. Print. p. 140
[[#sdendnote4anc|iv]] Ibid. p. 140
[[#sdendnote5anc|v]] Ibid. p 141
[[#sdendnote6anc|vi]] Cronin. p. 201
[[#sdendnote7anc|vii]] Grenville. p. 141
[[#sdendnote8anc|viii]] Egerton, George W. Great Britain and the Creation of the League of Nations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978. Print. p. xii
[[#sdendnote9anc|ix]] Ibid. p. xii
[[#sdendnote10anc|x]] Ibid. p. 151
[[#sdendnote11anc|xi]] Grenville. p. 142
[[#sdendnote12anc|xii]] Ibid. p. 142
[[#sdendnote13anc|xiii]] Ibid. p. 140
[[#sdendnote14anc|xiv]] Ibid. p. 140
[[#sdendnote15anc|xv]] Tompson, Richard S. Great Britain: A Reference Guide From the Renaissance to the Present. New York: Facts on File, Inc., n.d. Print. p. 293
[[#sdendnote16anc|xvi]] Ibid. p. 117