A History of World Societies,
Dictatorships and the Second World War
Chapter 31, "The Age of Anxiety in the West," explored the insecurities
and instability in the West following World War I. The war challenged preexisting
values about reason, progress, and the rights of individuals. During the 1930s,
many governments began to experiment with new strategies and responsibilities
to combat the ravages of the Great Depression. Countries such as Great Britain,
the United States, and Sweden all saw the emergence of welfare states within
a democratic context. This chapter examines nondemocratic experiences. Many
countries, particularly Germany and the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent
Italy and Japan, developed new theories of nationalism, the role of government,
and the rights and responsibilities of citizens after World War I. Adolf Hitler
of Germany and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union set out to create radically
different societies. Italy and Japan tried to promote stability and order
through authoritarianism. Democracy and capitalism in the West were put on
the defensive by these new models. Eventually, the rise of these dictatorships
resulted in another world war, more brutal and destructive than the first.
The following Internet activities will explore this dark era in world history
and its repercussions.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different
sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions
detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking
on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details
- The interwar years ushered in the age of totalitarianism. For a concise
definition of this term, go to Columbia
Encyclopedia: totalitarianism. Define totalitarianism in one
paragraph by considering the following questions or objectives. Why is this
phenomenon unique to the twentieth century? How is totalitarianism distinguished
from traditional dictatorship? List examples of totalitarian governments
in the twentieth century. Was the phenomenon global, or did it tend to appear
in one area?
- Totalitarianism first emerged in the Soviet Union under the direction
of Joseph Stalin. Go to Library
of Congress Soviet Archives Exhibit. Read the introduction, and then
click the arrow at the bottom of the page. On the next page, click the arrow
below "Internal Workings of the Soviet System." Read and evaluate
this essay by clicking the arrow keys at the bottom of each page until you
finish. Be sure to click each icon and study the primary source material.
For the most part, this exhibit examines the totalitarian system Stalin
created during the late 1920s and 1930s. Describe this system. How did the
Soviet government gain complete control over people's lives? What role did
the five-year plans, collectivization, forced famine, and the purges play
in the government's efforts to set up a totalitarian system? Who aided Stalin
in his policies? Why were they willing to help him? What was the ultimate
goal of Stalin and his followers? In other words, what kind of society did
they strive to create?
- Another example of emerging totalitarianism during the interwar years
was Hitler's Germany. For his efforts to create a totalitarian regime in
Germany, go to Hitler
Comes to Power, Nazi
Terror Begins, SS
Police State, and Nazi
Racism. Describe the totalitarian system Hitler created. How did the
Nazi party gain control over people's lives? Who supported Hitler? What
were his ultimate goals? In other words, what kind of society did he plan
to create once he established total control over the German people?
- Review the section "Radical Totalitarian Dictatorships" on pages
1026-1029 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).
This section examines historiographical debates over how to interpret the
rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe after World War I. List and define
the three interpretations offered here.
- After completing Activities Two and Three, compare and contrast the experiences
of Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany. What did these regimes have
in common? What noticeable differences were evident? What methods did each
regime use to pursue its goals? Ideally, what kind of society did each regime
hope to create? Choose which interpretation in McKay, A History of World
Societies (Sixth Edition), textbook best explains the Soviet Union and
Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Defend your choice in a brief essay.
- According to Columbia Encyclopedia:
totalitarianism, "Autocracies through the ages have attempted to
exercise control over the lives of their subjects, by whatever means were
available to them, including the use of secret police and military force.
However, only with modern technology have governments acquired the means
to control society; therefore, totalitarianism is, historically, a recent
phenomenon." Modern technology made sophisticated propaganda possible,
and propaganda was instrumental in the establishment of totalitarian regimes
in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.
- There is an abundance of information on the web about this mass indoctrination.
For the Soviet Union, see Propaganda
in the Propaganda State. Also study the images at SOVIET
PROPAGANDA: Posters & Cartoons of the 20th Century. Be sure to click
"next" at the bottom of the page. For Nazi Germany, see Nazi
Propaganda Archives: Nazi Postcards, and German
Propaganda Archives: The Fuhrer Makes History, 1938. For Nazi use of
film see The
Eternal Jew. (Read the essay at the beginning, then click on "Still
images from the film," and "An audio clip of Hitler's prophecy.")
For one of the biggest Nazi spectacles, see The Nazi Olympics,
Berlin 1936. (This site is long but well worth the time to peruse.)
- For a comparison of propaganda in both regimes, see Nazi & Soviet Art. Write
an essay that explains the role of propaganda in the Soviet and Nazi regimes
and that describes the various means through which they indoctrinated their
audience. What media forms did they use to spread their message? (Be inclusive
here. For example, how did the Nazis use sport for propaganda purposes?)
Who was (or were) the intended audience(s)? Who did the propaganda target
as enemies? What specific goals of each regime did the propaganda support?
How were Hitler, Stalin, or other leaders portrayed? Describe how the messages
were conveyed. For example, did the Soviets and Nazis disseminate complex
ideological information, or did they provide simple messages? Be sure to
use examples from the web sites when writing your essay.
- Millions of people died at the hands of the Nazi and Communist regimes.
The Academy Award-winning motion picture "Schindler's
List," which appeared in movie theaters in 1993, has recently reawakened
awareness of the Holocaust, the Nazi regime's efforts to extinguish the
Jews of Europe. The film explores the response of both Jews and gentiles
to Nazi's genocidal policies. These issues are complex and varied.
- For Jewish responses to the Holocaust, go to Hidden
History of the Kovno Ghetto. Take the time to explore this site by clicking
on the topics in the upper-left-hand corner. Be sure to examine all the
hyperlinks embedded within the site. Evaluate how the Jews of the Kovno
Ghetto resisted genocide. Remember, resistance is not limited to armed rebellion.
How else did the Jews of Kovno resist Nazi efforts to eradicate the Jews
of Europe, Jewish culture, and Jewish history? How successful were these
- For gentiles, review "Individuals in Society: Le Chambon: A Refuge
for the Persecuted" on page 1049 of McKay, A History of World Societies
(Sixth Edition). For the reflections of one Jew saved from the Holocaust
by the people of Chambon, see "Ten
Things I Would Like To Know About Righteous Conduct In Le Chambon And Elsewhere
During The Holocaust." There were numerous other examples of gentiles
rescuing Jews from Nazi persecution. See Yad Vashem:
The Righteous Among the Nations. Click each country to read about a
few of these people, being sure to click on Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands,
and Poland. Use the resources to further your "debate" on the
"idea that 'goodness, like evil, is contagious'" (McKay, A
History of World Societies [Sixth Edition], p. 1049). What do you think
motivated gentiles to resist the Holocaust? Why did others turn a blind
eye or collaborate?
- Hitler and Stalin both viewed Western democracies as weak and waning.
Yet World War II reinvigorated the West. To explore the impact of World
War II on the American people, go to A
People at War. Read each section and study the images provided. Also
read the essay at Women
at War. Analyze how the war promoted a sense of unity and purpose among
Americans that had been lacking during the Great Depression. How did the
war affect race and gender relations? How did the people at home rally to
support their soldiers and the war effort abroad?