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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 32: 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.

Helpful Hints:
  • 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 in photographs.
Activity One:
  • 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?
Activity Two:
  • 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?
Activity Three:
  • 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 Rule, 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?
Activity Four:
  • 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.
Activity Five:
  • 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, German 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.
Activity Six:
  • 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 efforts?
  • 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?
Activity Seven:
  • 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?