by Gerald Boerner
“Thus, there can be no real disarmament except on the basis of the collective peace system of the League of Nations.”
— Arthur Henderson
“There was a sense among Roosevelt’s generation the League of Nations had failed.”
— David Woolner
“The real history of the U.N. lies in the perceived failure of the League of Nations.”
— Joel Diemond
“I have loved but one flag and I can not share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for the League of Nations.”
— Henry Cabot Lodge
“A formally recognized equality does, however, accord the smaller nations a position which they should be able to use increasingly in the interest of humanity as a whole and in the service of the ideal.”
— Hjalmar Branting
“As long as the problem of world reconstruction remains the center of interest for all nations, blocs having similar attitudes will form and operate even within the League itself.”
— Hjalmar Branting
“All in all, the League of Nations is not inevitably bound, as some maintain from time to time, to degenerate into an impotent appendage of first one, then another of the competing great powers.”
— Hjalmar Branting
“And the annual meetings of the League’s Assembly are in effect official peace congresses binding on the participating states to an extent that most statesmen a quarter of a century ago would have regarded as utopian.”
— Hjalmar Branting
“As a result of the World War and of a peace whose imperfections and risks are no longer denied by anyone, are we not even further away from the great aspirations and hopes for peace and fraternity than we were one or two decades ago?”
— Hjalmar Branting
“The first condition of success for the League of Nations is, therefore, a firm understanding between the British Empire and the United States of America and France and Italy that there will be no competitive building up of fleets or armies between them.”
— Arthur Henderson
The League of Nations
The League of Nations (LoN) was an inter-governmental organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919–1920. At its greatest extent from 28 September 1934 to 23 February 1935, it had 58 members. The League’s goals included upholding the new found Rights of Man such as right of non whites, rights of women, rights of soldiers, disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global quality of life. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding hundred years. The League lacked its own armed force and so depended on the Great Powers to enforce its resolutions, keep to economic sanctions which the League ordered, or provide an army, when needed, for the League to use. However, they were often reluctant to do so.
Palace of Nations, Geneva,
the League’s headquarters
Sanctions could also hurt the League members, so they were reluctant to comply with them. When, during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the League accused Benito Mussolini’s soldiers of targeting Red Cross medical tents, Mussolini responded that Ethiopians were not fully human, therefore the human rights laws did not apply. Benito Mussolini stated that "The League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out."
After a number of notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers in the 1930s. In May 1933 the League was powerless to convince Hitler that Franz Bernheim, a Jew, was protected under the minority clauses established by the League in 1919 (that all minorities were fully human and held equal rights among all men). Hitler claimed these clauses violated Germany’s sovereignty. Germany withdrew from the League soon to be followed by many other totalitarian and militaristic nations. The onset of World War II showed that the League had failed its primary purpose, which was to avoid any future world war. The United Nations replaced it after the end of the war and inherited a number of agencies and organizations founded by the League.
Origins of the League
A commemorative card depicting
President of the United States
Woodrow Wilson and the
"Origin of the League of Nations"
The concept of a peaceful community of nations had been outlined as far back as 1795, when Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch outlined the idea of a league of nations that would control conflict and promote peace between states. There, Kant argues for establishment of a peaceful world community not in a sense that there be a global government but in the hope that each state would declare itself as a free state that respects its citizens and welcomes foreign visitors as fellow rational beings. It is in this rationalization that a union of free states would promote peaceful society worldwide, therefore there can be a perpetual peace bound by the international community.
International co-operation to promote collective security originated in the Concert of Europe that developed after the Napoleonic Wars in the nineteenth century in an attempt to maintain the status quo between European states and so avoid war. This period also saw the development of international law with the first Geneva conventions establishing laws about humanitarian relief during war and the international Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 governing rules of war and the peaceful settlement of international disputes.
The forerunner of the League of Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), was formed by peace activists William Randal Cremer and Frederic Passy in 1889. The organization was international in scope with a third of the members of parliament, in the 24 countries with parliaments, serving as members of the IPU by 1914. Its aims were to encourage governments to solve international disputes by peaceful means and arbitration and annual conferences were held to help governments refine the process of international arbitration. The IPU’s structure consisted of a Council headed by a President which would later be reflected in the structure of the League.
At the start of the twentieth century two power blocs emerged through alliances between the European Great Powers. It was these alliances that came into effect at the start of the First World War in 1914, drawing all the major European powers into the war. This was the first major war in Europe between industrialized countries and the first time in Western Europe the results of industrialization (for example mass production) had been dedicated to war. The result of this industrial warfare was an unprecedented casualty level with eight and a half million members of armed services dead, an estimated 21 million wounded, and approximately 10 million civilian deaths. By the time the fighting ended in November 1918, the war had had a profound impact, affecting the social, political and economic systems of Europe and inflicting psychological and physical damage on the continent.
Moral Suasion The Rabbit.
"My offensive equipment being
practically nil, it remains for me
to fascinate him with the
power of my eye."
Anti-war sentiment rose across the world; the First World War was described as "the war to end all wars", and its possible causes were vigorously investigated. The causes identified included arms races, alliances, secret diplomacy, and the freedom of sovereign states to enter into war for their own benefit. The perceived remedies to these were seen as the creation of an international organization whose aim was to prevent future war through disarmament, open diplomacy, international co-operation, restrictions on the right to wage wars, and penalties that made war unattractive to nations.
While the First World War was still underway, a number of governments and groups had already started developing plans to change the way international relations were carried out in order to prevent a repetition of the war. United States President Woodrow Wilson and his advisor Colonel Edward M. House enthusiastically promoted the idea of the League as a means of avoiding any repetition of the bloodshed seen in World War I, and the creation of the League was a centerpiece of Wilson’s Fourteen Points for Peace. Specifically the final point provided: "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."
Before drafting the specific terms of his peace deal, Wilson recruited a team led by Colonel House to compile whatever information deemed pertinent in assessing Europe’s geo-political situation. In early January, 1918, Wilson summoned House to Washington and the two began hammering out, in complete secrecy, the President’s first address on the League of Nations which was delivered to an unsuspecting Congress on January 8, 1918.
Wilson’s final plans for the League were strongly influenced by the South African Prime Minister, Jan Christiaan Smuts. In 1918 Smuts had published a treatise entitled The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion. According to F.S. Crafford’s biography on Smuts, Wilson adopted "both the ideas and the style" of Smuts.
On July 8, 1919, Woodrow Wilson returned to the United States and embarked on a nation-wide campaign to secure the support of the American people for their country’s entry into the League. On July 10, Wilson addressed the Senate declaring that “a new role and a new responsibility have come to this great nation that we honour and which we would all wish to lift to yet higher levels of service and achievement.” Positive reception, particularly from Republicans, was scarce at best.
The Paris Peace Conference, convened to build a lasting peace after World War I, approved the proposal to create the League of Nations (French: Société des Nations, German: Völkerbund) on 25 January 1919. The Covenant of the League of Nations was drafted by a special commission, and the League was established by Part I of the Treaty of Versailles. On 28 June 1919, 44 states signed the Covenant, including 31 states which had taken part in the war on the side of the Triple Entente or joined it during the conflict. Despite Wilson’s efforts to establish and promote the League, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1919, the United States did not join the League. Opposition in the U.S. Senate, particularly from Republican politicians Henry Cabot Lodge and William E. Borah, together with Wilson’s refusal to compromise, ensured that the United States would not ratify the Covenant.
The Gap in the Bridge the sign
reads "This League of Nations
Bridge was designed by the
President of the U.S.A"
The League held its first council meeting in Paris on 16 January 1920, six days after the Versailles Treaty came into force. In November, the headquarters of the League moved to Geneva, where the first General Assembly was held on 15 November 1920 with representatives from 41 nations in attendance.
Languages and symbols
The official languages of the League of Nations were French, English and Spanish (from 1920). The League considered adopting Esperanto as their working language and actively encouraging its use but neither option was ever adopted. In 1921, there was a proposal by Lord Robert Cecil to introduce Esperanto into state schools of member nations and a report was commissioned to investigate this. When the report was presented two years later it recommended the teaching of Esperanto in schools, a proposal that 11 delegates accepted. The strongest opposition came from the French delegate, Gabriel Hanotaux, partially in order to protect the French Language which he argued was already the international language. This opposition meant the report was accepted apart from the section that approved Esperanto in schools.
The League of Nations had neither an official flag nor logo. Proposals for adopting an official symbol were made during the League’s beginning in 1920, but the member states never reached agreement. However, League of Nations organizations used varying logos and flags (or none at all) in their own operations. An international contest was held in 1929 to find a design, which again failed to produce a symbol. One of the reasons for this failure may have been the fear by the member states that the power of the supranational organization might supersede their own. Finally, in 1939, a semi-official emblem emerged: two five-pointed stars within a blue pentagon. The pentagon and the five-pointed stars were supposed to symbolize the five continents and the five races of mankind. In a bow on top and at the bottom, the flag had the names in English (League of Nations) and French (Société des Nations). This flag was used on the building of the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940.
The League had four principal organs, a secretariat (headed by the General Secretary and based in Geneva), a Council, an Assembly and a Permanent Court of International Justice. The League also had numerous agencies and commissions. Authorization for any action required both a unanimous vote by the Council and a majority vote in the Assembly.
League of Nations Mandates were established under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. These territories were former colonies of the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire that were placed under the supervision of the League following World War I. The Permanent Mandates Commission supervised League of Nations mandates, and also organised plebiscites in disputed territories so that residents could decide which country they would join. There were three Mandate classifications.
The "A" Mandates (applied to parts of the old Ottoman Empire) were ‘certain communities’ that had:
“…reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.”
The "B" Mandates were applied to the former German Colonies that the League took responsibility for after the First World War. These were described as ‘peoples’ that the League said were:
“…at such a stage that the Mandatory must be responsible for the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic and the liquor traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defence of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League.”
South-West Africa and certain of the South Pacific Islands were administrated by League members under a C Mandate. These were classified as ‘territories’:
“…which, owing to the sparseness of their population, or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilisation, or their geographical contiguity to the territory of the Mandatory, and other circumstances, can be best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory, subject to the safeguards above mentioned in the interests of the indigenous population.”
The territories were governed by "Mandatory Powers", such as the United Kingdom in the case of the Mandate of Palestine and the Union of South Africa in the case of South-West Africa, until the territories were deemed capable of self-government. There were fourteen mandate territories divided up among the six Mandatory Powers of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. With the exception of the Kingdom of Iraq, which joined the League on 3 October 1932, these territories did not begin to gain their independence until after the Second World War, a process that did not end until 1990. Following the demise of the League, most of the remaining mandates became United Nations Trust Territories.
In addition to the Mandates, the League itself governed the Saarland for 15 years, before it was returned to Germany following a plebiscite, and the free city of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) from 15 November 1920 to 1 September 1939.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
The League of Nations that can be found at…