The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Shadow of War
Germany's Rising Power
The World Prepares for War
America Prepares for War
American Neutrality
Failure of the League
Failure of Versailles
England's Failures
Ambiguous Russia
Plight of the Jews
Humanizing Dictators
Americans All
War Zones
Italy Seizes Ethiopia
Japanese Conquests
Chinese Resistance
Spain's Civil War
The Mediterranean
Pearl Harbor
 No Pact with Fascist Italy

Failure of the League

April 17, 1936: Ethiopia Play audio

In this clip Ethiopia is in the midst of being attacked, and it further shows Italian belligerence in the face of threatened League of Nations sanctions. In the opening scene, Italian bombers attack Ethiopian capital Adis Ababa. At first natives fear it is gas, but it turns out to be mere rocket flares designed to "taunt the frightened blacks." The narrator proclaims the Italians "playful fascist war hawks"—here the word choice of "playful" seems placed at the expense of the Ethiopians.

In Geneva, an Italian baron mocks the League for threatening sanctions: "Which does the League prefer—peace or another war to end war? If the committee of 13 will only be patient a little while, it can meet in perfect safety if it wishes, even in Adis Ababa...I assure you, peace is eminent." Italy "taunts" the peace committee, the narrator explains, which is "frightened by the awful alternative of accepting or defying Il Duce's unconditional conquest of Ethiopia. And today League effort to enforce peace collapses entirely, and the committee passes the buck to a full League council Monday." When Haile Selassie learns that Italian forces are within 93 miles of Adis Abawa, he says he is ready to abdicate and let the crown prince take over as "puppet emperor." The narrator concludes, "Italy claims to have won its six-and-a-half months campaign, and the undeclared war is over."

May 11, 1936: The Ethiopia Crisis Play audio

This segment focuses on the "worst humiliation for the League of Nations Council in all of its 92 sessions." Britain's Anthony Eden invites the Ethiopian delegate to sit at the Council table. An Italian representative, Baron Aloise, says they won't accept the presence at the Council table of the "so-called Ethiopian delegation." The Ethiopian delegate responds that "Ethiopia is not an aggressor, but a victim of aggression from a member of the League. I believe it is not Ethiopia who should withdraw from the Council." In response, the Baron withdraws the entire Italian delegation. Ethiopia is now "a domestic problem for Italy." [ ominous music plays as the narrator concludes]. The episode is an "expected dodge for the League," as it postpones talking about the Italo-Ethiopian crisis for five weeks. Ending the tale on a dramatic note, the narrator notes that "dog Lulu's master [former Ethiopian Emperor Selassie] suffers a nervous collapse."

May 14, 1936: Future of the League Play audio

In London, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin declares he is disappointed with the League's performance in the Ethiopia dispute, and will not accept blame for what happened. "The League should be reformed, with a view toward bringing Japan, Germany, and the United States to Geneva. But the world must remember that League economic sanctions will never be likely to succeed, unless the countries concerned with their enforcement are prepared for war."

The March of Time stories repeatedly identify lack of early enforcement as the reason the League could not control the aggressor nations later.

MAY 15, 1936: League sanctions Play audio

The League half-heartedly pursues sanctions against Italy, but the action is "monstrous," according to Mussolini: "There is only one means in the world of imposing culture on backward people: force." If the League "revengefully" continues to pursue sanctions, "I warn you, I am ready to go to war in Europe. The Italian people have created an empire with their blood, and they will defend it with their blood." The Voice of Time notes that "as war minister Benito Mussolini bellows his blunt ultimatum to distant Geneva and London," the Pope is asked to crown Italian King Emmanuel Emperor of Ethiopia. Before the Pope will consent, Ethiopia's legal status must be cleared up in the League first.

"LEAGUE OF NATIONS UNION," May 15, 1936 Play movie

Geneva is the new home of the League of Nations, but its beautiful architecture belies its shaky foundation. "When the cornerstone was laid in 1929," the Voice of Time says, "Europe's hopes were high that this would be civilization's finest monument. That through the League the world would forever rid itself of war. But in the seven years that the new palace was a building, one defeat followed another for the league. Japan carved out a new empire in north China, Germany broke her treaty, rearmed, and like Japan, left the League. "

An intertitle explains, "Flouted and abandoned by two great nations, the League's prestige totters." The League's powers are at "low ebb," according to the narrator, most recently revealed by the fact that "the League did nothing about Mussolini's preparation.

"Even as Mussolini plans his adventure in war, Lord Cecil [of England] is planning with his earnest associates an adventure in peace." The narrator describes a nationwide ballot designed to rally England's confidence in the League. An intertitle sets forth the questions: "Should England remain a member of the League? Should League nations combine to stop an aggressor nation-(a) by economic measures? (b) by military measures?"

Despite Mussolini's preparations to conquer Ethiopia, "the British vote against war is piling up." Of the 11,600,000 who vote, 11 million support the League, 10 million support economic sanctions, and 6,800,000 are for military sanctions (some voted for both).

Planes in the sky

Brits warn Italy of economic penalties and even move troops into the Mediterranean (1), but "Mussolini is unmoved by the British warning. Into Africa he keeps pouring his legions." Britain endorses strong League action. But "When Foreign Minister Hore joins with France's Lavelle in suggesting a compromise settlement with Mussolini, outraged public opinion forces his resignation." Into his place steps Anthony Eden, "and penalties more severe than ever are planned for Mussolini."

Intertitle: "But to make the League work, England must have France at her side and France has a great worry of her own.

"Fearful of a rearmed Germany, needing Italy as a sure ally, France's Lavelle hesitates to join in the anti-Italian program. When Hitler loudly announces that he is refortifying the Rhineland, collective action for peace in Europe comes to a standstill." At this point, Italy attacks Ethiopia. Foreigners living there barricade themselves as natives seek vengeance by attacking whites. "For Europe that moment is a turning point," the narrator explains. A title shot displays the stark choice: "Facing England—and the world—is the choice of supporting a League all but shattered, or reverting to oldtime strong-arm diplomacy." Mussolini says if his conquest is recognized, he will support peace in Europe and return to the League. "Hopefully, all Europe watches for actions to confirm this promise," says the Voice of Time. "England, resolving that the League must be kept alive, presses forward with speed to rearm.... For better or worse an era is ending and that in the era to come, so long that as other nations are bearing arms, England's arms must be kept up second to none." By way of example, ships, submarines, and planes appear in a montage (2). "Time marches on!"

DecEMBER 31, 1936: Last appearance of Selassie BEFORE THE LEAGUE Play audio

The Voice of Time in Europe exclaims that acts of man in the year 1936 have "turn[ed] solemn treaties and covenants into ashes" as Germany rearms and Ethiopia is conquered. In this "last" appearance of the Ethiopian emperor, Selassie mourns that eight months ago he had "absolute confidence" in the League of Nations, but now the League has been beaten by a sole aggressor, Italy. The Voice of Time tackily calls Selassie the "conquered black man of the year" as a cheap segue to talk about the "triumphant black man of the year," Jesse Owens.

"ARMS AND THE LEAGUE" March 18, 1938 Play movie

 British spend more on defense, papers announce
(1) Britain scrambles to rearm in light of German rearmanent.
WWI graves
When talking about World War I, filmmakers usually include a shot like this one above, of soldiers' graves.
Map of Europe after WWI

This issue offers an accounting of the League's failure to deal with Germany, Japan, and Italy, as it moves into its new home in Geneva. The story at first seems to be about Europe's rearmament, as the prosperous industries are those manufacturing the "merchandise of death." Armament expenditures have tripled in Britain, as they strain to catch up to aggressor nations (1). "For having prolonged her experiment in disarmament and collective security, England has found herself far behind in the world armament race." Chamberlain has now overruled Anthony Eden, a "champion" of the League now forced from the Cabinet. Despite its plummeting reputation, the League for 20 years meant "world hope of peace." Leaders thought World War I "had been a war to end war," and were "convinced that the only way to win war was to dismember the enemy." The resulting Versailles Treaty made half a dozen independent nations from Austria-Hungary and Russia (3), and the League was soon created to enforce the armistice through sanctions, economic or military. Although Wilson championed the League, the United States repudiated it as an "entangling alliance." The League had some success: it settled 17 major disputes without recourse to arms.

An intertitle brings viewers back to the present: "But long before the League's new home is ready, arising to challenge its ideals and principles are new national leaders—not men of Peace but men of War." The scene changes to a cannon shot (4), then an image of Emperor Hirohito (5). Japan, the narrator explains, marched into the Manchuria province of China on the 12th birthday of the League (6). Britain's Eden had called for action (7). But, the narrator continues, "as Japan scorns the principle of collective security and walks out of Geneva, the League, shrinking from the consequences of action, does nothing. [Another cannon fires, 9.] Encouraged by Japan's success, the new Nazi Germany rearms in defiance of the Versailles Treaty," (10 shows Hitler) and soon quits the League.

The motif of describing each aggressor nation repeats the cannon/aggressive leader formula:

Cannon fire Hirohito Japan attacks Manchuria
Anthony Eden Japan leaves the League Cannon fire
Hitler Cannon fire Mussolini

Italian jeers
No surrender sign in protest
Graffiti: No Pact with Fascist Italy

In the face of fascist Italy (12), Eden rises before the League: "War is a callous anachronism," he says. But when the Ethiopian leader speaks (13), he is jeered down by the Italians (14), in what appears to be a staged scene. "Again the League does nothing, and Ethiopia is a closed incident," the narrator says.

"When Japan again goes on the march, the League is too shattered even to consider collective intervention." Italy is the fourth nation to quit the League. "In England, crowds are dismayed as Prime Minister Chamberlain, in order to be free to bargain for Britain with the fascist nations who smashed the League's powers, drops his foreign secretary Anthony Eden, champion of the League of Nations." Millions who thought Eden could fight the League's fight see the end of the League's power to try for collective peace (15-16). There are six times as many armaments as there were during World War I (17). "The millions know that without some collective guarantee of peace, the nations of the world move powerlessly toward the war of wars."