ITS FIVE FORGOTTEN INNOVATIONS
by Patrick Killough [04/04/1998]
Were you born before April 19, 1946? I was. That means that you and I both lived when the League of Nations lived.
The League of Nations lasted for 26 years from January 10, 1920 until April 19, 1946. It went out of formal existence on the day of the first meeting of the United Nations in London. Although the best thinking behind the League was done by Americans, the United States never joined. America's absence from and leadership of the League doomed it to failure. The League's failure, in turn, made straight the path to the Second World War.
The League of Nations had a very
and positive first ten years of existence. It then became increasingly
defied by nations such as Japan, Italy and Germany and ultimately
and ineffective. It expelled only one member for wrongdoing: the USSR
its invasion of Finland. (That was the major reason why the victorious
Soviet Union would not allow the League to live on after World
II.) In some ways, however, the League's "Covenant" or
was both more flexible and more democratic than the Charter of
United Nations, whose structure is about 80% identical with the
Indeed, the League was vastly more innovative than the United
Vastly. The League did five things for the first time which
The League of Nations was created to solve one age-old problem. How do you persuade nations not to go to war? How do you prevent large scale cross border violence: the angry movements of national armies and navies of sovereign territorial nation states?
The working assumption behind the League was that international peace had one supreme enemy. That was the then prevailing doctrine that each independent territorial state was absolutely free to do with its resources anything its leaders chose for itto do. If Japan or Germany or the United States wanted to invade China or Poland or Cuba, that was no one's business but the invader's. War was one of many totally ordinary and conventional relationships between states: such as trade, diplomacy, tourism and mail. War was as normal and natural as breathing. It had always been that way and always would remain that way.
The Pre-History of the League of Nations
In August of 1914 in Europe a general peace ended which had endured (with isolated exceptions such as Prussia against France and Austria-Hungary against Prussia) a hundred years: since the second squashing of Napoleon. During the rest of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe's rulers began to knit themselves and the world together through a growing habit of consultation.
The nations also created a number of important, pioneering international organizations (IOs). In 1865 came the International Telegraphic Union and in 1874 the best and post powerful of all, the International Postal Union. 1890 saw the New World's pan American Union. In 1905 came the International Institute of Agriculture and in 1907 the International Health Office. BY 1914 there were thirty such IOs. They were all rather humdrum and managed only such matters which did not arouse strong nationalist passions. There was no movement to unite them under an overarching Super-International Organization.
Major developments at the turn of
were the First Hague
President McKinley's Innovative Diplomacy
In the meanwhile the U.S. had won
Theodore Roosevelt called the "splendid little" war with Spain. In some
ways the less said about the reasons for declaring war on Spain the
But that is not true of the innovative way the Americans made peace
Spain. Only 20 years before the end of World War I, the American
under President William McKinley did several things right which
Wilson did wrong in 1918-1919.
The United States was never a League member. But American President Woodrow Wilson, more than any other single human being, brought the League into being. Indeed, under its own rules, the League could not hold its first meeting unless and until convoked by the President of the United States.
The League's Five Great Innovations
Let me close with a list of five
ho hum organizational
In my next column: why the USA stayed out of the League of Nations.
for the Asheville TRIBUNE