Throughout the 1930s, the rulers of Germany, Italy, and Japan were preparing to bwuild new empires. After the horrors of World War I, the leaders of Britain, France, and the United States tried to avoid conflict through diplomacy. During the 1930s, the two sides tested each other's commitment and will.
Germany rebuilt its military during the 1930s in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. Here, troops stand at attention during a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, Germany.
Challenges to peace followed a pattern. Dictators took aggressive action but met only verbal protests and pleas for peace from the democracies. Mussolini, Hitler, and Japanese militarists viewed that desire for peace as weakness and responded with new acts of aggression. With hindsight, we can see the shortcomings of the policies followed by the democracies. These policies, however, were the product of long and careful deliberation. At the time, many people believed they would prevent war.
One of the earliest tests had been posed by Japan. Japanese military leaders and ultranationalists thought that Japan should have an empire equal to those of the Western powers. In pursuit of this goal, Japan seized the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931. When the League of Nations condemned the aggression, Japan simply withdrew from the organization.
Japan's easy success strengthened the militarist faction in Japan. In 1937, Japanese armies overran much of eastern China, starting the Second Sino-Japanese War. Once again, Western protests did not stop Japan's acts of imperialism.