The United States Remains Neutral

As war clouds gathered in Europe in the mid-1930s, the United States Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts. One law forbade the sale of arms to any nation at war. Others outlawed loans to warring nations and prohibited Americans from traveling on ships of warring powers. The fundamental goal of American policy, however, was to avoid involvement in a European war, not to prevent such a conflict.

Formation of the Axis Powers

Germany, Italy, and Japan were encouraged by the apparent weakness of the western democracies. The three aggressor nations formed what became known as the Axis powers, or the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. The Axis powers agreed to fight Soviet communism. They also agreed not to interfere with one another's plans for territorial expansion. The agreement cleared the way for these anti-democratic, aggressor powers to take even bolder steps.

The Spanish Civil War

In 1936, Spain was plunged into civil war. Although the Spanish civil war was a local struggle, it soon drew other European powers into the fighting.

From Monarchy to Republic

In the early 1900s, Spain was a monarchy dominated by a landowning upper class. Most Spaniards were poor peasants or urban workers. In 1931, popular unrest against the old order forced the king to leave Spain. A republic was set up with a new, more liberal constitution.

The republican government passed a series of controversial reforms. It took over some Church lands, redistributed some land to peasants, and ended some privileges of the old ruling class. These moves split the country. Communists and others on the left demanded more radical reforms. Conservatives and the military rejected the changes.

In 1936, a conservative general named Francisco Franco led a revolt that touched off a bloody civil war. Franco's forces, called Nationalists, rallied conservatives to their side. Supporters of the republic, known as Loyalists, included communists, socialists, and supporters of democracy.

Other Countries Get Involved

People from other nations soon jumped in to support both sides. Hitler and Mussolini sent arms and forces to help Franco. The Soviet Union sent soldiers to fight against fascism alongside the Spanish Loyalists. Although the governments of Britain, France, and the United States remained neutral, individuals from those countries, as well as other countries, also fought with the Loyalists. Anti-Nazi Germans and anti-Fascist Italians joined the Loyalist cause as well.

A Bloody War

Both sides committed horrible atrocities. The ruinous struggle took more than 500,000 lives.

  Timeline from 1920 to 1945 labeled acts of aggression.
Image Long Description

Italy, Germany, and Japan formed an alliance and continued their aggressive actions.

Analyze Information

Why was it important for these three nations to form an alliance?

One of the worst horrors was a German air raid on Guernica, a small Spanish market town, in April 1937. Germans timed their attack for an afternoon on a market day with thousands of people in town.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments