Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

Vital Crossroads: Mediterranean Origins of the Second World War, 1935-1940

Synopsis

Most international historians present the outbreak of World War II as the result of an irreconcilable conflict between Great Britain and Germany. Reynolds M. Salerno shows that the situation in the Mediterranean played a decisive role in the European drama of the late 1930s and profoundly influenced the manner in which the Second World War unfolded. Vital Crossroads is the result of the author's remarkable access to and extensive research in twenty-eight archives in five different countries.

Concentrating on the period from the Mediterranean crisis of 1935 to Italy's declaration of war in June 1940, Salerno demonstrates that the international politics of pre -- World War II Europe can only be understood as the multilateral interaction of British, French, German, and Italian foreign and defense policies. Control of the Mediterranean, he asserts, was a central concern for the European powers in 1935 -- 40 and a fundamental reason why the conflict unfolded as it did. As a result, France and Italy influenced and often determined the nature and direction of Allied and Axis policy.

Salerno contends that the Allies' reluctance to take decisive action against Fascist Italy in 1939 -- 40 contributed to the fall of France in 1940, Britain's desperate situation in 1940 -- 41, and the post-war collapse of Britain as a world power. At a time when the Allied powers dreaded the ability of the German military to march across the European continent, they also feared that the Italian armed forces would strive to fulfill Mussolini's grand imperial ambitions in the Mediterranean.

Excerpt

The Second World War started in September 1939 when the German army invaded Poland, provoking Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany. The war did not start in the Mediterranean. In fact it was nine months before Fascist Italy intervened and extended to the Mediterranean a war that until then had been limited to the European continent and the North Sea. Nevertheless, the situation in the Mediterranean played a decisive role in the European drama of the late 1930s and profoundly influenced the manner in which the Second World War unfolded.

This Mediterranean perspective is new. Until now, historians have explained the outbreak of the Second World War as the result of an irreconcilable conflict between Great Britain and Germany, a struggle that occurred almost exclusively in Europe. There were good reasons to focus on Britain and Germany: they were the only two major European powers at war continuously from September 1939 until May 1945, and for eighteen months after the fall of France and before the United States entered the war, the United Kingdom battled the Axis powers virtually alone. Nazi Germany was arguably the war's most important provocateur and will forever be known as one of the most ambitious and heinous regimes in history. The war records of the other major European powers pale in comparison. Aside from a short war against Finland during the winter of 1939—40, the Soviet Union remained outside the conflict until attacked by the Germans in June 1941. The French government, after fighting a “phony war” for nine months, fell in June 1940 and was not liberated until August 1944. Fascist Italy did not intervene until June 1940, and its government was driven into exile in July 1943.

These dates and events affirm the importance of Britain and Germany to the history of the Second World War but do not imply that the British and Germans alone were responsible for the origins of the war. Many interna-

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