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Why the League Failed

Source A

Cartoon: failure of the LeaguePowerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

This cartoon by the British cartoonist David Low appeared in the

Evening Standard newspaper, 11 November 1938.

Two figures sit on a cracked stone, which carries the inscription: 'League of Nations.  Foundation stone of a New Order, laid 1918.  Peace hath her sacrifices.'

Click here for the interpretation



After the Abyssinian crisis, the League gradually died:

  1. Italy left the League in 1937.  Few other countries left the League, but all of them realised that it had failed - instead they began to re-arm as fast as possible.

  2. During 1938, Britain and France tried a new policy - 'appeasement' (negotiating directly with Hitler); this failed in 1939 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.

  3. When war broke out in 1939, the League closed down; its headquarters in Geneva remained empty throughout the war.

  4. In 1943 - at a Conference in Tehran - America, Britain and Russia agreed to set up a new international organisation (the 'United Nations') when the war finished.

  5. On 12 April 1946, the League met in Geneva and formally abolished itself.  The British delegate, Robert Cecil, said: 'The League is dead. Long live the United Nations'.



Activity 1:

1. Look back at the previous pages - especially, analyse the League's weaknesses, and the reasons why it failed in Manchuria and Abyssinia.

2. Make a spidergram of all the ideas you can think of why the League failed.

3. Now click on the title and see how many ideas you got...  



Reed Brett on Abyssinia

Simple essay

Pupil's essay

UN debate (1946) on the failure and achievements of the League


Why did the League fail - Sources - essential

The League of Nations - views from the web



- Giles Hill on the League's failure

- BBC debate-podcast on whether the League was a success





What do YOU think of the League of Nations?

megaphone  HAVE YOUR SAY

on Mr Clare's History Blog - Why did the League fail?



Reasons for Failure

The League failed in Manchuria and Abyssinia because it WAS DUMB!

Can you explain how each of the following contributed to the failure of the League; click on the yellow pointers to reveal my suggestions.

  •  Weak
    • the League’s ‘powers’ were little more than going ‘tut-tut’. Sanctions did not work. It had no army.
  •  America
    • the strongest nation in the world never joined; Britain and France were not strong enough to impose pace on their own
  •  Structure
    • the League's organisation was muddled, so it took ages to do anything; members couldn’t agree, but decisions had to be unanimous - this paralysed the League
  •  Depression
    • the world-wide Depression made countries try to get more land and power; they were worried about themselves, not about world peace
  •  Unsuccessful
    • the more the League failed, the less people trusted it; in the end, everybody just ignored it
  •  Members
    • the League’s main members let it down - Italy and Japan defied and left the League, France and Britain betrayed it
  •  Big bullies
    • in the 1920s, the League had been quite successful with small, weak countries; in the 1930s, powerful countries like Germany, Italy and Japan defied the League - they were too strong for the League to stop them








Activity 2:

◄  Think about these reasons the League failed.  

For each, suggest:

a. an example, and

b. an explanation,

of how that reason might have caused the failure of the League


... and a final word:

Source B

If the nations want peace, the League gives them the way by which peace can be kept. League or no League, a country which is determined to have a war can always have it.

The 1930s historian H.A.L. Fisher sums up the failure of the League

in his book, A History of Europe (1938).



Read HAL Fisher’s ‘last word’ on the League in Source B (he used 35 words).  

Looking back through this unit, write your own ‘last word’ on the League, taking 35 words.

Read your comment to others.