The League of Nations (French La Société des Nations) was the predecessor to the United Nations. The League was founded in 1920, after World War I, but failed to maintain peace during World War II. The League had a Council of the great powers and an Assembly of all the member countries.
The League of Nations was thought up by Woodrow Wilson, the American President during the First World War. It was to be a group of nations that worked together to keep peace. One of the reasons for its downfall was that, after a vote, the American public refused to join. The League did not have the power it needed to enforce any of the rules that made it up. This later proved to be a fatal flaw in the League's structure.
Another flaw in the League was that it was not representative enough: no more than 65 nations were members at any given time, and the interests of the leading members (notably Britain and France) often outweighed those of smaller, less powerful members.
The League also had no troops of its own, and decisions it made were often slow. For example, when the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, it took a whole year for the League's decision to be heard.
After a series of disasters in the 1930s, it was abolished. It was thought to be weak and powerless, after Japan completely ignored it when the League of Nations tried to stop Japan from invading Manchuria (North-East China) and Italy invaded Abyssinia. The League did not fail completely: it had prevented a few conflicts in Europe in the 1920s and worked hard to relieve various public health and social problems around the world.
President Woodrow Wilson arranged a plan for a "government of governments", or rather an international peacekeeping force. The idea of his plan was to settle problems between nations peacefully. Wilson tried to persuade the international community that the league would discourage aggression and tackle the underlying problems that often lead to war, such as poverty. Wilson was however unable to convince the American public into supporting the League. The United States did not want to be part of Wilson’s approach for several reasons:
First of all the United States had many German immigrants who hated the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty said that Germany and its allies were to accept full responsibility for causing the war and reparations were to be made to certain countries. The Treaty of Versailles was also the treaty that set up the League of Nations and not agreeing to it meant not being part of the League of Nations.
Second, Americans did not want to risk more Americans dying in a European war, as they had in World War I. They also felt that it would result in pouring effort into pointless actions such as sending soldiers all around the globe to sort out small disputes. This attitude was called isolationism. Most Americans felt it would be best to avoid European and British affairs completely.
In 1946, the already inactive League of Nations formally ended, and the United Nations was established, along with a few of the League's committees, such as the World Health Organisation, which still today maintains many of the same responsibilities of the League of Nations.
These countries joined League of Nations in 1920:
- Argentina (left in 1921 and joined again in 1933)
- Brazil (left the organization in 1926)
- British Empire
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Dominion of Canada, Commonwealth of Australia, Federation of New Zealand, Union of South Africa
- Chile (left in 1938)
- Czechoslovakia (left in 1939)
- Denmark (left in 1940)
- El Salvador (left in 1937)
- France (Vichy France left the league in 1941)
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