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The Spanish Civil War:
An Overview Summary

The Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and was an international event from the start. Italy sent ground troops to help Franco. Germany, in support of Franco, used Spain as a testing ground for its aerial bombing technology and other new modes of warfare. The Soviet Union nominally intervened on the side of the Republicans, but only with technical advisers and arm shipments. Britain and France were hopelessly divided and only offered verbal support for the government. Pleas in the League of Nations went unheard as the Spanish government saw the western powers forsake a fellow democracy for the hopeless dream of peace. Madrid fell to the Nationalists in March 1939 and Franco took control of a fascist government sympathetic to Germany and Italy. Pablo Picasso's famous mural, Guernica, named for the small town in Spain that felt some of the heaviest German bombing, truly expresses the horror and devastation of the Civil War. Picasso demonstrates quite vividly the fate of noncombatants as no longer hapless bystanders in war, but rather the very targets of random and ruthless killing.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Japan, a great power since it defeated Russia in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, was engulfed by sever economic depression. Like Germany and Italy, Japan replaced a parliamentary system with a fascist one under General Hideki Tojo and Emperor Hirohito, the figurehead ruler of Japan to whom all swore absolute allegiance. Bent on expansion, Japan saw the raw materials of the Chinese province of Manchuria to be essential to success. In 1931, after assuming control over Korea, Japan invaded Manchuria; it set up a puppet state, known as Manchukuo, in 1932. When the League of Nations refused to recognize the new state, Japan simply withdrew from the League. By 1937, Japan was waging an undeclared war in China, taking cities up and down the Chinese coast and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Chinese. According to eastern accounts, World War II began in 1931!

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