Print this page

Holland: 1918-1940

The Bond of Nations that was founded as a result of WWI and the general surge of pacifism that flooded the world convinced the Dutch Government that the event of war would not be seen for many decades to come. Since the country was completely in dire straits after the devastating blockade during WWI, the entire focus was set on economic reform and restoration. The social unrest [just after the 1918 armistice] had also forced the authorities to further improve social structure and the labour environment.

The first years after the war the economy gradually improved, but it did certainly not boost or flourish as it had done in the years before WWI. The world was far from stable. The civil war in China, the worldwide oversupply of agricultural products [resulting into rock bottom prices] and the harsh environment that hit Hollands most valuable economic partner Germany as a result of the Versailles Treaty all amounted to the delayed growth. When during the late twenties the world economy once again collapsed and the most important trading nation of The Netherlands - Germany - went into straight crisis, the Dutch followed. The queues in front of the social security agencies grew and grew. The economic crisis of 1929 was followed by the financial crisis of 1931. In a world much less organised and structured like our world today, these crises hit the entire world hard.

The twenties and early thirties were decades that represented extensive focus on social structures and economics. The Dutch political parties - from left wing to right wing - all joint in aiming for disarmament and investment in the economy. But the Dutch economy was unable to rise to the occasion. The country and its population were hit by budget cut after budget cut and it seemed that there was no way out whatsoever. To make things worse, the monetary politics were weak. Especially the Dutch choice to hold on to the hard guilder [hold on to the Golden Standard], killed the Dutch export. Eventually the guilder was devaluated and that boosted the economy more than all alternative policies in the years before, but it had resulted in record high unemployements and an empty Treasure House.

When in January 1933 Adolf Hitler stepped into the spotlights, Holland also soon profitted from this man's early decisions on social restructuring and reorganisation of labour and industry. The initial developments in Germany that seemed to receive a massive boost from the economic reforms from the Nazi's were closely monitored by the Dutch. The border trade with Germany increased and especially the Dutch living close to the German territory grew a warm enthusiasm for Germany's reform policy. The people were still blind for the devious side of the Nazi doctrine. There were only a few that recognized the threats, amongst those few Sir Winston Churchill.

In 1935 the first Dutch politicians started to realise that the growing strength of Germany could result into increasing political tension in Europe. Also elsewhere in the world imperialistic signals were starting to pop-up. Japan had gradually started to show more than a healthy interest in the rich geophysical wealth of the Netherlands East Indies. When the Nazi's also started to show more of their genuine ambitions, an increasing number of politicians started to respond to the also growing concern that came to them from specialists all around the world.

Meanwhile the crises in the late twenties and early thirties as well as the rapid socialisation of the labour systems had fed the rise of a new right wing in the political spectrum. A flow of nationalistic and ultra conservative parties saw daylight, often backed-up by representatives of the higher classes, industrialists and career officers. These new parties had ambitions to a stronger national state, a strict order and a higher national awareness. In a way this nationalistic revival was seen throughout Europe. It was sort of a natural response to the socialistic revolution that Europe had experienced and the recent crises, which had been blamed on the rapid social restructering and reform of the last decades. Traditionals and higher classes had seen their obtained positions threatened by the emancipation of labour and lower social classes. The call for order and structure echoed and it mobilised right wing initiatives throughout Europe. In the Netherlands dozens of these small conservative and right wing parties rose to the ocassion, but only few managed to get enough votes to gain some representatives in Parliament. In fact only one political movement managed to gain a true right of existance. It was the NSB [Nationaal Socialistische Beweging - National Socialistic Movement], which would play a very treacherous role during the occupation of the Netherlands too.

As off 1935 the Dutch started to make plans for modernising the army and fleet [especially for defending the colonies]. Although the increasing awareness of the growing likeliness of a new great war did gradually melt the wide spread idea's of total pacifism, action was little seen until 1937. Plenty of plans were produced, and extensive talks and [political] negotiations were held. It would however not be before the year 1937 that considerable increases of the defence budget were executed.

Meanwhile the politic agenda was increasingly set on the international tension that had started to grow. It were Spain, Italy and Germany that were stirring the spirits. Italy had already a fascist regime with the notorious Mussolini. Eventually Il Duce was seen as the alternative for the already much feared communism, but when Mussolini started to develop imperalistic ambitions, he was soon seen as a major threat to peace in Europe. Spain had been a political mess since long and with the all out civil war, it also attracted the eyes of the European politicians. And obviously the growing German might, with a new leadership that was gradually developing initiatives that started to show the true intentions of its national-socialism.

The clock was ticking, and it was ticking loud and clear. The world started holding its breath.