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European Neutrals and Non-Belligerents during the Second World War.

European Neutrals and Non-Belligerents during the Second World War, edited by Neville Wylie. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002, xi, 368 pp. $85.00 US (cloth).

This weighty collection of fourteen essays on neutral and "non-belligerent" powers in Europe during the Second World War is likely to become an essential volume on the subject for some time. The editor is to be congratulated for what must have been a formidable task in assembling, coordinating, and editing the volume. Wylie also provides a lengthy introduction, the first part of which is especially valuable in that it seeks to explain why neutrality was so difficult to maintain in the Second World War. The inter-locking nature of industrial economies and the demands of total war blockades made neutrality a dicey proposition after 1939. Irate belligerents could easily find examples of neutral states trading with the enemy, and the ease with which belligerents could violate the air space and territorial waters of defenceless neutrals further eroded neutral status. Even the high principles of liberal internationalism, with an emphasis on the League of Nations and collective security, made neutrality problematic. Wylie also reminds readers that neutral status in wartime runs the risk of attracting contempt from belligerent states, something to which Canadians can easily relate today. The remainder of the introduction provides capsule summaries of the essays, somewhat undercutting the need to read the book. Readers are best advised to move straight to the essays that interest them.

The essays are slotted into three main categories. Part One covers the "Phoney War" neutrals of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium. All succumbed to the German blitzkrieg of early 1940. Neutral states are frequently compared to threatened ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand (an image Wylie wants to counter) but, as time ran out, there seems to have been a great deal of self-deception among all the Phoney War neutrals about the likelihood of German attack. Surprisingly, both Denmark and Norway felt that Britain, not Nazi Germany, posed the greatest threat to their neutrality even as they relied on Britain as guarantor of their long-term independence. The Danes and Norwegians feared that Britain's aggressive use of blockades might lead to a violation of neutrality that would provoke German retaliation, a fear that did indeed materialize in the case of Norway. Alain Colignon's essay on Belgium explores the intriguingly complex and often overlooked nature of Belgian domestic politics as the mainspring in Belgium's drive to neutrality, while Bob Moore's essay on the Netherlands reminds us (as do several other essays) that neutrality is often central to the identity of the state in question.

The essays in Part Two, on the "wait and see" neutrals, cover Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The neutrality or "non-belligerence" of all these states was swept away by Hitler's seemingly unstoppable tide of victories in 1940 and 1941. The leaders of many of the "wait and see" neutrals were often profoundly uneasy about taking their countries into the war, particularly on the side of Germany, but Hitler's success opened up tempting opportunities. Brian Sullivan's essay on Italy illustrates the process nicely. While Mussolini could not wait to plunge Italy into conflict, he was resisted by the heads of the armed forces and the monarchy who thought, rightly, that war would lead to disaster. Some actually considered overthrowing Mussolini, but pulled back for fear of provoking civil war. War in 1940 on Hitler's side offered Italy the glimmering promise of an escape from poverty and minor power status. For Hungary and Bulgaria war likewise promised the chance to revise the punitive treaties inflicted on them at the end of the First World War. For Romania and Yugoslavia neutrality was essential for preserving a precarious domestic balance of power, but as the interests of the great powers turned to south-eastern Europe as the war progressed, neutrality proved impossible to maintain. The military weaknesses of all the "wait and see" neutrals, including Italy, is highlighted in all the essays.

Part Three, on the "long haul" neutrals, looks at Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Spanish neutrality was necessitated by the devastation of the country at the end of the Civil War and by dependence on Britain for food and fuel. The authors, Elena Hernandez-Sandoica and Enrique Moradiellos also make clear that, in contrast to some accounts, Franco was a staunch supporter of Hitler. The essay on Portuguese neutrality is too vague and too short, and forms the only weak spot in the collection. It is worth noting, however, that the Cold War rescued both Franco and Salazar from international isolation. Neville Wylie does an excellent job of puncturing a few of the myths of Swiss neutrality, while Eunan O'Halpin notes that Irish neutrality met with some sympathy in British governing circles, but not among the general public and the press. Curiously, the Americans, particularly Roosevelt, were most infuriated by Irish neutrality. Finally, neutral status in the Second World War has often provoked bitter post war recrimination, especially in Sweden, where the memory of the founding of the Swedish social welfare state is tainted by the iron ore and ball bearings shipped to Nazi Germany in vast amounts as late as 1944.

Most of the essays in this collection make use of archival sources and most provide useful surveys of the relevant historiography. Four essays were smoothly translated. The prose throughout is workmanlike and occasionally above average, although some authors have thoroughly mastered the art of passive construction. Ultimately, the book is completely successful in persuading readers that there is more to neutrality than the ostrich head-in-the-sand stereotype and that neutrality has deep historical roots worthy of serious study. The timing of Wylie's collection, from a Canadian perspective, is perfect.

Paul W. Doerr

Acadia University
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Author:Doerr, Paul W.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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