A 1923 New York Times Magazine article said three men essentially controlled Europe: France’s Raymond Poincaré, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and Czechoslavakia’s Edvard Beneš.
Today, the average person only knows Mussolini. So who were the other two?
Poincaré had previously served as president of France, and in 1923 was serving the second of what would ultimately be three stints as Prime Minister. The NYT described his influence:
M. Poincaré has succeeded in cutting one by one the cords in which the [1916-22 United Kingdom Prime Minister] Lloyd George diplomacy had entanged the British Government and in giving France a free hand… Now, so far as the Continent is concerned, Great Britain is isolated and France is in the lead.
Beneš was at the time Czechoslovakia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State. His official position would actually rise later on, during two separate stints as the country’s president from 1935-38 and again from 1945-48. Even before that, the NYT described his influence:
In the intricate and dangerous negotiations which went on during the later years of the war [WWI] for the eventual break-up of Austria-Hungary and the recognition of Czechoslovakia as an independent State, Beneš showed himself the possessor of diplomatic abilities of a high order, with an almost uncanny power of detecting the right moment for action.
His elevation to the headship of the Foreign Office in the new State which he helped to form was the natural result of a political equipment which has no superior anywhere in Europe. Legally and officially he is not the political head, for he is not Premier; but the foreign policy of Czechoslovakia is the policy of Dr. Beneš and not that of either the Premier or the President.
Particularly interesting are the names not listed as ranking among Europe’s three most influential people, including U.K. Prime Minister Bonar Law.
Adolf Hitler would come to dominate much of the continent in the 1930s and 1940s. But in November 1923, a few months after this article was originally published, his Nazi Party failed to gain power in the violent Beer Hall Putsch. He wasn’t influential yet.
The Three Dictators of Europe
Published: Sunday, May 13, 2023
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