Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow
To Be Neutral
You're on the playground at school, and two of your friends get into a fight. It's a stupid fight and you like them both so you either try to get between them or you let them fight. Neutral, right? Well, in warfare the rules are a little bit more complicated. You actually can help one side or another during a war, just not too much. You can sell war materials to one side but not the other, or defend your borders. In this case, neutral means not actually declaring war on someone else and hoping no one declared war on you. What you can't do is allow armies from either side to pass through your country. You also can't give information about the enemy to either side.
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Why Be Neutral?
In a war like World War II, you might ask why a country would choose to be neutral. After all, Adolf Hitler was killing Jews and other groups like they were diseased animals while he was trying to conquer the world. The Japanese had similar designs in Asia, and they didn't mind if their prisoners of war died from exhaustion. It's hard not to hate that, right?
Most of the neutral countries, though, were small and/or near the fighting. They knew they had no chance of staying independent if they declared war. Afghanistan, Andorra, Estonia, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Tibet, Vatican City, and Yemen were all neutral during the war. Apart from Yemen and Tibet they were all near the action.
The Three Types of Neutrality
To be neutral during World War II actually meant different things. Let's break those different ways down one at a time.
1. Neutral But Occupied Anyway
Declaring neutrality didn't always protect a country from the war, though. Iceland, for instance, could have been used as a base for German submarine operations in the northern Atlantic so the British occupied it in 1940 to keep the Germans from having it. The Germans occupied San Marino for strategic reasons at the end of the war.
2. Neutral But Collaborating
A couple of the other neutral nations realized they could be of more help as neutral powers than if they actually fought. Portugal and Spain were both neutral but they sent troops, Portugal to fight under the British flag and Spain to fight for the Germans. Later on, Portugal would let Allied ships use the Azores to fight against German submarines.
Most of the other countries generally favored the Allies over the Axis, but felt they couldn't help one side too much more than the other. Switzerland, for instance, counted on Germany for oil imports. Vatican City had signed a treaty of neutrality with Italy in 1929 and it was surrounded by Rome, hardly a good place to help. That and it didn't have enough soldiers to make a difference.
3. Neutral But Ready for a Fight
Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, and Spain all kept their armies on high alert and watched their borders during the war. They never threatened to attack anyone, but were ready to defend themselves if anyone attacked them. On the other extreme was Ireland, which had its shipping sunk by both sides during the war and never responded to the attacks.
All right, let's take a moment to review what we've learned. Neutral during World War II meant not actually declaring war on someone else and hoping no one declared war on you. Beyond that, all bets were off. Some countries tried to pretend the war wasn't happening, while others literally sent their troops to fight under another country's flag. Most other countries took a middle ground, helping the Allies by sending them war materials and hoping that Germany, Italy, and Japan lost the war.
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Neutral Countries in World War 2
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