Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Smuts, Jan Christian (1870–1950)

South African military leader, international statesman, and prime minister (1919–1924, 1939–1948). Born in Bovenplaats, Cape Colony (now South Africa), on 24 May 1870, Jan Smuts was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge University, where he read law. He earned his degree in 1895 and then built a successful law practice in Johannesburg. Although born a British subject, he was extremely proud of his Boer ancestry and was an effective guerrilla leader in the Boer War (1899–1902). In 1910, he and his close friend Louis Botha worked together to create the Union of South Africa. Smuts then entered politics in Botha's cabinet, serving in several ministerial positions.

At the beginning of World War I, Smuts was serving as defense minister under Prime Minister Botha. Smuts commanded the offensive that took control of German Southwest Africa (the future Namibia) from the Germans. Made a British Army general, Smuts then took charge of British operations in East Africa. Before the end of the war, he joined the British Imperial War Cabinet as minister of air and helped to organize the Royal Air Force, the world's first independent air force. Smuts represented South Africa during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where he supported the League of Nations and helped develop the mandate system.

During 1919–1924 and again in 1939–1948, Smuts served as South Africa's prime minister. He returned to power in September 1939 as an advocate of war with Germany. He was also minister of defense, and from June 1940 he commanded South African armed forces in the war. Made an honorary field marshal in the British Army in 1941, he was throughout the war one of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's closest advisors.

Smuts believed that cooperation was the key to international stability and peace. After World War II, he took a leading role in the creation of the United Nations (UN) and was a strong supporter of South African cooperation with the British. Unfortunately, Smuts's visions of cooperation were never fully realized. At the time of his death in 1950, the Cold War was well established, and the world was no closer to genuine peace. Smuts died in Irene (near Pretoria), South Africa, on 11 September 1950.

Maurice Williams and Takaia Larsen


Further Reading
Ingham, Kenneth. Jan Christian Smuts: The Conscience of a South African. New York: St. Martin's, 1986.; Smuts, J. C. Jan Christian Smuts. London: Cassell, 1952.; Williams, Basil A. F. Botha, Smuts and South Africa. New York: Collier, 1962.
 

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