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What was the most important cause of the Second World War?

What was the most important cause of the Second World War?


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What was the most important cause of the Second World War? Obviously there was the Treaty of Versailles which played a significant part; the War Guilt Clause, Reparations, Disarmament and territorial clauses, etc. But, what about Hitler's actions? The failure of appeasement and the failure of the League of Nations?


The most important cause of WW2 (as of WW1) was imperialism.

By that, I mean a specific development of capitalism that features concentration of capital which has enough influence in state affairs to dictate expansionist policies in its favour.

As a result, nations struggle to expand their spheres of interest, i.e. access to markets and resources, which will lead to war as soon as there are no 'free' markets left (cf Boxer war - unity amongst European powers to open a fresh market) and opposing power blocs have formed (various European crises in the early 20th century did not result in a war because involved great powers were not sure enough their allies would support them in a war, power blocs were not formed).

Not surprisingly it was Germany who stroke first to challenge its rivals (1914) - after all, France and Britain had established their colonial empires long before Germany was united and became Europe's strongest industrial power, however with limited access to markets and resources compared to UK and F. However, WWI failed to resolve the tensions. Germany was beaten, but after the economic crises in the early 20th century her economy still proved to be superior in comparison to her direct competitors. Furthermore, due to the revolutions, Germany was also not occupied or disarmed. So it is no surprise, that with the economic power base and imperialist ambitions still in place, German imperialism would surface again to challenge the unprivileged position in the international system imposed by the Versailles treaty.

In my eyes it is wrong to reduce Germany's war ambitions to revanchism due to Versailles. After all, the other main challenger of the status quo, Japan, was never disadvantaged in any comparable way. Japan started the war due to imperialist motives - to conquer China and Oceania for their resources and manpower.

Neither the treaty of Versailles nor the failure of the League of Nations are causes for the Second Word war. These events are just consequences of imperialistic brinkmanship.

Suggested reading: Mandel, The Meaning of the Second World War


I think the cause was the same as of the WW I: German militarism and expansionism. Since Kaiser Wilhelm gained power in Germany, it has been pursuing an aggressive foreign policy (e.g. the Morocco crisis) and launched an arms race with Great Britain. It resulted in one world war, which did not prove conclusively to Germans that militarism doesn't work, so they launched another one 21 years later.

Read the book "Dreadnought" by R.K. Massie. It describes the German sentiments in great detail. You'll see that Hitler's rhetoric was nothing new in German politics, at least qualitatively. (except for the genocide part, but even that just barely) He was more rabid than, say, Bulow, but the substance was the same.


I'd argue that the biggest reason the war began is that other nations did not do enough, if anything, to prevent it. The Allies of course were not ready economically or militarily for conflict, until they finally took action after Poland. The League of Nations, while a good idea on paper, was also ineffectual against Germany in Europe and Italy in Africa.

Surely the Allies/LN could have seen what was happening and where events would lead. There were attempts by insiders to warn outside powers of what was coming, but to no avail. Hitler's rise to power in Germany could not have been missed. It seems like the Allies were just really, really hoping that nothing bad would happen.


the Nazi-Soviet pact because if Stalin hadn't made the pact with Hitler Germany would have had to face a war on two fronts(Britain and France from the west and Russia and Poland from the east)


Yes, I agree with all of your reasons, but I'd say that the Treaty of Versailles was the biggest cause. If you listen to Hitlers speeches, they are all about how evil the other nations are for making Germany this weak. (along with some racist statements) I've heard it argued that Hitler just wanted power and used public opinion to his advantage, but I'd argue that he truly believed in what he said because even when the Nazi party was being destroyed by larger parties, he stayed with the Nazis. Hope that helped.


What was the most important cause of the Second World War?

[Note at least three potential causes of WWII] Three causes of WWII include: the Treaty of Versailles the Great Depression and the policy of Appeasement. [Contrast cause 1 with cause 2, and then cause 3 (your most important cause) with 1 and 2] The Treaty of Versailles placed an incredible economic strain (>100bn marks of reparations) on the German economy, leading to hyperinflation which destroyed Germans’ savings building resentment. This resentment was added to by the War Guilt clause, extreme limits on the German military, and loss of territory, such as Alsace-Lorraine and (temporarily) the Saar, which was also a economic blow given its coal mines. However, these factors would not have been as intense had it not been for the Great Depression, which ended international investment in Germany, led to the recall of loans, and so helped to crash the German economy. It was in this extreme economic scenario that the Nazis and Communists gained support (the latter helping in the rise of support for the former), which in turn allowed for Hitler to acquire sufficient control of the Reichstag to takeover the government as he had been unable to do via the Munich Putsch despite the Treaty of Versailles having been in force for four years.The policy of Appeasement, however, allowed Germany to be in a position where its resentment and subsequent Nazi political gains could translate to the outbreak of war. If the Treaty of Versailles’s military restrictions had been enforced by the initially more powerful victors of WWI (Britain and France), then the German military would have been unable to feasibly being WWII. Moreover, if initial German expansion (militarising the Rhineland, the Sudetenland, and then the rest of Czechoslovakia) had been checked Germany would have been less willing to attack Poland and France, having failed in these previous smaller attempts.


Causes of the Second World War

The causes of the Second World War are neither singular or straightforward. This section will explore the primary causes which led to the outbreak of war in 1939.

Germany’s foreign policy

Germany’s aggressive foreign policy was not the sole cause of the Second World War, but it was a large contributing factor.

From 1935 onwards, Germany had actively pursued an aggressive foreign policy: reintroducing conscription, creating the Luftwaffe, planning for war as detailed in the Hossbach Memorandum of 1937, and occupying Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia before eventually invading Poland in 1939.

By breaking international agreements set out in the Treaty of Versailles and pursuing aggressive expansionism, Germany’s actions made a major European war more likely.

The aftermath of the First World War

The Treaty of Versailles also reduced the size of Germany. This had numerous outcomes, among them losing key economic outputs, as well as making people who had previously been German part of other countries. The change in the eastern borders of Germany in particular became a source of contention, and as a result many people within Germany felt that the treaty was unfair. This again led to discontent and was exploited by extremist parties such as the Nazis who rejected of the treaty.

Weakness of the International System and the Policy of Appeasement

Whilst Germany’s foreign policy played a decisive role in the outbreak of the Second World War, the failure of other countries to react, or their inability to react, was also key.

The aftermath of the First World War had also left France and Britain in politically and economically weak situations. This meant that they were often unwilling or unable to respond effectively to German aggression.

Britain in particular felt that the Treaty of Versailles, and its effects on Germany, were harsh. Following the devastation of the First World War, Britain was desperate to avoid another world war. As a result of this followed a policy of appeasement towards Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy from 1933-1939. This policy boosted Hitler’s confidence and as a result his actions became progressively more bold.

Outside of mainland Europe, the USA and the Soviet Union also played key roles in the outbreak of the Second World War. In the lead up to 1939, both countries followed increasingly isolationist policies, keeping themselves out of international foreign affairs where possible.

The USA had not joined the League of Nations, and had passed several Neutrality Acts in 1938 which avoided financial and political war-related deals.

As a major power, the USA’s reluctance to involve itself in other countries affairs helped to embolden Hitler and the Nazis. This contributed to the rise of Nazism in Europe, and its confidence to carry out its aggressive foreign policy without fear of retaliation from the USA.

When combined, these factors reduced the chances of an effective challenge to Nazi Germany preceding the Second World War. It meant that Hitler was able to get progressively more confident without fear of retaliation or serious action from other powers.

Creation of the Axis Powers

Throughout the 1930s, new alliances were forged across Europe.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) helped to unite Italy and Germany, who both offered military support to the nationalist rebels attacking the democratic government. Prior to this, Italy and Germany had not been militarily aligned, and Italy had blocked Germany’s plans to annex Austria in 1934.

Following the Spanish Civil War however, relations between the two countries improved. In October 1936, the Rome-Berlin Treaty between Italy and Germany was signed.

The following month in November 1936, an anti-communist treaty, the Anti-Comintern Pact, was signed between Japan and Germany. In 1937, Italy joined this pact.

The three countries formalised these pacts into a military alliance in 1940. The countries that were part of this alliance became known as the Axis Powers . When coupled with Germany’s aggressive foreign policy, the creation of an alternative military alliance to the Allies, intensified the volatile situation.

The failure of the Allied Powers in summer 1939

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were ideological enemies. Despite this, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered into a non-aggression pact in the summer of 1939, which allowed them to invade and occupy parts of Poland. This pact suited both countries territorial aims.

This situation however, was not inevitable. In 1939, the Soviet Union was initially engaged in talks with the Allies over a defensive strategy for Poland. When these talks broke down, the Soviet Union turned back towards Germany, quickly agreeing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Ultimately, the Allies failed to make a concerted effort to work together to prevent Hitler’s attack on Poland. This failure was a contributing factor in the outbreak of the Second World War.


In the former Soviet Union, 1 May was International Workers’ Day and was celebrated with huge parades in cities like Moscow. Though the celebrations are low-key nowadays, several groups march on that day to protest grievances the workers have. Since 1992, May Day is officially called “The Day of Spring and Labour”.

May Day has been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups since the Second International. May Day is one of the most important holidays in communist countries such as China, North Korea, Cuba and the former Soviet Union countries.


History of The Second World War and Peace Settlement

In his book entitled “The Second World War”, Cyril Falls says that the World War II was essentially a war revenge initiated by Germany German National Socialism stood first and foremost for revenge.

The other aims, the ‘living room’ to be obtained by the subjugation of neighbouring states, the absorption of all Teutonic or so-called Teutonic population

The colonisation of agricultural districts like the Ukraine, the control of all major industries in Europe, were either the means of consolidating the revenge once achieved, or the expression of purely predatory instinct such as had always flourished in Prussia and were later on diffused all over Germany Hitler stood for rearmament and revenge and then for loot and German domination.

Image Source: 4.bp.blogspot.com/-b4NZq3nypUk/VT8s-hwdfdI/AAAAAAAAPAg/5PIlmf6e4Uk/s1600/Noordam-delegates-1915.jpg

(1) The Treaty of Versailles had in itself the germs of the war of 1939. Germany was very badly treated. She was forced to sign the Treaty at the point of bayonet and the Treaty itself was based on the spirit of revenge. Germany was deprived of her colonies and concessions abroad. She was deprived of her territories in Europe. She was cut into two parts by the establishment of the Polish Corridor.

Her navy was completely destroyed. Her army was reduced to an insignificant position. She was deprived of her coal and steel resources and was burdened with reparations which it was impossible for her to pay. Her soil was occupied by the foreign troops to enforce the provisions of the Treaty. The Allied Troops stationed on the German soil did not behave properly towards the people and created unhappy memories.

The French occupation of the Ruhr Valley added insult to injury. The result was that the problems facing the newly created Republic of Germany were so big that it was impossible for her statesmen to cope with them. The democratic states of Western Europe did nothing to help the Weimar Republic to strengthen her hold over the people and she had to meet opposition, often armed, of the extremists from the Right and the Left.

On account of its own nationalistic outlook and reliance on the army, the German Republic was more severe with the Radicals than with the reactionaries. The foundations of democracy in Germany remained as weak as they could be. The political extremists enjoyed legal protection under the Weimar constitution although they themselves did not bother about the legal niceties.

The introduction of proportional representation multiplied the number of political parties in the country and made the ministries unstable. The people of Germany demanded a revision of the Treaty but there was no possibility of getting it done on account of opposition of France which considered the Peace Settlement of 1919-20 as the only tangible guarantee of security. France felt that any concession given to Germany would weaken the whole structure, and hence refused a revision of the Treaty which alone could satisfy the Germans.

The Weimar Republic struggled hard to cope with the situation but ultimately it lost the fight. It was under these circumstances that the Nazi Party began to gain ground on the German soil p .id in January 1933 Hitler, its leader, was appointed the Chancellor. To begin with the Nazis followed a very cautious policy and tried to silence the suspicions of the other powers with regard to their future programme of action.

Hitler took pains to emphasise that he stood for peace and to prove his bona fides, he entered into a Treaty with Poland in 1934 and with England in 1935. When there was a revolt in Austria in 1934, Hitler denied that he had any hand in it The Saar Plebiscite held in 1935 went in favour of Germany. However, after having consolidated their position at home and strengthened their military resources, the Nazis began to unfold their inner aims and objects. The Rhineland was occupied in March 1936. Austria was annexed in 1938.

The Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia were encouraged to demand their union with Germany and Hitler openly backed their demands. As Great Britain had already guaranteed military support to Czechoslovakia there was every possibility of a war.

However, Chamberlain went personally to Germany and ultimately by the Munich Pact, Czechoslovakia was forced to submit to the demands of Germany. War was avoided at the cost of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia although Chamberlain claimed that he had brought “peace with honour.” Although there was some relief at the idea that war had been averted, many agreed with the view of Churchill that the Munich Agreement was “a total unmitigated defeat” for Great Britain.

The peace which followed the surrender at Munich lasted hardly for 11 months. In defence of policy of appeasement of Chamberlain it was contended that Great Britain was not at all ready for war. After 1919, she had reduced her military strength to a dangerous point in the name of economy. The British army was short of tanks. Although the Royal Air Force was efficient, it was no match for the German Air Force.

There was no conscription in the country. The training of the second line of national defence, the Territorial Army, was hopelessly inadequate. British statesmen, British publicists and the British nation as a whole, were responsible for the sad state of affairs. No British Government, no political party and no organ of public opinion had demanded that the military defence of the country must be put on a war footing.

The voice of Churchill was the solitary voice in the wilderness. The British public opinion and her statesmen ought to have stopped Hitler when he ordered the German troops to march into the Rhineland in March 1936. They ought to have intervened on the occasion of Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the Italian conquest of Abyssinia. They ought not to have allowed Hitler to annex Austria without risking a war.

Even in the case of Czechoslovakia, the British Government ought to have adopted a policy of “no surrender”. As it was, Hitler and his other partners in the Berlin- Rome-Tokyo Axis were allowed to have their conquests without any let or hindrance.

Such an attitude was bound to create an unfortunate impression in the minds of the dictators and encourage them in their aggressive designs. As success followed success, with little more than verbal interference, they same bolder and bolder. They saw no point in stopping when it was so easy to go on.

After the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, Hitler concentrated his attention on Danzig and the Polish Corridor. He followed the old technique of press campaign in which the atrocities of the Poles over the Germans were condemned.

On 31 March 1939, Chamberlain declared that Great Britain and France would help Poland if she was attacked by Germany. However, Hitler defied the warning and threatened the Poles with dire consequences if they continued to be obstinate.

In April 1939, Great Britain and France guaranteed the independence of Greece and Rumania. Mussolini annexed Albania in April 1939. President Roosevelt appealed on 15 April 1939 to both Hitler and Mussolini to help the cause of peace by giving a 10-year pledge of non-aggression against certain states, but his request was rejected. On 28 April 1939, Germany denounced her naval agreement of 1935 with Great Britain.

She also denounced the non-aggression Pact of 1934 with Poland and demanded the return of Danzig and the right to construct and maintain a rail and motor road across the Polish Corridor to East Prussia. Poland rejected those demands on 5 May 1939.
On 22 May 1939, Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister of Germany, and Ciano, Foreign Minister of Italy, signed a 10-year alliance at Berlin which provided for diplomatic cooperation and consultation, collaboration in the field of war economy and immediate military aid in case any of the two powers was involved in a war. Germany also signed non-aggression pacts with Denmark, Estonia and Latvia. On 23 August 1939, Soviet Russia and Germany entered into a non-aggression Pact by which they agreed not to resort to war against each other.

They were not to support any third power in the event of a war in which one of the signatory powers was involved. Both the states were to consult each other on all matters of common interest and refrain from associating with any group or powers aimed at the other. This pact was a master-stroke of German diplomacy, as thereby Germany was able to avoid a war on two fronts. Soviet Russia agreed to sign the pact because she was disgusted with the attitude of Great Britain and France, and she herself was not so strong as to stand alone against Germany.

After the signing of non-aggression pact between Germany and Soviet Russia, events began to move rapidly. The German and Polish newspapers were already publishing stories of atrocities committed by each other. Hitler bewailed that his “racial comrades” in Poland were being brutally treated. Military preparations were given the final touches. Stories of atrocities were multiplied and boosted. Hitler began to thunder against Poland with greater and greater vehemence. The world was passing through breathless days.

It was in this atmosphere that Germany asked Great Britain on 29 August 1939 that she must arrange to have a Polish delegate with full powers to negotiate in Berlin on the next day. The reply of Great Britain was that the demand was unreasonable and impracticable and the time was not sufficient for that purpose. Germany was asked to submit her demand on Poland through the Polish ambassador.

When Ribbentrop got this reply from the British Ambassador at midnight, he is stated to have read out at top speed in German language his 16 demands whose acceptance alone could avoid the war. Sir Neville Henderson, the British Ambassador in Berlin, asked for a copy of those demands and the reply of Ribbentrop was that “it was now too late as Polish representative had not arrived in Berlin by midnight”.

On 31 August 1939, the German Government broadcast her 16 demands. However, when the Polish ambassador in Berlin tried to communicate those demands to his country, he could not do so as all communications between Poland and Germany were cut off. The German Government declared that the Polish Government had failed to send their representative and also refused to accept the demands within the stipulated time.

Without declaring war against Poland, the German bombers began to rain bombs on Polish cities and German troops invaded the Polish soil on 1 September 1939. In justification of his action, Hitler declared that “no other means is left to me than to meet force with force.”

(1) An ultimatum was sent by Great Britain to Germany requiring the withdrawal of German forces from Poland. Its disregard was followed by the British declaration of war on 3 September 1939 and within a few hours France also declared war against Germany. Hitler’s interpreter Paul Schmidt later described how the Fuhrer received the news of Britain’s ultimatum.

To quote him, “When I had completed my translation, there was silence at first….. For a while, Hitler sat in his chair deep in thought and started rather worriedly into space. Then he broke his silence with…’What are we going to do now’?” That same Sunday morning, Prime Minister Chamberlain broadcast the news that Britain was at war with Germany.

To quote him, “We have a clear conscience, we have done all that any country could do to establish peace, but a situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel themselves safe, had become intolerable For it is evil things we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression, and persecution. But against them I am certain that the right will prevail.”

(2) Another cause of the war was Japanese imperialism. The ambitions of Japan had increased during the World War I. Although both Japan and China had fought on the side of the Allies during the World War I, Japan, was allowed to have many concessions after the war at the expense of China. Japan began to develop her navy. All the emphasis was put on the military strength of the country. By 1931, Japan had become so strong that she intervened in Manchuria and in spite of the protests in the League of Nations, she conquered and occupied Manchuria.

However, that did not satisfy the Japanese ambitions. In July 1937, there started a war between China and Japan although no formal declaration of war was made. One by one the Chinese towns fell into the hands of Japan. Not only Peking, but Nanking also fell before the Japanese forces.

When the World War II broke out in September 1939, the Sino-Japanese war was still in progress. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Earlier, she had joined the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. Pan-Japanese programme of expansion and conquest was bound to result in war and peace was impossible in such circumstances.

(3) Another cause of the War was the rise of dictatorships in Europe. Although Hitler tried to assure the world that he meant peace, he could not conceal his real ambition for long. Very soon, he embarked upon a career of aggression which ultimately led to war. The same was the case with Mussolini who had established his dictatorship in Italy in 1922. Mussolini and his Fascist followers boasted of reviving the glory of the old Roman Empire.

He was responsible for the conquest and annexation of Abyssinia in 1936. The Italian volunteers went to Spain to help General Franco and were successful in their mission. Italy joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937 and thus the Berlin-Rome- Tokyo Axis came into existence. In May 1939 Italy entered into a 10-year alliance with Germany. In the presence of Axis Powers there could be no peace in the world and no wonder the war came.

(4) There was also a conflict of ideologies between dictatorships on the one hand and democracies on the other. Countries like Germany, Italy and Japan represented one kind of ideology and Great Britain, France and the United States represented another. Mussolini described the conflict between the two ideologies thus, “The struggle between the two worlds can permit no compromise. Either we or they”. Basically the distinction between the two ideologies lay in their different attitude towards the individual in the State. In the case of democracy, the individual was regarded as the creator and the beneficiary of all the state activities.

He could be interfered with only when his acts were prejudicial to the interests of other individuals. Under a totalitarian regime, the individual did not figure anywhere. He was to be merged in the state and sacrificed for the sake of the state. The two ideologies also differed in spiritual, territorial and economic matters. The democratic states stood for the maintenance of the status quo in political and territorial matters and were designated as the “Haves”.

They had no immediate expansionist aims. On the other hand, the Axis states were called the “Have-nots”. On grounds of prestige and strategy, they demanded additional territories. Japan was land-hungry and she was determined to establish her supremacy in the Far East. She was not prepared to accept any compromise and was willing to fight with any country which dared to intervene in her sphere of influence.

The same was the case with Germany and Italy. Hitler not only demanded the return of the colonies which had been snatched away from Germany after the World War I, but he also asked for more territories so that Germany could stand on the same footing as the colonial powers like Great Britain and France. The Germans under Hitler could not understand why Great Britain and France should have great colonial empires and they should have nothing.

They considered themselves to be a ‘Master Race’ and were not prepared to put up with the limitations placed on them and no wonder they were willing to risk a war to achieve their objectives. On the eve of the War in 1939, the world was divided into two armed camps viz., the Axis world and the non-Axis world. Co-existence was impossible between the two camps and one of them had to go tinder. A conflict was absolutely inevitable under the circumstances.

(5) Another cause of the war was the weakness of the democratic states and a sense of over- confidence in their strength among the Axis powers. Soon after the Peace Settlement of 1919-20, Great Britain and France began to drift apart from each other.

Great Britain began to follow a policy of aloofness from European politics and refused to accept any commitment for the preservation of peace. She was bothered more about her business and trade than about the foreign affairs of Europe.

She thought that she was more to gain from the economic recovery of Germany than by quarrelling over the question of reparations, war debts, occupation of the Rhineland, armaments, etc. However, that was not the case with France. After winning victory over Germany, France began to dread Germany. She felt that while the German population was increasing, her own population was declining. Under the circumstances, in the event of a future war, Germany was bound to have the upper hand.

There was also the possibility of Germany having her revenge for her humiliation of 1919. France asked for guarantees from Great Britain and the United States and when she failed to get them, she entered into military alliances with countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, etc. Unfortunately, her alliances were more of liabilities than assets and no wonder she did not enjoy a sense of security.

Under the circumstances, she continued to oppose every effort to revise the Peace Settlement in any way. In 1935, she entered into an alliance with Soviet Russia and made an agreement with Italy but in spite of that, she did not find herself safe and ultimately decided to throw in her lot with Great Britain. Great Britain herself was not ready for war and consequently up to 1938, nothing could be done to stop the aggressors.

If the democratic states had been ready for a war when the Axis powers launched upon a career of aggression, there is reason to believe that a check could have been put on them. However, that was not to be. The weakness of their military strength and the division in the ranks of the democratic states encouraged the Axis Powers. It was too late in the day for them to retrace their steps in 1939 even when they found that the democratic states also meant business and were determined to resist further aggression.

The policy of appeasement also contributed towards war. The various concessions made to Hitler and Mussolini from time to time convinced them that Great Britain and France would never fight whatever the provocation. It was this feeling which encouraged them on the war path. They could not believe that Great Britain could come to the help of Poland when the latter was attacked by Germany.

(6) It was realised by the statesmen of Europe that militarism was one of the important causes of the World War I. It was with that idea in their minds that the League of Nations was established with the primary object of maintaining peace in the world and lessening the causes of tension. The Treaty of Versailles disarmed Germany and it was expected that the other powers would follow suit.

As a matter of fact, Great Britain began to disarm herself gradually and she followed that policy to a dangerous point of national security. France was asked to do likewise but she refused to do so on the ground of national security. The same was the case with the other countries of Europe.

Disarmament Conferences were summoned and very earnest attempts were made to arrive at some workable arrangement, but those efforts were not crowned with success. The result was that when Hitler came to power in Germany he decided to scrap those clauses of the Treaty of Versailles which put limitations on German armaments.

The German air force began to grow and came to be recognised as one of the strongest air forces in Europe. In 1935, conscription was introduced in Germany. The Rhineland was occupied by the German troops in March 1936. All these steps were on the road to militarism. The same was the case in Japan and Italy.

The military preparations of the Axis Powers forced the democratic states to arm themselves. That was particularly so after the Munich surrender in September 1938. Militarism in both the camps was bound to result ultimately in an armed conflict.

(7) Unfortunately, when hostility was growing between the two camps there was no effective international organisation which could bring the leaders of the two camps on a common platform and bring about reconciliation between them. The League of Nations was practically dead. It had ceased to exist as an effective force after her failure on the question of Manchuria and Abyssinia.

Both big and small states lost their confidence in that international organisation and the only alternative left was that the parties should have a trial of strength by an armed conflict. It was unfortunate that the very people who could have worked for the success of the League were not honest and sincere in their actions.

They all tried to use the League to serve their personal ends. Prime Minister Lloyd George tried to utilise the League as an “alternative to Bolshevism”. In the words of Clemenceau, the best use of the League was as “Instrument for perpetuating the Peace Settlement”.

To Germany, the League was a “grouping of the victorious imperialist powers and all secondary states assembled to preserve the fruits of their victory and to maintain the status quo.” To Soviet Russia, the League was “a forum of the imperialists assembled to thwart her new civilisation”.

Gaetano Salvemini says, “The history of the League of Nations between World War I and the World War II was a history of the devices, ruses, deceptions, frauds, tricks and trappings by means of which the very diplomats who were pledged to operate the Covenant of the League managed to circumvent and stultify it. They were its most effective foes since they were undermining it from within, while nationalists, militarists and Fascists were attacking it openly from without in all lands”.

(8) Another cause of the war was the economic needs and material interests of the European powers. It was a struggle for raw materials, markets for exports and colonies for increasing population which had partly brought about the war of 1914 and that struggle did not end then but continued and became even more acute. Both Germany and Italy were struggling hard to acquire colonies for raw materials and markets for surplus goods.

Both of them were equally dissatisfied after the war. Germany was deprived of all that she had and Italy felt that she was not given at the Peace Conference what had been promised to her by the secret Treaty of London of 1915. The same was true of Japan. Germany, Italy and Japan were the poorest in natural resources.

The bulk of undeveloped and underdeveloped regions of the world had been occupied by Great Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States. Out of the 25 essential raw materials and minerals, there were in British Empire adequate supplies of 18 while Germany possessed only 4. The condition of Italy was still worse. She had virtually no coal, little oil and only small iron resources. Japan had no resources in oil, insufficient coal and iron and no surplus land for her ever-increasing population.

During the period of pacification from 1925 to 1929, these countries found markets for their finished goods and also got raw materials. However, the situation was radically changed as a result of the economic crisis. Almost all the countries resorted to a policy of protection to save their own industries.

Everywhere the cry raised was “Buy at home”. International trade came to a standstill. Germany, Italy and Japan suffered terribly. High tariff walls, quotas and embargoes caused wide-spread distress, particularly in the countries which did not possess the raw materials required for their industries.

A feeling of economic suffocation was created on account of the non-availability of raw materials and the absence of markets for manufactured goods. It is these circumstances that brought Germany, Italy and Japan together and they embarked upon a course of aggression. Japan invaded Manchuria, Italy occupied Abyssinia and Germany started a long course of aggression which ultimately led to the World War II.

(9) Another cause of the World War was the dissatisfaction of the national minorities. It is true that the Allied Powers had committed themselves to the principle of self-determination, but in actual practice that principle was not always applied. In the words of Robert Engang, “Its application was conditioned by such factors as economic necessity, military defence religious and political traditions and punishment of the defeated nations.” In some areas of Central Europe, the principle could be applied as the national minorities were intermixed in such a way that the drawing of clear-cut frontiers was not possible.

The result was that the members of one nationality were included in the boundaries of other states in which they were in a minority. It is these minority groups which became the hot-beds of discontent and dissatisfaction. They were encouraged by propaganda from the countries in which the people of their own nationality lived and they demanded their reunion with their mother country or full autonomy.

They asked, “If it is true that World War I was fought for the self-determination of nationalities, why was Austria forbidden to unite with Germany? Why were a large part of Germany put under foreign rule?” Germany under Hitler raised the cry that the Germans were being mercilessly persecuted, and she had every right to liberate them. That served as a convenient pretext for annexing Austria, the Sudetenland and subsequently Poland which led to World War II.

(10) Another cause of the war was the failure of the disarmament efforts. The Peace Settlement of 1919-20 had completely disarmed Germany and the Allied Powers pledged themselves “to apply the same measure to themselves and to open negotiations immediately with a view to adopt eventually a scheme of general reduction.” Many conferences were held inside and outside the League of Nations to achieve the ideal of disarmament, but practically nothing came out of them.

The German Government called upon the Allied Powers to disarm themselves in the same way as she had been disarmed, but the attitude of France was: “Security first disarmament afterwards.” Security could not be had on account of the conflicting interests of Great Britain and France and hence disarmament was not possible. Lloyd George conceded in 1927, “The nations which had pledged themselves to disarmament had not reduced their armaments by a single division, flight of aero planes or battery of guns.”

The refusal of the Great Powers to disarm themselves gave Hitler a handle to arouse the indignation of his countrymen and assert that “rearmament was the only road to power and national achievement.” It was the German rearmament under Hitler which directly led to the war of 1939.

(11) Another cause of the war was the strong feelings of nationalism prevailing in various countries. The Peace Settlement of 1919-20 was made primarily along national lines. The victorious nations were guided solely by their national interests. They ridiculed internationalism as “sickly and wishy-washy”. In many cases, nationalism at this time was more intolerant than before. In Germany, Italy and Japan, the state was worshipped by the people and was considered to be an end in itself.

Their only motive was the extension of the frontiers of their states. In several cases, the dictators rode to power on a wave of popular nationalist enthusiasm. To retain themselves in power, it was necessary that enthusiasm must be sustained and to do this, they resorted to aggression against other countries. The people in the dependencies and colonies also made common cause with one or the other of the big powers and helped precipitate the war which they thought would weaken the big powers and help them in obtaining their own independence.

2. Course of the War:

The World War I was in a sense the last major traditional war. It was fundamentally fought by foot soldiers and with guns. Tanks and aircrafts were ancillary to the fighting which was essentially static. After weeks of battle, the front would have advanced or receded only a few kilometers. The majority of the civilians were still outside the battle area.

The World War II was utterly a new kind of war. It was a mobile war fought by men enclosed in armored cars, tanks and aircrafts in which the battle line might move 50 or 100 kilometres in a day. Millions of civilians were involved as tanks crashed through their towns and dive-bombers dropped bombs containing from ½ to 10 tonnes of TNT equivalent on them.

Only six European countries remained neutral viz., Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. Britain escaped invasion in 1940 by a hair’s breadth. Every other European country with the partial exception of Russia was either occupied or controlled by the Germans and most of them experienced bitter fighting on their soil.

The refusal of Poland to surrender resulted in the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. In spite of stiff resistance put up by the Poles, they were completely defeated. When the Germans were smashing the Polish resistance, the Russians also invaded Poland from the East. The result was that after its conquest, Poland was divided between Germany and Russia.

In the autumn of 1939, Russia attacked Finland. She demanded a part of Finnish territory on the ground that its possession was necessary for the safety of Leningrad. Russia had no faith in German professions of peace and friendship and consequently was trying to take all the necessary precautions. It was feared that Germany might conquer Finland and thereby endanger the safety of Russia.

The Russians con­quered the regions they wanted and ultimately made peace with Finland. Russia also annexed the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In April 1940, German troops occupied Denmark. Norway was also occupied after some resistance. In May 1940, Holland and Belgium were attacked and conquered. France was attacked by Germany from the side of Belgium and when Great Britain feared that her army might be entrapped, she evacuated her troops.

After the evacuation of the British troops from Dunkirk, France could not stand against the might of Germany and she surrendered in June 1940. After the collapse of France, Italy also joined the War. Mussolini demanded Nice, Savoy and Corsica. After the entry of Italy into the war, the conflict started between Italy and British forces in North Africa. Mussolini attacked Greece, but the attack was a failure. When the Germans joined the Italians, Greece was conquered. Yugoslavia and Crete were occupied by the Germans.

After the fall of Dunkirk, Great Britain was left all alone in Europe. Her Air Force was the finest in Europe in quality, but not in quantity. Hitler could have attacked England in June 1940 when she was still weak but he missed that opportunity. Under the dynamic leadership of Churchill, Great Britain was able to pull herself up. Churchill promised nothing to his countrymen, but “blood and toil and tears and sweat”.

In this historic speech, he made the following declaration, “We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.” The people of England responded to the call of their leader.

The slogans of “Who wins if England loses”, and “We are not interested in the possibility of defeat it does not exist” were raised. The Germans started their attack of Great Britain in right earnest in the autumn of 1940. The technique they intended to adopt was first to destroy the Royal Air Force and then to invade the country. A large number of aircrafts were sent to England for that purpose, but the Royal Air Force was not beaten.

The Battle of Britain proved to be the determining point of the war. A large number of enemy aircrafts were destroyed and ultimately, the German attack began to slow down. Churchill could rightly boast that “Never in the history of mankind did so many owe so much too so few.” The Germans started the bombardment at night of London and other great cities.

A lot of property was destroyed and many Englishmen lost their lives. However, after some time, the Britishers learned the technique of protecting themselves from air raids and after the construction of air-raid shelters, and widespread use of anti-aircraft guns, the losses became less and less. The Royal Air Force also started attacking the ships and docks in the Channel ports of France and Belgium, Holland and Norway, so that the German preparations for the invasion of England might be frustrated.

To begin with, the American view was that the fall of Great Britain was merely a question of time and hence they did not bother themselves about the same. However, in June 1940, a large number of French ships at Oran were destroyed by the British fleet with a view to avoid their being captured by Germany.

The result was that the Vichy Government of France cut off all diplomatic relations with Great Britain, but the battle of Oran impressed the Americans and they began to feel that the boast of Churchill that he wanted to fight the war to the bitter end was not an empty one. Moreover, it began to be realised that it was not wise to ignore the fate of Great Britain as after her conquest the turn of United States was bound to come.

President Roosevelt was moving cautiously on account of the public opinion in the United States, but when he found a change in that attitude in favour of Great Britain, he transferred 50 Destroyers from the American Navy to the British Navy in lieu of the lease of naval and air bases.

In March 1941, the American Congress passed the Lease-Lend Act by which the United States undertook to help those countries which were fighting against Axis Powers. In August 1941, President Roosevelt and Premier Churchill met on board a British battleship in the Atlantic and drafted a document known as the Atlantic Charter in which the war aims were enunciated.

When Russia was attacked by Germany in June 1941, the mission of Cripps to Russia became successful and an agreement was signed between the two countries in July 1941. The United States sent all the necessary war materials to Great Britain and the Soviet Union to fight against Hitler. In December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and that brought the United States into the war.

General MacArthur was made the Supreme Commander in the Pacific and Lord Mountbatten was given the command of South-East Asia with his headquarters at Delhi. Lord Mountbatten drove out the Japanese from Burma and the Philippines were captured by General MacArthur. There was a lot of fighting in Africa between 1941 and 1943. Abyssinia was conquered by the United Nations.

The Italian Somaliland was also conquered. The British forces advanced into Libya up to Benghazi, but were forced to withdraw. In November 1942, the “Desert Rats” of General Montgomery turned out the Germans and Italians from Libya. Montgomery also conquered Tripoli and advanced into Tunisia. An Italian squadron was defeated by a British fleet in the battle of Cape Matapan near the Greek coast. Many a time, the Island of Malta was attacked by the Italians but it managed to hold its own against the enemy to the end and never surrendered.

In November 1942, American and British troops occupied the French colony of Algeria. North Africa was cleared of Italian and German troops in 1943. In the summer of 1943, the Island of Sicily was captured by English and American troops. The mainland of Italy was attacked. There was a revolt in Italy and Mussolini was arrested, but he managed to escape. In September 1943, Italy surrendered unconditionally. Mussolini was captured in 1945 and was shot by the Italians themselves.

In the winter of 1943-44, preparations were made in England under General Eisenhower for the invasion of the continent. He was assisted by General Montgomery and Air Chief Marshal Tedder. A large number of artificial harbours known as “mulberry” were constructed to be towed across the English Channel to the coast of France.

For the supply of petrol to the invading armies, the Pluto or “Pipe Line under the Ocean” was constructed. By this time, the Royal Air Force had become very strong. It had thousands of well-trained pilots. Both the British and American pilots attacked day and night the war targets in Germany and succeeded in paralysing completely the war industries of Germany. The bombing of military targets of Germany struck terror in the hearts of the people and everything was dislocated in Germany.

The Germans expected an invasion of the continent. But could not make out as to where the invasion was to come. Consequently, they tried to protect the whole of the coast-line facing Great Britain. In June 1944, Normandy was attacked. In spite of hard fighting, the troops of the United Nations were able to make a landing on the mainland.

After getting reinforcements, the United Nations were able to capture Paris and also succeeded in driving out the Germans from the French soil. After completing the conquest of Italy, the army of General Alexander invaded France from the South-East and then the South of France was also cleared of the enemy. The army of General Alexander joined that of Eisenhower on the Rhine.

There was a German counter-attack in December 1944 under Rundstedt, but after some success, the same was repulsed. When the armies under General Eisenhower crossed the Rhine and moved towards the Elbe, the Russians also invaded Germany from the East. The Germans could not fight on two fronts and Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler committed suicide and their successors surrendered unconditionally on 7 May 1945.

After the fall of Germany, the United States and Great Britain concentrated their forces against Japan. On 6 August 1945, an atom bomb was thrown on the city of Hiroshima and it is estimated that more than one lakh of persons were destroyed by one single bomb. Japan was asked to surrender and when she refused, another bomb was thrown on 9 August on the city of Nagasaki. On 14 August, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally.

The World War II was over. It had brought about the death of over 50 million people, including 15 million Russians, 6 million Jews, 3,700,000 Germans, 2 million non-Jewish Poles, 1,600,000 Yugoslavs, 1,200,000 Japanese, nearly one million Italians, 600,000 British, 500,000 Rumanians, 300,000 Frenchmen, 292,000 Americans and 22 million Chinese.

At the end of the War, some 13 million Europeans had been killed in battle and 17 million civilians had died as a result of the fighting. Houses, factories and communications had been shattered on a large scale. Nearly all the major German cities were in ruins and 25 million Russians were rendered homeless. Agriculture was disrupted. Food rationing was everywhere. The Allied troops in Germany were forbidden to give away their rations. In the Don region of Russia, people were eating cats, dogs and grass. Fuel was scarce and millions spent the first two post-war winters in un-heated homes.

3. Peace Settlement:

It is not possible to appreciate the post-war peace treaties without a reference to the conferences, declarations and decisions arrived at by the statesmen of the United Nations during and after the World War II. It was in August 1941 that Roosevelt and Churchill met and issued what is known as the Atlantic Charter.

They pledged themselves to seek no aggrandizement from the War, to respect the rights of all peoples to self-determination, to promote the enjoyment by all of free access to markets and raw materials of the world, to persist in the destruction of Nazi tyranny and seek universal disarmament and peace.On 1 January 1942 was issued the United Nations declaration by which the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and China pledged themselves to employ all their resources for the destruction of the Axis Powers and their satellites.

In January 1943, Roosevelts, Churchill and their military staffs met at Casablanca. In October, 1943 was held a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, Great Britain and Soviet Russia. In November 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek met at Cairo to plan the defeat of Japan. The Teheran Conference was attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

It was there that the final plans for victory over Germany were prepared by them along with their Chiefs of Military Staffs and a communique was issued on 1 December 1943. In February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met at Yalta in Crimea and they made decisions regarding Germany, Poland and Japan. After the fall of Germany, the Berlin or Potsdam Conference was held from 17 July to 2 August 1945. It was attended by Stalin, President Truman and Prime Minister Attlee.

It was decided to set up a Council of Foreign Ministers to do the preparatory work for the Peace Settlement. The Council was to draw up treaties of peace with Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland. After about 15 months of preparatory work, the peace treaties were given a final shape by the 21 participating countries and they were signed on 10 February 1947, in Pans by the representatives of the five enemy states and the Allied Powers.

4. Pace Settlement and Italy:

As regards Italy, she was to give to France small districts in the regions of Little St. Bernard, Mont Thabor, Chaberton, Mont Ceins, Tenda and Briga. She was to give Zara, Pelagosa, Lagosta and other islands along the Dalmatian coast to Yugoslavia. The Istrian Peninsula and most of the remainder of the province of Venetia, Giulia, with Trieste were to become a “Free Territory” to be governed under a statute approved by the Security Council.

For 9 years, the city was a focal point of tension between the Communists and the Western Powers and in 1954, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia agreed that Trieste could return to Italy. Italy was to give to Greece the Rhodes and other Dodecanese Islands. She was to give up her sovereignty over her African colonies and recognise the independence of Albania and Ethiopia. She was to submit to the demilitarisation of frontiers with France and Yugoslavia.

She was not to have atomic weapons, guided missiles and guns with range over 30 Kms. She was not to have mines, torpedoes, aircraft-carriers, submarines, etc. She was not to have more than 200 heavy medium tanks. Her navy was reduced to two battleships, 25,000 officers and men. Her army was reduced to 250,000. Her Air Force was reduced to 200 fighters, and reconnaissance and transport aircraft to 150. She was to pay the Soviet Union 100 million dollars in 7 years. She was to pay 5 million dollars to Albania during the same period.

5. Pace Settlement and Bulgaria:

As regards Hungary, her frontiers of 1 January 1938 with Austria. Her army was limited to 55,000, anti-aircraft artillery to 1,800 men. Navy to 3,500 men, air force to 5,200 men and 90 air planes. Bulgaria was to pay 45 million dollars to Greece and 25 million dollars to Yugoslavia in kind in 8 years.

6. Pace Settlement and Hungary:

As regards Hungary, her frontiers of 1 January, 1938 with Austria and Yugoslavia were restored. She was to give to Yugoslavia three villages west of the Danube. The Vienna award of November 1938 was cancelled. The result was that Transylvania went to Rumania. The army of Hungary was limited to 65,000, air force to 5,000 and air planes to 90. Hungary was to pay 200 million dollars to the Soviet Union and 50 million dollars each to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

7. Pace Settlement and Rumania:

As regards Bulgaria, her frontiers of 1 January, 1945, were restored. Her army was limited to 120,000, anti-aircraft artillery to 5,000, navy to 5,000 men and 1,500 tons. Her air force was reduced to 8,000 men and 150 air planes. She was to pay 303 million dollars to the Soviet Union in kind in 8 years.

8. Pace Settlement and Finland:

As regards Rumania, her frontiers of 1 January, 1947 were restored, province of Petsamo was given to the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Finnish peace treaty of March 1940 was restored. The Soviet Union gave up leasehold of Hango and acquired 50 years’ lease of Porkkala-Udd area for a naval base. The Finnish army was limited to 34,400, navy to 4,800 men and 10,000 tons, and air force to 3,000 men and 60 air planes. She was to pay 300 million dollars to the Soviet Union in kind in 8 years.

9. Pace Settlement and Austria:

Austria and Vienna were divided into four zones of occupation but in contrast to the treatment of Germany, Austria was allowed to form a national Government in 1945. Although it was decided at Potsdam not to exact reparations from Austria in order to avoid the economic collapse which had occurred after the World War I, the Russians took oil and equipment from their zone. Until 1955, Austria remained an occupied country because the Russians refused to consider its future apart from that of Germany. Then Khrushchev suddenly agreed to a peace treaty on the understanding that the country should be neutral, joining no political or military alliance a having no foreign troops stationed on its sail.

10. Pace Settlement and Germany:

As regards Germany, she was occupied by the Big Four. After its fall in May 1945, it was divided into four zones, each of which was administered separately by one of the occupying Powers. Berlin came under joint occupation and each occupying Power was assigned a sector of the city. An Inter-Allied body was charged with the function of governing the city as a whole. With a view to bring about a coordination of their policies as a whole, an Allied Control Authority was set up for the whole of Germany.

In 1947, Great Britain and the United States established economic unity of their two zones. Their invitation to join them was accepted by France but rejected by the Soviet Union. In June 1948, a new currency was put into circulation in West Germany. In 1948, delegates were chosen from American, British and French zones and from the non-Russian sectors of Berlin to constitute the Constituent Assembly and the Bonn Constitution of 1949 were adopted.

The Russians also framed a constitution for their own zone. Germany was caught in the cold war. In June 1948, the Soviet Union cut off all communications by land and water between the Western zone of Germany and Berlin. The Western Powers resorted to what is known as the Berlin-Airlift which lasted for 10 months. Ultimately the Russians were forced to lift the blockade. In May 1952, the Western states entered into an agreement with West Germany, by which the Federal Republic of Germany got virtual autonomy in foreign and domestic affairs. West Germany was also put under the protection of the NATO. In 1955, she became a member of the NATO.

11. Pace Settlement and Japan:

As regards Japan, a peace treaty was signed with her at San Francisco in 1951. Japan recognised the independence of Korea and gave up all claims on Korean territory including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet. Japan renounced all rights to Formosa and the Pescadores, the Kurile islands, that part of Sakhalin which belonged to Japan since 1905, the Pacific territories governed by Japan under the mandate of the League of Nations, the Antarctic area and the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

All Allied occupation forces were to be withdrawn from Japan within 90 days of coming into force of the treaty. Japan recognised all treaties concluded by the Allies for ending the World War II. She gave up all special rights and interests in China. She agreed to enter into stable and friendly trading and maritime relations with all signatories of the treaty.

It was agreed in principle that Japan was to repair damage and suffering caused by her during the last war. Japan undertook to indemnify those members of the Allied armed forces who had suffered undue hardships as prisoners of war of Japan. Japan recognised her pre-war debts. Soviet Russia did not sign the peace treaty at San Francisco and India entered into a separate peace treaty in 1952.


Question Time

Anthony Carrell from Lemoore California on April 01, 2013:

I should have added that this was an excellent hub. Well done.

Panagiotis Tsarouchakis from Greece on April 01, 2013:

We should blame those professors at the School of Art in Vienna who rejected Hitler in 1908. They should let him follow his dream!

Anthony Carrell from Lemoore California on April 01, 2013:

The treaty of Versailles,and it&aposs after effects, as far as I&aposm concerned were the first causes. I doubt if Hitler would have ever came to power without that ridiculous treaty.I have a hub on it.. laugh out loud.


Contents

Legacies of World War I Edit

By the end of World War I, the world's social and geopolitical circumstances had fundamentally and irrevocably changed in late 1918. The Allies had been victorious, but many of Europe's economies and infrastructures had been devastated, including those of the victors. France, along with the other victora, was in a desperate situation regarding its economy, security and morale and understood that its position in 1918 was "artificial and transitory". [2] Thus, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau worked to gain French security via the Treaty of Versailles, and French security demands, such as reparations, coal payments, and a demilitarised Rhineland, took precedence at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–1920, [2] which designed the treaty. The war "must be someone's fault – and that's a very natural human reaction", analysed the historian Margaret MacMillan. [3] Germany was charged with the sole responsibility of starting World War I, and the War Guilt Clause was the first step to satisfying revenge for the victor countries, especially France, against Germany. Roy H. Ginsberg argued, "France was greatly weakened and, in its weakness and fear of a resurgent Germany, sought to isolate and punish Germany. French revenge would come back to haunt France during the Nazi invasion and occupation twenty years later". [4]

The two main provisions of the French security agenda were war reparations from Germany in the form of money and coal and a detached German Rhineland. The French government printed excess currency, which created inflation, to compensate for the lack of funds, and it borrowed money from the United States. Reparations from Germany were needed to stabilise the French economy. [5] France also demanded for Germany to give France its coal supply from the Ruhr to compensate for the destruction of French coal mines during the war. The French demanded an amount of coal that was a "technical impossibility" for the Germans to pay. [6] France also insisted on the demilitarisation of the German Rhineland in the hope of hindering any possibility of a future German attack and giving France a physical security barrier between itself and Germany. [7] The inordinate amount of reparations, coal payments and the principle of a demilitarised Rhineland were largely viewed by the Germans as insulting and unreasonable.

The resulting Treaty of Versailles brought a formal end to the war but was judged by governments on all sides of the conflict. It was neither lenient enough to appease Germany nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming a dominant continental power again. [8] The German people largely viewed the treaty as placing the blame, or "war guilt", on Germany and Austria-Hungary and as punishing them for their "responsibility", rather than working out an agreement that would assure long-term peace. The treaty imposed harsh monetary reparations and requirements for demilitarisation and territorial dismemberment, caused mass ethnic resettlement and separated millions of ethnic Germans into neighbouring countries.

In the effort to pay war reparations to Britain and France, the Weimar Republic printed trillions of marks, which caused hyperinflation. Robert O. Paxton stated, "No postwar German government believed it could accept such a burden on future generations and survive. ". [5] Paying reparations to the victorious side had been a traditional punishment with a long history of use, but it was the "extreme immoderation" that caused German resentment. Germany did not make its last World War I reparation payment until 3 October 2010, [9] 92 years after the end of the war. Germany also fell behind its coal payments because of a passive resistance movement against France. [10] In response, the French invaded the Ruhr and occupied it. By then, most Germans had become enraged with the French and placed the blame for their humiliation on the Weimar Republic. Adolf Hitler, a leader of the Nazi Party, attempted a coup d'état in 1923 in what became known as the Beer Hall Putsch, and he intended to establish a Greater Germanic Reich. [11] Although he failed, Hitler gained recognition as a national hero by the German population.

During the war, German colonies outside Europe had been annexed by the Allies, and Italy took the southern half of Tyrol after the armistice. The war in the east had ended with the defeat and the collapse of the Russian Empire, and German troops had occupied large parts of Eastern and Central Europe with varying degrees of control and established various client states such as a kingdom of Poland and the United Baltic Duchy. The German Navy spent most of the war in port, only to be turned over to the Allies. It was scuttled by its own officers to avoid it from being surrendered. Decades later, the lack of an obvious military defeat would be one of the pillars holding together the Dolchstosslegende ("stab-in-the-back myth"), which gave the Nazis another propaganda tool.

The demilitarised Rhineland and the additional cutbacks on military also infuriated the Germans. Although France logically wanted the Rhineland to be a neutral zone, France had the power to make their desire happen, which merely exacerbated German resentment of the French. In addition, the Treaty of Versailles dissolved the German general staff, and possession of navy ships, aircraft, poison gas, tanks and heavy artillery was also made illegal. [7] The humiliation of being bossed around by the victor countries, especially France, and being stripped of their prized military made the Germans resent the Weimar Republic and idolise anyone who stood up to it. [12] Austria also found the treaty unjust, which encouraged Hitler's popularity.

The conditions generated bitter resentment towards the war's victors, who had promised the Germans that US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points would be a guideline for peace but the Americans had played only a minor role in the war, and Wilson could not convince the Allies to agree to adopt his Fourteen Points. Many Germans felt that the German government had agreed to an armistice based on that understanding, and others felt that the German Revolution of 1918–1919 had been orchestrated by the "November criminals", who later assumed office in the new Weimar Republic. The Japanese also started to express resentment against Western Europe for how they were treated during the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. The Japanese proposition to discuss the issue of racial equality was not put in the final draft because of many other Allies, and the Japanese participation in the war caused little reward for the country. [13] The war's economic and psychological legacies of the persisted well into the Interwar Period.

Failure of League of Nations Edit

The League of Nations was an international peacekeeping organization founded in 1919 with the explicit goal of preventing future wars. [14] The League's methods included disarmament, collective security, the settlement disputes between countries by negotiations and diplomacy and the improvement global welfare. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding century. The old philosophy of "concert of nations", which grew out of the Congress of Vienna (1815), saw Europe as a shifting map of alliances among nation-states, which created a balance of power that was maintained by strong armies and secret agreements. Under the new philosophy, the League would act as a government of governments, with the role of settling disputes between individual nations in an open and legalist forum. Despite Wilson's advocacy, the United States never joined the League of Nations.

The League lacked an armed force of its own and so depended on member nations to enforce its resolutions, uphold economic sanctions that the League ordered or provide an army when needed for the League to use. However, individual governments were often very reluctant to do so. After numerous notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis Powers in the 1930s. The reliance upon unanimous decisions, the lack of an independent body of armed forces and the continued self-interest of its leading members meant that the failure was arguably inevitable. [15] [16]

Expansionism and militarism Edit

Expansionism is the doctrine of expanding the territorial base or economic influence of a country, usually by means of military aggression. Militarism is the principle or policy of maintaining a strong military capability to use aggressively to expand national interests and/or values, with the view that military efficiency is the supreme ideal of a state. [17]

The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations had sought to stifle expansionist and militarist policies by all actors, but the conditions imposed by their creators imposed on the world's new geopolitical situation and the technological circumstances of the era only emboldened the re-emergence of those ideologies during the Interwar Period. By the early 1930s, a militaristic and aggressive national ideology prevailed in Germany, Japan and Italy. [18] The attitude fuelled advancements in military technology, subversive propaganda and ultimately territorial expansion. It has been observed that the leaders of countries that have been suddenly militarised often feel a need to prove that their armies are formidable, which was often a contributing factor in the start of conflicts such as the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the Second Sino-Japanese War. [19]

In Italy, Benito Mussolini sought to create a New Roman Empire, based around the Mediterranean. Italy invaded Ethiopia as early as 1935, Albania in early 1938, and later Greece. The invasion of Ethiopia provoked angry words and a failed oil embargo from the League of Nations.

Under the Nazi regime, Germany began its own program of expansion that sought to restore its "rightful" boundaries. As a prelude toward its goals, the Rhineland was remilitarised in March 1936. [20] Also of importance was the idea of a Greater Germany, supporters of which hoped to unite the German people under one nation-state to include all territories inhabited by Germans, even if they happened to be a minority in a particular territory. After the Treaty of Versailles, a unification between Germany and the newly-formed German-Austria, a rump state of Austria-Hungary, was prohibited by the Allies, despite the large majority of Austrians supporting the idea.

During the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup d'état against the republican government, was launched by disaffected members of the armed forces. Later, some of the more radical militarists and nationalists were submerged in grief and despair into the Nazi Party, and more moderate elements of militarism declined. The result was an influx of militarily-inclined men into the Nazi Party. Combined with its racial theories, that fuelled irredentist sentiments and put Germany on a collision course for war with its immediate neighbours.

In Asia, the Empire of Japan harboured expansionist desires towards Manchuria and the Republic of China. Two contemporaneous factors in Japan contributed both to the growing power of its military and the chaos in its ranks before World War I. One was the Cabinet Law, which required the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) to nominate cabinet members before changes could be formed. That essentially gave the military a veto power over the formation of any Cabinet in the ostensibly-parliamentary country. The other factor was gekokujō, the institutionalized disobedience by junior officers. It was common for radical junior officers to press their goals to the extent of assassinating their seniors. In 1936, the phenomenon resulted in the February 26 Incident in which junior officers attempted a coup d'état and killed leading members of the Japanese government. In the 1930s, the Great Depression wrecked Japan's economy and gave radical elements within the Japanese military the chance to force the entire military into working towards the conquest of all of Asia.

For example, in 1931, the Kwantung Army, a Japanese military force stationed in Manchuria, staged the Mukden Incident, which sparked the invasion of Manchuria and its transformation into the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

Germans vs. Slavs Edit

Twentieth-century events marked the culmination of a millennium-long process of intermingling between Germans and Slavic people. The rise of nationalism in the 19th century made race a centerpiece of political loyalty. The rise of the nation-state had given way to the politics of identity, including pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism. Furthermore, Social Darwinist theories framed the coexistence as a "Teuton vs. Slav" struggle for domination, land, and limited resources. [21] Integrating these ideas into their own worldview, the Nazis believed that the Germans, the "Aryan race", were the master race and that the Slavs were inferior. [22]

Japan's seizure of resources and markets Edit

Other than a few coal and iron deposits and a small oil field on Sakhalin Island, Japan lacked strategic mineral resources. In the early 20th century, in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had succeeded in pushing back the East Asian expansion of the Russian Empire in competition for Korea and Manchuria.

Japan's goal after 1931 was economic dominance of most of East Asia, often expressed in the Pan-Asian terms of "Asia for the Asians". [23] Japan was determined to dominate the China market, which the US and other European powers had been dominating. On October 19, 1939, US Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew, in a formal address to the America-Japan Society, stated that

the new order in East Asia has appeared to include, among other things, depriving Americans of their long established rights in China, and to this the American people are opposed. American rights and interests in China are being impaired or destroyed by the policies and actions of the Japanese authorities in China. [24]

In 1937, Japan invaded Manchuria and China proper. Under the guise of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with slogans such as "Asia for the Asians!", Japan sought to remove the Western powers' influence in China and replace it with Japanese domination. [25] [26]

The ongoing conflict in China led to a deepening conflict with the US in which public opinion was alarmed by events such as the Nanking Massacre and growing Japanese power. Lengthy talks were held between the US and Japan. The Japanese invasion of the south of French Indochina made President Franklin Roosevelt freeze all Japanese assets in the US. The intended consequence was to halt oil shipments from the US to Japan, which supplied 80 percent of Japanese oil imports. The Netherlands and Britain followed suit.

With oil reserves that would last only a year and a half during peacetime and much less during wartime, the ABCD line left Japan two choices: comply with the US-led demand to pull out of China or seize the oilfields in the East Indies from the Netherlands. The Japanese government deemed it unacceptable to retreat from China. [27]

Mason-Overy debate: "Flight into War" theory Edit

In the late 1980s, the British historian Richard Overy was involved in a historical dispute with Timothy Mason that played out mostly over the pages of the Past and Present journal over the reasons for the outbreak of the war in 1939. Mason had contended that a "flight into war" had been imposed on Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making difficult economic decisions or aggression. Overy argued against Mason's thesis by maintaining that Germany was faced with economic problems in 1939, but the extent of those problems could not explain aggression against Poland and the reasons for the outbreak of war were the choices made by the Nazi leadership.

Mason had argued that the German working-class was always against the Nazi dictatorship that in the overheated German economy of the late 1930s, German workers could force employers to grant higher wages by leaving for another firm and so grant the desired wage increases and that such a form of political resistance forced Hitler to go to war in 1939. [28] Thus, the outbreak of the war was caused by structural economic problems, a "flight into war" imposed by a domestic crisis. [28] The key aspects of the crisis were, according to Mason, a shaky economic recovery that was threatened by a rearmament program that overwhelmed the economy and in which the regime's nationalist bluster limited its options. [28] In that way, Mason articulated a Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") view of the war's origins by the concept of social imperialism. [29] Mason's Primat der Innenpolitik thesis was in marked contrast to the Primat der Außenpolitik ("primacy of foreign politics"), which is usually used to explain the war. [28] Mason thought German foreign policy was driven by domestic political considerations, and the launch the war in 1939 was best understood as a "barbaric variant of social imperialism". [30]

Mason argued, "Nazi Germany was always bent at some time upon a major war of expansion". [31] However, Mason argued that the timing of such a war was determined by domestic political pressures, especially as relating to a failing economy, and had nothing to do with what Hitler wanted. [31] Mason believed that from 1936 to 1941, the state of the German economy, not Hitler's "will" or "intentions", was the most important determinate on German foreign policy decisions. [32]

Mason argued that the Nazi leaders were so deeply haunted by the November 1918 German Revolution that they were most unwilling to see any fall in working-class living standards for fear of provoking a repetition of the revolution. [32] Mason stated that by 1939, the "overheating" of the German economy caused by rearmament, the failure of various rearmament plans produced by the shortages of skilled workers, industrial unrest caused by the breakdown of German social policies and the sharp drop in living standards for the German working class forced Hitler into going to war at a time and a place that were not of his choosing. [33]

Mason contended that when faced with the deep socio-economic crisis, the Nazi leadership had decided to embark upon a ruthless foreign policy of "smash and grab" to seize territory in Eastern Europe that could be pitilessly plundered to support the living standards in Germany. [34] Mason described German foreign policy as driven by an opportunistic "next victim" syndrome after the Anschluss in which the "promiscuity of aggressive intentions" was nurtured by every successful foreign policy move. [35] Mason's considered the decision to sign the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and to attack Poland despite the risk of a war against Britain and France to be the abandonment by Hitler of his foreign policy program outlined in Mein Kampf and to have been forced on him by his need to stop a collapsing German economy by seizing territory abroad to be plundered. [33]

For Overy, the problem with Mason's thesis was that it rested on the assumption that in a way that was not shown by the records, information was passed on to Hitler about Germany's economic problems. [36] Overy argued for a difference between economic pressures induced by the problems of the Four Year Plan and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserves of neighbouring states as a way of accelerating the plan. [37] Overy asserted that Mason downplayed the repressive German state's capacity to deal with domestic unhappiness. [36] Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that Germany felt that it could master the economic problems of rearmament. As one civil servant put it in January 1940, "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix". [38]


World War II: Causes and Outbreak

This second global conflict resulted from the rise of totalitarian, militaristic regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, a phenomenon stemming in part from the Great Depression that swept over the world in the early 1930s and from the conditions created by the peace settlements (1919–20) following World War I.

After World War I, defeated Germany, disappointed Italy, and ambitious Japan were anxious to regain or increase their power all three eventually adopted forms of dictatorship (see National Socialism and fascism) that made the state supreme and called for expansion at the expense of neighboring countries. These three countries also set themselves up as champions against Communism, thus gaining at least partial tolerance of their early actions from the more conservative groups in the Western democracies. Also important was a desire for peace on the part of the democracies, which resulted in their military unpreparedness. Finally, the League of Nations, weakened from the start by the defection of the United States, was unable to promote disarmament (see Disarmament Conference) moreover, the long economic depression sharpened national rivalries, increased fear and distrust, and made the masses susceptible to the promises of demagogues.

The failure of the League to stop the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1931 was followed by a rising crescendo of treaty violations and acts of aggression. Adolf Hitler, when he rose to power (1933) in Germany, recreated the German army and prepared it for a war of conquest in 1936 he remilitarized the Rhineland. Benito Mussolini conquered (1935–36) Ethiopia for Italy and from 1936 to 1939 the Spanish civil war raged, with Germany and Italy helping the fascist forces of Francisco Franco to victory. In Mar., 1938, Germany annexed Austria, and in Sept., 1938, the British and French policy of appeasement toward the Axis reached its height with the sacrifice of much of Czechoslovakia to Germany in the Munich Pact.

When Germany occupied (Mar., 1939) all of Czechoslovakia, and when Italy seized (Apr., 1939) Albania, Great Britain and France abandoned their policy of appeasement and set about creating an antiaggression front, which included alliances with Turkey, Greece, Romania, and Poland, and speeding rearmament. Germany and Italy signed (May, 1939) a full military alliance, and after the Soviet-German nonaggression pact (Aug., 1939) removed German fear of a possible two-front war, Germany was ready to launch an attack on Poland.

World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany, without a declaration of war, invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, and all the members of the Commonwealth of Nations, except Ireland, rapidly followed suit. The fighting in Poland was brief. The German blitzkrieg, or lightning war, with its use of new techniques of mechanized and air warfare, crushed the Polish defenses, and the conquest was almost complete when Soviet forces entered (Sept. 17) E Poland. While this campaign ended with the partition of Poland and while the USSR defeated Finland in the Finnish-Russian War (1939–40), the British and the French spent an inactive winter behind the Maginot Line, content with blockading Germany by sea.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


Jewish Bankers Were the Cause of Both World War 2 and the Armenian Genocide

IT SHOULD be no secret to any educated person that wars are usually instigated for financial reasons. The Armenian Genocide (1915), often blamed on Turkish nationalism, was actually triggered by the Rothschild banking family, through their agent, a Jew named Emanuel Curasso. He was part of the group that led the Young Turks, whose membership was a mixture of Muslims and Jews.

The Rothschilds owned the Caspian and Black Sea Petroleum Company, which extracted oil from fields near Baku, in Azerbaijan, and shipped it to their refinery in Fiume on the Adriatic. The products were then sold throughout the Middle East. The Rothschilds wanted to eliminate ethnic conflict along the trade route, and since the Armenians were the weakest party in those conflicts, the cheapest way for the Rothschilds to get what they wanted was to eliminate the Armenians.

Likewise, the Second World War began because Germany broke away from the Jewish banking houses (including the Rothschilds). The Jewish bankers had expected Hitler to place Germany in debt with loans from their banks as his means of bringing about Germany’s economic recovery. Instead, Hitler found other means — including international barter and alternative financial systems in which the Jews didn’t have any usurious fingers in the pie.

This fact was well-understood at the time, and it was summarized by Viscount Lymington: “If we have a period of peace for only three years, the financial system of Messrs. Frankfurter, Warburg, and Baruch, and most of Wall Street, will topple of its own accord.” (Source: The New Pioneer, May 1939.)

That was the actual reason for the Second World War. Hitler was about to yank the Jewish vampire off the back of Western civilization, and that vampire did not want to be deprived of its prey. So it began a war to defend the parasitical status quo.

The invasion of Poland was a pretext. If it had been the real reason for the war, then the simultaneous invasion of Poland’s eastern half by the Soviet Union would have been just as objectionable as Germany’s invasion of Poland’s western half.


The Surprising Cause of the Second World War

Per historian A.J.P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War, which was something of a classic when it came out, but has since passed on, due to its somewhat nuanced take.

The first thing that Taylor argues, rather effectively, is that no one was more surprised than Hitler to find himself at war with Britain and France in September 1939. Unlike in 1914, when Germany directly attacked France as a strategic corollary to fighting Russia, German in 1939 dismembered Poland with Soviet assistance only to have Britain and France declare war on it. Taylor makes the strong point that Hitler, while certainly being a wicked man, was not a lunatic or a fool until the hubris of success in 1940 caught up with him. Rather, Hitler aimed for diplomatic, not military success, playing his opponents off each other with patience and skill. Every move he made in the late 1930’s, from the Rhineland to the Anchluss to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, was accomplished without a shot being fired in anger, and with the acquiescence or even active support of significant sections of the local populations (Discovering the role that Poland, Hungary, and the Slovaks played in the Czech collapse alone makes this book worth it).

So what changed? Hitler pushed his success too far in Czechoslovakia, souring the goodwill of the British people. For it was Britain that was the key player in the crises of the 30’s. France refused to act without Britain, and so in every crisis the British line became the dominant one. Until the Czech crisis, Britain was chiefly concerned with preventing war, on the grounds that war would be the primary evil, and France was chiefly concerned with restraining Germany in order to maintain her own security.

After the Czech crisis, this polarity reversed. Britain gave Poland a guaruntee in order to prevent Hitler from doing to Poland what he did to Czechoslovakia. But there’s a strong argument that Hitler never intended that that he was serious about only undoing the last Versailles stricture regarding Danzig and East Prussia, and that he expected the same old game: make diplomatic noise and let the Allies bring him a deal. That’s how the Rhineland, the Anschluss, and the Czech crisis worked.

It never occurred to Hitler that Britain had reached its limit, and feeling betrayed by the seizure of Prague, had no desire to accomodate him any further. At the same time, the desire to avoid war had not left them. Instead, they tried to restrain Hitler while keeping Stalin at arm’s length and threaten a war without really wanting to fight one.

The British were overwhelmed by the difficulties of their position — devising policy for a World Power [The Soviet Union], which wanted to turn its back on Europe and yet had to take the lead in European affairs. They distributed guarantees in eastern Europe, and aspired to build up true military alliances. Yet what they wanted in Europe was peace and peaceful revision at the expense of the states which they had guaranteed. They distrusted both Hitler and Stalin yet strove for peace with the one and for alliance with the other. It is not surprising that they failed in both aims.

The Origins of the Second World War, pg. 221

It is important to note that once war came and the restraints were taken off of Hitler, he embarked on Total Conquest without a qualm, and devoured states that had never been involved with the crises of the 30’s, such as Norway and Greece. Neither Taylor nor myself intends this as apologetics for the Third Reich, which was manifestly wicked and deservedly crushed. But it’s always worth pointing out the gap between grand strategy and diplomatic policy. The British were playing against themselves and their interests throughout the 1930’s, and so found themselves forced to declare the war they had never wanted.


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