The Causes of the Second World War
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Allies and Axis Theaters of War Weimar Republic Treaty of Versailles League of Nations The Great Depression Anchluss Rhineland Re-armament
Manchurian Incident Anti-Comintern Pact Appeasement Neville Chamberlain Winston Churchill Nazi-Soviet Pact Munich Pact Sudetenland Invasion of Poland
Allies Great Britain France Canada China United States (from 1941) USSR (from 1941)
Germany Austria Japan Italy USSR (until 1941)
World War II was fought in two theaters of war, meaning that there were two wars happening at the same time. The main war with Germany was know as the EUROPEAN THEATER. The other theater was the PACIFIC THEATER. This war was fought against Japanese aggression in the Pacific Ocean.
It has been said that World War II was just a continuation of World War I, yet there are some specific causes to the Second World War, all of which could not have been possible without the rise of Hitler and his Nazis. When WWI ended, Germany was made into a republic. Chancellor Hindenburg was its leader. The country had to report regularly to the Allies. Being “controlled” by the Allies left a bitter taste with most Germans.
After WWI, the Treaty of Versailles laid almost impossible conditions upon the German volk (people). Reducing the army to 100 000 men and taking land from Germany, especially the Rhineland, greatly reduced morale. Forcing responsibility upon the Germans for starting the War was also painful. But the most disastrous condition was the war reparations they had to pay—a big fine.
One positive thing came out of Versailles. It was the creation of an international “government” that would prevent wars by settling disputes between nations through peaceful talks. Unfortunately, the League of Nations fell apart because of a number of problems, all of which are another direct cause of WWII.
The League did not include every nation. Nations could choose to join or not. 2. Decisions required that all countries agree, a rare occurrence. 3. The League could not raise an army to enforce its decisions. 4. It was unable to prevent major incidents like Japan invading Manchuria, or Italy from attacking Ethiopia. 1.
Another cause to the Second World War was the Great Depression. The stock-market crash of 1929 was a global event that caused people to lose their jobs and often commit suicide. They lost all hope. Governments also fell as people chose rulers that promised hope and prosperity—dictatorships. Germany thus accepted Hitler because he promised not to pay the war fine and to create jobs.
After Hitler became Fuhrer of Germany in 1934, he began to dismantle Versailles. He came good on his promise and began not paying for the war damages. In 1936 he began to deploy 30 000 soldiers into the de-militarized zone (or Rhineland), as well as re-arm Germany; he started training 1 million troops. France and Britain did nothing. They feared another costly war.
Once Hitler had complete control of the government, he began to control all aspects of life. Germany became a police state. 2 million Nazis now made up the SA, Hitler’s army of Stormtroopers. He also had his SS (Schutzstaffe). These men had sworn eternal life to Hitler as the protectors of his Aryan race. They were trained, ruthless killers who did whatever Hitler asked. Hitler used propaganda to instill fear in his people.
Nazi Propaganda Film #1 “Cathedral of Light”
Once he was certain he had control of the country, Hitler began restructuring the government to prepare for his master race. Many institutions were created such as the National Labour Service and Strength-Through-Joy Committee (KDF) which guaranteed Nazi sponsored leisure activities, 3740 hours a year. In 1935, he created the Nuremburg Laws that denied inferiors, specifically Jews, rights in Germany. These laws would ultimately destroy the Jewish culture by systematically eliminating their identity, beginning with their history.
The Great Depression made many nations abandon democracy for totalitarianism. In the Far East, increased population in Japan made the need for more space for the Japanese inviting. In 1931, their army invades Manchuria, a Chinese-controlled territory to the north of Korea.
The Chinese asked for the League of Nations to do something. The League told the Army to withdraw, but it did not. The invasion of Manchuria positioned the Japanese as a major military power in SouthEast Asia. Between 1933 and ’36, the USSR felt threatened by the Japanese and asked China to support them if there were a war (Comintern Pact).
The Japanese respond by signing an Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany in 1936. In July 1937, the Japanese invade China and attack Beijing with a million soldiers. They loot, rape, torture, murder and caused pointless destruction. Millions of Chinese civilians died.
The British wanted to halt the Japanese invasion because they had strong trade relations with the Chinese, as well as controlling ports in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Still, the British feared war with Japan because it would take at least ten weeks to position the Royal Navy in the Pacific, and the Japanese have millions of soldiers available.
Though the US was concerned about hostilities in Asia, the Americans were following a foreign affairs policy of isolationism where they would remain neutral or isolated from international relations. All the government did was was to advise Americans abroad to reduce their trade with Japan.
In 1936, Hitler and Mussolini became allied through the Rome—Berlin Axis. Hitler also wanted to reestablish the Anchluss with Austria, but the Treaty of Versailles forbade it. However, because of Britain’s concern over events in China, Hitler took a gamble that they would do nothing and on March 12, 1938 he began invading Austria.
“Not a shot was fired, and the German army entered Austria with bands playing and soldiers smiling.”
Only weeks after Germany invaded Austria, Hitler set his sights on taking-over Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was a country that rose after WWI. It was made up of various ethnic groups including Czechs, Slovaks and Germans, who lived mostly in the Sudeten province near Germany.
The Sudetenland was an obvious region to acquire for the Nazis: Germans lived there, and there was an abundance of natural resources. Of course, once this province was invaded, it was only a matter of time before Hitler would set his sights on all of the country.
As mentioned, Britain was concerned with their ports in China. France feared a war with Germany. The Soviet Union was at war with Japan. Once it became clear that the League of Nations was about to do nothing, Britain decides to act. British PM, Neville Chamberlain agrees to appease Hitler.
Appeasement means to agree to whichever demands seem reasonable in order to prevent war. The British understood that a war with Germany would cause appalling damage. Also, many believed that Hitler’s demands were just demands, and many Britons believed that Versailles was too harsh. So off Chamberlain goes to Munich to sign an agreement with Hitler.
In September, 1938, Britain, France, Italy and Germany met to discuss Hitler’s aims in Munich. Hitler said he would only take the Sudentenland and if Czechoslovakia falls apart, then he would govern it. The other three agreed to this. Chamberlain went back to London with “the piece of paper, securing Peace in our Time.”
On August 23, 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Nazi—Soviet Pact. Though Hitler hated Communism, the need for his lebrensraum made it necessary for him to have land. He chose Poland. Hitler promised Stalin that if he invaded Poland, he would eliminate the “undesirables” and give Stalin the eastern part of the country. Stalin agreed, and actually invades Poland from the east.
On this date, Hitler invades Poland. The world is shocked. Chamberlain is appalled. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later, but do not immediately act. They waited to see if Hitler would do more, which he did not for 3 months This becomes known as the Phoney War.