Causes of World War II Essay

World War I was one of the most destructive wars in modern history. Nearly ten million soldiers died as a result of hostilities. The enormous losses on all sides of the conflict resulted in part from the introduction of new weapons, like the machine gun and gas warfare, as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics to the increasingly mechanized nature of warfare. A policy of attrition, particularly on the Western Front, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

Alongside these statistics, was the fact that vast areas of north-eastern Europe had been reduced to rubble. The victors from World War I were in no mood to be charitable to the defeated nations and Germany in particular was held responsible for the war and its consequences. With failures in the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations, and Britain and France’s appeasement to Hitler and his rise to Chancellor, these factors and more were the reasons that led the world into it’s second World War. In January 1918, some ten months before the end of World War I, U.

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S. President Woodrow Wilson had written a list of proposed war aims which he called the “Fourteen Points. ” Eight of these points dealt specifically with territorial and political settlements associated with the victory of the Entente Powers, including the idea of national self-determination for ethnic populations in Europe. The remainder of the principles focused on preventing war in the future, the last proposing a League of Nations to arbitrate international disputes. Wilson hoped his proposal would bring about a just and lasting peace: a “peace without victory. When German leaders signed the armistice in the Compiegne Forest on November 11, 1918, many of them believed that the Fourteen Points would form the basis of the future peace treaty, but when the heads of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy met in Paris to discuss treaty terms, the European contingent of the “Big Four” rejected this approach. Viewing Germany as the chief instigator of the conflict, the European Allied Powers decided to impose particularly harsh treaty obligations upon the defeated Germany.

The Treaty of Versailles, presented for German leaders to sign on May 7, 1919, forced Germany to concede territories to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, and Poland. Perhaps the most humiliating portion of the treaty for defeated Germany was the “War Guilt Clause,” which forced the German nation to accept complete responsibility for initiating World War I. As such, Germany was liable for all material damages, and France’s premier Georges Clemenceau particularly insisted on imposing enormous reparation payments. The newly formed German democratic government saw the Versailles Treaty as a “dictated peace”.

Although France, which had suffered more materially than the other parties in the “Big Four,” had insisted upon harsh terms, the peace treaty did not ultimately help to settle the international disputes which had initiated World War I. The combination of the war guilt clause, reparation payments and the limitations on the German military were particularly onerous in the minds of most Germans, represented one of the platforms that gave radical right wing parties in Germany, including Hitler’s Nazi Party, such credibility to mainstream voters in the 1920s and early 1930s. The League of Nations came into being after the end of World War One.

The League of Nation’s task was simple – to ensure that war never broke out again. After the turmoil caused by the Versailles Treaty, many looked to the League to bring stability to the world. If a dispute did occur, the League, under its Covenant, could do three things – these were known as its sanctions. It could call on the states in dispute to sit down and discuss the problem in an orderly and peaceful manner. This would be done in the League’s Assembly – which was essentially the League’s parliament which would listen to disputes and come to a decision on how to proceed.

If the states in dispute failed to listen to the Assembly’s decision, the League could introduce economic sanctions. This would be arranged by the League’s Council. The purpose of this sanction was to financially hit the aggressor nation so that she would have to do as the League required. If this failed, the League could introduce physical sanctions. This meant that military force would be used to put into place the League’s decision. However, the League did not have a military force at its disposal and no member of the League had to provide one under the terms of joining – unlike the current United Nations.

Therefore, it could not carry out any threats and any country defying its authority would have been very aware of this weakness. After the Abyssinian crisis, the League gradually died. Italy left the League in 1937. Few other countries left the League, but all of them realized that it had failed – instead they began to re-arm as fast as possible. When war broke out in 1939, the League closed down; its headquarters in Geneva remained empty throughout the war. In 1943 – at a Conference in Tehran – America, Britain and Russia agreed to set up a new international organization (the ‘United Nations’) when the war finished.

On 12 April 1946, the League met in Geneva and formally abolished itself. The British delegate, Robert Cecil, said: ‘The League is dead. Long live the United Nations’. Appeasement means giving in to someone provided their demands are seen as reasonable. During the 1930s, many politicians in both Britain and France came to see that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had placed restrictions on Germany that were unfair. Hitler’s actions were seen as understandable and justifiable. When Germany began re-arming in 1934, many politicians felt that Germany had a right to re-arm in order to protect herself.

It was also argued that a stronger Germany would prevent the spread of Communism to the west. In 1936, Hitler argued that because France had signed a new treaty with Russia, Germany was under threat from both countries and it was essential to German security that troops were stationed in the Rhineland. France was not strong enough to fight Germany without British help and Britain was not prepared to go to war at this point. Furthermore, many believed that since the Rhineland was a part of Germany it was reasonable that German troops should be stationed there. In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain.

He believed that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany badly and that there were a number of issues associated with the Treaty that needed to be put right. He felt that giving in to Hitler’s demands would prevent another war. This policy, adopted by Chamberlain’s government became known as the policy of Appeasement. The most notable example of appeasement was the Munich Agreement of September 1938. The Munich Agreement, signed by the leaders of Germany, Britain, France and Italy, agreed that the Sudetenland would be returned to Germany and that no further territorial claims would be made by

Germany. The, the Munich Agreement was generally viewed as a triumph and an excellent example of securing peace through negotiation rather than war. When Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he broke the terms of the Munich Agreement. Although it was realized that the policy of appeasement had failed, Chamberlain was still not prepared to take the country to war. Instead, he made a guarantee to come to Poland’s aid if Hitler invaded Poland. Upon the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was the consensus successor.

With an improving economy, Hitler claimed credit and consolidated his position as a dictator, having succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions. The German industrial machine was built up in preparation for war. In November 1937, he was comfortable enough to call his top military aides together at the “Fuhrer Conference,” when he outlined his plans for a war of aggression in Europe. Those who objected to the plan were dismissed. Hitler now depended on the Triple Alliance of Germany, Japan and Italy to be against Britain, America and Soviet Union.

But Japan was not in favor of this Alliance because it was not ready for any confrontation from American and the British Navy. Since Japan was reluctant to be in the Alliance, Hitler looked to Mussolini in Italy. On May 22nd 1939, Hitler and Mussolini signed the “Pact of Steel” in Berlin which “bound each country to come to the others aid immediately. ” Now, the only country left standing without a commitment was the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1939 the focus of European diplomatic activity became Moscow; with the British and French competing with the Germans for Stalin’s favor.

The Non- Aggression Pact of 1939 was signed in August with a secret agenda between Stalin and Hitler. In the public’s eye, it was a shock to see two old enemies shake hands, but the secret agenda consisted of Eastern Europe. Soviet Union would have the Baltic states of Eastern Europe as long as she remained true to the Pact whereas Germany would have Western Europe. Now a war was inevitable with Russia in a neutral corner as it seen from a public’s point of view. The German-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which stated that Poland was to be artitioned between the two powers, enabled Germany to attack Poland without the fear of Soviet intervention. Hitler had always regarded the German-Soviet nonaggression pact as a tactical and temporary maneuver. On December 18, 1940, he signed Directive 21, the first operational order for the invasion of the Soviet Union. From the beginning of operational planning, German military and police authorities intended to wage a war of annihilation against the Communist state as well as the Jews of the Soviet Union, whom they characterized as forming the “racial basis” for the Soviet state.

German forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, less than two years after the German-Soviet Pact was signed. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The Polish army was defeated within weeks of the invasion. In October 1939, Germany directly annexed those former Polish territories along German’s eastern border: West Prussia, Poznan, Upper Silesia, and the former Free City of Danzig. The remainder of German-occupied Poland was organized as the so-called General Government under a civilian governor general, the Nazi party lawyer Hans Frank.

Nazi Germany occupied the remainder of Poland when it invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. After the war began in Europe in 1939, people in the Americas were divided on whether their countries should take part or stay out. Most Americans hoped the Allies would win, but they also hoped to keep the United States out of war. The isolationists wanted the country to stay out of the war at almost any cost. Another group, the interventionists, wanted the United States to do all in its power to aid the Allies. Canada declared war on Germany almost at once, while the United States shifted its policy from neutrality to preparedness.

It began to expand its armed forces, build defense plants, and give the Allies all-out aid short of war. On December 7, 1941, while German armies were freezing before Moscow, Japan suddenly pushed the United States into the struggle by attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later Hitler declared war on the United States. President Roosevelt called on Congress for immediate and massive expansion of the armed forces. Allied strategy to end the war called for an invasion of Japan with the code name Operation Olympic. Throughout the summer of 1944, the U.

S. Air Force raided Japan about once a week. In July 1945, the heads of government in Britain, Soviet Union and the United States conferred and were told that Japan was willing to negotiate a peace, but unwilling to accept unconditional surrender. An ultimatum was issued, calling for unconditional surrender and a just peace. When Japan ignored the ultimatum, the United States decided to use the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb helped to make an invasion of Japan unnecessary. The Japanese realized that they were helpless if one atomic bomb could cause so much damage.

On August 10, the Japanese government asked the Allies if unconditional surrender meant that Emperor Hirohito would have to give up his throne. World War II brought an end to the Depression everywhere. Industries had been ignited for the production of arms and resources to equip fighting forces. Scientists also made it possible to produce large quantities of penicillin to fight a wide range of diseases, as well as DDT to fight jungle diseases caused by insects. The war solved some problems, but created many others. Germany had been the dominant power on the European continent, while Japan had held that role in Asia.

Their defeat in World War II left open positions of leadership. The Soviet Union moved in quickly to replace Germany as the most powerful country in Europe and also aimed at taking Japan’s place as the dominant power in Asia. The Allies were determined not to repeat the mistakes of World War I, in which Allies had failed to set up an organization to enforce the peace until after World War I ended. In June 1941, nine European governments-in-exile joined with Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries in signing the Inter-Allied Declaration, which called for nations to cooperate and work for lasting peace.

The United States formally ended hostilities with Germany on October 19, 1951. West Germany would accept neither the division of Germany nor East Germany’s frontiers. Thus, Germany was the only Axis power that did not become a member of the United Nations. A cold war between the Soviets and the democracies ensued. In Asia, victory resulted in the takeover of China and Manchuria by the People’s Republic of China, chaos in Southeast Asia, and a division of Korea, with the Soviets in the North and American’s in the South. Another war already lay on the horizon.


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