THE CAUSES OF WORLD WAR 2

By Wesley Fay

WORLD WAR 2, global military conflict that, in terms of lives lost and material destruction, was the most devastating war in human history. It began in 1939 as a European conflict between Germany and an Anglo-French-Polish coalition but eventually widened to include most of the nations of the World. It ended in 1945, leaving a new world order of the Superpowers dominated by the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

More than any previous war, World War 2 involved the commitment of nations’ entire human and economic resources, the blurring of the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, and the expansion of the battlefield to include all of the enemy’s territory. It was also unique in modern times for the savagery of the military attacks unleashed against civilians, and for the adoption by Nazi Germany of genocide (of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other groups) as a specific war aim. The most important determinants of its outcome were industrial capacity and personnel. In the last stages of the war, two radically new weapons were introduced: the long-range rocket and the atomic bomb. In the main, however, the war was fought with the same or improved weapons of the types used in World War 1. The greatest advances were in aircraft and tanks.
The causes of World War 2 are as follows:

  • The World after World War 1
  • Causes of the War
  • Failure of peace Efforts
  • Rise of Fascism
  • A3 Formation of the Axis Coalition
  • German Aggression in Europe

Three major powers had been dissatisfied with the outcome of World War 1. Germany, the principal defeated nation, bitterly resented the territorial losses and reparations payments imposed on it by the Treaty of Versailles. Italy, one of the victors, found its territorial gains far from enough either to offset the cost of the war or to satisfy its ambitions. Japan, also a victor, was unhappy about its failure to gain greater holdings in East Asia.
France, Great Britain, and the United States had attained their wartime objectives. They had reduced Germany to a military cipher and had reorganized Europe and the World as they saw fit, with the French Empire and the British Empire controlling much of the globe. The French and the British frequently disagreed on policy in the post-war period, however, and were unsure on their ability to defend the peace settlement. The United States disillusioned with the Treaty of Versailles, with the selfish nature of Allied war aims, and with the secret treaties they had signed during the war, disavowed the treaty and the League of Nations included in it, and retreated into political isolationism.
During the 1920s, attempts were made to achieve a stable peace. The first was the establishment (1920) of the League of Nations as a forum in which nations could use to settle their disputes. The League’s powers were limited to persuasion and varies levels of moral and economic sanctions that the members were free to carry out as they saw fit. At the Washington Conference of 1921-1922, the principal naval powers agreed to limit their navies according to a fixed ratio. The Treaties of Locarno produced by the Locarno Conference (1925) included a treaty guarantee of the German-French boundary and an arbitration agreement between Germany and Poland. In the Paris Peace Pact (1928), 63 countries, including all the great powers except the USSR, renowned war as an instrument of national policy and pledged to resolve all disputes among them “by pacific means”. The signatories had agreed beforehand to exempt wars of  self defence
One of the victors’ stated aims in World War 1 had been “to make the world safe for democracy”, and post-war Germany adopted a democratic constitution, as did most of the other states restored or created after the war. In the 1920s, however, the wave of the future appeared to be a form of nationalistic, militaristic totalitarianism known by its Italian name, fascism. It promised to minister to people’s wants more effectively than democracy and presented itself as the one sure defense against Communism. Benito Mussolini established the first Fascist dictatorship in 1922.
Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer (leader) of the German National Socialist (Nazi) party preached a brand of fascism predicated on anti-Semitism and racism. Hitler promised to overturn the Versailles Treaty and secure additional Lebensraum (living space) for German people who, he contended, deserved more as members of a superior race. In the early 1930s the Great Depression hit Germany. The moderate parties could not agree on what to do about it, and large numbers of voters turned to the Nazis and Communists. In 1933 Hitler became the German chancellor, and in a series of subsequent moves established himself as dictator.
Japan did not formally adopt fascism, but the armed forces’ powerful position in the government enabled them to impose a similar type of totalitarianism on the civilian leadership. As a dismantler of the world status quo, the Japanese military was well ahead of Hitler. It used a minor clash with Chinese troops near Mukden in 1931 as a pretext for taking over all of Dongbei, where it proclaimed the Puppet State of Manchukuo in 1932. In 1937-1938 it occupied the main Chinese ports.
Having denounced the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, created a new air force, and reintroduced conscription; in March 1936 Hitler dispatched German troops into the Rhineland. Under the Versailles and Locarno treaties, the Rhineland had been permanently demilitarized, but Hitler’s breach of the treaties was greeted with only feeble protests from London and Paris. Hitler had committed his first major breach of the treaty settlement of 1919 and the Anglo-French entente failed to resist him, a pattern followed with monotonous regularity until September 1939.
Hitler tried out his new weapons on the side of right-wing military rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The venture brought him into collaboration with Mussolini, who was also supporting the Spanish revolt having siezed Ethiopia in the Italian-Ethiopian War of 1935-1936. Treaties between Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1936-1937 brought into being the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. The Axis Powers thereafter became the collective term for those countries and their allies.
Hitler launched his own expansionist drive with the annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Anschluss. The way was clear: Mussolini supported him; and the British and French, overawed by German rearmament, accepted Hitler’s claim that the status of Austria was an internal German affair. The United States had severely impaired its ability to act against aggression by passing a neutrality law that prohibited material assistance to all parties in foreign conflicts.
In September 1938 Hitler threatened war to annex the western border area of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, and its 3.5 million ethnic Germans. The British Prime minister Neville Chamberlain, initiated talks that culminated at the end of the month in the Munich Pact, by which the Czechs, on British and French urging, Relinquished the Sudetenland in return for Hitler’s promise not to take anymore Czech territory. Chamberlain believed he had achieved “peace in our time’’, but the word ‘’Munich’’ soon implied and futile appeasement.
Less than six months later, in March 1939, Hitler seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Alarmed by this new aggression and by Hitler’s threats against Poland, the British government pledged to aid that country if Germany threatened its independence. France already had a mutual defense treaty with Poland.

The turn away from appeasement brought the USSR to the fore. Joseph Stalin, The soviet dictator, had offered military help to Czechoslovakia during the 1938 Crisis, but had been ignored by all the parties to the Munich Agreement. Now that war threatened, both sides courted him, but Hitler made the more attractive offer. Allied with Britain and France, the USSR might well have had to fight, but all Germany asked for was its neutrality. In Moscow, on the night of August 23, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed. In the part published the next day, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed not to go to war against each other. A secret protocol gave Stalin a free hand in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Eastern Poland and Eastern Romania.
SOURCES
INTERNET

  • CAUSES OF WORLD WAR 2 at. http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/cherwell/history/history 6
  • WORLD WAR 2 ESSAY AT //search.metacrawler.com/crawler?
  • CHAMBERLAIN-APPEASEMENT-CAUSES OF WORLD WAR 2 AT http://gpu.srv.ualberta.ca/~cleibovi/home.html
  • HOME-CAUSES OF WORLD WAR 2 AT http://www.snu.edu/syllabi/history
  • WORLD WAR 2 AT http://encarta.msn.com/find/Concise.